In the middle of the promotional cycle for Trixie Motel, Trixie Mattel took some time off her busy schedule to speak with Out about her brand-new double album releases, The Blonde & Pink Albums.
During our conversation, Trixie reflected on her past music releases and how these new albums have evolved her sound, as well as how she sees music fitting in with the rest of her drag career. The RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 3 winner also dove deep on the meaning of certain songs, the overall themes of these new albums, and how music might just be the one place where Trixie allows herself to "break character."
Out: You recently became the first drag queen in history to perform as a musical guest on a late-night talk show. What was your experience performing on Jimmy Kimmel Live?
Trixie Mattel: Well, I believe Jimmy [Kimmel] worked on Crank Yankers, which I was in season five of. I think he must have a crush on me or something because I always bump into him on something. I just couldn't believe it. I mean, when you're an independent artist like me and you write all your own music and pay to make all your own records - when you have a single coming out you can have your publicist, who you also pay, to pitch songs for you to do late nights. If you're like me, up until recently, they always say 'no,' which is fine, but you try anyway.
I guess I always fronted my most commercial-sounding singles thinking that's how it would happen. Like "Hello Hello" or "Malibu." So when Jimmy Kimmel's team asked me to come play "This Town," it was very unexpected because: a) I didn't know that they could pick the song you do; and b) I just didn't expect this sort of somber lullaby about small towns to get any sort of traction or exposure or recognition. I wrote that during COVID at my kitchen table in April 2020 just because I was kind of fantasizing about...I love being in a small town, but there's sort of a darkness there. So, I just didn't expect to get to play that on Jimmy Kimmel.
It was easy. I just sat around all day in my trailer, put my makeup on, and then went in. It's like three minutes of singing. I live close to [the] Jimmy Kimmel [set] so it was like, just drive up the street. But I had to film UNHhhh in the morning, so there was no celebrating. I just went home, got out of drag, and then had to get up and get in drag again.
You've gone from releasing two folk EPs in a short span of time to releasing a double album that is much more pop-heavy. How do you interpret this significant evolution in your music career?
I think I just imagined things for the projects. My first record was Two Birds, which was almost drag western music. It's like country-folk music. At the time I was dating a guy from Kentucky and we were breaking up and so I think that was the soundtrack that was playing in my head, was all very sad music. And then One Stone was a little more introspective. It's kind of folksy. It's a little more post-breakup where instead of, 'Poor me, poor me,' it's a little more, 'Well, maybe it's you.' I think I was kind of going through my Joni Mitchell phase of trying to write about the good and the bad of life.
Then, with Barbara and kind of going into The Blonde & Pink Albums...it's very California. You can feel Trixie sort of five years into living in Los Angeles. You can hear the sunshine in the music and you can hear sort of this perpetual summer. You can tell, I think from the sound of the record, that this is somebody who wears pink and a wig every day and lives somewhere where it never snows or rains. It almost has dollhouse energy, living in Los Angeles, and I think you can hear that. You can hear Trixie sort of becoming a bonafide California girl.
And how do you feel about exploring this more pop side of your sound and lyricism?
Some of my favorite artists are obviously super folky. I love James Taylor. I love Joni Mitchell. I loved Jim Croce. I love that kind of sh*t so much. When you hear a song like "This Town," you can tell that's sort of my bread and butter. You can tell when I was a teenager...I grew up kind of wanting to sing, but I also grew up learning guitar at the time of Blink-182 and I learned my guitar playing Cheryl Crow and Michelle Branch. Guitar-driven folk-pop was sort of what was on the radio my whole life when I was a kid.
I lived so far in the country that I had to take a two-hour bus to school and a two-hour bus home every day and the bus driver played top 40. So, for a good 15 years of my life, I listened to acoustic radio. I listened to radio folk-pop in the 2000s. I think you can tell on this record that this record sounds a lot more like maybe the music that was in my Discman. My all-time favorite musicians are, like...I love Weezer. I love Fountains of Wayne. I love The Shins. I think some of these influences came through. I love The Go-Gos. I love The Donnas. I'm almost aging myself a little bit with some of these sounds I think I referenced on this record, but it just feels right. Like, "Who Loves You Baby." I'm like, 'This could be a B side from the Freaky Friday soundtrack.' And some of my writing has a big 2000s teen movie energy, but guess what? I was a teenager in the 2000s.
I really wanted to talk about the cover art for The Blonde & Pink Albums. This is your first musical project where the artwork doesn't even have your name on the cover. It's just this stunning picture of you staring at the audience with a very confident look. What was your intention behind this cover?
