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

“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 is making real inroads in the music world with her two autoharp-laden Americana/folk albums, Two Birds and One Stone. The latter album recently 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 has an endorsement deal with Fender for her upcoming Moving Parts tour. She’s realistic about her long-shot potential to infiltrate the mainstream Nashville scene, but so far, she’s happily finding her country niche.

“I think the perception of audiences that love folk and country is they’re perceived to be more closed-minded than they really are,” Trixie asserts. “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 (real name: Brian Firkus), who started playing guitar at age 13, grew up “deep in the country” of small-town Wisconsin (which inspired her new 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.

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