By Ashley Naftule, March 2020 issue.
With eye make-up as fluttery and black as moth wings and a blonde wig that looks like it was plucked straight off Jayne Mansfield’s rolling head, Trixie Mattel is an imposing sight. A drag queen, singer-songwriter, comedian, avid Barbie doll collector, and RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars winner, the country-fried Trixie looks like she stepped out of a Bizarro Grand Ole Opry where all the tears in beers are tinged with mascara and the cowboys vogue on top of bulls.
While Trixie came into prominence for her fun and fiery persona on Drag Race, she’s carved out a niche for herself as a touring performance artist. On albums like Two Birds and One Stone, she’s shown off a talent for crafting catchy queer country songs. Her latest album, Barbara, pushes her song into more freaky psychedelic dimensions. Trixie is taking her flip-your-wig music on the road for her Grown Up tour, which will be passing through Phoenix on March 13.
We got a chance to talk to the Drag Race star about her cosmetics line, her thoughts on the popularity, and what a Trixie Barbie would look like.
Echo: I wanted to start off by asking — if Mattel ever made an official Trixie Barbie doll, what would it be like?
Mattel: I think it’s more likely they’d make an official indictment for me to be sued than a doll! I’m a big fan of Mattel, obviously — I’ve got a lot of reverence, or like an irreverence, for them ... I think they’d make me a doll that would be pretty far out. With hair that could be changed out into different wigs. I think that’d be really cool.
Yeah, that does sound good.
Speaking of making your own dolls, there was this company called Galoob — I think they were Canadian. They approached the Spice Girls back in the day to say “Hey, we wanna make Spice dolls.” And I think they invested like 50 million or something into these dolls and ended up making hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars. And they weren’t a toy company! People can make their own toys. You don’t even need to wait for them to make a drag queen doll. Drag queens — we don’t wait for people to tell us anything. We just do it. Ask questions now, get sued later.
Switching gears to music: what is it like working with a full band for this tour?
There’s a lot of rehearsal and preparation, because they’re professional musicians and I’m not. I’ve been playing guitars and stuff since I was 13, growing up in the deep, deep country. I didn’t have cool people to be in a garage band with.
So we’re learning the songs off my record and we also have to rehearse everything else: the jokes I wrote for the show between songs, all my costume changes, the wig changes, the videos. It’s spinning a lot of plates cause as I’ve grown up the show has grown with me.
Do you ever worry you’re doing too much onstage?
No, but of course it’s a challenge. What I do every year is think of the people who’ve seen me every single year. What can I do that’s like so Trixie and so natural to me, but they’ll never see it? What’s something I haven’t done already? You want to make a show where people are going to get what they came for, but you also want to pull the rug out from under them a few times.
And I got to think of all the people who come see me for the record. Some people only listen to my records. Some people only come see me because they like my comedy. They like my YouTube show. Some people only come because they watch Drag Race. So I really have to make a show that can work for any type of audience member.
On the subject of music videos — who came up with the concept behind “Yellow Cloud”? It’s a really striking video, full of puppetry and crazy kid show stuff.
It’s always me. I come up with something and then I fish for people who also think it’s cool and have the skills to make it happen. Early Pee-Wee Herman was definitely an inspiration for this show and the video. For the video Seth Bogart, who’s a visual artist, built the whole set. He built all the puppets and the stage. And I was like, “Let’s go really bananas” during the shoot. I really wanted to get visuals that would help usher people who are so used to me doing the yee-haw thing into this new sound — this sort of sugary-sweet ‘60s pop sound.
What’s the biggest misconception that people have about what it’s like to be on RuPaul’s Drag Race?
People take for granted how much you have to do. If you’re on Top Model, you just have to model. And if you’re on Project Runway, you have to make an outfit. And if you’re on American Idol, you have to sing. And if you’re on Last Comic Standing, you gotta tell jokes. On Drag Race you have to do all of that. All of it. You can’t win Drag Race unless you can literally do everything. We have to do everything normal straight people do but we have to do it in more uncomfortable shoes and on a tighter budget.
You’ve pledged to donate a portion of your cosmetic line’s sales towards the preservation of honeybees. What inspired you to take on this initiative?
Without bees, we’ll all die. There’d be no planets, no air, nothing … When I used to work at makeup companies, I liked it when there was some kind of philanthropic effort attached to a product because it makes you just a little bit prouder to use it. So for my product, I really wanted to do something environmental. When you help honeybees, you help everybody, you help people, you help the earth.
I also have to worry about if I am going to be able to find a charity that’s going to be willing to work with me cause people are ashamed of working with drag queens sometimes. And the honeybee conservationists were so nice and they invited me to the offices. I got to tour the hives in drag. I got to reach into the hives and pull out honey and eat it. It was wild! Bees are crawling all over me and, I mean I love them but it’s also a little scary. It was definitely a test of my nerves, but it was cool.
Did you get stung at all?
No. They smoke the hives ahead of time. If you put smoke in the hives, the bees can’t go into attack mode because they communicate through scent and the smoke throws that off.
As someone who’s been in the drag game for a while, how do you feel about the medium’s growing popularity? Drag is more mainstream and visible now than it’s ever been.
When I started on Drag Race, I remember the way even gay people at the time felt about drag. It wasn’t always good. In the gay community, people see us better now. It used to not be — you were not cool if you did drag back then. Guys did not want to talk to you or date you. People did not want to be your friend. You were a weird crossdresser, you know? Now within the gay world, it’s gone from something that was not cool to something that’s like really cool.
It’s been like the gay community’s best kept secret that we have this really cool art form. And now everyone else is into it — which is fine! But you know, gay people inventing something and straight people showing up in the 11th hour is not a new concept. Gay people are sort of the cultural tastemakers and everything. So it just makes sense that Drag Race, which we like to call the gay Superbowl, caught on. Who wouldn’t like it? It’s cutthroat competitions of extremely creative people with really rich backstories, liberated people, finding themselves in an art form that wasn’t celebrated by most people. What could be more compelling than that?
Trixie Mattel’s Grown Up tour hits The Orpheum Theatre on Friday, March 13, at 8 p.m.