Categories 2015 interviews news

Kat Von D Explains the Remodled High Voltage Tattoo

Kat and her bros (crew) at High Voltage

Arguably the most famous tattoo shop in L.A. is open again for the first time in over a year, and it’s more representative of its leading lady than ever before.

Kat Von D’s High Voltage Tattoo is open for business in its old space once again after being damaged by an electrical fire last October, but this time the ink-slinging celebrity has turned the set of L.A. Inkinto her own personal tattoo wonderland.

“Most of the stuff on the walls is from my own personal collections,” Von D says. “I’ve been collecting skateboards for a really long time, and I feel like there’s a direct correlation between skateboard art, music and tattoo art. A lot of the boards we have were gifted to the shop from skateboarders we’ve tattooed, and the guitars are the same thing. It seems like an understatement to say it’s a dream come true, but it’s pretty cool to be able to tattoo the musicians you’ve looked up to all your life.”

From the merch area back to the bathroom, everything fits the theme at the new High Voltage.

The first thing that greets visitors is a giant chandelier composed of dozens of small glass figures of crucified Jesus. Aside from being a statement piece, it’s also one of the items with the biggest backstory.

“The Jesus chandelier, I went through Hell to get that thing,” Von D says. “There was this glass sculptor in New Orleans, so when I first saw it 10 years ago, I contacted him to see if I could get it. He shipped it, and a lot of the 66 red glass Jesuses showed up broken. He was going to make me some new Jesuses, but then Hurricane Katrina happened and it totally killed his studio. It was totally an ordeal to get it all together, so some of those Jesuses we’ve hand-glued together.”

How many places (not tattoo shops, just anywhere) do you know of with a red glass Jesus chandelier?

Von D isn’t done putting the finishing touches on her remodeled shop just yet, but she already believes the 8-year-old shop is “a million times better than it was before.” The shop now boasts a classic Victorian theme, which is very similar to the famous tattooer’s home.

“It was a really amazing process, and it was healing in a lot of ways,” Von D says. “We had this great opportunity to rebuild it, redesign it, and make it better than what it was to begin with.”

Gallery-quality paintings from the shop’s artists hang in gold frames on the red walls where another shop might have sheets of tattoo flash. Dark wood and thick molding give the entire interior a palatial feel, furthered yet by the throne-like chair toward the back of the room. Much like Von D’s success, the decor is a lot to take in, but the daughter of two Seventh-day Adventist Church missionaries is appreciative for every bit of it.

“I was born in Mexico, and when I say we were dirt poor, I mean our floors were literally made out of dirt,” Von D says. “It’s important to stay humble and remember where you came from. My name is not ‘Kat Von D,’ that’s an abbreviation for my real name (Katherine von Drachenberg). I identify more with my truer self than I do with the TV personality, but I’m appreciative of the platform it gave me to do all of these awesome things.”

A queen needs her throne.

The remodel is appropriate in another way, as the rest of the artists at High Voltage aren’t the ones who many unknowing tourists expected to see in the old shop. While Dan Smith (who now owns Captured Tattoo in Tustin) is one of Von D’s only remaining friends from the TV show, her current crew is comprised solely of tattooers she personally admires.

“I love my tattoo family, they’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Von D says. “I made sure to hire people who were better than me, because I think being the big fish in a little water is really counterproductive as an artist for growing. Every day I’m pinching myself like, ‘Holy shit, I’m tattooing next to someone who I’m their biggest fan.’ It’s intimidating, but in a good way.”

Royal colors? Check. Gold frames? Check. Giant molding? Check.

Despite the different look and different staff inside of the shop, plenty of tourists and locals alike still stop by the WeHo landmark to see the set of their favorite TLC show. Considering that (as Von D stresses) High Voltage is still a top-notch tattoo shop first and foremost, one might think the visitors would bug her — but that’s not the case.

“We have tour buses that come by the shop on a schedule, which I think is neat,” Von D says. “I know a lot of other shops would probably talk shit or think they’re a joke to a certain degree, but I feel like it’s the opposite for me. If people want to come by, buy a shirt and take pictures, that’s awesome. I celebrate my shop and put pictures and post shit on Instagram all the time because my shop’s badass.”

High Voltage Tattoo is far different from what the film crews saw.

Ultimately, Von D splits her time between tattooing and her many other endeavors, from furthering her makeup line to writing music to keeping up her huge social media presence. She doesn’t plan on becoming one-dimensional anytime soon, and she’ll never be one to rest on her laurels.

“A lot of people define themselves by what’s in their portfolio or who they’ve tattooed, but I’ve stopped caring about that shit a long time ago,” Von D says. “I just want to become the best tattooer I can possibly physically be.”


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[opening graphics hand-drawn by: @BJBetts]
[clown theme song composed and performed for this video by: @AliHelnwein]
[editting by: Tom Siiter]

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[opening “Kat’s Beauty Chat” graphic hand-drawn by: @BJBetts]
[music composed+performed specifically for this video by: @AliHelnwein]
[editting by: Tom Siiter]