Well, from a technical standpoint, I think most music gets listened to on an iPhone now or a Samsung Galaxy. My other record covers, I think that they were more sized for vinyl or sized for something that hangs on the wall. If you look at the art for Two Birds or something, there are so many little pieces of individual details, whereas this time I was like, 'What do people really know about me?' Arguably, as Trixie, I get probably exposed to straight people or normal audiences more than other drag queens and they probably remember me because of my face: this deranged makeup. I'm lucky enough to always get on iTunes charts and stuff like that. So, this time around, I was like, 'What do I want that little icon to look like and how do I want someone to stop scrolling? Let's just plaster my face out there.' I mean, my face is sort of my calling card. People only remember my name probably because of my face at this point. So that was part of it.
And the other part of it was, honestly, I'm getting older and I was just 32 and I was like, 'How long will I be able to pull off a closeup beauty shot in drag for an album cover? I want to do it now.' And The Blonde & Pink Albums are intended to be sort of the most to-the-core Trixie sound. These albums are sort of meant to be...if I don't make more records, this was the one that was the most Trixie sounding. 'Let's make the album cover just the most boiled-down Trixie: this really popped-out makeup that's beautiful but kind of shocking. Let's just make it about hair and lips and lashes and skin.' I think we did a beautiful job. Jon Sams shot it, who usually shoots a lot of my Trixie Cosmetics campaigns. That's the other thing. This is, I think, my first record since I founded a makeup company. You can tell that it reads a little more like a makeup ad, which I think probably just comes from the way I've been shooting for a couple of years.
When I think about the concept behind The Blonde & Pink Albums, I obviously think of The White Album by The Beatles and The Black Album by Jay-Z. Those particular projects felt like the albums where The Beatles and Jay-Z really consolidated their specific voices and sounds as musicians and as songwriters. Did you have those references in mind when making The Blonde & Pink Albums? Do you feel like these are the ultimate on-brand albums for Trixie as a musician?
I mean, if you've followed me for a while...I'm not saying it's subliminal, but there's a song called "Red Side of the Moon." There's a song called "Bluegrass." There's a song called "Yellow Cloud." My first record when I was in college is called "Greener." We've been slowly working through the colors. Not intentionally, I think, but maybe it's because I'm a visual artist and I guess, with drag visuals, it is half the job. I guess I do think a lot about... If you walked up to me and you had terrible vision, you'd be like, 'That is just a big blonde pink thing.' It's like, boiled down, Trixie having bleach blonde California girl blonde hair, giant, giant blonde hair that's appearing to grow out of the head...Then, every day for 15 years at this point, decked out head-to-toe in pink. Again, it's about distilling and it's about, 'What am I at the core? What is Trixie at the core?' At the core, she's this big, pink, blonde, California beach buddy. Even though I'm a bald man from rural Wisconsin, Trixie accidentally is this California somebody.
The character is created to be thin and beautiful and rich and stupid and self-involved. She's kind of meant to be an endearing caricature of some of the worst traits of Americanized wealth and beauty. I mean, she's ignorant. She means well, but she's indignantly ignorant. Trixie's rarely telling a story where was the hero. She's somebody who inflates the truth in a story to make themselves look better. It's sort of like the worst traits of the south, in a way. I guess that's what I was trying to really pull in The Blonde & Pink Albums. I'm obsessed with duality. Two Birds, One Stone. Barbara was side A and side B, like an eight-track. This was sort of a companion because some of these songs are written truly in the character of Trixie, like "Hello Hello" and "New Thing." I would never write some of these songs for me to sing out of drag. But then when you hear a song like "White Rabbit", "Goner," or...
Yes, "Vacation." I mean, "Goner" is specifically about being somebody who got famous from being someone else. You could only write a song like that if you have this kind of weird career where you masquerade as a famous person, basically. Drag is funny because you pretend to be famous and rich and successful long enough, you actually make fun of it long enough, and people [end up believing] it's true. That's what's ironic: you create something that's meant to throw in the face of capitalism and entertainment and vanity, but then people actually buy it so hard that it becomes the truth.
Speaking of these dualities, here's my theory: I feel like The Blonde Album was coming from this confident person in their thirties and The Pink Album was coming from a very excited but still growing-up teenager. Would you consider that to be a fair interpretation of these albums, or what do you consider the biggest differences between them?
They aren't meant to be starkly different as much as they're meant to be companions. There aren't songs on one that couldn't belong on the other. So, instead of a Venn diagram of the line, it was just a little more about my gut feeling, to be honest. It was a little more about which song I wanted people to hear next to each song, if that makes sense.
Like I said before, I felt like there was a certain innocence to The Pink Album. I think that the songs almost came from a younger voice inside of you. Do you get what I'm saying?
