Kelly Mantle has had a brilliantly successful career so far. With two decades worth of history in theatre and spending most of the 2000’s on television and in films, her resume is so extensive that it makes her unfortunate second episode departure from RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2014 a total nonissue.
Equally important, however, is her musical history. While Mantle has featured in groups such as Rollz Royces and Tranzkuntinental, she released three of her own albums between 2002 and 2006. Even now, she releases singles on a consistent basis, with Keyboard Courage being the latest in a line of yearly releases. With a successful decade passing since the release of her last studio album, it seems like the time has come for Mantle to break the silence streak and make a triumphant, full-fledged return to the world of music.
With more music and acting experiences coming up in 2016, it seems like this is shaping up to be a stunning year for both Mantle and her fans. We asked Kelly about Keyboard Courage, her internet experiences and what we can expect from her this year.
Michael Smith: How are you doing right now, Kelly? Where does our interview find you today?
Kelly Mantle: I’m fantastic! I’m in the studio today recording another new track.
MS: We’re getting close to the two year mark since you appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race season 6. Even if you only lasted an episode, you left a lasting impression on many people; you didn’t have much time to show off your years of experience, but you left a dedicated base of fans wanting more. What kind of effect did the show actually have on your career, and would you say it’s in a better place now than beforehand?
KM: My career was strong before the show, and it’s still strong now after the show. For me, it was just another TV gig in a long line of TV gigs with many more to come. It’s showbiz! The best part of being on this show is getting to connect with this awesome fanbase. They’re rad!
MS: You’ve had a similarly long history in music, having worked in bands such as Rollz Royces and Tranzkuntinental with Drag Race fan favourites Tammie Brown and Willam, respectively. How did your interest in music start? What keeps you coming back?
KM: Music keeps my soul dancin’! I love making music, so I guess that’s what keeps me coming back to it, haha. I grew up on country music, and I can remember being 5 or 6 and thinking “I wanna play the guitar and sing songs like Dolly Parton”. Eventually I taught myself how to play, and I started writing my own songs and recorded my first album, Ever Changing. I’ve released three albums to date, and I’m currently recording my fourth. And yes, I also enjoy making music with other artists like Tammie and Michael with The Rollz Royces. I didn’t really “create” music with Tranzkuntinental… We just got drunk and sang cover songs.
MS: Onto more recent topics, you recently released your first single since last year’s Eliminated, Keyboard Courage, which tackles the topic of people writing negative things about celebrities and other people behind the anonymity of the internet. What inspired you to write a song about this specific topic?
KM: I was inspired to write this song because I’ve had so many Drag Race fans send me messages or share stories at the meet-and-greets about how they’re being victimized by online bullying from other kids in their schools or just random trolls. And some even tell me how it leaves them feeling suicidal. That’s a scary thought, that someone’s heartless, mindless words could actually drive someone to suicide. So I was inspired to write Keyboard Courage as an anthem for anyone who’s had to deal with cyber bullying in hopes that it can be that song they listen to when they’re feeling down about it, and be reminded to not get discouraged by keyboard courage.
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MS: You dedicated a pretty prominent part of the song—the ending—to comments referring directly to yourself. Have you actually received these kinds of comments? How do people tend to receive you online now, compared to before your time on Drag Race?
KM: Oh yeah, those lyrics are all real tweets that I’ve received. But I’ve got a thick skin, so to me it’s just funny. For the most part though, I think I’ve had it pretty easy online. The mean tweets are few and far between, but it hasn’t been that way for a lot of the Drag Race girls (especially from last season) as well as celebrities in general. Margaret Cho is always re-tweeting the hate she receives. So even though I’m not really on the receiving end of that hate, I notice it on a daily basis being directed to others. Everyone talks about it… I wrote a song about it.
MS: The Keyboard Courage music video was released very recently, too. What inspired the different parts of the video, such as the cheerleaders and band scenes with you playing all the instruments rather than something more literal in terms of the lyrics?
KM: I wanted to keep the music video upbeat and inspiring. The message of the song (and the video) is to dance it off, laugh it off, sing it off and shake it off. The cheerleaders are there to cheer you on, and the B.A.D. Dance Crew is there to remind you that you are fierce. I wanted the video to have that very 80’s-inspired look to it because the song reminded me of how I would deal with any kind of bullying while growing up. So in a way, it’s reminiscent of the early MTV videos that inspired me. Playing my instruments has always been very cathartic for me, so that’s why I chose to include that in the video as well.
MS: There’s been a fairly large gap between most of your singles so far. Why is that? Do you have any future singles you’re working on?
KM: Because I’m rich and lazy? I write and record and release when the inspiration hits me. But yes, I’m actually in the studio at this very moment laying down the vocals for a new song.
MS: It’s been almost ten years since you’ve released a solo album! Do you have any plans to break this streak?
KM: Yes! My new album will be released in 2016.
MS: You’ve worked extensively in film, television and theatre as well. Are there any other projects that you may have lined up?
KM: I just wrapped a great role in a really funny film called Middle Man. That should be coming out in early 2016. And I recently shot a pilot; we’ll see if it gets picked up! And I’m working on a new one-person show.
MS: Finally, with RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race season 2 starting up soon, fans noticed a certain lapse in your social media activity that lines up with the show’s filming schedule, sparking rumours that you’re a contestant. Is there anything you’d like to say to the fans hoping to see you on the show?
KM: Really? Hmmm… I guess our cycles are in sync. ; – )
MS: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Kelly!
KM: Thank you!
Kelly Mantle’s latest single Keyboard Courage is now available on iTunes.