The art of drag is currently in limbo, hovering between its niche origins in the queer community and its breakthrough into mainstream culture led by RuPaul’s Drag Race. There’s no denying that the show’s popularity is due to the vibrant, catty and all around endearing personalities of the contestants, but of these past contestants, Alaska Thunderfuck is one who has risen above the rest.
Back in 2013, Alaska came closer than most come to winning the fifth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, placing as a runner-up as Jinkx Monsoon took the crown. However, what followed this was a career more than worthy of a Drag Race winner. She’s toured the world by herself, with Willam Belli and Courtney Act as the American Apparel Ad Girls and as part of the RuPaul’s Drag Race Battle of the Seasons Tour. She’s a staple at drag events all over the world, and now she’s launching her music career.
With the release of her debut album Anus, Alaska has captured all of her attitude, spirit and trademark catchphrases, while throwing it back to us in an entirely new way. We had the lucky opportunity to say “hieeee!” to the next big thing in the drag world, and got to talk to her about her career, her music, and where it’s all headed. Here’s what she had to say.
Michael Smith: Hi Alaska, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. How are you doing today? Where in the world does our interview find you?
Alaska Thunderfuck: I’m actually in Los Angeles at home right now. I just got back from Florida last night and I’m filming some stuff here in LA before I go back on the road later this week. I’m doing well – I just ate some yogurt and blueberries and it was pretty stunning.
Alaska: Well, I mostly blame marijuana. Alaskan Thunderfuck is a strain of marijuana, and in my early 20s I was very pot-centric. Alaska Thunderfuck 5000, the alien being from the planet Glamtr0n (that’s Glamtr0n with a zero, not an O) beamed herself into my brain as a fully realized and fully functional entity. She’s been running the show ever since.
MS: You became a household name for drag queen admirers everywhere after you appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2013, despite placing as a runner-up. Between this, the AAA Girls (American Apparel Ad Girls) radio show with William and Courtney Act, your constant side-projects with WOW Presents and your all around memorable personality, it’s safe to say you’ve had a successful career comparable to even some winners from the show. What would you personally attribute this success to?
Alaska: It’s definitely my calling and my purpose in life to be doing what I do. Even before Drag Race, it’s what I was doing, only now more people are paying attention. It’s more than just being a traveling showgirl, it’s being an all-around artist like Leonardo DaVinci. I get to perform live, I get to record music, I get to be a product designer and a filmmaker and a computer hacker and I get to have my hands in all these different areas. I’m really grateful to RuPaul for giving me the platform that he has, and I work really hard to rise to the occasion and use this opportunity I’ve been given.
MS: How has your career changed between your time on the show and now? Did you ever expect to be making a living doing this?
Alaska: It’s definitely how I always wanted it. I saw what Drag Race had done for girls like Raven and Morgan on Season 2 as far as social media following and exposure, and I wanted it for myself. Really, really badly. It’s a really special time in the world– there’s nothing really to compare it to. It’s like when the Beatles came to America, except now it’s drag queens taking over the world. It’s Drag-Mania. Drag-Con, Drag Race, Battle of the Seasons – all of these things are so awesome and happening right now and I’m so glad I get to be a part of it.
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MS: You’ve spawned a lot of catch phrases since your time on Drag Race, most noticeably your unique way of introducing yourself. Did you ever expect them to catch on so quickly or spread so far?
Alaska: No! But I’m glad it has. People ask me if I get sick of hearing “Hieeee!” (That’s “Hieeee” with 4 E’s… though I sometimes spell it with 3 when I’m signing autographs because my hand gets tired.) And No! I don’t get sick of it. I like it. And I’m glad everyone says it now. I stole it from Isis Mirage and Coco Ferocha from England, and they undoubtedly picked it up from somewhere else, so it is inevitable that it has spread like wildfire and taken over the planet.
MS: You’ve also just released your first studio album Anus. Was there any anxiety caused by how the album could be received by the mainstream media or listeners that aren’t as familiar with what you do? How does the reception from fans and the media match your expectations?
Alaska: I didn’t really have any major expectations as to how it would be received by people. I like to think of a flower – a flower just blooms. It doesn’t think about how it looks or how it smells or how people are going to respond to it, it just blooms because that’s what it was put on this planet to do. And this album just bloomed. We worked really hard on it and it blossomed out of me and I’m really proud of it. So the fact that a lot of people have liked it and it speaks to them is amazing, but that’s not why I did it. I did it because it was in me and had to escape! I will say that the EDM community has had some negative opinions about it on iTunes. When the album surpassed major dance music artists like Giorgio Moroder and David Guetta I think their die-hard fans got pissed and said ANUS wasn’t dance music. Someone called me a “talentless bimbo.” Which I might name a song on my next album, because that’s kind of beautiful.
MS: The album does a perfect job of capturing your attitude and traits that have led to numerous catchphrases. Was it hard for you to capture that essence in the music and lyrics, or did it come naturally during the process?
Alaska: I’ve always been writing music. Even before Drag Race I would write songs on my ukulele or make drag music I could perform in clubs (like my hit single Trannies Are Fierce and They Carry Big Guns). So I had all these ideas for songs and melodies and hooks and titles, and so I came into the process with so much stuff I wanted to do, and it was a matter of just condensing it and choosing what would fit on this album. As far as capturing my essence, I’m glad that it came through. I wanted the vocal sound overall to be more smooth and soothing, and not just me shouting over a techno beat for an hour a la Your Makeup Is Terrible. Plus I wrote most of the words on the album, so it all comes from me.
