You probably know Trixie Mattel as a world famous drag artist, stand-up comic and New York Times bestselling author. But she has also turned out tunes for four albums and a number of stand-alone singles as both songwriter and performer. This is a bit unusual. As Trixie noted in a 2019 interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation “drag queens don’t play guitars and sing. It’s just not a thing.” Part of that is because drag is all about pretending, by lip-synching, imitating big stars, and messing with gender roles. In a 2017 interview with GQ she summed the drag performance dynamic as “… a room full of people knowing damn well that that’s not a woman, but we all, including the performer, simultaneously pretend that’s the truth now.” But when it comes to recording and playing songs, Mattel is not pretending. She’s got the songwriting and performing goods, delivered across an impressive range of styles.
Our story begins with her debut album, 2017’s Two Birds. The record is a stripped down country affair, so rustically acoustic and 1950s in feel it comes across more as an example of kitsch country today. It’s a great bit of fun but follow up album One Stone takes things in a more developed direction, with a full band and broader range of songwriting styles. There’s a very Kacey Musgraves aura at work here, with her combination of humour, some traditional country embellishments, and strong pop hooks, particularly on “Little Sister” and “Moving Parts.” Meanwhile tracks like “Red Side of the Moon” offer up an emotional depth that country, at its best, really can deliver on. 2019’s Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts (The Acoustic Soundtrack) returns to the spare sound of the first record but something’s different, Trixie’s vocal delivery is more vulnerable, adding more aching beauty to songs like “Moving Parts” and “Heavy Crown.” Like the documentary it accompanies, the record is more serious than it first appears.
After three albums of country Trixie shifted into a more poprock direction, admitting she was ready to channel something “more post-Beatles Invasion, beach bimbo, B-52s-meets-Blondie-meets-Fountains of Wayne.” The look and sound of her 2019 single “Yellow Cloud” exudes this sunny pop style with up-front electric guitars, plenty of ‘ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh’s’, and an addictive swing. The transition was completed on 2020’s Barbara with a sound and songwriting approach that would be definitely Fountains of Wayne approved. The record is chock full of FOW-ish hooks and clever turns of phrase on songs like “Malibu,” “Girl Next Door” and “Jesse Jesse.” But Trixie’s still a little bit country on “Gold” and even vibes a bit of Taylor Swift (in country mode) on “I Don’t Have a Broken Heart.” Over the past year the experimentation has continued with a daring reinterpretation of Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” and a kick ass fun cover of the Violent Femmes “Blister in the Sun.” In both cases Mattel pushes the melodic themes more to the front of the mix, with good effect.
Who knows what Trixie Mattel will do next. Personally, I can’t wait to see where her musical muse takes her, with or without the make-up. Keep up with Trixie on Facebook, her website, Bandcamp, and listen to more of her songs on Soundcloud.
If you want to see how Trixie brings it all together – drag, comedy, and song – check out the hilarious, entertaining short living room show/concert Trixie Mattel: One Night Only.