Cast of LA INK
The Learning Channel’s reality show L.A. Ink is a phenomenon. It’s come on the scene and pummeled the ratings of every tattoo television show that came before, and its star, Kat Von D, is the hottest thing in heels right now. Known for her lifelike black-and-gray portraits for more than ten years, the 25-year-old vixen has put her time in. Sadly, a lot of jealous folk in the tattoo world have a problem with the fact that she and the other artists in her shop—Corey Miller, Hannah Aitchison, and Kim Saigh—are glamorizing tattooing (yet they have no problem reaping the windfall their industry is feeling as a result of the show’s success). I recently had a chance to talk with Kat and her crew, which also includes Pixie Acia, manager of High Voltage, the shop where L.A. Ink is filmed. We touched upon everything from Kat’s sexual fantasies to Pixie’s days on the boy’s high school wrestling team. Enjoy.Chris Nieratko: I only have one or two fluff questions, and the rest will be fun. How did you get into tattooing? Kat Von D: I started tattooing when I was 14 and I’ve been drawing all my life. I was hanging out with a bunch of punk rock kids from around town, and one of the guys had a homemade setup, and he would tattoo all of us. One day he said I should tattoo him. I did a Misfits tattoo on him and I loved it and was hooked. I dropped out of school and started tattooing all my underage friends. There was never a shortage of kids who wanted to get tattooed and didn’t care that I sucked. By the time I was 16 I got to my first professional tattoo shop where I had to unlearn most of the things I had been doing for two years.Do you think during those first two years you gave anyone hepatitis? No. Most 14-year-olds don’t have hepatitis. I looked it up. It’s hard to start an epidemic when no one has had sex yet, let alone started using intravenous drugs.
I heard you were in a race to get your boyfriend Orbi’s name tattooed on you. No, I wasn’t. But everything escalated fast with Orbi. It’s all or nothing. I’m not gong to pussyfoot around the fact that I’m in love and I get tattooed all the time, so it only makes sense that I would get his name after a short period of time. I have almost 10 Orbi-related tattoos now. I got the letter ‘A’ on my hand for his first name, Alex. I got ‘Orbi’ right under my boobs. I got ‘Bricks of Brooklyn’ on my stomach, which he actually tattooed. It’s because we were driving through Brooklyn once and he said to me, ‘I love you more than all the bricks in Brooklyn.’ I looked around and there were like a million bricks everywhere. It was the most awesome thing ever, so I told him I loved him more than all the lifted trucks in Orange County. You have to be from here to get that, but that’s a lot of trucks.
Since you’re dating the son of Roy Orbison, does he ever sing “Pretty Woman” to you? No! He writes me songs and poems. It’s pretty awesome.
Do you guys ever pretend like he’s a rich businessman and you’re a young Julia Roberts as a prostitute, and, you know, hump and stuff? No, but one time we were having sex and I started fantasizing that I was this hot secretary and he was my boss, and we were totally doing it in his office and people were right outside and we had to be super quiet. It totally turned me on. It was like the craziest orgasm ever. … My publicist is going to kill me.
Bam [Margera] told me a story about you throwing glasses at Metal Skool [a local Los Angeles hair metal band that plays at the Viper Room]. Yeah, he always puts that in my face, and it pisses me off because it’s not like he hasn’t pissed on the floor when he’s sleeping at my house. God! I was drunk! I used to drink a lot of vodka, and at the time I was married and was working out and had lost a lot of weight. I’d be drinking full glasses of vodka. I would just pound them and throw them into the crowd from the mezzanine. One time I threw a glass and my wedding ring flew into the crowd. My husband was on Warped Tour for two months and I told myself I had two months to buy a new wedding ring. But I procrastinated and never got one, and I got busted.
But what Bam always talks shit about was the time I thought I was throwing ice into the crowd, but the soundboard was directly under us and I was soaking the soundboard. I almost shorted the sound system out. The sound guy comes storming at us and says, ‘If you motherfuckers throw one more piece of ice I’m gonna fucking kill you,’ all yelling at us. We pretended like we didn’t know what he was talking about.
Growing up, did you ever see yourself as America’s heartthrob, plastered in your underwear all over billboards everywhere? I don’t think I’m a heartthrob. I have to say that the majority of dudes out there probably don’t think I’m hot. I think the tattoo thing turns a lot of people off. Not true. Tattoos equal dirty girl. I have a theory that 100 percent of the time girls with tattoos— Fuck better. Yes, that’s true. I was going to say, ‘like butt sex.’ Oh really? Wow. That’s way better than heartthrob. Oh man. I would honestly answer that question if it wasn’t going to bum out my publicist. It doesn’t require an answer because, as I said, it’s 100 percent of the time. Uh-huh. I think you might be on to something there. It’s something to wrap your mind around.
