It’s been over ten years in the making, but last month, tattooist and entrepreneur, Kat Von D finally dropped her debut album, Love Made Me Do It at the end of last month. (Read our full album review here.) Following the record’s release, we spoke with Kat about the new music, her childhood dreams, discovering punk and metal, and much more. Be sure to listen along with our official audio via SoundCloud.
So, thanks for your time, Kat. Appreciate you talking to us. How’s life treating you?
Kat Von D: “Yeah, pretty good. Just been busy and, you know, anxious and excited about going on tour finally.”
So what is the plan now the album is out?
“Yeah, we just released the album and we have like a really mini warm-up tour for the West Coast here in the U.S. We’ve got four dates in September, and then our official U.S. tour will start in March. Then in May, we get to hopefully cross over the puddle and go out and play for you guys (in Europe). So I’m really excited.”
Will that see you come over for festival season by any chance?
“I don’t know. I’m assuming so in May.”
Let’s talk about the album then. It feels like a very personal album. Is that the case?
“Yeah. I wrote the album about ten years ago, and at the time, I was in a somewhat dysfunctional relationship so it’s kind of like a capsule moment of that. Those few years I was filming the TV shows and going on book tours and launching the makeup line and everything so I just kept putting my music on the backburner. It wasn’t until like a year and a half ago, when I decided to sell my makeup line in order to make time for the music and for the tour, that now it’s happening. Then obviously, everybody’s lives got turned upside down, you know, last year, and everything got put to a halt. So we’ve kind of just been in a little waiting cell for the last year. Now’s the time.”
Was the plan to release the album earlier?
“We were supposed to release it in the fall when everything happened with COVID. I was just so grateful that we weren’t actually in the middle of our tour, you know because I have a lot of friends that were and it was so damaging to have to cancel.”
From a personal perspective, as a tattooist, how has it affected you and your work?
“To be honest, I’m quite a homebody, I don’t really leave the house very often. So I think as far as, like, the isolating part, that wasn’t much of a stretch for me, you know, but I think when it came to my shop, it was quite frustrating. I understand doing things for safety and whatnot but here, there was just a lot of things that didn’t make sense, you know? Everybody got shut down, like we got shut down, but then the hair salon was able to open and it was quite frustrating, because I’m like, we’re far more sterile than any hair salon. It’s not just about my ability to tattoo but it was about my entire crew as well. They all have families so, to be deemed unessential was, it’s kind of hard not to take offence.
Thankfully, we seem to be passed a lot of that and I’m so, so grateful that I had the means to keep my shop open because a lot of my friends lost their businesses and their lives. I think for me when it came to the lockdown, the most important thing was managing my mental health, because I tend to gravitate towards depression more than anything.
I strive for structure and I love being creative and productive. So basically, my bandmates ended up moving in, right before the lockdown. They brought their cats and their synthesizers, and they were in a little two-bedroom bungalow in the back end. Every weekday from noon to 5 pm, we just worked on music and I think that was a really helpful thing for us to stay sane, because, unlike the majority of my friends who are able to work from home, as an artist or musician, it’s something that is quite crippling. You can’t do this from home. You have to be able to be around people so I think it gets challenging.”
Just touching on what you said about the album being written about ten years ago… Having had your band with you and you’ve been able to sit and concentrate, has that changed the record at all or any of the songs?
“Originally, the whole album was produced with Adam Noble out in London, and he produced some of my favourite Placebo records and a few other bands. I really, really love him and his work. Then, when the lockdown happened, we just had all this time. So originally, my band and I started writing songs for our live shows. We were doing a lot of instrumentals and interludes that we would play because I have a contortionist in my band, Lauren, she’s a complete athlete and, she’s an honourary member, in the sense that she doesn’t play instruments, but her body is her instrument.