Yes. Those songs were really about reflecting on where you were. There's something like "Vacation," which has first heartbreak energy. I'm obsessed with The Go-Gos, so I had to do that song. Really, I should quit drag and be a songwriter for a Disney girl artist. These songs are not meant for the voice and the fingers of a 32-year-old man.
But I think they are, in a weird way.
I mean, something like "Who Loves You Baby" almost sounds like it's about imploring someone to remember that you love them or that you're the one for them, whereas, really, I mean, when I wrote them, it was about f*cking other people. It's about being in an open relationship. It's asking, 'Who loves you, baby?' Like, 'Who have you been having sex with?' But it's also reminding them that, 'No matter who you have sex with, I'm the one who loves you.' And I don't think people will get that out of it, but that's what I got out of writing it.
I'm not always interested...I don't always feel compelled for the listener to get the same experience out of a song as I do. I love metaphors and I love people being able to...10 people listen to the same song and they swear that it was written about them, basically. But it's because my exact specific situation doesn't have to be delivered in a way that is in living color. It can be a little more impressionist where people can sort of get what they want out of it.
I also really wanted to talk about the very last track: "Vacation." That really stayed with me and made me curious because...I mean, you're famous for being one of the busiest drag queens on the planet, but here we have a song about taking time off as the final song in this double album. Yet, in the lyrics, it almost is like you're talking to and about 'vacation' as if it were a person. Can you talk about the meaning behind this song?
Well, one of my favorite bands, The Go-Gos, they're really good at doing something that is writing sugary-sweet, poppy songs that kind of make the hair on your neck stand up because it's so delicious and like candy. But the lyrics are often kind of somber. "Vacation" is like sad lyrics. I mean, 'Tomorrow's another day that you won't be in.' It's just sad. Basically, in the story of the song, the person took themselves on vacation to get over someone and it was 'too much too soon,' so it's actually worse.
I always heard the song for what it was. I mean, those lyrics always hit me like, 'Wow, this is sad.' So I started singing it live as a ballad during shows and people would afterward be like, 'Oh my god, I never realized how sad that song is. But you didn't change the lyrics? Those are the real lyrics?' And I'd be like, 'Yes, it's sad.' I think that's something I do in my music - something like "Stay the Night" sounds like, 'I just want to sleep over with you,' but it's kind of inviting someone to basically be with you. That's what the core of it is.
On the surface level, I just bought a motel with my partner and so it was an extremely weirdly romantic thing to be basically making a life commitment of owning a business together. I mean, that's a bigger deal than having a kid or owning a house together...owning a business together. And there was something weirdly romantic and something so transactional in saying, 'I want to stay the night with you.' It's like I'm trusting my partner to go into business with me with something Trixie-related. I'm extremely defensive of Trixie and anybody being involved with Trixie, so there was just something really romantic about that.
As a queen who is so known for her comedy, when you put out music like this, do you feel like you're creating a softer extension of the character of Trixie? Or is this the one place where you kind of allow Trixie to sort of break character?
It's definitely that. It's a little more like, 'Oh, you love this artist? Well, they also have a pottery business.' You know what I mean? Your favorite actress also sells acrylic ashtrays on Etsy. I just feel like I created this character and I use my comedy to make something that's very commercially viable. I mean, let's be honest, Trixie is just like a money-printing machine sometimes because Trixie attaches to something and it just gets wings. It just takes off and I just am amazed every time. Whereas my music, I'm a white guy with a guitar. It's not like there's a shortage of that. But if you like my comedy or you like my work with Trixie and you want sort of the further dimension of that...I would say musically I'm more interested in storytelling and trying to write the best songs I can. It's basically like my journaling process. It would be like if I annually published my personal journal.
I don't really write it thinking, 'I'm going to change drag music,' or, 'I'm going to make something that's perfectly complimenting this art form.' Because if that's what I wanted, I would just be making country dance music because I love country dance music. But that's just not what comes natural to me. I mean, way before I wanted to do drag, I spent my whole life wanting to be a songwriter. I thought that songwriting had so much dignity and so much mastery to it. I always found compelling lyrics and storytelling to be the ultimate magic trick...and I still think it's magic. I guess that's the magic I try to conjure up on my own time. It's almost like my hobby. And because I do drag and I've been Trixie for 15 years. You can hear it more on The Blonde & Pink Albums than ever. Trixie just pervades everything. I mean, being Trixie and the point of view of Trixie now is just part of the music. Instead of the flip side of the coin, it's just part of it. It's just in it.
The Blonde & Pink Albums are now streaming on Spotify and Apple Music.
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