This Brooklyn drag performer and witchy singer-songwriter began life as a humble child of southern missionaries. With that world still close to her heart, she is currently producing “Double Double,” a night of gothic burlesque performance and witchcraft vendors that returns to Talon Bar this weekend. A multifaceted artist who’s loaded with talent and good nature, it’s the amazing Amber Von Toxn!
Thotyssey: Amber, hello! We’re in the middle of a nice cool break in this summer heat… what’s the best thing that’s happened to you so far this season?
Amber Von Toxn: By far, one of the best things I’ve done this summer was Gratitude Migration, a pre-Burn music festival on the beach for three days in Jersey. I have a lot of friends who built structures or volunteered, so I was surrounded by family. And I got to ride on a blow-up Pegasus so…win.
That sounds pretty perfect, it’ll be hard to top that! Did your band Amber & the Wolf play the festival at all?
Gratitude was more of a DJ environment, although I did jam out on guitar a few times! Amber and the Wolf is the name of my duo band with my roommate Mat Eichler. Our sound is jazzy pop, I guess you could say, with Mat on piano and me on vocals. We have been playing a lot recently, which is super exciting! We will be playing this Saturday, July 29th at Talon Bar for one of my newest events “Double Double.” Our set is at the end and free to the public, so everyone can check it out.
We’ll talk more about that event in a bit, but let’s jump back to the origin story for a sec… where’s your original hometown?
Oh man, this one’s a doozie. it’s hard to say what my hometown was because we moved so much, but I was born in Lake Wales, Florida, and adopted at birth by missionaries.
Every six months, we would be requested at churches all over the south to preach and build morale. Usually we stayed in the resident pastor’s homes, guest buildings, and sometimes even in tents in cornfields during revival season. Every six months we would pick up and move.
But I guess I’d have to say New Orleans was the one place we kept coming back to. Either way, I’m a swamp baby!
Well, this is turning out to be a pretty fascinating origin story! So, was religious evangelicalism a big part of your belief system growing up?
Yeah, I mean spiritualism and belief in prayer was always important. There were times I remember my father being asked to speak at churches of different denominations. They would send pre-highlighted scriptures, and appropriate clothing for us to blend in. Sounds kinda gypsy when you say it out loud… but we got tons of people off the streets, into rehab centers and out of dangerous situations.
I was never told what to believe, and my parents were always supportive of me making up my own mind. As long as it helps people, who’s to judge whether it’s “casting a magic spell” or holding hands and bowing heads? It’s all meditation and therapy. And we all need that basic support from others, I feel.
Sounds like you got the best of that world! So, you did not feel a huge conflict from that end about your gender identity as it started to become more clear to you?
I have been super lucky when it comes to the trans issue. I didn’t start doing drag until I was in college, and before that I was androgynous and non-threatening, so I didn’t get much heat for my femininity. I think when my friends and family saw me in makeup and heels, it all made sense to them. They were always supportive of me being gay and are still supportive of everything I do. My upbringing played more into how I communicate with others–regardless of gender identity–which I know is not the norm for most trans people, and for that I am super grateful.
And I’m guessing that the environment you grew up in must have had a big influence on you musically and artistically.
Totally… mostly from hearing my mother sing in church. As I get older, I find myself sounding more like her–with a little country twang, and bit of Patsy Cline. I use a lot of “churchy” chords, so my songs tend to have a contemporary Christian feel when it comes to the instrumentation. The words are definitely not holy, though. I use a lot of biblical references, but tend to have a wicked tongue when it comes to lyrics.
By the way, your drag name… is that a play on Amber von Tussle of Hairspray?
Funny enough, its not! I used to have another independent stage persona for live music named “Von Toxn,” which was totally separate from my name then–”Amber A. Lert.” Of course, when I moved to New York I didn’t want to steal anyone’s name, so I morphed the two together. But usually, I just tell people it’s from Hairspray.
What brought you to New York ultimately?
I was torn about where to move when college ended. One of my best friends and roommates had suffered from depression. He was medicated at an early age, and had a hard time readjusting when he tried to go cold turkey with his antidepressants. He had a dream of going to NYC and making it big, and when he struggled finding the courage, I took the ticket and got on a plane. I was only coming here to prove that it wasn’t scary, but moving is always scary. Luckily, I was swooped up by some of the most genuine people who also worked in nightlife…Chris of Hur being one of them. I found community and support, and now we are all in places to provide gigs for our art and others. Basically, BK is lit, and I love it.
The first time I saw you perform was years ago at TNT, as a guest for Scarlet Envy’s show. That also happened to be my drag king friend Gary Carmichael’s first performance. I remember you were lip syncing a country song and drinking something from a bottle.
TNT! God rest her soul, she is always with us! I was an extra with Scarlet Envy on The Carrie Diaries. I met a ton of awesome people really quickly from that gig.
I remember that night, it was “Strawberry Wine” by Deana Carter. The actual wine was definitely not strawberry, though, girl. Scarlet / everyone at TNT gave me a ton of my first gigs, and they were always a blast.
You also were also a major presence frequently in Madame Vivien V’s Bordello, which featured a lot of burlesque and carnival acts. Is that an aesthetic that always interested you?
Madame Vivien V and I have worked together for years now. Bordello was her burlesque baby, and we packed it out week after week with everything from sideshow acts to live music performances.
Variety/ Vaudeville shows are welcoming environments where you get to see anything, and all art forms come together in that burlesque community. I’ve definitely always been drawn to that.
Let’s talk about Double Double on Saturday, July 29th at Talon Bar! This will be your second go-around of the witch-themed party/ show/ marketplace. I think this is such a great concept! Tell us more about it, and how you came up with it.
Double Double is a two-part event at Talon Bar, BK, with a “magical” themed vendors market followed by a midnight burlesque show. I have always been obsessed with dark, goth, “witchy” aesthetics, and when I was approached by Talon Bar I knew I had found the perfect place. The bar is stunning, with taxidermy bats and shadow boxes filled with bones.
As for the concept, a lot of the most powerful and magical individuals in my life happen to be creative–be it handmade jewelry or body painting/performing. I thought combining a vendors market experience with a no-rules burlesque show would be great networking for the vendors, and also help blur the line between different nightlife communities. We want everyone to feel welcome: witches, wizards, and whatnot.
I’m really excited about our new vendors this month, including published author Lady Rhea, the “Witch Queen of New York.” The support of the community has been amazing, and I’m thrilled to keep expanding it.
I’ve been longing for a return of the goth scene here myself; does the audience for that still exist significantly in the city?
Oh, the crowd goes for it! Last time, I couldn’t tell the performers from the patrons. It felt like a Renaissance fair mixed with a Manson concert. This Double Double (Sat July 29th), the theme is Sex Magic, so I’m sure we will see some big looks–although I expect less actual clothing.
I should add that you must have been thrilled with Sasha Velour’s Drag Race victory this season, right? Go Brooklyn!
I adore her! Every time I’ve been around her, she has been so nice and genuine, and I am super proud. One of the best seasons of RPDR, for sure.
I agree! Okay, last question: if you could cast just one magic spell, just one time, what would the spell be?
Oh geeze. I’d probably do a spell to take back all the love spells I’ve already done!
Blam! Thank you, Amber!
Amber Von Toxn presents the “Double Double” burlesque show and occult marketplace at Talon Bar on Saturday, July 29th (8pm). Click here for other upcoming appearances, and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.