Joey Arias is an old friend and a brilliant, prolific creator and performer. He’s notorious for his drag and burlesque work, but is just as much of a game-changer when he’s off duty — his fabulous presence in New York nightlife incites a lot of joy, inspiration and turned heads. It’s also rare to meet someone with such an impressive arsenal of achievements under their belt who is as kind, candid and hilarious as he. We wouldn’t call him down to earth; we’d call him astral.
Joey was good enough to take some time to chat with us amidst the chaos of preparing for his show at New York’s Town Hall — save yourself a teary decade of regret by buying tickets here. We’re also running a contest for two free tickets to the show — to enter, send us a picture of yourself in drag, looking fierce, terrifying or gorgeous, preferably in the Ace New York photobooth, but any old photo will do, it just needs to be something you’ve created in response to this call. And remember, in the world of Joey Arias, drag can be a mean snarl, outlandish eyelashes or a hot mess of homemade madness.
We talked with Joey about his work, his larger-than-life friendships, and his downtime (when he can catch some).
This call is now being recorded. (recorded voice)
Oh, okay…. (sultry response)
How are you doing? I know you’re really busy today.
Oh it’s crazy. Today was like, wake up, pay the bills, meet with Richard, then I have a meeting with two back-up singers, then a guy’s gonna come by and pick up some money and start making my outfits for the show — a little bit of a crazy day for the first few hours.
Well, thanks for taking time to talk.
Of course! I love the Ace and the whole gang.
Alex has been talking about how wonderful you are, and what a great friend. Is he going to be able to come to your show?
I don’t know! He’s so busy, running around everywhere.
Yes, he’s a unicorn.
Exactly. I’ll be on a plane and like, oop, there you are! He’s so funny. Or we’ll be like, you know, passing each other at the terminal. It’s crazy.
I saw a video of you channeling Billy Holiday, singing one of her songs. You just have this incredible voice — it’s so malleable. When you’re performing, do you feel like you’re channeling these people, or applying your own thing to it? Where does it come from for you, the creative energy of these amazing women?
It’s one of those things, it becomes a spiritual connection somehow. And, you know, my friends do call it channeling. But it’s kind of like the love of your life, the love of experience, of all the crazy things I’ve done my whole life, from crazy drug times to being put on the spot —- you know, whatever. It just all comes together. That’s why Billy — it’s a life that’s been lived, a living, breathing organism, and it’s real. It’s like talking, but singing, and every word really means something. Every sound of the syllable is just so important. And that’s why I don’t sing songs really fast or scream songs, you know — that’s not my thing anymore, it’s fun to blow out a little bit, but not really my thing.
In another video, you’re dancing with Klauss Nomi at Fiaroucci — it’s kind of an amazing video because it shows all of you dancing in the windows but it also shows the faces of all these disturbed old straight men watching you, being like, “I’m from Tennessee and this would never fly there.” Both you and Klauss Nomi are unparalleled innovators in fashion and in a sort of aesthetic dissent, and I wonder if you feel like fashion and creative expression have become more or less radical and flamboyant these days — if it’s developed or if you think it’s more repressed.
I think it’s more of a cookie cutter look for everybody. It’s like, someone says,This is the look: curly hair, tight skirts, pencil-thin bodies — no one has an individual look. It still thrives — we’re in New York and there’s a lot of crazy people here and still a lot of great looks, but in general I would say that’s not the mode. You know, at that point, I was working at Fiaroucci as a sales person, and Klauss used to come visit me there, so that’s why Klauss was in the window ‘cause one day they said they’re going to film something, so I said, Klauss come on up to the store, you know? It wasn’t just standard dancing like that, I was literally just hustling to sell clothes. So that day was just crazy, and the store wasn’t really like that. It was really all about people coming in, sales, talking — all that dancing was kind of like put on the spot to make it look like, Oh, New Wave, crazy! But it really was like major business going on like usual.
And Klauss had his own style, and in his personal life was really like plaid shirts and jeans and work boots. There were hours when I was working in gold high heels and crazy gold jeans, you know — Klauss was more conservative in that way. But then, you know, he does have his fashion statement or whatever it was — his individual look that was very strong. And it’s an extension of the person really — the person has to be strong, that’s where it all comes from. I don’t about fashion that’s like — I do look at the magazines and see what not to do. You know, it’s like, okay don’t do that, don’t look like that, make sure you go this way, this is what everyone looks like.
Yeah, it does feel like the fashion of the 70s and 80s, there was just this total fuck you. It was just entirely different than what’s happening now, which is much more a kind of fearful desire to conform, but it’s cloaked in this effort to look creative.