Are you and Ami, who you worked with on Miami Ink, and had a major falling out with, still broken up? Yeah, that bridge is definitely burned. I’ve never spoken to any of the cast from Miami Ink since I left. Not even Garver. It’s sad. It was heartbreak for sure, but people prove themselves to not be that down for you at times, and you just have to deal with it.
I read that Ami was losing his mind upon seeing billboards of you all over New York City. I read about that too. I don’t know. After I left Miami, the only line I’ve ever drawn with my friends was that line. Before it was, ‘You can hang out with whoever you want, I don’t care. You’re my friend.’ Now I can’t associate with anyone that is associated with them. I won’t. Are you his fucking friend?
No. I don’t even know him. And I don’t like bald people. Oh, the Blue Man Group guy without makeup? Margaret Cho told me that joke. It’s great.
Do you ever get into your pajamas and do dances of joy on your bed when you get the ratings back? I don’t jump around and dance. As long as the overall ratings say we’re doing good, that’s what’s important. I’m definitely not driven by competition. I didn’t get my own show to say, ‘Fuck you,’ to Miami. Deep down inside I wish them the best. I don’t want their show to do better than my show, but I don’t wish them any harm. But I do know our ratings were triple of what theirs ever were.
You made something good. It’s fun to watch. Miami Ink was always— Monotonous and repetitive. The guys weren’t willing to involve their real life in the show, whereas I promised myself, aside from my divorce, I would talk about anything. People can relate to you more when you’re real and show your imperfections. I’m an open book. Our show is more rock ‘n’ roll and honest. I don’t have any control over what is edited or what the final outcome is, so in the end they can use whatever they want. There is definitely some footage out there where I’m wasted out of my mind, crying and really talking about gnarly shit. Thank God they didn’t use it. But they had the option to. Luckily we’re far too PG to put that stuff out there. I never thought that I would care about that stuff but after reading e-mails [from viewers], I don’t want kids to think it’s cool to be a wastoid. The first time I was on Miami Ink I said I dropped out of high school at 14, after two weeks. Then I get 12-year-olds telling me they want to drop out of school and be a tattooer too. I was like, ‘Fuck!’ That is not something I promote at all. For me, it was an exception.What has been the worst part of this mainstream notoriety? The worst part has been how much respect I’ve lost in the tattoo world. It doesn’t matter how hard I try there are always going to be people who hate me and what I do. The majority of it is the tattoo industry having the wrong idea about what I’m driven by, thinking I’m making a mockery of tattooing. All the hard work I’ve put in over the years to gain that respect went out the window now that I’m on TV. What are you driven by? I’m not driven by status or money because I was successful prior to the show. Family is number one, and I have been supporting a good chunk of my family for a long time. My mom is living in Mexico so I’m trying to bring her back to America. I knew they were going to do this show anyway, with or without me, and that’s why I signed up. If I didn’t do it, I’d be damned if I let some hot girl who has been tattooing for three years represent everything I’ve worked for since I was 14. I knew I had to do it, and I did it. I’ve gotten a lot of backlash, but I can’t give a fuck what people think about me. It just hurts to be discredited— because I love tattooing. And tattooing is oversaturated with people who don’t love it. New people are getting into it for all the wrong reasons because shows like mine glamorize it. Tattooing was always such a secret society and now you have every soccer mom saying, ‘Oh, I want my daughter to be like Kat Von D.’ Well, that’s a really hard road to go down and knowing what I went through at 16. I would never wish that upon anybody’s kid. I saw a lot of shit kids shouldn’t see. That’s why I get so much hatred; people feel like I’m doing a televised apprenticeship and promoting kids to buy bullshit tattoo machines and start Hepatitis epidemics. I’m down to promote the strong, empowered female doing whatever the fuck it is she wants to do, but in no way do I think kids should start tattooing. It’s a biker world. People used to burn each other’s shops down if you opened too close, and in some places it’s still like that. But the thing that I am proud of with the show is being able to open people’s minds. My parents never stepped foot in my shop for the entire 10 years that I was tattooing, until the show came out. My dad called me and said, ‘Oh my God, Kathy. I didn’t know this is what you do. You help people.’ That’s awesome. And whether you have tattoos or not, every person can relate to the stories that are being told on the show, and that’s a great thing. For the full, uncensored transcript of this interview, go to inkedmag.com. Check out Kat at katvond.net and find out more about L.A. Ink at tlc.com.
