Trixie Mattel’s Love Letters To Small Towns And Big Stars

Trixie Mattel’s Love Letters To Small Towns And Big Stars

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By Heather Beattie

Trixie Mattel is at the airport — again. After wrapping up a five-week tour across Europe, the multi-talented drag icon is briefly headed home to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, before plunging back into a relentless schedule that includes launching her TV series Trixie Motel, embarking on the second leg of the Trixie & Katya Live tour, and releasing her fourth studio album. “It’s been Strugglina Aguilera,” Mattel tells MTV News over the phone. Anyone would be worn out by what Mattel has on her plate, but mere minutes into listening to her discuss her double LP The Blonde & Pink Albums, it’s evident that Mattel’s love for creating music is limitless.

The Blonde & Pink Albums, out June 24, is Mattel’s biggest musical venture to date. “It’s twice the music as usual, twice the songwriting, and it’s because I was home twice as much the last two years.” Mattel says. The album, which follows her 2020 release Barbara, is a step away from the folk-heavy offerings for which Mattel has become known. The production is massive, with sounds reminiscent of new wave icons The Go-Go’s and witty, evocative lyrics that make it clear Mattel herself is holding the reins.

“We made music that Trixie would play live,” Mattel explains. The album exudes confidence and an undeniable understanding of the persona that 32-year-old Brian Firkus has crafted over the last 15 years. “Songs like ‘New Thing,’ that’s stuff I would never write for myself to play out of drag, but that I put together knowing it would be really fun to do in the wig.” If Mattel’s goal was to make an album that more than ever embodies the character of Trixie, she succeeded.

Like all of Mattel’s endeavors, the project is bursting with pop-culture references. “She was holding your hand, so in love with you / But I’m not trying to be anybody’s Jolene,” she sings on “Boyfriend,” a breezy B-52’s-inspired track about pining after someone in a relationship that nods to Dolly Parton. But don’t be mistaken — while fans may associate Mattel with Dolly, there’s another country legend close to Mattel’s heart: Loretta Lynn.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gR1pslYotM4

She calls Lynn “my number-one diva,” and makes her the subject of “C’mon Loretta,” the high-powered third single off of the album. “The Loretta experience, songs about drinking or being from a shitty home, that spoke to me a lot more than the high glamour of Dolly Parton.” Mattel speaks candidly about growing up in an abusive home environment, referring to it as her “old material” on the phone. She has built a career out of bringing light to the dark sides of life, and doing so in an ode to one of her biggest inspirations translates impressively. “[It becomes] more about empowerment and overcoming.”

Lynn isn’t the only evident influence at play. Glimpses of Nancy Sinatra appear in the album’s aesthetics, and Mattel even recites the singer’s famous “Are you ready, boots?” line in “Love You in HiFi.” Mattel gushes over Sinatra, cheekily noting that the ’60s icon follows her on Instagram. “Perfect face, big bubble hair, and seductive, sweet little songs. I just love her.”

If Sinatra is the vision for Mattel’s aesthetic, it’s her pal Michelle Branch that cemented her love for songwriting. Listening to Mattel talk about their friendship is like speaking to someone who won the lottery. “Can you believe that?” she asks proudly after mentioning “White Rabbit,” a song that features Branch. The mellow alt-rock tune would sound right at home on Branch’s classic 2001 album The Spirit Room. “She made me realize that somebody writes music. I thought there was a lot of magic in turning rhymes and phrases and making them interesting and fresh-sounding, but at the same time easy to digest,” Mattel says.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ErfY7Q4gwHQ

A preteen Mattel began songwriting and playing guitar at home in Wisconsin around the time of The Spirit Room’s release. “I spent whole summers with just my family in a trailer in the country. I played and wrote folk music all day, every day.” Home is a thread that runs through this record, and it allows Mattel to accomplish some of her most thrilling compositions to date. Bracketing the album are two songs: “Goner,” the album’s opener, and “This Town,” the penultimate track and second single. Sonically, the songs couldn’t be more different, and yet the two serve as different sides of the same coin.

“I wrote ‘Goner’ at a time when I was really interested in making sure that I had a tether to [Wisconsin].” The sparkling and upbeat song tells the story of returning home after becoming successful from the perspective of those you left behind. It’s fantastical, overly complimentary, a little condescending, and totally Trixie. “It’s sort of patronizing, talking about how this person is so beautiful and successful. Ironically, I’m pretending to be that person.” The perspective from which it is told caters to the often unspoken question asked when we leave — what will everyone think? “I heard somebody say that I was a ‘goner,’ [and that] ‘I’m not what I used to be,’ Mattel explains. “I really fixated on that. By earnestly trying to do right by my friends and family, I guess I spent enough time away that it had an adverse effect.”

Mattel’s love for her home state bleeds through, both in conversation and song. If “Goner” focuses on Milwaukee and Trixie, “This Town” is a bittersweet letter to small-town Wisconsin and a vulnerable look at the person under the wig. When featured folk musician Shakey Graves sings, “I hear you played on the radio, but you changed your name and you can’t go home,” the melancholy is so thick that it settles in your bones. The return to a folk sound to close out the album (including the closer, a stripped-down version of “Vacation” by The Go-Go’s) packs an effective punch after the plugged-in tracks that precede it. There is room here for both Trixie Mattel and Brian Firkus.

Jon Sams

“I love being from a small town. It formed every part of me,” Mattel remarks. “Not every small town is closed-minded, you know? Small towns are diverse. It’s like saying cities are filled with all gay people. That’s not true either.” The cliché for queer people has long been, “leave home, big city, never look back.” However, at a time when anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and actions are unfurling across the country, the song serves as a reminder that, more than ever, it’s crucial to remember the marginalized communities outside of major metropolises.

As Mattel prepares to release The Blonde & Pink Albums, she is all too aware of the way people discredit her and her “elbow grease.” “Because you wear a wig, it usually gets called into question right away,” she notes. “Every time I put out a record, I have to deal with reviews that say, ‘This is actually good.’ My show was defined as the ‘sleeper hit.’ Why was it the sleeper hit? Because people didn’t think the person in a wig could put on a great show.”

Amid an already busy schedule, Mattel played in Asbury Park on June 4, with a setlist that included songs from the new record. Any person that watched her do what she does best that day will tell you one thing: Trixie Mattel is a rock star.