Country-singing drag queen Trixie Mattel on her surprise success: 'Country fans are perceived to be more closed-minded than they really are'

Lyndsey Parker

“I don’t expect a lot of people who love drag to also be like, ‘I love Drag Race, and then I got to hear my Chris Stapleton album.’ Not necessarily an obvious crossover,” laughs Trixie Mattel, sitting at Yahoo Entertainment in flawless June Carter Cash drag. But the RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars 3 winner-turned-country artist has made real inroads in the music world with her two autoharp-laden Americana/folk albums, Two Birds and One Stone. The latter album hit No. 1 on iTunes’ Singer-Songwriter chart and Billboard’s Heatseekers chart; she’s received glowing coverage in NME, NPR, and Rolling Stone Country; and she even had an endorsement deal with Fender for her 2018 tour.

Trixie is realistic about her long-shot potential to infiltrate the mainstream Nashville scene, but so far, she’s happily finding her country niche.

Trixie (real name: Brian Firkus) — whose life and unusual career are now getting the documentary treatment with  Moving Parts, which premieres this week at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City — says she’s not that surprised by the country audience’s acceptance of her so far. “I think the perception of audiences that love folk and country is they’re perceived to be more closed-minded than they really are,” she muses. “It’s one of those things where the most extreme voices represent the masses, do you know what I mean? It’s like, not everybody goes to church hates gay people. Not everybody who listens to folk and country would object to drag. I mean, look around — is Dolly [Parton] not in drag? She’s in probably a bigger wig than I am right now! I’ve always found a way to win people over, especially with comedy. … I operate more like the crying-clown territory, where I love to tell jokes, I love sappy folk music, and I love to marry the two together.”

Trixie started playing guitar at age 13, grew up “deep in the country” of small-town Wisconsin (which inspired her song “Little Sister”). However, she was more into “acoustic-guitar-driven pop music” like Avril Lavigne, Sheryl Crow, Oasis, and Michelle Branch as a kid. “But in my bones, the way I grew up, it was the fabric of folk music,” Trixie says. It was her late grandfather, a musician, who inspired her latent appreciation of country: “I think some of the happiest memories of my life were learning to play guitar at the kitchen table, learning Roy Orbison or George Jones or Conway Twitty — music I didn’t necessarily love [at first], but that’s what I knew from home.”

Trixie’s grandpa also influenced her colorful, Hee Haw-on-steroids drag aesthetic, in a way: “He always said, ‘Being a musician is 40 percent how good you are, and 60 percent how good you look doing it.’ And I think with drag, I took that a little far,” Trixie laughs.

Trixie Mattel (Photo: Jose Guzman Colon)

That being said, Trixie toned down her nuclear-pink Malibu Barbie look for a more Joanne-esque vibe for her second album. “The visual inspirations accompany usually musically whatever is inspiring me,” she says. “So when Two Birds came out last year, the look was a lot more like square-dancing dresses, big cowboy boots, and big hair. This year, I got a lot more into Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, so the look sort of turned more like late-’60s, a little more lived-in. I don’t just wear pink now. I also experiment with mustard and brown!”

Trixie Mattel’s One Stone album cover.

Along with Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, June Carter Cash, Jason Isbell, and Chris Stapleton, Trixie finds major musical inspiration from two fringe-country kindred spirits, Miley Cyrus (Dolly Parton’s goddaughter) and Kacey Musgraves — both of whom have, incredibly, expressed interest in collaborating with Trixie.

“The night I won [RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars 3], Miley Instagram-messaged me and was like, ‘We gotta do a song!’ And I was like, ‘I would literally throw myself under a truck for you,’” says Trixie. “She is one of my favorites. One of my dreams is to quit drag, go live in the woods somewhere, just write her music for her, and twice a year send her a mixtape and be like, ‘These are your songs. They’re great for you!’ She has such a real, human, storyteller voice. It’s also anti-songbird in a way. There’s a wisdom to it … it has a Stevie Nicks quality to it. It has a depth and such color to it. I love her voice!” Trixie similarly gushes about Musgraves: “The fact that she even knows I’m alive, I’m like, ‘I’ll polish your boots, lady. I’ll quit music and drag today.’”

On the subject of quitting drag, Trixie, age 29, doesn’t think she’ll be a drag queen for the rest of her life (“I don’t think I can make this look good at 45, so I need to evolve somewhere a little more realistic”), and plans to create other comedic characters in the future. But for now, she’s proud to occupy her own country music lane. While other musical Drag Race alumni have opted to go the clubby EDM route, Trixie reasons, “That’s how you succeed: You’ve just got to pick something no one has done, no one wants to do, and that way you can say you’re the best at it. … I mean, for a cross-dresser with a guitar to be able to do that stuff, it’s crazy. I saw RuPaul recently, and she was like, ‘You’re doing things that nobody’s ever done. I’m really proud of you.’”

And as for whether Trixie Mattel could ever become a mainstream country star, playing Stagecoach and winning at the ACMs, she says, “I think it could happen. To be honest, it doesn’t occur to me that it can’t. Trixie Mattel has always opened doors for me. It’s closed very few.”

Watch Trixie’s full Facebook Live acoustic session and interview below:

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