Kat Von D
Ink Incorporated: Unedited Interview with Kat Von D
You read about Kat and the other artists of L.A. Ink in our Winter issue. Now read Chris Nieratko’s full, unedited, absurd interview with Kat here.
Chris Nieratko: How are you?
Kat Von D: I’m a little sick. I have some kind of cold, congestion thing.
It’s not the AIDS, is it?
Oh, no. I have the HIV but most of the time it’s the cancer that makes me feel like this.
I only have one or two fluff questions, and the rest will be fun. How did you get into tattooing?
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.
If you ever had to break up and change the Orbi tattoo, what would you do?
Change it to ‘Morbid,’ duh. No, I’d keep it. My first tattoo was an Olde English ‘J’ on my ankle for my first love, James, and I’d never cover that shit up. I have lots of people’s names on me and it’s not so much like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna regret my ex-husband’s name on my neck,’ it’s more like a time in my life that I don’t regret. I don’t regret my divorce either. I’ll rock it forever.
Does it make Orbi cry to look at your body and see all these other dudes’ names all over you?
No. Not at all. You don’t even notice it after while. The one cover up I am going to do is the portrait of my ex-husband I have down there. Every time I go pee I look at it. I don’t know what I’m going to change it to yet but Orbi and I were drawing on it the other day. We’re thinking of turning it into a sad clown girl or a bearded lady because he has a goatee. Probably a clown. I love clowns. Anything clown related I’m stoked on, especially the hobo clowns that look like they smell like whiskey.
Since you’re dating the son of Roy Orbison, have you ever tried to get Alex Orbi Lee Orbison cut his long hair and start rocking his dad’s Pompadour?
No, I love long hair. He has the blondest, longest hair ever. But when that music comes on my iPod I definitely skip it for him.
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 girl and that I was his 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 quite and it totally turned me on. It was like the craziest orgasm ever. My publicist is going to kill me.
Bam 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 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.
I like to stand buy the bar and piss into my pint glasses and throw those onto the crowd.
Who the hell are you? Mr. Awesome?
Maybe I am. Maybe I am. Growing up did you ever see yourself as America’s heartthrob, plastered in your underwear all over billboards everywhere?
Those aren’t my underwear, silly. Those are borrowed. But I don’t think I’m a heartthrob. I thought the billboards worked, the colors were bright and it was a girl with a lot of tattoos and it got people’s attention. But 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 likes 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, 100 percent of the time.
Uh-huh. I think you might be on to something there. It’s something to wrap your mind around.
Do you think the photos of you in your underwear in magazines is helping change a lot of young boys into men?
No, but I tattoo a lot of the guards in prisons and I heard that I am quite popular late at night in the jail cells. They watch L.A. Ink in prison. I get a lot of letters from jail. Like, ‘Hey, I have tattoos like you. We have a lot in common. Except I kill people.’ It’s awesome, I love it. They’re always cool. They usually say when they get out they’re going to come get tattooed. A lot of them say Ami is fucked up; he’s the guy from the show prior to L.A. Ink.
Are you and Ami, who you worked with on Miami Ink and had major falling out still broken up?
Yeah, that bridge is definitely burned. I’ve never spoken to any of the cast from Miami Ink after I left. Not even Garver. It’s sad.
Does it make you cry?
No. It was a heartbreak for sure. Garver was my homeboy at the time, 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?
Ha. Oh man. I wish I could answer more of these questions. It’s like all my media training going out the window. No, 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.
No you don’t.
Yeah, I do. 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 rating got triple of what theirs ever got.
But you’re not counting.
No. But the three months prior to the premiere I was super depressed because I worked my ass off and then they didn’t air the show right away but it finally aired and my agent called and said, ‘Kat, you’re the most watched show for your time slot and you have triple the amount of viewers Miami Ink ever had.’ It wasn’t even so much a fuck you to Ami it was more like all that depression was worth something.
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 emails [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 were those two weeks of high school like?
Man, I hated it. It was different. I was hanging with all these older punk-rock kids and the social aspect of it seemed lame. School was always easy for me I was always in the gifted and talented classes. It was just the social part that I hated. I didn’t give a fuck if I was a cheerleader or not. In junior high I’d always get in fights with people trying to talk shit. But I always knew there was something more important than being cool.
Now you are the cool kid. So what is your take on Britney spears?
I hate talking about people I don’t know, I just think she is in a hard situation. I listen to the new album and I think it’s fucking rad. Being in public eye from such an early age is tough and no one really knows her story other than her. I try to stay out of all that gossip shit.
How do you do that, being in LA?
I know what places to get your picture taken and I know which ones to go to to avoid all that. I usually go to The Rainbow. I try and stay out of those circles if I can.
