This beautiful and terrifying newcomer to our city was already a star when she got here… thanks to Instagram and Alaska Thunderfuck and “Dragula,” and most of all her own incomparable talent. The shape-sifting succubus operates with the precision of a multi-instrumental jazz performer (she’s that) and the flair of a reincarnated Bowie (hey, she could be that, too), and she embodies both the classic rockstar grit and limitless possibilities of newness in New York drag. With shows all over town and nearly ready to drop a major collection of music upon us, Astrud Aurelia has officially arrived!
Thotyssey: Hello, Aurelia! You’re a busy gal so let’s get right into it! Originally you’re from Phoenix, where drag is generally thought of as polished and pageanty. You, on the other hand, give us gothic punk couture monster zombie fish! Did you feel very much like a fish out of water there, or were you in your tribe with drag mother Dahli of Dragula fame?
Astrud Aurelia: So when I started doing drag in Phoenix, I feel like I was immediately put into a box of being a “monster queen” or an “alternative queen”- -and that was far before I had any kind of Dragula association. I remember initially being a little bit put off by it… not because I had an issue with being alternative or dark in any way, but because my influences at the time were more like Drag Race fashion queens. I was into Violet, Naomi, Fame, and the like. I was just genuinely doing me and performing music and pulling references that excited me… but my sort of punk rock, crazy energy made too strong of an impression for a lot of the pageant girls! So, they kinda threw me in the corner with the “weirdos.”
There’s been times where I felt alone in Phoenix, but those times would usually pass quick. It’s actually a city with a lot of diversity and types of drag, and so many places to do drag. I always felt like I had a home and friends and community to fall back on (even if that was a very small, tight-knit group of people).
You were originally a jazz musician and multi-instrumental performer. What drew you to that world?
I’m an ambitious, competitive person–and jazz is by far one of the most difficult genres of music to play. I wanted to better myself as a musician, and learn how to play the drums like that! Also, jazz programs are often the only way you can study drum set in college, and I knew that I wanted to go to music school from a pretty young age. I really grew to love the genre, though–especially a lot of 60’s post bop artists like Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Chick Corea, and Archie Shepp. I’m also obsessed with Esperanza Spalding.
What’s your favorite jazz record?
“Now He Sings, Now He Sobs,” by Chick Corea.
Aside from legendary vocalists like Billie and Ella, jazz is quite a masculine realm of music and music history. Did you find that atmosphere off-putting?
I definitely found the jazz community, especially in academia, to be incredibly hyper-masculine and heteronormative. There were, I think, only three women in three years in the program where I studied, and they definitely weren’t satisfied with much of their experience. In addition to the machismo culture, I felt like a lot of the people around me–most unfortunately, many of my professors–had very little interest in any art or culture at all outside of jazz. I felt looked down upon for being interested in fashion and other styles of music, not to mention my burgeoning interest in drag. Any time spent on any art aside from jazz was considered a waste of time you could have spent practicing your instrument, which I think is absurd and incredibly unhealthy. But I think my counter-culturistic tendencies as a person pushed me even more to do drag and engage with all these other interests- kind of an “F you” to the culture.
What initially drew you to drag, and who are some of your stylistic and personal inspirations?
I’ve always had an overwhelming feminine side and lots of feminine interests. I’ve always wanted to cross dress or present feminine, but had no idea it could be done in such a showstopping, artistically respected way outside of fully transitioning (which might also be on the table someday–who knows). I think it was really the technical side that really fascinated me, though. I’ve always had a million artistic interests, and drag felt like the perfect way to package everything together in a way where I wouldn’t feel like I was wasting my time being a sort of jack of all trades.
I also noticed that there weren’t a ton of drag queen musicians–and there certainly aren’t any who do it the way I do. So I saw an untapped “market,” and something I could be one of the first to try and navigate. That continues to be very inspiring and motivating.
Do you have any specific style inspirations?
Nina Hagen, St Vincent, David Bowie, and Esperanza Spalding. I love Comme Des Garcons, John Galliano, and general weird fashion bullshit.
Many internet eyes were upon you when you won the DragulaWorld competition! Would you be into competing on the actual show, like Mother Dahli?
I’d rather keep people wondering. I think it’s a fantastic show, but I don’t wanna commit myself to anything in writing. But, I love to compete in general, and think I would go into that competition very confidently If I ever do.
The gorgeous dipping-dancing pop music gurl has become the archetype of bar drag today. We all gag for that of course, but there so many other ways to interpret drag, as you’re living proof of. Does it annoy you that “basic” audiences seem to only get their lives from that one type of gurl?
I actually disagree on this one. I don’t think anyone knows what they want, and they definitely don’t want one thing. People can only reference what they want based on what they’ve experienced in the past… but that would be an incredibly boring way to entertain people. I think what people really want is to be surprised. And also, to witness something personal and genuine.
The first time I walked on stage in drag, I thought that everyone would hate me because they didn’t understand where I was coming from. But the opposite thing happened. They loved me because they didn’t understand me. They knew that I was being honest, true to myself, and incredibly passionate about what I put on stage. And I did it well. That’s all it takes!