Game-changer Janeane Garofalo has been an unwavering icon of chutzpah and authenticity over the last quarter of a century, with too many TV shows and films to count. If you’re of a certain age, you were not so secretly in love with her after watching her dance to My Sherona and forget the first names of her lovers in Reality Bites. Her outspoken expressions of disdain for war and greed have brought the wrath of many down upon her handsome brow, but she’s been steadfast and true to herself, as any artist should be.
I found out that your first big break was Showtime declaring you the “Funniest Person in Rhode Island.”
Yes, which is a testament to the lack of talent in Rhode Island at the time, not to my actual funniness. I cannot take credit for that. I have no idea how that happened.
Do you think you still might be the funniest person in Rhode Island?
No, there’s got to be — that would be a sad state of affairs… I mean, I never was actually the funniest person in Rhode Island. But it was crazy because that was actually one of the first times I ever even did standup. That’s just because, I’m assuming, the other people who performed were even less —
Were having a bad day?
Were having a bad day, I guess, because I do not understand how that happened.
I was also reading that one of your earlier onstage elements was that you’d read jokes off of your hand?
Yes, that was purely — not schtick, that was not schtick — that was before I discovered just writing on a piece of paper. It was on my arm, and I would just look at my arm between things. And then I realized, why don’t we just put this on paper, and bring the notebook or the paper onstage.
I don’t know if you still do this, but you used to carry onstage a notebook of articles and observations — is that still true?
I do sometimes if it’s, like, an article I’ve taken out of the paper or a magazine that’s something I want to discuss that evening. I mean, I don’t always have the articles and the notebook, it just depends if it’s something I want to talk about at that time.
I was curious about that actually, because while comedy shouldn’t be, and isn’t, beholden to politics, it’s often one of the most political arts in the US, and you’ve been really political in your work. I was wondering how much you feel not obligated to but inclined to incorporate current issues — I mean, even all the fear around the nuclear plant in Japan — do you feel inspired to incorporate communal dialogue into your routines?
If there’s something I feel like I want to discuss — ‘cause a lot of times I do open it up to the audience. It’s not every night, and sometimes it’s only a small part of it. Like say I’m doing an hour, it can be, depending on the night, a lot or a little and then sometimes not at all. But it’s not about a feeling of “I should” or “I’m obligated to,” it’s just something that feels right to me, personally. And then, you know, when there are people who have a problem with it, I don’t understand that. What are the rules? Why would there be blanket rules over what a comedian does or doesn’t discuss? The same way there are people who have criticized bringing a notebook on stage — it’s no different than a band having a set list, to me. Because I don’t say the same exact thing the same exact way every time — obviously I’ve repeated things, but I try to discuss different things as much as I can, so I have to bring the notes to remember what I wanted to get to. And sometimes I never even get to the notebook.
But if you do have a microphone and you’re talking to a group of people, there should be some sense of responsibility not to waste the time you have. You know, if there is something cultural going on — some socioeconomic thing, some psychosocial thing — that I think bears discussion, I think it’s a great opportunity to do it. And I don’t always do it well because I get caught up in it, I get emotional about it, or when there’s something that’s going on that’s painful, it’s hard to find anything humorous about it, and it seems disrespectful to try and find something humorous about it. So, in that sense, I won’t try and make a joke out of it.
It seems like a delicate balance, pushing that edge where people want to relieve pressure by laughing about something daunting or devastating, but it’s still really sensitive.
Yes, and there are many comics who do it way better than me. They’re much better at it, they do find the way to do it much more economically than I do, verbally, and they’re much funnier at it. I frequently can’t find the way to do it, and then I’ll see somebody like Paton Oswald, who just hits the nail on the head and I’m like “Oh dammit, that’s how I should have approached it!” And it really kills me when I see other people discussing the same topic much more eloquently than me, which happens all the time.
OTHER MUSIC'S NEWEST COLLECTION AT ACE HOTEL NEW YORK
Other Music curates selections of vinyl and CDs for Ace Hotel New York, and this is their latest collection. You can come check it out for yourself — everything’s for sale on the wall just to the right of the taxidermy birds. If you want something good to play in your room and take home with you, just call the front desk and they’ll send some things up.