Whether you know L.A. Ink’s O.G. because he’s renowned in the tattoo world for his amazing freehand, or simply because he’s the only guy the show, you know he’s a badass—and a damn smart one at that.
CN: Do you ever feel any sexual harassment from the girls? You know, ass slaps, whistles, being called baby?
Corey Miller: What’s funny is that they all got that woman empowerment card going. I’m pretty polite in general. I’m married and have daughters so I’m not going to be saying a lot of crude shit. It’s kind of reversed because they have the power and they’ll say some bolder stuff, but it’s not going to hurt my ears. What has been the best and worst parts of your sudden mainstream notoriety? The good thing is that it got Middle America off their asses and into the tattoo shop. Some people want to say that’s bad, but that’s like saying Nirvana should have stayed under that bridge playing for those junkie kids. Bullshit. The world got to hear it and they liked it because it was good. That simple. I understand it’s a protected art form. When I got into the industry, people would tell you the wrong thing to do before the right thing. A lot of people want to hold onto that. I think I personally caught a little more grief about the show than anybody because I’ve been around as long I have. But I have humility. I will be the first to say I do not own tattooing, everybody else does. We’re just vessels for it. The guys that are complaining about it, their businesses are thriving.There are certain parts of it that make me sad. Anybody can get into tattooing now—it’s like playing guitar in a band. But like I told one of my mentors, ‘We’re gonna pass one day. We carried the ball for while, then we pass it on and we leave.’ When I got into tattooing I wanted to be around it because all the bad people were hanging around it and it was more fun hanging around the knuckleheads. It wasn’t the good thing to do. It was the thing to do to piss people off. Twenty years later it’s accessible. And that’s what these shows did for tattooing.
Do you think you’re making it difficult on the rest of the tattoo community by inspiring people to go into shops with these grandiose sob stories? That’s definitely an effect of the show’s format. But if a guy says that makes it hard for him, all he has to say [to his client] is, ‘I’m not a psychiatrist.’ You don’t have to be friends with the people you tattoo, for fuck’s sake. I don’t want to be. I meet some great people but I meet a lot of trippy people too, and it’s not like we’re ever going to spend time together again.
I hear that a lot from artists; they say that everybody comes in and tells their story. But what about when the Navy guys came in with stories about crossing the equator or some battle story? It’s the same thing. If you don’t like it, and you don’t like the therapy end of it, and you don’t like where tattooing is in our culture in 2007, then fucking quit. We make decent money and we get to do our art.Sure some people do shit artwork and they still make killer money. And there are the guys with no talent and the gift of gab. You have to call a spade a spade. This business is full of artists and carnies, and I consider myself both. I’m just a glorified carnie. I’m not going to put myself on some pedestal for tattooing skulls.
You’re known for your freehand work, which is seen less and less from newer tattoo artists. Do you think that’s an aspect of tattooing that is getting lost? A lot of people trip on my freehand, but when I started in a shop, we didn’t have a copy machine. We had those old plastic stencils that you would engrave and put the powder on; and when you’d barely blot it, that stencil was gone, man. So you had to learn to draw.
But I do hope people continue to do freehand if they’re good at it. But I also know a lot of artists who can’t draw at all but can do a stencil like a master. When I say anybody can get into this business, I’m not saying that’s a good thing. Sometimes it just feels like people think, ‘I’m gonna dye my hair purple, stick a bone in my nose and I’m a tattoo artist.’ Sometimes I resent it—but not enough to say that people shouldn’t be allowed to do it. For more on Corey, go to sixfeetunder.com
Inspired by Gil Elvgren, Alberto Vargas, and Pearl Frush, Hannah is High Voltage’s resident pin-up queen and super-mom—but you’ll be surprised to learn she can draw a lovely bucket of shit.
CN: With boob jobs being the most popular form of plastic surgery, do you find yourself drawing bigger and bigger boobs working in L.A.?
Hannah Aitchison: It really depends on the person. My own personal aesthetic? I like women who look healthy and muscular, women who are fit. I live in L.A. but I don’t have a boob job. We’re surrounded by so many people that have done so much to fit into this preconceived idea of what beauty and glamour is, and then you leave L.A. and people view the whole plasticsurgery aesthetic as kind of comical. So it really hasn’t affected my drawing so much. If someone comes to me, and they say, ‘I want her to have huge hooters,’ then I’m going to give her huge, huge hooters. It’s fun. It adds a little silliness to it.