If you could be a tabloid editor, what kind of good Kat Von D tabloid story would you like to make up?
Let me think of a good one. There will be anal involved, I promise. Maybe we could say me and Amy Winehouse did it because we’re both brunettes and have tattoos. I don’t know.
What if you said Orbi was really just Ami in a wig?
That’s perfect. We had to keep it a secret to make the ratings go higher. And now our cover will be blown in the season finale.
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.
What’s the worst tattoo you’ve ever done?
Oh the stupidest one I’ve had to do was recently and it pissed me off. When we’re filming, I tattoo all day long. So I’m tattooing from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. so the only time I get to tattoo on my own is from 9 p.m. to midnight, basically one appointment a day that is camera-free. So I reserve those times for people I’ve already tattooed or projects that I need to finish. So this guy calls and drops my buddy’s name, which is a real good friend of mine. And I was like, ‘Well, if it’s his friend then fuck yeah, I’ll do it.’
So this guy comes in and wants to get a portrait of Garth Brooks. But it gets worse. He wants half Garth Brooks, half Terminator. And Garth Brooks wears a hat and Terminator does not so how am I supposed to do that? It was a stupid idea to begin with and the guy was as smart as a fucking crayon. I was like, ‘Why would you want to get this? Does it have some sort of crazy meaning?’ And he was all, ‘A lot of people think I look like Garth Brooks and I got into an accident and I have a metal bolt in my hip so I feel like the Terminator.’ I was like, ‘So you got this stupid tattoo because in some egotistical way it relates back to you?’
It was the worst shit ever and I didn’t want to do it but I put on my clown suit and went to work. As I’m wrapping him up after I’m done the chick that had come with him says, ‘Oh, it’s really cool that you did that because we don’t even know your friend. We heard you were really good friends with him and we dropped his name because it was such a long wait to get in with you.’ I got so mad. Like if it was your kid died or it was something you felt you really needed to get— Or like the Terminator killing your baby.
Exactly. Or Garth. Or anything cool that would be one thing. But no. So I told him it was the stupidest tattoo ever for any tattoo. It’s not even funny to me. Like Bam getting the bear having sex with the cat is funny because it’s ridiculous but Terminator/Garth is not cool in any way.
You were on Ellen DeGeneres. Did she try and put the moves on you?
No, man. I think she hated me. I looked back at the footage and a lot of her jokes were anti-tats. I love making fun of myself; I’ll do it all day long, to a certain extent. When it’s someone you don’t know and it’s on TV, it’s different. I was stoked to do it because she’s a lesbian and she’s this strong female that broke the mold, and I thought that would be the main subject. But instead I felt the underlying tone was, ‘Why would you do that to yourself?’ I tried to joke around about it but it didn’t work. I thought I’d go out there and do a little dance with her, but instead I felt bad vibes. I’m happy she had me, but I felt like I was reaching.
With the shop, do you have to handle the books and business side of things or are you able to just tattoo and be creative?
I do everything. I have compiled a team to help. Last year I fired everyone and hired my friends and family. It’s hard to trust people and so I brought in the people I am closest to. The accounting and the merch and the scheduling is all delegated by people that I love, so I don’t personally do it myself but I oversee everything. I’m at my shop every day. I haven’t had a day off in six months but it’s my baby so it’s hard to step away from it.
Do you worry you’ll get arthritis?
Not arthritis, but carpal tunnel syndrome. Yeah. I try and do my carpal tunnel exercises every hour but if I’m tattooing someone for a stretch of three to four hours it’s hard to stop and exercise. My hands lock up like when you do nitrous for two months straight. No, I don’t. Some days are worst than others but it’s just my hand hurts but for the most part I’m not that bad. I still have a few years left in me.
Well, I hope I get invited to your funeral.
Shut up! You’re sick. But you know my funeral is gonna be a party.
Best advice anyone has ever given you?
Fuck! I always forget that one. You know what creeps me out though? Every time I go to do a meet and greet there’s always a gypsy fortuneteller and they always say the same shit: ‘There’s a lot of death around you and something bad is going to happen if you don’t slow down right now.’ I look at them and say, ‘If you were really fucking psychic you would know that I really didn’t want to hear that.’ What a buzz kill.
Gypsies are jerks.
Totally. My mom was a gypsy. I know what they’re about. They fucking scam people. She was in a gypsy camp in Argentina and she was an acrobat in her teens. She would tell me how she would ‘read people’s palms.’ It’s all bullshit.
Check out Kat at www.katvond.net or www.highvoltagetattoo.com.
To read their complete stories access digital edition of Inked by clicking here or pick up a copy at your local Barnes and Noble or Borders bookstore.