Alaska ThunderF*#K YEAH!!!!! She Enlightens Us About Her Early Days, Career, And Inspirations
Drag Queens are an art unto themselves. Having heard the new album “Vagina”, I have to say, Alaska Thunderfuck is the essence of the art form.
It’s all her original material, which is impressive, but Alaska is far more than just a drag queen singing her own songs. I have in my life, met some very smart people in music, I have met Bono, Peter Gabriel, and Peter Murphy, all of whom are towering geniuses. But talking to Alaska, I realized she is probably one of the smartest people I have ever talked to in music. She is up there with David Byrne of the Talking Heads or Gibby Haines of the Butthole Surfers. She could be teaching Ph.D. level courses at the London School of Economics, but instead is having fun making over the top dance music about living her truth. For now, the London School of Economics will have to wait. The brilliance can be seen in her satire of herself and her social commentary.
Jeremy Hinks: Alaska, thank you for taking a few minutes to talk. I know Instinct has covered you as a Drag Queen, but, being honest, I have listened to your music, and I want to cover you as a “Musician” for this segment. You have a tour coming up and I found out that you’re coming through my part of the country in November. I saw that on one of the posters at a gig I was shooting the other day as the Salt Lake date isn’t even on your website yet, so, hey, I’m pretty excited about that. The thing is, the poster had your name, but you looked nothing like you did on the “Vagina” album cover, I mean, probably the whole point of it.
Alaska: Really, what was I wearing?
JH: You were wearing all black, and had dark brown hair, no makeup even.
AT: Oh… pretty. That was probably a shot from “Amethyst Journey.” I like to explore different facets of my music and the sound, and I like to explore the look as well, to correspond with the music. Though I never tried wearing wigs in my career, I do enjoy sitting in the salon chair, and sometimes they dye it brown, and sometimes they dye it my natural color which is platinum blonde. But the “Amethyst Journey” album and tour I did with my best friend and musical collaborator Jeremy (no relation) was very different from say, “Vagina” the Alaska Thunderfuck album. It was about the state of humanity, and the state of the earth, and where we’re going, so I wanted it to have a different aesthetic as well. So, for those shows in Utah, and the Northwest, I might just dye my hair brown, you will just have to come and see.
JH: OH I’LL BE THERE!! But yes, those themes are very different from the “Vagina” album. So, I’m just gonna get this out there, I had to take several songs to absorb it and what it was. For me, it was like Divine, meets the most over the top Lady Gaga, with a bit of “ABC” in there, if you remember those guys, that might indicate how old I am.
AT: ABC? Sounds familiar, WHEN are ABC from?
JH: They were a British New Wave Glam Disco from about 1980 to about 1989.
AT: Ok, what songs?
JH: “Be Near Me”, “The Look of Love”, “Poison Arrow”, Martin Fry the lead singer always wore this gold macramé lounge suit.
AT: OH YES, I FUCKING LOVE ABC YES!!! Thank you!!!
JH: You had a nice musical thread of ABC, with Divine and Lady Gaga going throughout the album, with some great obnoxious fun lyrics to it, just loved it all. So, approaching this from a “musicians” point of view, and you being a drag queen. Honestly, I didn’t go to a drag show until I was in college, and my buddy Antoine had won a contest at MIT with his show and ended up getting picked up for a house show in Boston, it was a lot of fun, over the top, and boisterous. That was my first real exposure to it, and he was doing, of course, Cher and Ethel Merman, … but most drag artists I have seen usually don’t come up with their own material, and you do, and that is something. I would call you a real musician. You are doing your own stuff, not just Cher and Dolly Parton’s kind of thing.
AT: Well the thing about that is, I’m really greedy and I like to do everything, and that’s what really attracts me to drag as an art form. It’s like the “Wild Wild West” and there are no real hard-set rules about what we can do, or what we should do, so its like I get to dip my toes in everything, I get to be involved in the graphic design, as well as writing the lyrics, and I get to collaborate with friends to write the music, so I get to dip my toes in all of these things. But don’t get me wrong, I have done shows where we got to sing Ethel Merman and Cher. So we love to do everything and drag is really the world to do it in.
JH: Yes, Wild Wild West, but you still put out an album of your own material, and when you roll through Salt Lake, I hope to see you doing your new material.
AT: Well, trust me, we will be. (Laugh)
JH: What made you decide to go the route of drag in the first place. I mean, for myself, the first drag queen I was ever exposed to was Divine, and she was all about her material, and I compare everyone in the genre to her, because, well, Divine is the gold standard.
