Queenstion Time #8: Trixie Mattel
Ahead of Trixie Mattel’s massive UK tour, Andrew Nicholls talks to the RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars winner about her new show, Dolly Parton and being a “Skinny Legend”.
We were told that Trixie Mattel’s manager would be answering the call, so when they picked up I asked to speak to her.
“This is Trixie,” she laughed. “Fame hasn’t changed me – I’m still humble and answer the phone!
“I even carry my own luggage. I suppose I could get fans to carry her luggage, but they might steal my things! When people ask why my ‘people’ can’t do things for me, I’m like ‘what people?!’”
Through the course of our 15 minute conversation, what became most apparent was that this initial declaration of humbleness wasn’t a mere subtle brag. She is clearly proud of her achievements – when we mentioned her career, she responded with “Which one? My beauty career? Drag career? TV career? Music career?” – but she never comes across as arrogant or conceited.
“I am proud of what I have done, but I don’t like to brag. Other queens seem to do. They go on Twitter and say ‘I’m thankful to everyone who has helped me’ and then list all of their achievements,” she chuckles. “It’s like, ‘Bitch, you’re not thanking them you’re just bragging about what you’ve done, you’re listing your achievements!’”
And yet, Trixie – who is about to begin her Skinny Legend Tour of the UK – probably has as much right as anybody else to brag. She is inarguably among the most successful drag queens on the planet.
Trixie Mattel was born Brian Firkus in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1989. She first performed drag at the age of 19 at the city’s LaCage NiteClub, quickly becoming one of the staples of the drag scene. Her aesthetic is unique and extremely distinctive; think of Barbie meets a 60s hippy chick who is dressed as Dolly Parton as she hitchhikes her way to Dollywood.
She cited Barbie as one of her fashion icons, along with Polly Pocket – both toys are manufactured by a company called Mattel, so perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising. But what did surprise us is that she didn’t mention Parton as being an influence on her aesthetic, but she was certainly an inspiration to her.
“Dolly Parton is a legend!” she enthuses. “My favourite Dolly quote is ‘It’s fine to tell Dolly Parton jokes, as no one will ever have more than I do’. I love people who can laugh at themselves.”
Dolly may not have been an immediate influence on her aesthetic, but she certainly was on her music.
One of the most unexpected developments in Trixie’s career is the success of her country albums. Her debut, Two Birds, even reached the top five on the US country chart and received glowing reviews from publications such as Rolling Stone. How does she conflate those two audiences with the knowledge that country has a reputation for not exactly being the most open minded culture?
“I wouldn’t call my music true country. It’s more folk, and folk music is about telling a story. Everyone loves a story. But I grew up listening to country music and wanted to incorporate it into Trixie”.
“I mean, can you imagine me doing a dance track?” she laughs. “I was listening to Naomi Smalls’ Pose the other day and it’s fantastic! She doesn’t even have to sing, she just looks and looks gorgeous and I’m there with a harpsichord!”
You can never be too extra in drag though!
“Yeah, I’m stood there with five wigs on my head, corseted and playing instruments!”
Sadly, despite Parton’s well known affection for drag queens, it seems unlikely that we get a Dolly/Trixie duet on Mattel’s next album. “She is out of my league, I’m just a cross-dresser!”
“In fact, my next album will have more of a 60’s vibe. Think The Beatles, but way more gay!”
Trixie’s music is likely to play a central part in her upcoming tour; Skinny Legend. It arrives at Liverpool’s Mountford Hall on Thursday 7th March and Manchester’s O2 Apollo two days later. It’s worth pointing out that the only other queen who seems capable of playing such large venues solo is Bianca Del Rio.
“The tour is called Skinny Legend, so I really don’t want to put weight on during it! I’ll be eating a lot of baked beans!”
Make no mistake, Skinny Legend looks set to be a huge undertaking. She says she has been preparing for the new shows like a TV detective show, “with the big boards with pins and pictures all over it. My phone is full of screenshots of inspirations. I stick all of my ideas up and look for connections between everything so that I can find the themes and put the show together that way. But I love the new show. I can play my guitar and then go from telling child abduction jokes to insulting meet and greets – especially as there’s people in the audience who have played for meet and greets!”
Fans who have only seen Trixie on RuPaul’s Drag Race may be surprised at such near the knuckle material – a trait that is common among many of the show’s stars. Her comedy idols include Kathy Griffin, whose shows she would download from peer-to-peer download site Limewire (“sometimes avoiding the porn!”), and who she cites as one of her greatest inspirations growing up. It was clear that she had great aspirations “I wanted to be a comedian, artist, beautician – I went to both music school and beauty school, but drag is the only career where I can combine all the things I love, like make-up, comedy and music.”
In fact, it was whilst studying at The Institute of Beauty and Wellness in 2014 that she received an offer to compete on season seven of RuPaul’s Drag Race. She came in sixth on that run, but was popular enough with fans to be invited back for last year’s All Stars 3, where she eventually snatched the crown.
“I didn’t know what to expect going into season seven”, she admits. “I was scared of the competition and nothing can fully prepare you. Going into All Stars 3, I made sure I was ready. I had more outfits and I was much more relaxed. I’m actually not a competitive person. A lot of queens thrive in that environment, but I’m really not competitive”.
She still won though!
“I did! And that money!”
Of course, like all of the queens on the show, it was Drag Race that made Trixie an international star. It’s highly unlikely that she would be doing such a high profile tour if it wasn’t for her appearances on the show, no matter how mainstream the art form has become. “It is a testament to Drag Race that the art of drag that it’s getting more popular. Having 15 seasons and still growing, what other show can do that?”
Would she define herself as mainstream?
“I think I’m still a niche celebrity. If you’re into ice hockey or K-Pop you will know a lot of the big stars that others won’t, and I think it’s the same with Drag Race.”
Perhaps that she only sees herself as a small celebrity – despite the Drag Race phenomenon – is why she hasn’t seemed to let the fame get to her head. She admits that there are times during her current tour where she just stands on stage and “wonder how I got here. It’s crazy walking into a shop and seeing myself as a Funko Pop. I was on the shelf in between Britney Spears and Pennywise the Clown!”
You would think that between the touring, the albums, the comedy, the make-up art and the conventions there would be little time for anything else. But, of course, she has found herself in an extremely popular double act with fellow season seven contestant Katya, with whom she created the viral webseries UNHhhh with fellow season seven contestant Katya. The series finds the duo discussing a range of topics from broad topics such as money, music or dating, to talking about their own lives such, as a season two episode that focused on their lives before they found fame on Drag Race, or Katya’s frank discussions on her battles with addiction.
The series has been so popular that it was spun off to the VICE TV series The Trixie and Katya Show – though season eight winner Bob The Drag Queen had to fill in for Katya during the run (“Plans went a bit differently as my co-host had a slight relapse”). UNHhhh is now currently six episodes into its fourth series, and will continue its run during Trixie’s UK tour.
It’s just another string to her ever-increasing bow. Mattel is without a doubt in the upper tier of drag stars working today, and her abilities as a comedian, musician, make-up artist and television personality must be enviable to some of her peers.
Yet her humbleness keeps her grounded, with a personal warmth that is hard to capture in media. In fact, when discussing her current work, she seems focused on one facet; “My boyfriend is with me on this tour, and he just drinks all my white wine. So I don’t have any waiting for me after the show. Maybe I need to update my rider!”
Trixie Mattel plays Liverpool’s Mountford Hall on Thursday 7th March 2019 and Manchester’s O2 Apollo on Saturday 9th March 2019. Click here for tickets.