by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
New York City drag diva and Wigstock legend Lady Bunny has a surprise for you. While best known for her outrageous comedy, gravity-defying bouffant hairdos, and funny punchlines, she can actually sing! And, as it turns out, write hook-filled dance music!
She proves it with 'Take Me Up High,' a glittering call to the dance floor which has 'infectious summer anthem' written all over it. On the heels of two duets with RuPaul on his last two albums, 'Take Me Up High' marks Bunny's first solo release in almost a decade. Wayne Numan of Lybra Records has assembled an impressive roster of international remixers for the project, including Paul Goodyear, Klubjumpers, Edson Pride, Timmy Loop, True2Life, and two of Numan's own sizzling mixes. Release parties are scheduled for Miami Beach and Fire Island later this month.
In support of the song, Bunny will tour constantly all summer, headlining at nightclubs, Pride festivals (she will appear at Seattle's Cuff Complex Pride Weekend), and DJ gigs to elevate dance lovers from Los Angeles to Amsterdam.
Lady Bunny interviewed with Seattle Gay News this week to tell readers why she's changing directions, what they can expect from her Cuff appearance, and more.
PRINCESS OF PARODY
Bunny could be accurately described as the Weird Al Yankovic of drag queens. She has successfully parodied hit after hit over the past two decades. SGN asked the drag entertainer which was more challenging - parody or original tune?
'I'd say it's more challenging to write an original tune,' said Bunny. 'With a parody, the music, the melody, and the lyrics are already written. So you just have to change them. With two of my classic parodies, 'Don't Let Your Son Go Down On Me' and 'It Takes Two (To Make My Hole Feel Tight),' I didn't even have to change that many of the words.'
'Writing an original song is creating it from scratch,' she continued. 'Also, I never really tried to sound my best when singing a comical song parody - enunciating the new lyrics was my main goal. With 'Take Me Up High' I'm actually trying to sing. Without the comic aspect, people will focus more on how my voice sounds and not just funny lyrics.'
'Fingers crossed that listeners will agree,' she laughed.
In addition to Bunny snagging June the covers of NYC's Odyssey and Toronto's IN Toronto magazines, look out for a dazzling music video by Steve Willis, who has directed videos for Mary J. Blige and the B-52s. And don't miss Bunny's interview, along with Ellen, Suze Orman, Wanda Sykes, Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears, and more in The Out List, a new documentary premiering Thursday, June 27, on HBO.
THE NAKED TRUTH
What is her secret? Bunny told SGN, 'If you could see me without a girdle you'd know what perfect words 'well-rounded' truly are to describe me!'
'I guess it started with having supportive parents who took me to ballet lessons, viola lessons, and even to nightclubs wearing androgynous 'boy makeup' before Bunny was born,' she explained. 'So that helped. But singing, dancing, and playing music are all connected and they are my life.'
'Sometimes as a DJ, I'm forced to spin crap-pop I can't relate to, like 'Gangnam Style' and 'Harlem Shake,' admits Bunny. 'A lot of music is formulaic and poor quality nowadays. The industry isn't doing well, so executives are afraid to take chances and give the green light to anything but cookie-cutter sounds.'
'You'd think that Adele's success would have alerted the industry that a great voice, sophisticated chords and song structure could still explode with music lovers,' quips Bunny. 'Instead, they churn out more Auto-Tune 'divas' and noisy garbage pop. I finally decided to stop griping and make some music of my own.'
Industry bigwigs have agreed with Bunny offering unanimously positive reviews of the song. Realizing that she's friends with some of the world's best singers and DJs, she previewed 'Take Me Up High' for a few of them and the results are in.
'This jam is a friggin' smash! Irresistible. Dare you not to move your body. The sound is classically familiar, yet very contemporary. I'm living for this,' said Bunny's longtime frenemy and former roommate, RuPaul.
'This is hawt! I love the 'uppp to the ceiling' - that part is so gospel,' enthused chart-topping singer/songwriter Inaya Day.
The industry isn't what it used to be and Bunny has come to realize that 'staying on top of the way your field is now operating, whether it's the advent of social media as marketing or piracy cutting into all kinds of artists' profits.'
'I've chosen to enter the music business when it's in a tailspin,' she laughed. 'And Gay clubs have really been hit hard by Internet hook-ups, so budgets are also down there. But a creative person is going to follow their passion regardless of the obstacles. You have to find a way to do what you love at least some of the time or you're sunk.'