So we were creating these moments for our live show with just a lot of the synthwave, instrumental stuff and I just loved the direction that we were going in. We had the time, so we started remixing everything and, although I am very proud of the Adam Noble mixes, I plan on releasing those probably next year, because, you know, Dave Grohl played all the live drums and a few other people, my friends, contributed to that, that version, I’m quite proud of it. It’s a different flavour but the songs are the same.”
In terms of the songs, some of them are quite personal. When you were writing them, as you said, it was during a difficult period of your life, did you write them as a way to close those chapters?
“At the moment, I was so deep in it, that it wasn’t like ‘Oh, I’m going do this, I’m gonna feel better,’ it was just more of a thing where it’s like, I have this within me, and that needs to come out. I didn’t know where it would lead but, of course, within that time frame, you know, within the last decade, I’ve grown up so much as a person and, and I feel like I’ve matured a lot so I don’t feel the same way as some of the lyrics in the songs anymore.
It’s kind of like a tattoo in the sense that, you know, these are landmarks in time, you know, I have tattoos that I got when I was younger, and they don’t hold the same meaning to me anymore. I can look back at them and remember those moments in time, but I’m not that person anymore. I’m sure if you talk to any musician, they probably say the same thing. It’s like a way of processing.”
Looking at some of the songs and the particular situations, do you look back at them and think when you look at your lyrics that, you know, maybe that situation wasn’t that bad, or maybe I would have done something differently?
“I don’t really have any regrets in that sense, because I think it’s part of the growing process. It’s more just like, when I listen to tracks, like ‘I Am Nothing,’ for example, there’s a vulnerability, but there’s also a level of being pathetic, to be honest. I don’t see myself as a pathetic person anymore as I used to but, within those songs, there’s the sentiment of not being good enough or not feeling adequate, or somehow not being deserving of love, and I don’t see myself that way anymore.”
What do you hope fans who listen to the album get out of it?
“I think that, to me, music is so crucial, obviously. Like, I mean, I remember the two albums that I got sober to 14 years ago. I remember the song that I walked down the aisle in my wedding, you know, so I feel like, we have these songs that celebrate or encapsulate certain times in our lives and I feel like, when I finally released my music for the first time, the response was, I really honestly wasn’t expecting such a response. People were responding to a lot of lyrics and my heart goes out to them in a sense because I know what I was feeling when I wrote those. At the same time, I feel like, if my music can help make people feel a little bit less alone in their experience, that’s a pretty amazing thing and that’s one of the reasons that I love music so much.”
Were you nervous about the way people would interpret your lyrics?
“I wasn’t necessarily nervous. I just think I was expecting a lot of negativity because I think when anybody steps out of what people know, people put you in a certain box and they tie a beautiful little bow around and you have to stay within that box. The minute that you try anything else, there is some skepticism or criticism. A lot of people know me from the tattoo world and the makeup world, but what they don’t know is that I’ve been playing music since I was five years old. Music has always been my first and foremost biggest passion so, to me, the only thing I regret is not having released it sooner.”
So, why is now the right time?
“I had my makeup line for twelve years, and I think I was already over it after the ten-year mark. I just was tired. I mean, I think when any business gets as big as it does, it tends to lose a bit of the magic and, you know, you’re you pleasing a corporation versus doing things for art’s sake, which is when I shine. I don’t shine with the corporate stuff as much. So it just became a monster that I just didn’t really want to deal with anymore so I felt like let’s cash out now and then really make time to focus on the music. I think that was a really big part of it and, as a workaholic, it’s a challenge for people like me to let go. I’m used to finishing things to the end but I also think things run their course.
You know, I remember when I was fed up with filming the TV shows, I was like ‘ok, I’ve done enough,’ and now I can move on. But, with music, I don’t feel like it’s anything that I’m ever going to move on from because it’s been like, my best friend throughout my whole entire life. I play the piano every single day. I can’t imagine a life without it.”
Absolutely. Do you remember the record that changed your life growing up?