AT: I actually sort of liken it to being a Nun, (I am laughing hard right now, glad I was recording this because I missed part of this) and I was called to join the “Sisterhood” of drag. It might not have been the wisest decision financially or socially at the time, it risky, and it was like “What the fuck are you doing?” was some people’s reaction. But I felt really compelled and really drawn to it. I was visiting San Francisco, and I saw a drag show on my 22nd birthday, and it was “Duran Duran” night, and the queens were really inspiring. It was like a lightning strike, I thought, “Ok, this is what I want to do.” So, I went back to Pittsburgh, and that’s what I started doing. As far as making music, I sort of modeled myself after the drag queens I wanted to be like, like you said, Divine. Divine had REALLY amazing music, and it still holds up to this day. It was rocking, and very danceable, also Ru-Paul, also Jackie Beat, she was ruling West Hollywood when I first moved there. And I said, “If she has a web site, I’m gonna have a website”, ” If Jackie Beat has T-shirts, then I’m Gonna have T-shirts” even though no one bought one. So that’s where it came from.
JH: Wow, well, I grew up on Duran Duran, they were at one point my favorite bands, and it was still early ’80s, but, that night really would have been something. And, yes, DIVINE is the gold standard.
JH: When I first got into Divine, it was so fun to dance to, and so in your face, and we got away with playing it at LDS (Mormon) youth dances a couple of times. I mean, the beats were incredible, the music was so much fun, even if it was rude, silly and tasteless. But Divine was so taboo for the mainstream that it was almost unheard of, glossed over, you really had to go looking hard to find it. We had heard the name, and a couple of songs, but actually finding it was a treasure. I love that now, it’s a more appreciated genre, and it’s a lot more … available. Now you guys are trailblazing this as a real art form and musical genre. Ok, the lyrical content is often nothing to take seriously, I have to say that, but, yes, as a musical genre, it is now being taken seriously and growing. It’s now a “Market” and there is competition, so, that you are writing your own material and just as crazy as you are making it, that’s all the fun part of it.
So, what is your inspiration behind your songs? Some are obvious, but you are taking EVERY gay stereotype and pumping it full of fluff and steroids, and making music about it, right in your face. I mean, I get the new song “Getting Kicked out of Mickey’s On a Monday Night”, sure, but… “Leopard Print”, that’s making fun of things that would usually bother people with a gay stereotype.
AT: Well, a lot of the time, I can’t take credit for a lot of the things I write, I just write what the people give me. With the “Leopard Print” thing, I was doing a tour in the UK, and leopard print was showing up in the stores, and then people were coming to my shows wearing it. And I thought “OK, EVERYTHING MUST BE LEOPARD PRINT”, and if I keep saying it, I might as well say it a hundred times in a song. And there you have it, and people wear leopard print to my concerts, and I LOVE IT. It’s also really fun, you don’t need to decide what to wear, or agonize over it, I’m just telling you, just wear leopard print, it’s easy.
JH: Part of it for me seemed a tribute to all the cheesy hair metal bands were wearing leopard print spandex when I was a teenager. (She is laughing right now) You know, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, even Van Halen were all wearing that stuff. It was so fun listening to it, it was so … black and white, “If it’s not leopard print, it’s irrelevant”, I mean getting to the point “Those car tires … leopard print”, ”That tire iron … leopard print”, it was fun to listen to. What about “Come to Brazil”? Aside from it being Carnival, I liked that one on YouTube. Tell me what brought that one on.
AT: Well, again, I can’t take credit for writing that one either. It was all from twitter. The fans in Brazil are very engaging on twitter, and it became this sort of constant thing, “Come to Brazil, Come to Brazil” and “We want you to come here” “Come do a show”. So I HAD to do a song called “Come to Brazil” and I did, and I’ve had a chance to perform it down there a few times. And it blows my mind how dedicated the fans in Brazil are, that they know EVERY SINGLE WORD to EVERY SINGLE ONE OF MY SONGS, which, sometimes I don’t even know all the words to my songs, so I’m very grateful when I need to remember them.
JH: And you let them stand in for you when you need some help??
AT: HEY, if I ever forget the words to ANY song in Brazil, I’m ok, cause THEY know it all, it is great.
JH: That’s phenomenal. So, what I’m getting here is that you get a lot of your writing inspiration from your interactions with your fans. Obviously, you LOVE your fans.
AT: Completely, I do, and it is for them, and it is about them, and it is speaking directly to them. I’m not trying to pull one over on people, it’s just for them. So, it is really funny that you bring up the hair metal bands from the eighties, cause I was watching that documentary on “Twisted Sister” and I was thinking this is kind of similar to the way that drag queens are on the rise. “Twisted Sister” was about being outrageous, putting on a great show, and we are about SERVING OUR FANS one hundred percent. And that’s why they became huge, so I think there is a parallel going on with that with the rise of drag now.