For all the good that RuPaul’s Drag Race–the mutha of all televised drag competitions–has done as far as introducing and normalizing drag to global audiences, RuPaul herself has consistently shown stubbornness towards diversity regarding the types of queens who can compete: cis women, trans women, even bearded queens have been generally shut out from competing. Do you think we should all just stop carrying and let her do the show she wants to do and does well, or does she have any responsibility to reflect the ever-diversifying queer performing community on this global platform she’s made?
I don’t think RuPaul has a responsibility to do anything for us. We as a community are the ones who need to lift ourselves up as a family and show the world the diversity and beauty that is, and has always been, present in the queer underground. Would I like to see more diversity represented on Drag Race? Of course! I think everyone would. But that’s not necessarily up to me. And I think we can bring a global attention to these things with or without Drag Race. I also think it’s important to note that trans queens have been featured and recognized on the show–and invited back even after transitioning (Gia Gunn, Sonique, Peppermint, etc.). I just think it’s important that we’re having these conversations, and that this is such a widely recognized issue.
I’m assuming that one reason you moved to NYC was to have more opportunities for your specific drag. What are some key ways that Phoenix and NYC audiences differ?
Phoenix drag audiences are just a lot more relaxed and tight knit. From what I’ve experienced so far, New York audiences tend to have more of an agenda, all the time. Lots of people are out to hustle and be seen. Whereas, a lot of Phoenix audiences are just finding anywhere to go where they can be themselves and be comfortable in a city where you don’t see a lot of free self-expression, and definitely not a lot of people who are making a career out of performing a radically queer version of themselves.
Are your Arizona fans furious at you for leaving them?
There might be some people who were mad that I left, but I think people were more so sad than anything. I was a unique presence in that city that no one could ever fill. But more than all of that, the majority of people were happy and excited for me. Everyone who lives in Phoenix knows that it’s a place that doesn’t have a ton of opportunity in comparison to larger cities, and the people who really love me there, I think, just want to watch me succeed.
Did you know of many of these New York queens you work with now, from social media or what have you, before you got here?
I knew a lot of people in New York already through social media, but I also visited twice before I got here and tried to network as much as I could, so I did know a lot of people from meeting them in person. I’ve gotten the opportunity to travel a lot and see a lot of drag scenes–but NYC, specifically Brooklyn, was the only place I ever visited where it felt like home. So, I knew I needed to end up here as quickly as possible. I also like meeting new people and trying to make friends, so I was never really worried about that.
What’s the best advice you have for queens who want to make it in NYC?
My advice would be the same to queens no matter where you are. Be a nice person, support the artists and shows you that you want to work with, and put a lot of fucking work into your drag! If you do all those things, I truly think it’s almost impossible to fail.
Do you have a favorite look that you pulled off in your amazing drag history?
My favorite look is always the next one! Lol!
And what’s your favorite number to perform nowadays?
I’ve been kind of obsessed with “Edge of Seventeen” right now.
Will you continue to incorporate live vocals and instruments into your shows?
I’m always planning live music into my performances, and have done it many times in the past. I was a competitor in Alaska’s Drag Queen of the Year pageant last May, and for that I brought a full live band, sang live, played upright bass, choreography, and did a massive drum solo all in one act. I also brought some live music stuff to the Artpop show she did at 3 Dollar Bill recently, and I’ll be returning on Monday for her Kim Petras Heart to Break show, where we’ll be doing a duet together with me on guitar.
We’re all very different performers, and I think we bring something fresh and fun individually. Its a bit of an earlier show for Brooklyn, and on a Sunday night–very relaxed and fun and personal. It’s definitely a show where I get the chance to connect with the audience on a personal level, and know I can be myself fully on stage without any reservations–and that always feels great! Make sure to stop by every second and fourth Sunday!
Anything else coming up for you to tease the children about?
I’ve had an EP in the works–actually, much more than just in the works!. I have an EP that’s fully recorded and put together, and is nearly ready for release. I’ve been working on finding someone to help me mix and master it and get it ready for release… so rest assured, by the summer I will finally have some music to show for myself! I can’t promise that it’s the kind of music for everyone, but I can promise you that it’s unlike anything released by a drag queen ever. You’ll hear elements of indie-rock, hip hop, free jazz, neo-soul, and more.
I’m definitely hoping to break the trend of bad drag queen music. As much as a lot of drag queen music is fun to listen to, there are very few who actually release anything of substance. My long term goal is to strike a medium between fans of drag and fans of more alternative styles of music. I like to think that part of the power of drag is that it’s almost like a gateway drug. We’re required to carry such a massive “tool bag,” so to speak, of references and opinions, that I think studying any particular drag artist who’s unique or interesting can lead you to discoveries about fashion, music, movies, books, and all sorts of culture if you’re willing to really dive in with them, if that makes sense. So I’m hoping that people who enjoy my drag and want to look into my references can learn a little more about me, and maybe learn something about the topics that I find inspiring and iconic.
Finally: what would the title of your autobiography be?
Um, I don’t know, lol. How about Iconique? I don’t think I’m at all qualified to write an autobiography yet, so I’ll get back to you in a few years on this one, haha!
We’ll be first in line when it’s out! Thank you, Astrud!