Bunny told SGN she regrets not releasing original music earlier in her career. 'I wish I'd had the confidence to pursue songwriting earlier. But at least I'm doing it now.'
LOVE FOR RuPAUL
Bunny is best known for organizing Wigstock, the outrageous drag festival that electrified Manhattan for 20 years. In recent years, the delightfully demented queen has moved on to TV and film appearances in To Wong Foo, Wigstock: The Movie, Comedy Central's roast of Pamela Anderson, Sex and the City, and RuPaul's Drag U.
'When we taped Drag U, one morning Ru came skipping down the hallway with a sunny greeting,' recalls Bunny. 'In the morning! She was never a morning person and seldom that cheery, so I'd say that being a TV star agrees with her.'
'But as successful as she is, she does often look back to her club kid roots,' Bunny continued. 'She personally fought to keep the kookier contestants on Drag Race, like the sublimely nutty Tammie Brown. So there are some changes and some things that are the same.'
'She and I reconnected on the set of Another Gay Sequel,' continued Bunny. 'All of our scenes were together so we were reminded of the humor we still share. We have lived together in Atlanta and in NYC. We were semi-homeless together in Atlanta but she paid me not to talk about that!'
'We were pretty trashy,' remembers Bunny. 'Ru loves to tell the tale of when I came home in Atlanta to find a burglar alone in our apartment. Instead of calling the cops, I had sex with him. A girl's gotta eat, right?'
Drag has changed and with it, baby queens have arrived. Bunny says there are a few things would-be queens should know about the popular drag culture social game of 'Reading.'
'People eat up the bitchiness on Drag Race and then they get the contestants drunk and get them to bitch some more on Untucked,' says Bunny. 'So many do love the cattiness. And I also think that many Gay [youth] are forced to read as a way to defuse tense situations with homophobic school kids - a well-placed zinger will put bullies in their places. So it's a survival technique.'
'I like a good read as much as anyone and I tell twisted and inappropriate jokes,' she said. 'But I'm not catty off-stage. There are certain queens who I have a stage feud with and we always act catty towards each other as a gag. It would be awful if I felt that I was known more for feuding and bad attitude than things I'd actually accomplished.'
'I guess I've always been aware that drag queens are seen as shady so I personally try to not further that notion with my own actions,' she continued. 'So that I can go on to be offensive! If that makes any sense ...
'I've learned that drag queens often fade from view around my age,' said Bunny. 'But I don't plan to be one of those kinds of girls, honey!'
AN EAST COAST GIRL
While many queens cashed in and bought a train ticket for LA, Bunny has remained loyal to the east coast for over 20 years. 'I don't know how to drive, so LA and most cities in this country are off-limits to me,' said Bunny. 'Plus I thrive on a street scene where people are walking face-to-face, clocking each other's body language, and relating to those around them. It's cruisier and somehow more human.'
'People in cars seem less humane to me because they're in their own little worlds,' she continued. 'And people are more likely to yell rude things at people or even throw things if they can zoom off right afterwards. I guess I'm part hippie, but cars are not my thing. LA's car culture makes me uncomfortable and every time I go there someone's driving me around and starts cursing at other drivers or griping about parking and the inescapable valets - there's even valet parking for little taquerias in strip malls.'
'But also, NYC is where I became me - where I found myself in my twenties,' she admits. 'So while NYC has changed for the worse, it's still my home.'
Some little known facts about Lady Bunny: 'My dad got a teaching scholarship in West Africa for the whole year I was 11,' she said. 'It was the best year of my life! I still amaze Ghanaian cab drivers with the few words of the dialect Fante that I can remember.'
'I'm often moved to tears by movies, television, or even commercials,' she admits. 'I'm a real crybaby!'
Lady Bunny loves Seattle - especially Pike Place Market. 'I worship the gigantic strawberries at Pike Place Market,' she told SGN. 'And the fresh seafood, crumpets, marionberry jam, etc. Maybe I'd better pack a spare girdle.'
Fans waiting for Lady Bunny to perform on Pride weekend will not be disappointed, she says. 'Seattle Gay News readers can expect bawdy humor, big wigs, long lashes, crazy costumes, and a hot new dance tune I can't wait to perform,' she said. 'I DJ on Friday [at Cuff] and perform and emcee on Pride Sunday.'
She asks just one thing in return: 'Please don't request 'Harlem Shake!'
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