JH: Actually, I was listening to “Twisted Sister” last week, and yes, they were into being loud, putting on a great show, performing in dresses, big hair, makeup. And that was their point was “DON’T TAKE US SERIOUSLY” they were playing shows to connect with their fans, and just to have a good time, IN .. big hair, makeup, and dresses, maybe they WERE a drag act after all? (both of us laughing). I don’t know if you remember this, but the lead singer Dee Snider took on the Senate, when Tipper Gore was on this campaign of censorship, she was trying to shut down so many musicians for offensive lyrics, and was splicing certain lines from his songs into others out of context, just to say he was telling people to hurt themselves, or promiscuity. He went in front of the Senate, and brought his A-GAME. He called her out, called her a liar, pointed out why she was wrong in what she said about him and explained his own lyrics. He is a really smart guy, and ever since the beginning has never shied away from crossing those gender ideas in his appearance. But he cut them off at the knees and said, “There is no shame in what I am doing, what I am saying, how I look” and proved his music was not bad for kids. I think you guys (the Drag artists genre in general) should not be taken that way either. You are not going around saying people should do drugs, or that they should have sex with everything that stands upright, it’s just… FUN, having fun in who you are, and at times be very tacky.
AT: YES, I am here for ALL OF THOSE THINGS…
JH: The line, “Everybody Wants to Fuck Me”, want to ask about that. There was a gay guy like that in high school who walked around saying that all the time, you know that guy right? Just got annoying and he was a lot to handle, we just ignored him after a while. BUT, now you write a song called that, but it’s not exactly about that I can see. What was it actually about?
AT: You know, people see the title, and they think it’s about sex, but it’s actually about social media, one of the lines “I spend all day looking at pictures of myself” because really that’s what we are all doing when we post on social media. Whether on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, we’re just looking at pictures, from the perfect idea behind the glass end. And it’s like “I’m going to post a SEXY PICTURE OF ME IN INSTAGRAM, BECAUSE EVERYONE WANTS TO FUCK ME”. It’s not really about sex, but it’s about attraction and allure and attention. You put that out there, and you feel validated when you get so many likes, and that means in your mind, that yes, everybody wants to fuck you.
JH: So, fanning your own vanity then?
AT: COMPLETELY, and we are really living in a culture, where Instagram is the religion of the day. And it’s kind of scary because it’s not real, and as fun, as it is, it’s important to put it all down, and see what’s really in front of you.
JH: See, this is the part of the conversation where I can clearly see that you are a very intelligent person, and are very eloquently able to make your point “This music is NOT me, but This is what it is all really about”, and don’t take any of this at face value. You are making fun of all the subjects you are singing about, delivering with great satire. You have lived up to the reputation of being very funny in person. Do you take satire as your approach to most things in life?
AT: It’s what I love about drag, drag is sort of both of those things. EVERYTHING you see is fake, the hair is fake, the nails are fake, the makeup is fake, the body is fake. BUT in doing all that artificial stuff, we are getting up on stage and revealing something true about society, or true at that very moment. So yes, this is fake, and it’s a joke, but at the same time, the message should be taken seriously. So I like that it’s very paradoxical and we can play with both of those things. If I wasn’t a drag queen, I wouldn’t be able to say some of the ridiculous shit that I get to say on an album.
JH: Ok then next question, are you going to have a guitar on stage, a full band?
AT: I’ve done shows with a full band, and honestly I love it, there is nothing like jamming out with a full band, its outstanding and I have immense respect for music artists, but, who knows, you’ll just have to come and see.
JH: Oh, I’ll be there in November, looking forward to it. I’m hoping to photograph it even.
AT: Oh, of course.
JH: Do you hope to be an inspiration, or a role model to the younger generation of LGBTQ people, or aspiring drag queens?
AT: That is one of the most beautiful things about this entire journey, the demographics of people who come to see drag shows, it’s getting wider and wider. Kids are coming with their parents, and we are getting straight girls, and I think people find it inspiring. I get to do what I LOVE, and I get to live my truth and tell the truth, and I hope that is inspiring to people, and who knows what this younger generation is going to achieve, that inspires me.
JH: So, here is the last question, what would you say to the young person who is in the closet, afraid to come out, afraid to live their truth, in that vulnerable situation.
AT: I would say that whatever that thing is that you are MOST afraid of, I think it’s important to move toward that, and in doing that, it’s how you figure out who you really are, and your strengths to be who you need to be. There are so many resources now, more than ever for young people, and if they feel like it’s too much, there is no place to go for them, I would say that they are not alone, and there is a place for them.
JH: Well, thank you Alaska, go forth, and make it happen.