Child's play: Drag queen Trixie Mattel mines childhood for country sound

FARGO -- Looks can be deceiving, and Trixie Mattel is a prime example. Who knew that under the drag queen's heavy makeup, blond wigs, colorful dresses and high heels there was a country singer waiting to sing out?...
Trixie Mattel brings her country music and comedy to the Fargo Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. Special to The Forum

FARGO - Looks can be deceiving, and Trixie Mattel is a prime example. Who knew that under the drag queen's heavy makeup, blond wigs, colorful dresses and high heels there was a country singer waiting to sing out?

"The look is what gets you attention in the first place. I'm a white guy with a guitar, not that unique," she says.

The winner of this year's "RuPaul's Drag Race: All Stars" brings her comedic and musical show, "Now with Moving Parts," to the Fargo Theatre on Saturday night, Oct. 6.

"I look like if Barbie went to Coachella," she says recently from her hotel room in New York. "Big hair, small waist. Kind of like Dolly Parton at Studio 54 is sort of how I operate. Everything is sort of disco, but there's a Western sensibility."

She may be a star in some circles, but she's not too high and mighty to clean her own hotel room.

"I also decline service because I don't want people in here trying on wigs, wondering whose cross-dressing uncle is staying in the room," she says.

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Trixie, also known as Brian Firkus, was in New York recently with six wigs for RuPaul's DragCon, a gathering of drag queens, their fans and vendors catering to them both.

"All weekend it will be hugging teenagers, crying and hopefully buying things from me," she says.

She wasn't just selling autographs. Trixie recently launched her own cosmetics line, "Oh, Honey," named after her catchphrase.

She released her second album earlier this year, "One Stone." It's a follow-up to 2017's "Two Birds." Both albums have received positive reviews, with much of the praise focused on the sincerity in the country and folk songs and performances.

"It's always important that the songs are good and the jokes are funny," she says. "The content is like the candy bar, and the drag is the candy bar wrapper."

While she was raised around country music in rural Wisconsin, she says she "thought it was for old people." By her mid-20s, she grew to love the music.

Trixie takes inspiration from Jason Isbell, Aimee Mann, Kacey Musgraves, Emmylou Harris, Townes Van Zandt and, of course, Dolly Parton.

"People think Dolly is my favorite, but June Carter Cash is my favorite-favorite," she says. Proof can be seen when she pulls out an Autoharp, the late singer's signature instrument, on a few songs.

"For my show, I like looking very produced and cinched, a very put-on thing, but then doing jokes that are hilarious but rooted in some sort of truth," she says.

"Produced" and "very put-on" are certainly ways to describe her look.

"To me, I wanted eyes to look like how toys look," she says. "So with my eye makeup, I wanted that doll eye look where you're not really looking at any one place. I wanted to look like one of those baby dolls where you tip them back and their eyes close. That's why my makeup always looks kind of sleepy. It's like if you went to bed with too much eye makeup on."

Her childhood informs much of her look and performance, too.

"I feel like the picture we paint of drag queens is like kids trying on dresses and stuff," she says. "I never thought I would do drag. I wasn't a kid wearing wigs or anything, but I definitely knew that liking girly things was wrong and I wasn't supposed to. But I was a kid, and knowing you're not supposed to do something makes you want to do it more."

She didn't get into drag until a college production of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" when the actor playing the cross-dressing Frank N. Furter was sick and she stepped into those fishnet stockings and high heels. When the show ended, she didn't hang up the heels and eventually developed an act.

"I thought, 'What if I was a child's toy that did stand-up about the weight and reality of adulthood?'" she says. "I don't do a kids' show, but I also don't do a raunchy show. I do sort of an honest show."

If you go

What: Trixie Mattel

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6

Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway N.

Info: Tickets are $37.50 and $52.50, plus fees, or $150 for VIP meet-and-greet; or 866-300-8300