Whether it’s painting, sculpting or performing, this Brooklyn queen with her signature tentacle braids is an artist we should all be watching, like, now. And a great place to start is Sasha Velour’s epic Nightgowns, returning to Brooklyn this week. Get high on Patti Spliff!
Thotyssey: Hi Patti! So, we are getting well into October now, yet I’m still asking people about their Bushwig experiences. I am particularly curious about yours, because you’re such an intense stage performer. How did it go?
Patti Spliff: I loved it! I prefer to perform on smaller, more intimate stages, but this year’s was epic! I had to try harder, so I pulled out all the simple choreography I know!
What was the number you did?
“Konsumier Mich” by PLASTIX, this 80s punk band from Vienna. I was having trouble settling on a song until a week before Bushiwg. It was just playing at a bar down the street (Rebecca’s), and I immediately fell in love with it.
You have such a refined, diverse musical lexicon for someone so young. The first time I became aware of you was your number with Chris of Hur and Sasha Velour last year that you did for the Austin International Drag Festival, and later for the Brooklyn Nightlife Awards. The B-52s! It was a long, eclectic, intense performance.
Yes! I had performed that B-52s number solo a couple times. It’s a great song but definitely needs someone to be the Fred Schneider. Chris of Hur came up with this mix including “Dance This Mess Around,” and had Sasha and I debut it in Austin. I love the songs Chris and Sasha pull, so it was a perfect trio.
And now we’re coming full circle! So, where is your hometown, and what were your earliest artistic pursuits?
I was born and raised in Dallas, TX. I was definitely a nerdy kid that loved to draw, so I spent a lot of time sketching new X-Men, or repainting action figures i’d find at garage sales. I’d also cosplay at local Anime conventions, making my own costumes and props out of cardboard and hot glue. This eventually turned into a love of fine art and sculpture, so I moved north to attend the School of The Art Institute of Chicago.
Aside from comic art, what other genres or artists inspired you during your formative years?
I was introduced to Paul Thek’s work my first year at college, It really influenced the art I make to this day. Before then, I had stuck with painting and drawing – but Thek’s pieces pushed me to explore installations, objects, and ephemeral work.
I see from your sculpture website that you have a particular interest in circular shapes and wheels.
Ha! yes, it started out as a counter to the square/rectangular paintings I was making; but I’ve since used them to represent halos, orifices, and otherworldly objects.
Didn’t you recently publish a coloring book as well?
I released my Look Book at LA Drag Con this year. It’s a collection of 20 fashion illustrations I’d been working on; about half are looks I’ve done, and half are future looks. I plan on releasing a new one each year. I hadn’t illustrated in a while, so it was fun to jump back in.
As far as music is concerned, how were you exposed to such a diversity of genres? Even the most eclectic young queens today don’t seem to have have much knowledge regarding classic rock or old school punk, for instance.
My mother and father always played the “oldies” station, so that’s the only music I was exposed to when I was younger. In high school I listened to a lot of “downer” music like Cat Power and PJ Harvey, mostly female fronted bands. Now I’m usually just performing songs that I’ve loved forever and know the words by heart.
And then of course there’s Patti Smith. She’s the queen of counterculture, such a spectacular singer and poet and so vital to the underground history of this city. I love that photo recreation of you as Patti from the Horses album cover.I had been wanting to recreate that photo for a while. Horses is definitely one of my top 5 favorite albums, but that cover is what initially got me interested in Patti Smith. Luckily my husband is a photographer and uses the same type of Hasselblad camera Mapplethorpe used.
Did you always connect with her more than most, hence the namesake?
When I was starting out in Chicago, I had a couple names I was playing around with, but I always knew I wanted long, black, loose braids as an exaggerated reference to Patti Smith’s braids. Her songs are also kind of perfect to perform to. I’ll be performing one for Nightgowns!
So, how did you discover Brooklyn drag?
I tried doing my research before moving here 4 years ago. I remember following performers like Untitled Queen, Macy Rodman, Horrorchata, Mocha and Misty to kind of get the feel of Brooklyn Drag. But I really got a crash course in BK drag from Brad Callahan (BCALLA). We met at SAIC in 2006, and have been friends ever since!
What speaks to you about drag? And as a visual artist, do you sometimes feel more like a living installation then a traditional performer?
I was definitely more into the look when I started drag. I could turn into the characters I had illustrated as kid. I was never a theater kid, and to this day I get nervous on a stage if I don’t have an inch of makeup on, so it took me a while to get used to the performance side of drag.
