BlackBook Interview: Trixie Mattel Dreams of Moving to the Woods & Writing Songs For Miley

 

She’s won All Stars. Her album One Stone has reached the top of the iTunes charts. Her Viceland series The Trixie & Katya Show is possibly the most fun thing to watch on the internet. What will Trixie Mattel do next? That’s what we were eager to find out.

For one, her standup comedy act, Moving Parts, begins a 40-city tour across America tomorrow in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The show features all-new comedy and original songs from her albums Two Birds and One Stone (tickets available now at dragfans.com.)

Beyond her obvious knack for cracking one-liners and generally poking fun at the world around her, Mattel’s star has risen in recent months for her clear vocal and instrumental ability, popping out certifiable indie-folk bops like “Soldier” and “Little Sister.” What’s less obvious, perhaps, is that Mattel crafted each song herself – writing not to rack up as many nightclub plays as possible, but to express something deep within her that showed no signs of coming out in any other way. She revealed to us that someday she dreams of retreating to a cabin in the woods, and devoting her time to crafting music for such the likes of Miley Cyrus.

Mattel was born and raised in rural Wisconsin, where, as she describes it, she grew up sitting barefoot in a tree, strumming a guitar. Her music draws on her personal experieces: breakups, epiphanies, figuring out self-love… it’s all in her songs, and we talked about it all and more when we sat down for a chat with drag’s reigning comedy queen.

 

I want to hear about your album and I was kind of hoping you could walk me through the first moment you began writing it and how it came to be.

Well, me and Lindsey Buckingham, we had an album and a band, and I said, “What if we call it Rumors?” Actually, this new album is called One Stone, it’s very… It’s like, late-60’s folk revival. My last album, Two Birds… I broke it into two halves, that go together like puzzle pieces. Volume one, volume two.

I just put it together that the two titles make up one phrase.

Yeah, I never really announced it that way, I’ve been letting people figure that out on their own. It’s a really fun a-ha moment for people. The first one was kind of like a late-50’s country radio sound. The music was all very South-y and it was breakup music. A lot more Western sounding. This one I sort of imagined as a part one and part two. Chronologically, I was like, “What if this is a musician from that time period, but ten years later?” Two Birds is like, “Someone broke up with me, I’m the victim, poor me.” One Stone is more earthy, folksy, a little more like, “What if the problem’s me?” It’s about reflecting and growing up to realize you’re not perfect and that you’ve got issues. One of the big themes in the album is listening to your elders and reflecting on your life. You see things your mom or your dad said and now you’re an adult and you’re like, “Oh, they were right. Everybody in my life was right and I was wrong.”

 

 

Do you feel like there are specific people that you’re mostly speaking to on the album or writing about that maybe aren’t obvious through the lyrics?

Well, Two Birds was written in a time when I had been broken up with and I was very displaced by it. I felt like my relationship was this glue I had in my life. I didn’t really know what I was doing in Drag Race, I didn’t really know what I was going to do, this relationship was kinda like the glue, you know what I mean?

Yeah.

So when it didn’t work out, it was like this chasm that I fell into. It was very upsetting, probably irrationally upsetting. I mean, I’m crazy. When this guy broke up with me I spent the summer – I spent three months sending him a postcard a day. That’s 90 handwritten fucking letters. I’m a crazy person.

Oh shit!

And One Stone, I wrote it a good year-and-a-half later after I had gotten in and out of a new relationship. I’m older and my career is different and I’ve been performing as a musician more instead of just a comedian. “Little Sister” was… You know, my sister just turned 18 and that song’s about time and how you’re from a small town but you’ve got to run fast to do whatever you want to do in your life. I feel old enough to speak from experience, I feel old enough to muse on my big picture, whereas Two Birds was a little more like “Why me?” You know what I mean?

Right, right.

Or like “Soldier,” a song about being the type of person who stresses 24 hours a day. You never actually get to enjoy your life. I know a lot of people like that and that’s even me sometimes.

 

 

That’s me sometimes. I feel like that’s everyone.

Yeah, the whole album – each song is sort of a reminder to myself of all I have and how I need to navigate it.

Is any song focusing on a flaw that’s the most difficult for you to perform or is the most difficult to tap into? Is there a most vulnerable spot on the album?