What’s been the best part of the mainstream notoriety you’ve achieved from the show? The best thing has been that I’m serving as an ambassador for this industry in a sense. That brings a lot of responsibility and I’m more than happy to take it on. Unfortunately, the show is not edited in a way that we as artists would necessarily like to see all the time. There’s a long-term commitment in a lot of the projects that get depicted on the show, and that’s not always as transparent as we like. That’s the hardest part for me; I want to know I’m being as fair to my industry as I can be. As much as I am a fan of good tattoos, I’m a fan of bad tattoos.
What’s the weirdest tattoo you’ve ever done? A bucket of shit with flies circling around it and a rose growing out of it and the word ‘Mom.’ I said, ‘I don’t think your mom is going to be too happy with this.’ Apparently, his mom used to say he was the only one she knew who could step into a bucket of shit and still come out smelling like a rose. So there was a cute story behind it. Check out hannahaitchison.com for more of Hannah.
With 16 years of tattooing under her belt, Kim has come a long way from her Ohio roots. With her daily yoga practice, she brings a calming vibe and smooth flow to the shop and her tattoos.
CN: Have you ever been so nervous on camera that you misspelled a word in a tattoo? Kim Saigh: No, thank God. That would be bad if that happened on television. The first shop I worked at, the woman tattooed ‘Harley Havidson’ on this big biker guy. The sad part was he came back the next day; he didn’t instantly realize. A good artist is able to fix things and she was able to turn the second H into an Old English D. This other one was pretty funny: This guy got ‘Bad Ass’ on one arm and ‘White Boy’ on the other arm and when his sleeves were down on his shirt all you could see was ‘Ass Boy.’ The worst I ever saw was at the first tattoo shop I worked at and this woman came in for a cover up. On her arm she had tattooed, ‘I’m a fucking retard.’ It was probably 3 1/2-by-4 inches. It was huge. She covered it with some wizard head or something. And the craziest tattoo I ever did was on one of my best friends Ben, and it was E.T. and Mr. T having a picnic. It was cool.
As a shop owner yourself [of Cherry Bomb Tattoo in Chicago], what advice did you give Kat on running the shop? I am the worst shop owner on the planet. I opened a shop so I wouldn’t have to work with anyone else and I wanted to make my own rules. But Kat is 25, she owns a shop, it’s a huge undertaking. I think she’s incredibly sensible and has good people helping her. As long as she is able to keep doing her art it will be good. The best thing she can do is have good people around her to handle the stuff that would stress her out otherwise.
If you didn’t know any better, you’d think High Voltage’s sassy shop manager, Pixie, was one of Hannah’s pin-ups come to life. But don’t underestimate her cute demeanor and good looks—she can probably lay you out. CN: When you lived in Minnesota did you get to see and/or wrestle Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura? Pixie Acia: Neither. Lucky for him because he’d have to pack a lunch. I was actually on the boy’s wrestling team in junior high and high school. Swear to God. Sometimes they’d pin me in 15 seconds, sometimes I’d pin them. Sometimes the boys would talk shit to me and sometimes they’d be really sweet. Sometimes they wouldn’t say a goddamned word.
Did any of the boys try and touch your parts while wrasslin’? No, I think they might have had that idea at the beginning of the match, but once we started and they realized I was strong and that they actually had to fight back, then they’d get nervous. Nobody wants to lose to a girl. The first year, though, I didn’t win any. I lost every match. But I got better after that. I was a tomboy because my dad and brothers were wrestlers. I played Pop Warner football too, in junior high. I started out as a cheerleader and I was like, ‘This sucks. I want to do what the boys are doing. That looks like more fun.’ You’ve listed burger slinger as an occupation on your MySpace page. I was a waitress at Swingers for a year and I absolutely loved it. We had a break between filming and I had a couple days off from the shop and I picked up some shifts. Those relationships are real. Those little 45-minute relationships you share with people are real—that’s life.
As shop manager, what kind of bullshit do you have to deal with? Nothing crazy. Toilet floods and air conditioning leaks, maybe. But it’s a tattoo shop and they’re all adults and they all own their own tattoo shops so everything runs smoothly. It’s not their first rodeo. For more on Pixie, go to myspace.com/cupcakeandpix