Outwardly, Trixie Mattel is all glamour, with a giant blonde crown of hair. Today, the "RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars: Season 3" winner is an industry unto herself, with her second country album, "One Stone," released in March, a show on Viceland and a (still going) North American tour on her resume. But, on a quick break from her "Now With Moving Parts" tour, Mattel told us how she did it all on a budget.
Our conversation with Mattel is the latest edition of Ask a Genius, our regular series of talks with brilliant people.
How did you afford being a drag queen before you became famous?
I used to make everything myself. I used to do my own hair, make my own costumes, write my own jokes and write my own songs. There were definitely some days where I had to choose between having tights that didn't have holes in them or having to buy makeup or something I needed for a show. When a show pays $50, you're like, "Well, I can't spend $40 on that." It's beg, borrow and steal at the beginning.
How has your relationship with money changed since RuPaul's Drag Race?
I was the poorest kid in my school, poorest kid in my town, poorest family. That stayed with me forever. Even my highest-paying gigs now, I will still fully fight someone for $10. I don't do anything expensive. I don't do anything exciting. I love guitars. I probably have nine guitars now. I love buying instruments but I write all that off. I'm very business-minded. I think that's something that sets me aside from other drag queens.
How do drag queens do benefits?
Drag queens don't have that. Now I’m an LLC, so I'm a business, so I just have to buy my own. Before Drag Race, making a hundred dollars a night maybe, I definitely did not have health insurance or anything. You just try not to die.
What's your secret time- or money-saving tip?
I never check my bank account. I know that sounds crazy. But I don't know how much is in there. I never know how much is in there. I have an idea, I have a bottom line, but I never look because I always make believe there's never anything in there. I'm always focused on goals. When I first started traveling, I said, "I want to make $100,000 this year. I want to save this much. I want to look in the bank and see this much."
As soon as I reached that, I pick a new number I want to look for. Any time I make a deposit, everytime I do a project, I think of getting closer to that number. I’m not saving it to do anything. I'm too fickle to buy a house. I have no hobbies, but if entertainment all goes away I'm not going to be the one caught with my skirt down because I spent all my money.
What are you an expert at?
I love video games. I'm also never home to play them. I've been playing guitar for like 15 years so I'm pretty good at guitar. I think I might be sort of an expert at Autoharp. There's not many people who play that instrument. That's my recipe for success. Take something no one does, then you can be the best at it.
What's the best online comment you've read about yourself? What's the worst?
I don't remember any positive ones because that's not how my brain works. Someone just tweeted me yesterday and said, "I listened to Trixie Mattel's album again and I actually liked it." You didn't have to use the word "actually." You really didn't.
Imagine you have a cell phone that can send one 140-character message to yourself at 18 years old. What do you say?
My mom always said, that happiness is about — and my mom fully didn't know anything about happiness — but she was like, "You're supposed to figure out what you love and what you're good at and find someone who pays to do it." I think that still stays true. With Trixie, I love TV, hair and makeup, I love music, I love playing my guitar, I love standup comedy and I love marketing and creating this thing and selling this product and I love devising new ways to expand and build a company.
I need to do all of that all together and that's why I think I’m perceived as good at it, because I took my poor little lame super powers that weren't connected and I found a way to connect them. I guess I would say, "Nurture what you're good at and don't always worry about how it all fits together."
As you know, the apocalypse is coming in 2028. What do you want to accomplish by then?
If that was true I would quit working. I would quit performing today. I would probably quit my job, buy a cabin in northeast Wisconsin, something with about seven bedrooms and five baths, and it would be on a lake. I would move there today and I would bring my Playstation, four people, and that's about it. And I would buy a bunch of parakeets. I love birds.
Who do you think is a genius & what’s one thing you would ask them?
June Carter Cash is one of my all-time favorite artists. She was Johnny Cash's wife and she was part of the Carter Family that basically invented American country music. She was a fabulous songwriter and she had a family of people who were great singers. She wasn't that great of a singer but she was a really good songwriter and she was really funny.
On that level I relate to her. I’m an OK singer but I’m a great songwriter and a great comedian. So I would ask her a lot of questions about her process. She's such a genius when she takes something serious and she makes it digestible. She wrote "Ring of Fire" when she met Johnny Cash and they were both in love and drawn together. She wrote a love song about being in love and being on fire and she wrote it so well that people sing it and don’t even realize how sad of an idea that is. I think that's brilliant. I would ask her about her process.
This interview was lightly edited for clarity.
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Image: Trixie Mattel