KURT VILE — SMOKE RING FOR MY HALO
Philadelphia native Kurt Vile has been hailed as the next Petty, Seger or Springsteen, and with Smoke Ring for My Halo all these comparisons are more accurate than ever. This is a sincere, no-punches-pulled showcase for a towering talent, and the arrangements and care that went into Childish Prodigy effectively meet the songwriter who we met on his earlier releases, on his own terms. Those familiar with Mr. Vile’s body of work won’t be surprised at the very depth of emotion summoned here, belied by his deadpan vocals; these are songs of isolation and general unease, rendered beautiful by (and sometimes even despite) the certainty in his voice and actions.
VARIOUS ARTISTS — THOSE SHOCKING SHAKING DAYS
Those Shocking Shaking Days is as warped as a hash pipe run over by a moped; equal parts King Crimson and James Brown, this set of twenty stomping, stormy fuzzballs is packed with danceable beats, heavy riffs, and most importantly, hummable, memorable TUNES, not to mention some totally cracked vocals (often backed by angelic harmonies), and some heavy-hitting raw production. Several of the artists also infuse a heavy sociopolitical context into their songs; like many of the world’s most fertile music scenes, this one also flourished during heavily-censored dictatorship. Not only is the song selection flawless and the notes fathoms deep, but the tracks have all been properly licensed and thoroughly annotated in the massive booklet inside.
DJ Shred One, aka Sheila Red, co-founded the all-female DJ crew RRS FEED with her pals DJs Roza and Raichous (Shred One is in the middle, above). Based in Chicago, she’s gone from LA to Brooklyn and back spinning and touring with artists like Talib Kweli and Exile. She’s playing tonight at Ace Hotel Palm Springs with DJ Day at his weekly party, ¡Reunión!, and she talked with us about the endangered art of DJing, her collective, and the beauty of analog modes.
Tell me about your creative process and how you go about approaching edits and mixes.
I still dig and collect records, so finding new and old music is my main inspiration for making mixes and edits. When I discover a song that’s new to my ears and hits me in the gut, I like to fiddle with it. I’ve been using Ableton, and the more I learn the program the more I get inspired to create the music I hear in my head. For mixes, I like to record live as it keeps an honest element in the sound. In a world of digital perfection, there’s beauty in analog imperfections.
Cosmo Baker is a producer and DJ based in NYC. He recently shared the decks with our friend DJ Day at his weekly hell-raiser ¡Reunión! at Ace Hotel Palm Springs. Cosmo’s playing tonight in New York at Switchboard. Next month and months thereafter it will be at Ace NYC, but for this month it’s happening at Tammany Hall.
Cosmo’s been a champion of New Jack Swing, obscure, special and rad music for a long ass time. He talked with us about some of his projects past and present, and a banana he met this morning.
I heard you have a CD buried in a time capsule in Hawaii. Do tell…
Several years ago me and a buddy Scott Melker did a CD called “Live At The Spotlite” which was the labor of love homage to one of our favorite music genres, New Jack Swing. All that late 80s and early 90s stuff that sounds so dated yet at the same time is still incredible music, production values and songwriting. It’s definitely a guilty pleasure of mine and my knowledge of it runs pretty deep. This was back when it was still possible to sell physical product in healthy numbers as opposed to just putting things up online for download. So the reception for the CD was pretty fantastic, shipping around the globe. I know that we had some on sale in retail outlets out there on the islands, but as to how it got in someone’s hands and why they decided it was appropriate to put in a time capsule I will never know. But it’s pretty cool if you think about it, and when they open it up who knows when in the future, you’ll have an artifact that will represent two separate periods of time. Now whether or not they will actually have CD players in the future is another question.
What’s your history in Hawaii — do you have family there?
I’ve only been to Hawaii once, spending a few days on Kauai with some friends of mine. No question that once you’re out there, you feel the magic and the pull of that place. It’s a very powerful spot on this planet. And I was totally fine with just sitting in a hammock on the beach, beer in hand, doing nothing for 5 days straight. Life sucks!
Tell me about The Rub.
The Rub is a Brooklyn based DJ collective that consists of myself, DJ Ayres and DJ Eleven. We’ve been friends for years and Ayres started the party at Southpaw in Brooklyn in 2002 and I came up and did a few guest spots during the first year. Then in 2003 I moved to Brooklyn, at which point the three of us guys decided to solidify the partnership and we’ve been rocking ever since. We’ve taken the show all around the globe but always continue to rock the first Saturday of every month back in Brooklyn. Musically it’s incredibly diverse and also gives us a place to really open up artistically as DJs, and over the years the crowd that we’ve cultivated definitely have learned that it’s a completely different and unique thing from your standard club night in NY. And we’re stronger than ever, and I’m super grateful that we kind of captured lightning in a bottle with this.