“I mean, there were so many, you know? The first record I ever bought was a Plasmatics record and I was just in awe because I was like 13 or 14 years old at the time and I had never seen a girl with a mohawk. Wendy Williams was driving her Cadillac into a pool and she was wearing a print unitard with their boobs cut out and I’m like, she just transcended sexuality and I’m like, ‘oh, like, this is what heroes are made up of?’ you know? My first cassette tape was Black Flag, the Damaged album, then, discovering bands like Metallica, that was like a whole other level.
Once I discovered metal, it was something that I could admire a lot more you know, versus like, not to talk shit about punk rock music but it’s like, power chords versus like riffs? To me, I’m so much more enticed by the skill that goes behind metal. After that, I kind of graduated to more like post-punk stuff. I really fell in love with Depeche Mode, and The Cure, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, and a lot of the analogue synthesizers and that’s really like, where my heart belongs. I think a lot of people were expecting me to come out with a metal album when I announced I was making music so some people were shocked that it wasn’t as hard I guess? I think that there’s a little bit of darkness, not a little bit, there’s a lot of darkness sprinkled within our music.”
You mentioned Dave Grohl earlier, and there are some other massive collaborations on the album. Did you have specific people in mind?
“To be honest, part of it was luck and a part of it is just, you’re what you surround yourself with and I happen to be my friends biggest fans. So, when I decided to make music, my neighbour was Danny Lohner (previously) from Nine Inch Nails and he was my best friend so we were hanging out all the time and we love the same music. He was one that introduced me to Peter Murphy from Bauhaus who I’m a huge fan of. So being able to be in the same sentence with Peter Murphy, let alone be able to do a duet with him was, I mean, I still wake up and think was that real? I’m just such a huge fan and then, you know, I had been tattooing Linda Perry, and that’s how we started writing. When I told her I was wanting to make music I think she was really excited.
I think she’s used to doing a lot of the pop stuff that she does with Christina Aguilera and all that but knowing me she knew that we don’t have to have time limits we can just create for the sake of creating and come up with something that felt real. Then, I was tattooing Dave Grohl and the same thing happened. I told him about my music and he wanted to record drums so we went to his studio and the next thing you know, we recorded I think four tracks together.”
You make it sound so easy…
“I think a lot of is that my friends believe in me and because they know me that they know this isn’t a phase. This is something I’m so passionate about that so when they found out I wanted to make music, they were excited to be a part of it. Also, I think that happens a lot more in places like L.A. because you’re surrounded by a lot more artists than in say Kentucky, although it does depend on what kind of artists I guess?”
On the collaborations, is there anybody you worked with where you thought “it doesn’t get any better than this?”
“I don’t know if it gets any better than Peter Murphy. But, as far as modern-day bands, I’m a huge fan of that band from France called Perturbater. I love how, because I love synthwave, I love like the darkness and the aggressiveness about that. So we’re already starting to write album number two with my band right now and I really want to push myself to make the second one more aggressive as the first one is a little sadder which is nice because I love a sad love song. I don’t know if I’ll be able to drift away from the melancholy because it’s just my nature, but yeah, I would love to get a little more frustrated in my music.”
So, a little bit angrier next time around?
“Yeah, I think so. I got stuff to be angry about.”
One of the things I read about you was, musically, you said your grandmother was a big influence on your life. If there’s one thing you kind of learned from her that you’ve taken throughout life, what would that be?
“I feel like I used to resent my parents and my grandmother for being such disciplinaries. When all my friends were outside playing, we were stuck, forced to practice two hours a day on piano with a timer and everything and I hated that. I would cry through my lessons most of the time, in the beginning, but I’m just so glad that they really pushed me and they didn’t let me give up because I think a big part of why I’m able to do so much is that discipline that was instilled in the beginning. There are downsides to it as well.
I think when I first started writing my own music, I really struggled because I’m used to reading sheet music and everything has to be structured. At times, I would wish that I could be like Little Richard and just sit down at a piano and play my feelings. Whereas at the time, I had to, like, if I wanted to be sad, I got Chopin. If I wanted to be angry, I would get Beethoven and that’s crippling in some ways. Most of my musician friends, they don’t read music, they just play it, you know? So, I’m grateful to come from that background, but there are some challenges with that too.”
