Kat Von D Knows What You Think of Her — She Just Doesn't Care

click to enlarge Kat Von D brings her unique brand of goth pop to The Van Buren on Monday, September 27, 2021. - TRAVIS SHINN
Kat Von D brings her unique brand of goth pop to The Van Buren on Monday, September 27, 2021.
Travis Shinn

Sincerity is an interesting thing. We crave it, don’t we? We look for it, and when we find it, we hold onto it. It's a commodity, too, and human beings are often willing to pay for it. On Monday night, September 27, it'll be interesting to see just how many Phoenicians are willing to pay to see Kat Von D (a.k.a. Katherine Von Drachenberg), who is mostly known for being a reality television star/tattoo artist/makeup impresario, sing with her eponymously named band at The Van Buren.

Von D is also known for some of the, pardon our French, utterly fucked up things that she has said, signed off on, and put out into the universe (or, in some cases, been accused publicly of saying, writing, doing, etc.), like naming one of her lipstick colors “Selektion,” which was a term used by the Nazis to when selecting Holocaust prisoners for death during the early 1940s.

The list is long, but Von D has publicly addressed each incident, like when she was labeled an anti-vaxxer after she stated that she would not vaccinate her now 2-year-old son, Leafar, that she shares with her musician husband, Rafael Reyes (from the band Prayers, who will be opening the show in Phoenix) says that she was mistaken in putting that message out there.

We caught up with Von D to talk about the show she will play to support her new album, Love Made Me Do It, being a part of cancel culture, and what she is up to now over the phone last week during a break in rehearsals with her band. Judge for yourself if you think she's being sincere or not.

Phoenix New Times: How are rehearsals going?
Kat Von D: Good, good. I really want to work on making something that's visually up to par with the music, so there's so much that goes into it, but that stuff is really exciting to me. I love production and I love storytelling through visual arts, so it's exciting to see it come to life. I've been working with Linda Strawberry, who does a lot of the creative direction for Smashing Pumpkins and a bunch of other cool bands, and she and I have a very similar, creative brainwave. I’m pretty excited for people to see it.

Our drummer (Dave Parley, also from Prayers) is actually from Phoenix, and is getting ready to open a coffee shop there, so we are really excited to play Phoenix.

Oh cool, I didn’t know there was a local angle. Is he from here or did he just move here?

He just recently got married and his wife is from Arizona, so he actually moved out there before we started recording [Love Made Me Do It]. I think they're actually opening up their coffee shop (Velorio on Grand Avenue), like the day before our San Francisco show, so he's gonna fly out there for the grand opening. I wish we could be there for that but, but that'll be on October 1.

Good to know. How do you feel about doing live music right now with the pandemic still very much in play?
I mean I'm just excited to play and I think that most people take precautions and I think it's gonna be fine. There's plenty of people that are already playing shows and attending shows and starting to get back to normal life. So, yeah, not trippin' on that. But I think that music is such an important part of our sanity, you know. We as a band were really blessed and lucky enough to have each other.

I just have always felt that being creative and being productive is such a crucial part of my mental health and my mental state of being. During the early part of the lockdown, we just hunkered down and worked every day from noon to 5 on music, even though we weren't getting paid. It was something to do and something to keep one foot in front of the other.

So, I do think that music is going to be the driving force of bringing people back together again. I think people need to experience music just as much as we need to create it, and there's something special about seeing music live. I love records and I collect records and listen to music, but it's a whole different monster when it's live. It's a different experience, so I think it'll be good.

How much live music have you done?
I've been around music, I'd like to say, a majority of my life. I think a lot of people know me from the tattoo world and makeup and all this other stuff, but not everybody knows that music has always been my number-one driving force. I've been playing the piano since I was 5 years old. I’m classically trained, so music has always been at the forefront of what I do. I started writing this album about 10 years ago.

A few years ago, for example, the last IAMX record, I sang on a few songs and they were kind enough to invite me to go on tour with them for a portion of their European tour. I took that as an opportunity to get some experience prior to going on my own tour, and sure, I think it's always different when you're playing somebody else's songs versus your own. This (band) is my baby so I'm putting 110 percent into it and you'll have full creative control. People ask me all the time, “Are you nervous to be on stage?” I have absolutely no anxiousness around that. It’s more excitement, you know.

Speaking of your lyrics, I’ve been listening to them and it feels like you're speaking directly, in some songs, to people who may have been critical of you. Am I hearing that correctly?
Oh no, I mean, I wrote the songs 10 years ago specifically about one relationship that I was in and it was a relationship that I had with an unrequited love that lives overseas. He was also a musician, and he ended up actually writing me an album and sending it to my house, and he mailed it with a letter that said, "These are also things that are easier sung than said." I listened to the album, and I was just so moved by it,and I thought, what better way to respond and with another album?

I took voice lessons for two years, six days a week, two hours a day, and was writing songs throughout that time, so I think most of my songs are really just, like, melancholy sad love songs. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people can relate, you know, but that's the beautiful thing about love. It's not always flowers and rainbows. Heartbreak doesn't care who you are or who you think you are, you know? It's gonna deal you your card, no matter what, and so I always like to say that like my music is kind of like anthems for the hopeless and hopeful romantic. I still believe in love and I still believe in true love and I think that's something that's important to hold on to.

Switching gears a bit, but you’ve had your fair share of criticism in the media for things you’ve said and allegedly done. With our current culture of people being canceled and such, what is it like to be on the receiving end of really harsh criticism? What should people who haven’t been through that know?
Look, I'm not a stranger to criticism. Even as a child, I never really felt like I belonged anywhere, even within my own family unit. I've always felt different in my own way, and I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Although at times it can feel pretty isolating, I don't expect everybody to just sing my praises because I think I'm not everybody's cup of tea, and that's okay.

But you’ve been called a Nazi. That’s about as harsh as it gets.
I mean, it is quite offensive, especially considering my husband's Jewish and I'm the furthest thing from that. But I think that the media loves to thrive on juicy gossip that people can sink their teeth into whether it's accurate or not, and I've always chosen to not play into it. I don't subscribe to any kind of media that would spread terrible rumors like that and I think my real fans know me, they know my heart, and they know all that stuff is absolutely wrong. So, what can you do? You can invest a lot of your energy into it or you could just continue to live a great life and I think as long as you know your truth, that's the important part of it.

I was born in Mexico, and we moved to America, which by the way is the most beautiful, amazing country on the planet. When you come from extreme poverty, and you come from a very humble upbringing, which I'm so grateful for, my parents instilled certain values in me that have nothing to do with what people say or think about you, you know? I think a lot of people nowadays, their whole driving force is to find validation through what others think of them. I personally don't choose to live that way, good and bad. There are some people that can believe their own hype and then they end up just being super full of themselves. And then there's people that get consumed by the criticism and become destroyed as well. That's just not a way that I think is a healthy way to live.

So, if someone were to say that you're an “anti-vaxx, Nazi piece of shit,” that just rolls right off you?
I just don't really pay attention to that stuff. I’d rather spend my time creating stuff. I'll tell you right now I have no interest in doing an interview that's, like, solely focused on negativity because right now I just want to make my focus the music and make it a positive thing. I think that's what's more important to me. If you want to figure out, like, does it hurt when people talk shit about me, I don't know. I think it would hurt if it was somebody I cared about, but I don’t know everybody.

I also think that we’re walking amongst so many wounded soldiers [these days]. Everybody has their own shit that they're dealing with. I think when people are hurtful, they're probably hurting on the inside, as well. So, if anything, I feel pity for people who want to be mean.