Kat Von D On Becoming A Hoosier

a woman crying
a woman crying
Photo by Sequoia Emmanuelle

You’re on tour in support of your debut album, Love Made Me Do It. Are your fans surprised that the woman from the reality TV show LA Ink has a band?

Yes, a lot of people know me from the tattoo world. They don’t know that music has always been my biggest passion. I started playing music when I was 5 years old, and was classically trained in piano. This is my debut album, so it’s the first time touring with my own music, but I’ve toured with my friends’ bands in the past. I’m dying of anticipation and excited to go out and play these songs live. We definitely like to put on a show. I have a contortionist in my band who’s a professional athlete. I think people will walk away in awe.

You recently bought a historic mansion in Vevay, Indiana, and are in the process of renovating it. How did you hear about that small town all the way from L.A.?

It’s funny. All my friends in Indiana have never heard of that place. What drew me to Vevay was the house. It’s been on the Historical Homes of America house list for a very long time, so I had seen it and was a fan of the architecture. It was operating as a B&B for about a decade before it went on the market. When it did, my husband and I thought, Let’s just go see it. We really fell in love with it. I love that it’s so far removed from the city. There is no Uber or Postmates or billboards or anything like that. I’ve lived in Hollywood all my life. It’s fun, but now being a mother and having my beautiful son, I want to raise him around nature and family values. To me, that place was perfect for us. We want to grow our own food and have our little homestead. We plan on living there full time. I have a feeling that I will be a lot more creative there because I won’t have as many distractions.

Do you plan to bring California culture with you, or do you see this as a fresh start?

I’m one of those Californians fleeing the state looking for the opposite of what is there. I’m not interested in changing Vevay, but I’d like to bring things to the table. I hope more people don’t move there. I like it how it is. I do plan on opening up a private tattoo studio there eventually, though. Everywhere I go, I want to leave it a little better than I found it. Bringing any kind of art to a community is great.

What kind of restoration work are you doing to the mansion?

I’m a huge fan of Victorian architecture. I never want to mess with the integrity of the original architecture, but I do put my own aesthetic touch on things. Before, it was flowery wallpaper and stuff like that. We’ve taken all that out. I liked embossed wallpaper and wood carvings. Our team of artisans is going to help me bring new life to that mansion.

You always have a lot of projects going on—music, film, your shoe line, renovating the mansion, being a mother. How do you do it all?

I’ve always been a workhorse, but I’m going to celebrate my 15th year of sobriety in July, and being sober is a huge part of me being able to do so much. I thrive on structure. If you’re left without deadlines and goals, you’re kind of just floating. Having a kid forces you to keep a schedule. From 9 to 5, I leave a window to work, and after 5 is family time. I wake up relatively early, and that’s when I work out. If you’re doing things you love and are passionate about, you find the time.

You mentioned your son, Leafar, who is 3. Where does he live when you’re on tour? 

He’s actually going on tour with us. My husband is in a band called Prayers, and they’ll be opening up for us. So it’s a family tour. I can hold Leafar when he’s playing, and then my husband can take over. When I step back and look at Leafar’s life, it’s so charmed. He’s surrounded by so many brilliant artists. I think he’s going to grow up and look back at his life and the photos and think, This was pretty amazing. Our good friend, Charo, from Love Boat and the music scene, gave him his first flamenco guitar. I dress crazy and look wild, but he doesn’t really see any of that stuff. He just sees his mom, and I love that. To other people, I might be a weirdo, but to my son, that’s what he knows and who he loves. We don’t ever push our aesthetics onto him, but he naturally likes what we like. For example, he loves Hotel Transylvania. I think it’s because he sees his mom and dad in there, and our house looks like the castle. To him, that’s normal. Sometimes we get a little criticism: “Why does he always wear black?” But he picks out his own clothes. That’s just what he likes. He’s a good boy.

Will your son go to school in Vevay?

We already intended on doing homeschooling. We’re not interested in public school or even a private school. We’d like to be in control of the curriculum. Spanish is his first language, although he has naturally picked up English. I was a bilingual kid. Both my husband Rafael’s family and mine speak Spanish, so we thought it was important for Leafar to be able to communicate with his grandma and other family members. Plus, it’s such a beautiful language.