What did you want to be as a child growing up?
“I originally wanted to be an artist and then, quickly, society brainwashes you to think that that’s not a real job. So I thought, well, maybe I’ll be an architect because that still marries art and, you know, you can still have a legit job. Then, once I discovered tattooing at the age of 14, I’ve never looked back.”
For somebody who works across multiple creative areas and you described yourself as a workaholic, how do you deal with the creative lulls?
“I haven’t had one of those days since I had my son. When you have a kid that kind of just goes out the window but I also don’t know how to be bored, to be honest. There’s always so much to do and I have so many ideas. You know, things that pertain to outside of music too so there’s never really a dull moment. Even within the lockdowns, I stayed pretty productive but it’s probably just because I just don’t know any other way.”
In terms of the future, where do you see life taking Kat Von D both personally and workwise?
“I’m looking forward to this tour, we’re going to be basically on the road for a couple of months. My husband, he’s also in a band, they’re called Prayers, and they’re opening up for us. That way we can tour together and can bring our son along with us. Since we’ve already started writing album number two, the minute we get back, we’ll just go back into production and start recording and then hopefully do it all over again.”
Going back to the start you released a book High Voltage Tattoo, which you said wasn’t an autobiography. Are there thoughts about writing a book about your life story?
“I would like to write a book about maybe some philosophies and things like that, but I’m not sure. I feel like I’m not old enough to have a biography yet. I do want to write another book because I feel like those books I wrote so long ago and, as I’ve said, I’ve grown so much since I feel like… Although I’m proud of those books, I feel like if I were to reread them now, I might cry or cringe a little bit, you know, trying to figure things out.”
Ok, in the more immediate future, you’ve got the tour coming up. What’s your vision for that? Especially given you have a contortionist in the band?
“I’m a huge fan of seeing live performances. One of the biggest pet peeves I have is when you really love a band, and you go and watch them live, and it’s just like a guy with a mic. You might as well stay at home and listen to the record. I love presentation and storytelling through visuals. I actually teamed up with Linda Strawberry who is the creative director for Smashing Pumpkins and a few other bands and we’ve already started, well, we’ve already filmed all the live visuals, and we’re just in the process of editing them right now. So we’ll have these giant LED panels and all that and then, as you know, I have the contortionist and we have certain choreographed moves. It’s so important to really put effort into the live show.
“I want to see a show when I go out. The thing is that’s pretty amazing about my band is that everyone in my band has their own styles already. They already have their own epic style and they have their own dance moves and together, we work really well. So yeah, I’m excited about that. Also, I’m a huge fan of meet and greets and I’ve done them all my career. Throughout my book tours, meeting thousands of people a day, and taking photos so I’m really excited because, especially when I go to Europe because it’s been so long since I’ve been out there. I used to go out there, you know, sometimes twice a month so it will be great to reconnect.”
Just to finish off then. A couple of weeks ago, I spoke to Wendy Dio, Ronnie James Dio’s widow, about his autobiography that was released. She said the one piece of advice he always gave people is to always follow your dreams. What advice would you give people based on your own life?
“For me, it’s I just think it’s more like stick to your guns in a sense. I think that, nowadays, especially with social media, people are really wrapped up in living these alternate realities that aren’t there. They’re not real, and they’re not sincere. I see people in every industry doing things for the likes and for attention and for a sense of validation. I think within that, you tend to lose the original purpose of creativity. Sometimes I feel like if you just put the blinkers on, and you don’t pay attention to the outside world, and then just create from a place within, like, you tend to not sacrifice the integrity of the art. It’s like doing things for the right reasons versus doing these for others.”
And I think that’s a perfect way to wrap this up. Thank you for taking the time out to talk to me, and hopefully, we’ll catch up when you’re in the UK…
“Awesome. I’d love that. Thank you so much. I’ll talk to you later. Have a great day.”