trixie mattel knows everybody likes a loser
Talking country music and Katya with the genre-bending drag queen and winner of 'All Stars 3.'
“I’ve only been a winner for two weeks, but I’ve been a loser all my life,” says Trixie Mattel of winning the third season RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars, only a few short weeks ago. Since then, it would be cliché to say her life has transformed, and in fact it hasn’t — Mattel’s genre conquering success was realized in the years after her initial appearance on Drag Race, through sheer talent, force of will, and eyelash glue. Mattel now has an album out, the rather brilliant One Stone, which finds inspiration in her country roots, and of course there’s her Viceland show, the utterly genius Trixie and Katya Show (now featuring Bob the Drag Queen while Katya takes time out).
We wanted to pick her (and her alter ego Brian Firkus's) brains, or whatever’s under that wig, about the fashion inspirations behind her legendary look, but naturally things turned to the hot topics of the day. Here, Mattel talks about what winning means, why perfection isn’t everything, and what’s up with Katya.
Who were the performers who inspired your distinctive look?
My favorite performers were always people you could recognize from a hundred paces, they were impactful. Unironic use of the word iconic — a piece of someone’s look becomes their calling card, their bat signal. And I love drag queens like Lady Bunny or Coco Peru. And I always wanted to be a performer like that, where for better or worse I’m burned into your memory. And the look is also influenced by the kind of work I do. When I was just doing standup, it was more Malibu Barbie, but growing into a musician over the last couple of years I do more flowery, Woodstock kind of things.
More of a travelling lady musician vibe.
A few years ago I was playing guitar but wearing this Barbie get up, and I was like, this doesn’t match. I kind of had to shift the looks to something at little more earthier, like Emmylou Harris at Toys ‘R’ Us.
Who makes your outfits? Are you there with a hot glue gun?
I used to make everything, but now I tour six days a week so don’t have time. There are a few artists who make my looks. Dallas Coulter made a lot of my Drag Race costumes, and my gowns or more involved looks. A lot of my looks are vintage — that’s most impactful. But I have a man’s body so I have to have things made for me! A lot of my slinky, flowy swimsuit cover ups are just from Amazon. You’d be amazed what you can find.
A lot of my silhouettes are the same though. A 60s shape with a collar and princess sleeve. I love bell bottoms. I love anything sort of, flowy but young. Like a wood nymph. When I’m playing the autoharp and holding it to my body, it has to look of the same period.
The autoharp is very Dolly Parton.
There’s a live version of Dolly Parton playing “Coat of Many Colors” on the autoharp and it’s amazing. I love June Carter Cash and I love Dolly Parton. And to me that trapezoid shape is something very ethereal and also honest. Knowingly strange — the instrument looks strange, it sounds like a music box. And if you listen to me playing “Moving Parts”, acoustic, it really has a music box sound to it. That instrument is really a lost art.
I’m presuming you grew up listening to folk and country, but when did you start playing properly?
I grew up playing guitar, my grandfather played country and folk music. I played my whole life at home. But then in adulthood, I wanted to play harp, but then didn’t know anyone that played it. And then I met someone who played it and she said, if you can play guitar you can play the harp. And it was love at first sight. It felt like I’d been playing it my whole life. And it has a different effect on audiences — they’ve never seen this thing, so a hush falls over the room because they want to see what the fuck this thing is.
You’ve really built this many layered career — as drag queen, musician, and comedian, and all of that was without finding much success in your first season on Drag Race .
Oh yeah, it’s been like building blocks. I didn’t leave Drag Race the first time with any pride, or anything accomplished. And everything I’ve gotten to do today, isn’t because I won Drag Race [ All Stars]. I mean there’s a crown and scepter in my garage, but being a musician, having my own TV show, touring the world; this was all stuff I was going to do anyway. Honestly, my fans don’t like my work because I’m a winner. That’s never been part of it. Trixie fans care about having a good laugh, hearing a song they care about, and getting to look at something pretty.
People connect with loserdom. I don’t know if I connect with winners.
I don’t! I won a competition but that doesn’t make my work good. There’s a bit of money in the bank, but the things I’ve attained have been because of my work, not because RuPaul put a ring on it, you know. A head ring! That’s what a crown is, a head ring. My point of view has always been about what I’ve done wrong, and how I’ve messed up. That’s a little more relatable for me. When Bianca gets up there and talks about being a winner and having perfect hair, I’m checked out, because I don’t feel like a winner or have perfect hair. As a comedian I always try and work in parables, like, here’s not what to do. I’m usually the butt of the joke in everything I do.
It’s a free for all, and that’s the fun of it. People say they watch the show and feel like they’re hanging out. Me, Bob, and Katya — it’s usually a story of what not to do, we’re educating the audience based on our own failures.
Bob’s been such a great addition.
Katya and Bob are not comparable, but the laughs per second with Bob are certainly high. And sometimes higher!
The chemistry’s there.
Well, Katya’s the wacko, she’s the crazy person literally and figuratively. With Bob, we get to explore a different dynamic. I’m really country and white, and Bob is reaaallly a big black queen from the city. So we can also explore the country mouse vs. city mouse, ebony and ivory of comedy. I could never do that with Katya.
We don’t know where Katya’s from.
She’s a fucking nutcase.
But to go back to your earlier point, Katya’s very open about her mistakes as well as her triumphs, whatever they may be.
I was going to say, what are her triumphs? She’s alive, at thirty five. At thirty five, and having a past in hooking, and drug abuse, she’s alive, which is incredible. She’s really a gift, even when she’s not firing on all cylinders. But that being said, having watched nine episodes with Bob, he belongs, he’s done such a great job. I’m so happy to have him, and Katya is so happy he stepped in. He’s so good.
It’s a silver lining.
I always knew something like that could happen, so when she did need a break, I already had my list of who I could call, and Bob was the top of that list. He could do this alone, he’s so funny.
I could listen to him read ingredients off a jar of mayonnaise.
And he will! Listen, I can’t confirm or deny if there’s a season 2, but the first episode will be about mayonnaise.