Brian Firkus is my favorite songwriter.
Trixie Mattel is the heart of country music in its current form.
Bold statements, I know, but Firkus proves their songwriting talent again and again with every new release. One may not think that a six-feet tall drag queen in three-feet tall hair really fits the bill for the heart of country music – if that’s the case, the ‘one’ in question has obviously not listened to Mattel’s latest song off her upcoming dual-album project The Blonde and Pink albums, “This Town”, featuring Shakey Graves. Brian Firkus, the genius behind Mattel and her career, has a deep and intimate understanding of three chords and the truth, and uses it to their advantage when writing.
Written during the height of the pandemic in 2021, “This Town” recognizes both the blessings and curses of small town life; fond memories of driving around aimlessly coupled with alcoholism, poverty, and abuse. Having grown up in the small, labor town of Wausaukee, Wisconsin, with a painful home life, Mattel intimately knows the ins and outs of this duality. Mattel said in a press statement, “The simplicity of such an honest place appealed to me at a time when [Los Angeles] seemed doomed. However, even the sweetest small towns have a dark side and all the reminiscing made me remember the duality of such a place.”
Mattel went on to describe her home life in an exclusive premiere with Consequence of Sound, “My high school and driving around town remain my most positive memories because my at-home situation was so awful. I remember seeing the lights of the football game and playing in the pep band and feeling so relieved I didn’t have to go home for a few hours.”
This is where the ‘truth’ of ‘three chords and the truth’ really hit home for me. Firkus, as a songwriter, has found the sweet spot in writing story songs that are deeply relatable to a wide and varied audience. Like their counterparts before them, including Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, there is a deep seeded understanding of society in all its glory and flaws, personal struggle, pain, independence, and a desire for something more.
As a performer, Mattel credits these legends of country with influencing her musical taste; she has covered several of their songs in her internet series Full Coverage Fridays and live on stage, and even featured Loretta Lynn’s “Keep On The Sunny Side” in her personal documentary about the trials and tribulations of rising to fame via RuPaul’s Drag Race and sharing that journey with her best friend, fellow Drag artist Katya Zamolodchikova (Brian McCook) and boyfriend, film-maker David Silver. Contemporaries often lauded for their songwriting abilities where Firkus traditionally hasn’t been in the genre include Lori McKenna and Miranda Lambert. Janelle Arthur, Kree Harrison, Ruthie Collins (Trixie, if you’re reading this, please cover Joshua Tree as soon as humanly possible), and Kalie Shorr are a few others who come to mind.
As an avid fan of Trixie Mattel and by de facto, Brian Firkus, I have heard many stories the performer has chosen to tell about their home life. It has so often reflected my own memories of childhood and that same desire to escape to something better, brighter, more exciting, more peaceful. Songs like “Soldier”, written for Katya Zamolodchikova (Brian McCook), “Heavy Crown”, and “Red Side of the Moon” (which was written about the alleged love affair between Dolly Parton and her best friend, Judy) have oft found their way onto my playlists, having long ago claimed their spot in my music loving heart. “This Town” will be no different.
With a simple arrangement and heartfelt lyrics, Mattel’s newest release evoked so many memories from my own past; of laughter with my friends as we stayed out way too late meandering across highways and back roads, of explosive fights with my stepfather that ended all too often with a fist in my face, of moving 3,000 miles away from my home town at the age of eighteen to find out who I was, who I could be, and all that I wanted out of a life I could finally make my own.
And that’s the recipe for a damn good song.
And a damn good performer. Mattel continues to defy any odds against her, making a name for herself in music as well as she has in the world of drag, internet culture, and television. Perhaps one of the best parts of Mattel’s musical career, too, is that she refuses to be put in a box of genres. With her first two albums leaning more country and her last, Hello, Hello, firmly placing her in the alt-rock world, Mattel seems to be returning to her songwriter roots, with this “haunting and powerful reflection of small town life and what we leave behind when we depart.”
Mattel will release her new single on all DSP’s on Friday, January 28th. For an exclusive preview of “This Town” and the accompanying music video, please visit Consequence of Sound.