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Kat Von D: People know me for tattoos and makeup but music is my love

Tattoo artist, reality TV star, beauty brand business mogul, model, author… Kat Von D has done it all. But she’s finally returning to her first love in The Music That Made Me.

She’s very possibly the most famous tattoo artist alive today. Her perfect alabaster complexion and impeccable, jet-black eyeliner have adorned a thousand makeup counters. She’s been a reality TV star, a beauty brand business mogul, a model, an author. But for Kat Von D, it’s always been all about the music.

“A lot of people know me from the tattoo world and from makeup and all this stuff, but the truth is that music has always been the biggest inspirational force throughout my life,” she explains, speaking to The Big Issue from her home in California. “I love music so much. It’s the most consistent thing in my life. More than my family, more than friends. I just can’t imagine a life without it.”

Von D finally releases her first album, Love Made Me Do It, in August. It’s a dark, synth-laden affair featuring rock’n’roll collaborations from the likes of Dave Grohl, Linda Perry, Dave Sitek (TV On The Radio), Ladyhawke, Danny Lohner (Nine Inch Nails), and Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy. She took us through the path that got her here in The Music That Made Me.

Kat Von D: The Music That Made Me

Playing piano instead of video games

We were really poor growing up. So it’s not like we had video games or any luxurious toys. We had a piano and, to me, that was like a video game. I remember my first sonata. Sonata in G major is not a big hit for Beethoven. It was one of his B-sides, I guess. But it was a 12-page song that I could play front to back. I was like, ‘Oh, wow, I got to the ending. I won.’ It felt so good. I got high off of that.

My parents were pretty disciplinary, so we had a lot of structure in the house. I’m super grateful for that now, because I think that’s how I am able to get so much done. A lot of people lack structure, and they don’t see things through to the end. Getting trained in classical music from such an early age instilled that in me from the very beginning. It’s a big part of who I am now. And I loved the music. I think the reason I loved Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin – the Romantic era of music – is that it’s very melancholy and dramatic. There’s anger, there’s emotion.

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Flying a Black Flag

I discovered punk rock music at the age of 12. My first cassette tape was Black Flag – Damaged, which is a very aggressive album. There was a certain level of angst that I was experiencing, and it was good to find the ‘soulmate music’ to that feeling. I lived out in the middle of nowhere, in the Inland Empire. There’s literally nothing out there. There were tumbleweeds and shit. I didn’t have any friends that looked like me, or that listened to the same music. So listening to Henry Rollins was like, ‘oh, I’m not alone in this world. He’s singing all the things that I’m feeling.’ I think that’s powerful.

‘Dumbing down’ with Misfits on guitar

Misfits were my introduction into playing guitar. I was taking classical guitar lessons. And then I remember one day bringing in a cassette tape, a Misfits album, to my guitar teacher. He was so confused. He’s like, ‘why do you want to dumb yourself down?’ I just wanted to be able to play Some Kinda Hate so I could sing along to it. I thought guitar was a string instrument, so it would be like piano. It’s not the same. Even like, the simple stuff was hard. I have really small hands, so power chords are really hard for me.

A Cure for dysfunctional relationships

Disintegration is my favourite Cure album. My friend Tony and I, we always talk about how Disintegration is the best rainy day album. Any time it rains, that’s the album we put on.

Most of my life, up until I met my husband, I was in nothing but dysfunctional relationships. When I started writing my album, it was in response to this guy I was seeing. He was in a band and lived overseas. We had this unrequited love-type situation. He ended up writing me an album and delivering it to my house. There was a note on it that said, ‘these are all the things that are easier sung than said’. I was so moved by it. I thought, what better way to respond than with an album? That’s when I started taking voice lessons and started writing music.

So, I feel that all I’ve really ever known is pain through love. When you listen to the Cure, there’s poetry behind it. I’ve never really cared about the personal lives of people in bands. But I always thought, man, can you imagine being on the receiving side of these songs? This girl must be so amazing.

Live energy from The Mars Volta

One of my favourite bands and see play live is The Mars Volta. It’s just such intensity. Cedric [Bixler-Zavala, lead singer of The Mars Volta] has an amazing stage presence. The last time I saw them was at the [Hollywood] Palladium. I was on the balcony, overlooking. You could really see the power of music, and how it affects people.

I really do believe that it’s not just the sonic aspect of music that matters. I love a stage presence. Without sounding superficial, I think that looks are an important part of it. I really believe in storytelling when it comes to performing our songs, so I have a contortionist in our band. She’s amazing. We’ve worked pretty hard on our stage design and sound design for live shows. I might not have Cedric’s dance moves, but I plan on bringing it.

Love Made Me Do It, the debut album by Kat Von D, is out on August 27 and available for pre-order now

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