“Break Your Heart” and “The Well.” “Wind up Man.” Those are all songs about having a great relationship and sort of kicking yourself with the mentality of “Why did you get what you wanted? Why would you have something great happen to you?” And then you take it for granted. I’ve done that in a lot of areas of my life. “The Well’s” lyrics are, “No you don’t throw wishes to the well,” like, “You got your wish, something good happened to you, why would you throw it down the wishing well?” And my career was getting so heavy and so….much… that I broke up with this guy. After the fact, I was like, “That was a huge mistake. I screwed up this relationship because I was overwhelmed with my work.” That’s some romantic comedy shit.

Did you guys end up…

Oh, yeah, we’re together now. But last summer I got the green light for The Trixie & Katya Show on Viceland, and that same week I got All Stars. And that was a lot for me. My knee jerk reaction was “I’ve got to make room in my life for this career.”

You’ve talked a lot about your career as a musician – does that mean you’re leaving some of the comedy behind?

Oh, no. I’ll still always be a comedian – my show Moving Parts, which is touring 40 American cities – the show is about 75% stand-up, and then there’s 4 or 5 songs I play on my guitar. What I like to do is do standup, and then punctuate topics or sections with pieces of music. In Moving Parts there’s this section where I talk about how white I am, and there are all these jokes about being white, and then I punctuate it with an acoustic, Dave Matthews Band cover of RuPaul’s “Cover Girl.” I’m always looking for new ways to tie a bow on things. Sarah Silverman sort of did that, too.
It never occurred to me before to use music in standup. I think I’d thought people wouldn’t want to see Trixie Mattel perform as a musician.

What was it like the first time you did do acoustic guitar as Trixie?

A light turned on. Two years ago, I wrote this show: Trixie Mattel: Ages 3 & Up. And there was this big section where I talk about breakups, and I talked about my breakup and then I sang this song from Two Birds called “I Know You All Over Again.” And it’s this sincere, original breakup song, and every night the audience bawled. I remember the first night I tried it at the dress rehearsal, and there was no one in the house except the bartender and the sound and lights guy, and I finished my run. I was like, “Oh, I like the way the show works. I’m thinking about cutting the breakup song. I think it’s too much.” And they were like: “It’s the best part of the show.” They all cried. I’m good at making people do two things: cry and laugh. If I can make them do both, I’m happy.

 

 

Is it scarier to do the music stuff?

Not really. When you make people laugh, you really get their trust. And when people have been laughing at my jokes, they’re a lot more willing to go on that journey with me in a somber moment.

You have this number one album. Do you think you have a larger goal than that in your music career – in terms of collaborators, the styles you want to try out?

Longterm, I’d like to go live in the woods and go write music for other artists I like. I’m a singer and a guitar player, but I think I’m a really good songwriter, and I really like Miley Cyrus, and I’d love to write songs for her. I love her voice. She’s such a good storyteller.
I want to win some awards. I’m a musician. I’m going to do this my whole life. I grew up sitting in a tree barefoot playing a guitar. Laura Ingalls Wilder. I didn’t start music because I thought I could sell it, or anything. All the songs on the album I wrote for my own musical fulfillment, not for cash. But I’d really like to be nominated for some awards – be a gay crossdresser and get nominated for an Americana Award. Or a Grammy. I would die. I’m nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award. So anything is possible. I think you should be allowed to think you’re good at something. I think my songs are beautiful. I would love to have some sort of ribbon on that.

How’s Katya doing? Will there be another season with her?

Well, I’m not allowed to say. But I just saw her, and she has a beard. So obviously we’re not filming today. One of my favorite things about Katya is her mind is this dark hallway. With an unexplained parade of Death Stars. That’s not something I ever want to go away. My favorite drag queens are Katya and Tammie Brown. I like my drag queens with a little insanity. But people really like the Viceland show, and the viewership has been very strong. So hurray season one.

Are there topics you haven’t covered that if, theoretically, there were to be a another season… you’d want to talk about?

My dream would be to kick off season two with Katya talking about mental illness. Let’s crack it open and get an insider perspective. We’ve always wanted to talk about suicide. We like to discuss topics that are maybe not OK to discuss. But I think that’s helpful. Mental health or anxiety or addiction or divorce. We like to get right in there in the nooks and crannies of life. We’re not like, “Which microwave popcorn can help you lose weight?” That doesn’t interest us.

What queens are you rooting for this season?

I’m a super fan of Monet and Cracker.

Do you have a favorite look from all of Drag Race?

Believe it or not, Phi Phi O’Hara. Future of drag. That blue thing with the giant gun. Come on. Raja’s Native American runway. Roxxxy Andrews’ candy on the runway, hippie look. Special mention: anything but Shangela’s Cornacia wig.

 

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