Regarding your braids, we all identify you by those tremendous, swooping hair tendrils that are often longer than your entire body. Are they hard to maneuver onstage? Do you ever trip over them?
They are heavy! Usually I toss them around my neck by the end of the night.
So, it’s an interesting time for the Brooklyn scene. It seemed dismal when TNT closed last year, but then a lot of new venues opened their doors to drag afterwards. And there’s a whole lot of new queens too.
I just love that there is so much new drag, new shows all throughout the week. More is more to me! Some of the newer queens are pulling the best looks/ shows.
Ruby Fox is killing it!
Pearl is your drag mom, right?
Yes, we met in Chicago and were roommates for a bit. I made a couple of her early looks, and she would paint my face when I first started going out.
Are you still in touch with her, or is she just all over the place these days?
She’s definitely all over the place, but I see her when she’s in town. Sometimes I take care of her adorable dog Honey when she’s away.
You must’ve been way happy when Sasha won Drag Race this season… not only is she your Judy and amazing, but it sort of introduced a different style and aesthetic of drag to the show’s fans around the world.
SO HAPPY! It’s crazy how quickly that all happens. She is one of my favorite drag performers, and I’m glad more people can have a chance to see her live! It was nice to see a sweet and collected queen with a very specific aesthetic make it to the top.
Sasha’s show Nightgowns was a special monthly event at Bizarre Bar before her TV win; it combined a more dramatic repertoire of numbers from the drag performers with gorgeous visual elements projected on them and the backdrop. Since she’s brought back the show post-win, it’s exploded in scale and popularity, and often includes other popular Drag Race queens in the cast. What do you think about the change?
I’m really into the change! I think they’re being smart about it, and I think this is the level of production value that Sasha has always wanted for Nightgowns. A lot of the original BK queens make appearances, but I love seeing queens that don’t normally perform these emotional torch songs, have a chance to perform something they are passionate about.
Well, for the most part, this session of Nightgowns starting tomorrow is mostly Brooklyn performers. It’s gonna be three shows over two nights at the gorgeous National Sawdust. How psyched are you?
I can’t wait! Definitely a little nervous – haven’t performed at this venue yet. My last Nightgowns was at Bizarre! This cast is amazing too! I’m excited to see what Neon Calypso ends up doing. I performed right after her Missy Elliot mashup at Bushwig, I was standing right off stage with my jaw open the entire time. I hope I’m not performing after her again!
Yes! Very-self explanatory. I had one of the saddest queens I know be my first guest, Untitled Queen.
You’re gonna be back there doing it with Charlene on Tuesday, October 17th. What made you want to do a sad song show?
I just wanted to do a simple drag night that was exclusively sad songs. “Sad” is up to the performers own interpretation. I usually perform a bunch of slower songs anyway, but I also don’t like turning a big Friday night drag show into a Debbie Downer moment. So this is my night to test them all out. I also like the idea of hosting queens that don’t normally perform sad songs. I can’t wait to see what Charlene brings!
What else is coming up for you?
I’ll be giving Halloween shows on October 28th in London for Cybil War’s “CYBIL’s HOUSE : CIRCUS OF HORRORS” and probably a couple of last minute shows before then.
That’s right, you’ve done a lot of performing abroad… do you have any wacky road stories?
Well, the plane ride to Life Ball 2017 in Vienna was nuts. Susanne Bartsch brought a bunch of us with her to represent NYC. The entire ride was one giant party the second we took off. Pearl and I drank straight whiskey while watching Amanda Lepore give a strip tease for everyone. The music on the portable speakers wasn’t loud enough, so the whole plane drummed a rhythm for her to dance to. It was just such a surreal mix of people – Dionne Warwick was somewhere in the front of the plane. At the end of it, we all took a 30 minute nap and started painting our faces because a red carpet and the foreign press were waiting for us when we landed. It’s the quickest and drunkest I’ve ever painted my face! And that was just the beginning of the trip! that whole weekend was “wacky.”
That is the stuff of legend! Okay then, so last question… where in the world should Patti Spliff go next?
Wherever they’ll take me! I went to Queef Latina’s Wigwood in Miami last spring, it was too much fun! I want to go back and perform next year! It’s like Bushwig, but with a Miami beach!
Sounds like heaven… hope you get there soon! Thanks, Patti!
Patti Spliff hosts “Sad Songs” monthly Tuesdays at the Rosemont. Check Thotyssey’s calendar for other upcoming NYC-area gigs, and follow Patti on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and her sculpture website.