Whether bopping on the dancefloors of the Sound Factory or rocking the CBGB stage, this artist has mixed it up considerably over the years with recordings and performances. And now with a bunch of exciting gigs on the way and an arsenal of tunes to slay us with, King Corey TuT remains a powerful force of music.
Thotyssey: Corey, hello! Thanks for chatting! How is Pride month treating you so far?
Corey TuT: Hey Jim! Thanks for having me. Pride month is off to an excellent start! I performed at Jersey Pride in Asbury Park last weekend, and I am performing this weekend at Folsom East. I’ll be doing a few club one-offs the week of Pride, and marching with Gays Against Guns for the parade. The last week of June, I’m heading down to Dallas with Dezi 5 and Will Sheridan to perform at Deep Ellum Pride, and Denton Pride with Violet Chachki.
Busy! But that’s the best way to be.
Yes indeed! I get a little cuckoo if I don’t keep it moving!
You’ve been performing and making music for at least a decade now…. does this city continue to inspire you creatively, or do you need look elsewhere a lot for fresh perspective?
That’s a tricky question. The city has changed a lot since I have been here, but so have I. I feel like adaptability is the key to longevity in this town. You have to be able to change and grow along with it, because the city is constantly evolving.
I feel like a lot of the creative pockets here used to be more densely packed together. Now that energy feels more spread out, but it is still here if you know where to look. That being said, the city is a constant source of inspiration… and I am still awed almost daily that I get to live here and be a part of it. I feel like you can either choose to be bitter about the changes and bemoan how things used to be better, or you can use it to invigorate yourself and keep things fresh. Luckily, I am surrounded by a ton of incredible artists who inspire me and keep the city exciting.
By the way, what’s the origin of your performing name? Are you named after the pharaoh?
Haha! My last name is Tutwiler–doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. “Tut” has always been a family nickname. I do get asked if it is after King Tut a lot, and one time when I was performing on a TV show in Egypt the show host introduced me as the “American King Tut,” which was kinda awesome!
So here comes the part where we jump back to the beginning: where are you from, and how long has music been a part of your life?
The beginning was a long, long time ago! I grew up mostly in Illinois, and a few years in Texas. My mom says I was singing since before before I could speak, so it has always been a part of me. I grew up singing in a boys choir, and we toured all over the world. As soon as I could, I ran away to New York to escape the Midwest and find my people. It wasn’t ‘till I moved to New York that I started playing instruments, and my songwriting really took off.
So would you say that when you got here, the people you were mixing it up with were more singer / songwriter / band types, as opposed to nightlife people?
I definitely fell into more of a nightlife crowd at first. One of my first jobs in New York City was working at the original Sound Factory. Frankie Knuckles was the DJ at the time. It was mind-blowing to see this incredible mix of people from all walks of life: from huge celebrities, to off-duty office types, to voguing Pier queens, all mixing it up on the dance floor for the love of music. It was an incredible moment in time.
It wasn’t until a few years later when I discovered I had this huge, raspy rock ‘n’ roll voice that I fell into more bands and musicians. By then I was a part of the Squeezebox scene, and performing with my bands regularly at Dean Johnson’s Homocorps parties at CBGB.
And I’m guessing that CBGBs and the Sound Factory were like two completely different universes.
Oh yeah! And I loved them both dearly. I have always been drawn to extremes and I love all kinds of music. These places represented two of the most polar extremes, for sure.
One of my first nights working at Sound Factory, I got hit on by Grace Jones in the VIP room. She looked like she was going to eat me. I was fresh off the boat and terrified, I ran away as fast as I could! And then I got to perform alongside some of my idols at CBGB, which was amazing. It was just incredible to be able to perform on a stage with so much history. I felt like I had finally arrived.
Did you ever find yourself in situations where the people on the rock side of things were like “you’re too gay acting” and the people on the gay dance side of things were like “you’re too straight acting, you’re music is too straight sounding, etc.?”
In the beginning on the rock side, I absolutely had people in management and label positions express concern about being too gay. At the time, that was still a very big deal. I had a band break up in an explosion of homophobic slurs. For a while that affected me and my art, and how I chose to present myself as an artist. I was more hiding in plain sight. I never wanted to deny who I was, but I also chose to kind of play it down a bit to make myself more marketable and other people comfortable.
It wasn’t for a couple years when I decided that I was no longer going to play that game. It felt disingenuous, and I had to do a lot of reckoning with my own internalized homophobia to be comfortable enough with myself to just say “fuck it, I’m a queer artist and if you like it, great; if you don’t, I can no longer give a fuck.”
I haven’t had the same experience on the dance music side. That world is not as encumbered with the culture of toxic masculinity. And lyrically, a lot of the dance music stuff that I do it is unmistakably gay.
Listening to recordings and watching your videos, I can see that over time you’ve been all over the map as far as your sound and the genres you play with: rock, house, electroclash… do you consciously try to keep things diverse, or does it just kinda happen that way naturally?