MS: Anus is a diverse album, with a lot of different styles but still pretty firmly rooted in the electronic genre. There are even some interesting surprises on there, like exploring drum and bass music on the title track and less pop influenced house music on Beard. What made you decide to go in this direction with your music? Were there any particular artists that influenced it?
Alaska: A lot of the inspiration came from the beats themselves. The people at Killingsworth are always making really brilliant instrumentals and I got to choose which ones I jived with and which ones would fit the songs I was writing. The music for Beard just sounded really bath-house-ish and cool, and so it was a perfect fit for my bath-house song. Anus the song is really Christeene-esque, in its free and balls-to-the-wall expression of sexuality and fun and irreverence.
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MS: While it’s been around since the Nails music video first came out, the piano introduction to the song was probably the biggest surprise on Anus, along with the other slow piano song The Shade of It All. They counteract the electronic vibe of the rest of the album, while still managing to fit the album really well. What was the thought process behind including them on the album? Did you ever consider doing more songs like this?
Alaska: Yes! I do cabaret shows with my music partner and best friend Jeremy Mark Mikush (who composed the piano music for Nails – Piano Intro and Shade) at the Laurie Beechman Theatre and elsewhere about twice a year. We’ve been singing together, just Jeremy, Alaska, and a piano for years and years and so this musically is something I really wanted to be a part of this album. I wanted the album to be a journey, or like an orgasm. There are more heavy intense moments, and then there are more playful moments, and then there are more deep moments – and I wanted the piano-based songs to be a contrast to the rest of the pounding intensity you find on the rest of the album. As far as more music like this… I think there definitely will be more of it so stay tuned.
MS: The album’s first single Your Makeup Is Terrible has been out for around a year at this point. Were you deep in production or writing of the album at that stage, or did its success act as an inspiration for the project?
Alaska: No! Your Makeup Is Terrible was a stand-alone single I wrote while sitting in an airport. I had been selling shirts that said Your Makeup Is Terrible in giant Impact-font letters (which are available on my website, alaskathunderfuck.com) and I wanted a song to match them, so, poof. It happened. And it was received really well and it’s definitely my Bad Romance so I have to perform it everywhere I go or people get mad at me. The album started coming together many months later, but I definitely wanted to put this classic on it.
MS: One of the best things about Anus so far has been the music videos, particularly with Your Makeup Is Terrible and the scenes featuring the coloured powder being thrown around you, as well as the guest appearance from Mathu Andersen. What was it like working with an industry legend like Mathu for the video? Which would you say was your favourite video to film?
Alaska: It was amazing! I’m so glad he said he’d be in the video, because he’s really the only person in the world who can legitimately deem whether someone’s makeup is terrible or not. He’s a legend and an amazing person, and he’s really sweet and lovely. It was great getting to work with him. I can’t choose my favorite video… Ru Girl was my first, so that will always have a special place in my heart. And Your Makeup Is Terrible was such perfect timing and so many elements came together. And This Is My Hair is stunning and was really fun and seamless to make. So check them all out because they’re all my children and I love them all.
MS: Your music videos have also featured some rather androgynous and surprising looks, such as the scenes with you shaving your head in Your Makeup Is Terrible and the black ponytail look in the video for your latest single This Is My Hair. Was there any special intention behind deviating from your usual blonde hair for something so different, no matter how briefly?
Alaska: Well, in videos it’s fun to set a theme and then deviate from it, and create really stunning visuals I wouldn’t normally do while on the road or onstage. Shaving my head was an homage to Britney Spears in 2007. When she shaved her head back then, I did too, in honor of her. She was so raw and going through something so real in front of everyone and I will always love her no matter what. As far as the brown ponytail/uni-brow/horse look, I envisioned this scene as though Alaska had retired from show business and retreated to a cabin in the woods with her horses, and this is her no longer plucking her eyebrows and no longer taking her platinum hair vitamins and just being at one with nature.
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MS: You’ve said that Anus was produced with the Killingsworth Recording Company. How did the collaboration take place? Were there any other producers considered? Aside from Killingsworth, who would you want to produce your future music? Who would you say would be your dream collaborator?
Alaska: Killingsworth did my first songs, Ru Girl and Nails. I had such a great time working with them – they make sickening beats and were really open to my ideas and so they were a natural choice.
MS: Your act often involves performances of both your own songs and those from other people. How different does it feel when you’re performing your own songs compared to someone else’s?
Alaska: I like doing other people’s music when it’s a song that literally everyone knows. Putting my own spin on something that is so familiar is really gratifying to me as a performer. It’s always weird for me to perform my own music for the first time – especially when it’s not well-known and there’s no video to go along with it yet. You don’t really have people singing the words back at you. But afterwards I always have people asking “What was that song you did?! I hope you do it again!”
MS: What can we expect from Alaska Thunderfuck in the future? Do you plan on continuing with music soon, or is the focus shifting back to live performances?
Alaska: I’m always performing live. I get to travel a lot and meet the fans and do a live show which I love. So check out my website– I’m probably coming to a city near you soon. We’re going to do some shows totally dedicated to the album Anus, which I’m really looking forward to. But like I said, I’m always making music and so new songs are already pouring out of me like liquid from a stream. So stay tuned.
MS: Thanks for speaking with us Alaska and the best of luck with the album!
Alaska: Thanks so much for talking with me and for the really great questions! These questions are really in-depth and insightful and I really appreciate it. Much love, Alaska
Alaska Thunderfuck’s new album Anus is out now!