Kat Von D and Realtors outside her Vevay mansion
Kat Von D bought the Schenck Mansion last year and has been renovating it since.

Do you have a favorite tattoo?

I’ve been in the process of blacking out a lot of my tattoos. I’ve had 15 years of sobriety, but along the way, I had gotten so many tattoos that I don’t necessarily regret, but that were just drunken tattoos that were a reminder of a version of me that is no longer around. I got a lot of backlash because I was blacking them out. “Why would you do that to yourself? Why don’t you get lasered?” I don’t think people understand how painful the laser process is. You have to go as many as 20 times, and some tattoos are too difficult to remove. For me, blacking out was a great option. I love the way it looks. I wear black every day, and it complements my style. So my blackout tattoos have become my favorite ones.

What about the tattoos that you’ve given? 

Some of my favorites are not necessarily about the content of the tattoo, but the stories behind them. One of the best parts of tattooing is connecting with people and hearing their stories. I’ve done a lot of portraits of people, especially their loved ones who have passed away. Those tend to be my favorite, when I can bring the spirit of somebody who meant something to my client back to life in a different way. That’s powerful.

You’re a counterculture woman, and that comes with some hate on social media. How do you weather that?

I’ve never really belonged in most places, even within my own family. You can’t please everybody. One of my favorite qualities of this country is that we’re all able to have different opinions and perspectives and have open conversations about things. What a boring world if we all thought and looked the same. The other day on Instagram, somebody commented they didn’t like my son’s haircut. I cut his hair because my mom cut my hair when I was little. It’s ghetto and doesn’t look professional. But it’s still very cute to me, a little bowl cut, and someone said, “Oh, that’s a terrible haircut.” I would never say that about someone else’s kid. But I think there are a lot of wounded soldiers walking around. They say, “Hurt people hurt people.” You have to take all of it with a grain of salt. I don’t go to bed thinking about those people.

And yet, as a celebrity, you need to use social media for promotion.

I do enjoy some aspects of it. I love connecting with my fans. When I was young, we didn’t have the internet. I didn’t find my tribe until much later. I had different interests than a lot of people I went to school with. I love how it’s so easy these days to connect with people with similar passions. That’s a beautiful thing that has come out of social media. But with it comes the critics, the peanut gallery.

Who is your tribe?

I’ve always been connected to the outsiders and outliers. I don’t have a lot of friends. I have a lot of acquaintances, but the few friends I have are very solid. These are people who love you no matter what. I’m lucky to be surrounded by some of the most talented artists, and I am my friends’ biggest fan.

Do you have siblings?

I do. I’m the middle child, the black sheep. My siblings and I had a falling-out a long time ago, and I don’t talk to them. Some people find that weird. I think the grass is greener wherever you water it, and you get what you put into any relationship. Some people live with this false sense of obligation to put up with toxicity within family because you’re related. I don’t see that. If it’s a bad relationship, it doesn’t serve anybody to participate. I wish them well, obviously, but we just don’t talk.

Once this tour is over, what’s your next project?

Music is my main focus now. We’re already starting to write album No. 2. Once we get back from the European leg of the tour, we’ll dive into production. I really want to dedicate most of my remaining years on this planet to music. I am writing a children’s book and just finished a documentary on the house in L.A. that I renovated. I’ll probably do a documentary about the house in Vevay as well.

Do you plan to integrate into the Vevay community?  

I’ve already met a few people. Every year at Christmas, we have a big feast at the L.A. house, and I plan on doing that in Indiana as well. We have become very close with our neighbors. They own 150 acres near us. These people are truly amazing human beings. I have fallen deeply in love with the people of Indiana, especially in the rural parts. When you’re young, you want to be in the city, and the neon lights seem so appealing. As you get older, at least for me, my values have shifted. I appreciate the working class of America. I love hard-working people who value family. My first time visiting Vevay, we took a walk around town as the sun was setting. In every house, there was a light at the dinner table and families were eating together. I grew up sitting at a table with my family like that. We would pray and eat and unpack our day together. In L.A., my son and I take walks around the neighborhood every night and you don’t see any of that. That’s obviously a generalization, but somehow, it’s not as prevalent. So that aspect of Vevay is very appealing to me.

Do you consider yourself a Hoosier at this point?

I guess. If you guys will have me.