Switchboard is based around the idea of “telephoning music” — the transportation that occurs when an artist interprets a piece of music. What do you have planned and what’s inspiring you as you get ready for the party?
I totally trust Sammy when it comes to his ear and artistic vision so when he approached me to do this I jumped at the chance. In my very humble opinion, the thing about art, or the creative process in general to me is that it’s a deeply personal thing. You put all this energy from your soul into creating something. It belongs to you and only you. But once you release it and let it out in the world, you relinquish ownership of it in a sense, and it ends up belonging to everyone else except you. So when a song is created, and when someone covers it or remixes it, it’s kind of like this cycle that continues on and on. Even as a DJ, the way one manipulates and edits the sounds, using layering or other techniques, you’re doing your own interpretation of prerecorded music. As for how I’m prepping, I’m just trying to pull some really fun, cool groovy shit that people will dig!
What project are you most excited about at the moment?
All the production that I’m working on and collaborating with others for a side project called Sheen Brothers, which is me and my homie 4th Pyramid. We’re looking a a few releases this year for that and I’m very excited about the initial response that we’ve been getting. Other than that, I’m writing a lot, and I’m traveling a hell of a lot. That’s tiring, but it’s still very exciting.
What’d you do this morning?
The first thing was drink some coffee. Then worked on the 4th Pyramid project that he’s putting out for SXSW. Then I ate a banana.
Favorite music right now?
Two things that come to mind — The Miracles Club which is a house music group out of Portland, and Frank Ocean who is an R&B singer from Los Angeles via Atlanta. Both of them are really fucking amazing. But there’s always so much music out there, both new and old, that inspire me. Every month I do a Monthly Top Ten Mix with some of my most favorite music at that moment. It’s kind of across the board but really representative of where I’m at in my head. But I don’t know, I just love music so fucking much it’s insane. I don’t know what i would do without it!
Nature is her boss. Neck like a crane. Numb feet from pounding metal on her knees all day. Hazel Cox is a local treasure in Portland — a good friend, collaborator and darling of Studio J (our friends John and Janet Jay who also make Pearl+ Soaps for us), and an inimitable innovator. She has been designing and handcrafting jewelry for multiple decades, jewelry that, when it hangs off your ears and neck and wrists, incites women (and men) at every street corner to ask you where it came from. It looks like math in a hot dress.
We put some philosophical questions to Hazel in a common language. She’s probably finishing up The View about now and tuning back into other frequencies.
A typical work day for you:
Wake and break, tea or coffee, yoga breath, emails, cat kisses, The View at 10:00, earplugs, hammer, anvil, drill, popcorn, General Hospital at 2:00, polishing metal while situational discussions tramp around in my thoughts, dying silk fibers to the perfect hue, emails, a walk, cutting bronze, engraving bad words onto sheet steel for practice while I have a snack break, packing and shipping out orders, answer the phone when Dee calls, day dream about other projects that I want to be working on with my lady pal Janet, order supplies, sharpen my tools, play some amazing air drums with my hammers to the music of WITCH when it comes on my itunes, etc…..
A tree you like:
Pine trees. They have the best resin for burning and their needles whistle in the wind. Nothing better than a long nap on the soft needle-covered ground in a stand of pines. The best part is they are everywhere on earth.
A song you like:
Right now it’s “A Forest,” The Cure off of Seventeen Seconds (again). I want this song to never stop when it’s playing…it’s playing right now. Well, it just ended so I am gonna play it again. This song where the land and sea meet. “Lost in a forest all alone, the girl was never there, it’s always the same, I’m running towards nothing, again and again,” some of my favorite lines. I have a fantasy of being lost in the forest with nothing but the trees and me forever. If I could play guitar I would play like that. Also, it is a glorious reminder of growing up oh-my-goth…
A cat you like:
Why you got to make me choose? Well, I prefer panthers and kool katz.
Will you please talk about these images in relation to your work:
This person really knows how to accessorize. I am into how gender neutral it is. These are the enhancers and protectors bound to this person’s soul. This is the spirit of their being.
I hope my work is this good. I also try for a reunion of the organic elements and my need to accessorize.
The first thing I notice in this image is that there are 5 eggs — this provides a perfectly solid structure. I also work in 5s. The way it is bound together is clever and simplified to only what is needed to keep the design clean and to make it possible to make many of them accurately every time. I like my eggs sunny side up by the way.
Photo from Natural Fashion by Hans Silvester. Egg photo unknown. Gif from one of our favorite blogs of all time If We Don’t, Remember Me. Go see it and thank us later.