NASHVILLE, Tenn. — If you’ve only heard of Trixie Mattel as the blonde, bee-hive wearing winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3,” then you’ve only scratched the surface of this comedian, television show host and musician.
Mattel’s look is something like an Andy Warhol version of Barbie with giant butterfly lashes and knife sharp cheekbones. Mattel has appeared on multiple seasons of the popular RuPaul series and is the co-host of a Viceland series called “The Trixie & Katya Show.” And behind the biting wit and sarcasm, Mattel is disarming audiences on tour with really earnest country and folk songs about failed relationships and old-timey wisdom.
Mattel has released two albums, 2017’s “Two Birds,” and this year’s “One Stone,” which fits into the star’s comedy set on the road. Mattel is the stage name of Brian Firkus, who was taught to play Roy Orbison and George Jones songs by his grandfather.
“My grandpa always used to say that being a musician was 40 percent how good you were and 60 percent how good you looked doing it,” Firkus said. “And I guess as a drag queen performer that 60 percent of how good I look really does matter to me.”
Early on, he was not a fan of country music. He found it simple and boring. But as Firkus got older, he found a lot more emotional complexity in the music.
“It’s storytelling. For me, its fables and parables about how things can go wrong in life,” Firkus said. “One of my all-time favorite songs, ‘Ring of Fire,’ compares being in love to the feeling of being on fire. That’s not something you forget about.”
The towering Mattel will tell jokes about relationships and breaking up, then pick up an autoharp and sing a sad song to punctuate the set. The two albums are sonically a little different, with the first being more country and the second more folk. But the lyrics are peppered with references to other classic country songs.
Firkus was initially unsure how the songs would play in the set, especially since they tended to sound sad.
“The more I put my real life perspective in my work the more the audience loves it,” Firkus said. “There’s something effective about watching someone who looks really produced be real. It’s like a crying clown face. It has that effect on people.”
Follow Kristin M. Hall at Twitter.com/kmhall