It’s really been a natural evolution. I get bored pretty quickly, so I like to explore whatever is exciting me at the time. In the end, though, it’s all about the songwriting for me. That is how I deal with processing the world around me. It’s kind of like my journal. The genres are just different outfits, but the writing is always the same for me. It’s kinda like playing dress-up, in a way.
Like I said before. I truly love music in all (well…MOST) of its forms, and I want to explore as much of that terrain as I possibly can. From a business standpoint I’m sure it’s probably not the wisest choice, because it’s very difficult to pinpoint me as an artist. But that’s one of the joys of being an indie artist. I get to do whatever I want, whenever I want!
You’ve recorded a bunch of EPs and albums, most recently last year’s ”Sparks,“ which is an exciting, mixed bag of sounds, but sill very dance-heavy. What was your experience like recording that?
I started writing the album towards the tail end of doing some writing and production on Peppermint’s Black Pepper EP. I was in a really dance music headspace, and had learned a lot working on that record… so I wanted to put that new knowledge to use.
As I was starting to work on the album, my friend Gerald McCullouch reached out to me asking if I had any tracks that he could use for a documentary he was directing called All Male, All Nude, about the gay strip club Swinging Richards in Atlanta. He needed to swap out tracks for the stripping scenes due to licensing reasons. I sent him the song “Hands” which is about a Scruff hookup, as it seemed an appropriate song to strip to, and he loved it.
From there I continued to work on scoring the movie with him. He would come to me with a scene that he needed a song for. He would describe what he needed, and I would send him some ideas. That’s how a lot of those songs were born. I think it lends a real cinematic feel to some of the tracks. And some of them are just straight up fun stripper songs.
The world needs Better Stripper Music!
YAS!! I am putting that on the wall in my studio for motivation!
Do you have a favorite music video that you made?
Videos are super fun to make. I’m about to shoot a really fun one for “Hands” with Will Sheridan in the next few weeks. But my all-time favorite video is definitely for my song “Involuntary.” It’s definitely the video I have received the strongest reaction to. I even got some death threats from angry Russians! I had initially written a song about about the desire to explore the ideas of dominance and submission in the world of S&M. I was in the process of writing my EP Reality in reaction to the election of Trump, and decided to include it on there.
I had initially envisioned the video to be a straight up S&M bondage video, but in light of the Russia investigation into the president I re-imagined the video with Trump as Putin’s submissive Slave Boy, and brought director Logan De la Cruz in to help me complete the vision. I’m super proud of how it turned out. I think it’s fun, dark and creepy, and kind of sexy all at the same time.
You collaborate and perform a lot with Will and Dezi 5… you’ve all done shows together locally, including a few at Rise Bar recently. You’re all very different from each other musically; how did it come to pass that you work so well together?
I met both of them while performing at Rockbar’s annual Queer Music Festival. I love what they do, and we have a great mutual respect for each other. We’ve been doing shows as Three The Hard Way, and they have been great! We are kind of like a queer supergroup. Will likens us to TLC. Apparently I’m the T-Boz, LOL!
I think it is super important as queer artists to form a community, and we have started bringing in special guests so that we can all support each other and cross-pollinate our audiences. Things have gotten easier, but there is still a lot stacked against us in the business. So I think it is necessary that we kind of stick together and have each other’s backs. Plus it’s just more fun to kiki with my gurls on stage!
And soon the three of you will be Dallas-bound!
Yeah, that’s Dezi’s home turf–so he is bringing us down to turn the children out. I’m excited to see if everything is indeed bigger in Texas!
Speaking of big things… Folsom Street East! The annual outdoor festival celebrating All Things Gay Fetish returns to the city this Sunday. You’re part of a great lineup of performers. (including Will). That’s a very sexy day… are you planning on being distracted?
I am so excited to be on the lineup this year! I have always wanted to play Folsom. Luckily I am on early, so I will have plenty of time to go get distracted after my set.
Anything else coming up?
Well, I am putting the finishing touches on my new album Into The Light–which will be out in September–and then I’m heading back to Europe for a tour at the end of September and beginning of October. All the tour dates will be found on my website when they are finalized.
We’ll stay in the know! Last question: In light of Kanye and Azealia, should we let artists’ personal politics and behavior–whether the result of mental illness or not–affect how much we like or dislike their music?
Oh dammit! Of course you save the hardest question for last! LOL, this is really tricky. I was just discussing this last night with Will, and I’ve had this conversation with a lot of my friends. Honestly, I struggle with this. I have defended Kanye over the years, but I think he has finally crossed the line where I just can no longer. And I think Azealia Banks is a huge attention-seeking, pot-stirring asshole, but goddamnit that “Anna Wintour” song gets me going! I just can’t help it!
It is difficult to separate my appreciation of their music from their politics, but a good song is a good song. I mean, I will never give them a penny of financial support, and I think that is one of the biggest ways we as a community can use our influence. Give your queer dollars to queer artists and allies! And, more importantly, give your time and dollars to actual political organizations who can do the real work to sustain change that we desperately need right now!
Perfectly said! Thanks, Corey!