by Will Groff, Staff Writer
Of the three songs Reba McEntire has released from her upcoming box set, Revived Remixed Revisited — out Oct. 8 from MCA Nashville — LeahAnn “Lafemmebear” Mitchell’s remix of “I’m a Survivor” is the obvious standout. With help from fellow trans artist and activist (and Country Queer Editor-At-Large) Mya Byrne on mandolin and lap steel, Lafemmebear reimagines the empowerment anthem as a silky slow jam.
I spoke to Lafemmebear, an independent artist who triples as a musician, music producer, and sound engineer, about her experience working with a country legend, the importance of Black and queer representation in the industry, and what comes next.
This collaboration is really fun and a bit unexpected. How did it come about?
Hunter Kelly at Apple Music is an amazing new friend and collaborator who Mya Byrne, a regular collaborator and great friend and sister of mine, connected me with. Hunter was looking for Black queer artists to know about, and she put him onto my projects; he played one of my songs on one of his Apple Music Proud Radio mixes. Reba’s label UMG was looking for a Black femme producer to remix a record for Reba, and he looked all over and couldn’t find anyone — until he remembered that Mya had told him about me. So he reached out to see if I could do the remix, and the rest is history.
What was it like working with Reba?
Really just mind-blowing. I grew up watching GAC (Great American Country) and CMT (Country Music Television), singing her songs, putting on furs to “Fancy,” and wishing I could work with all these country stars someday as a young Black kid. It hit me that this was real when Justin [McIntosh], Reba’s manager, sent me a recording of Reba doing multiple takes of the laugh you hear at the beginning of the track. She went and recorded those laughs while she was on set; I immediately called Mya and told her that Reba had just literally recorded a laugh track for me. That moment was probably the moment I went, “Oh, I need to nail this.”
The song has enjoyed a second life recently as a TikTok sound. Did that affect your approach at all?
Not at all. I create what I do from my feelings and my childhood, and the lyrics in particular resonated with me and my relationship with and admiration of my mother. I’m glad it has a new life on TikTok; it’s apparently Reba’s label’s most popular sound on TikTok ever, and for that I’m very grateful that more folks will get to know it. But I can’t say that its popularity influenced my remix. This came from my heart.
A lot of people in the country world were really excited to hear about your work on this song as well as the involvement of Mya Byrne, who is also trans. You wrote on Twitter that this feels like the “beginning of a shift” in the industry. Can you speak more to that?
It means that Black femmes have not been uplifted in a genre that we helped create. Country, bluegrass, all music, has come from Black folks trying to survive in a world that treated us poorly (you know what I mean). Black folks created this music, and white folks in power put their own spin on it, which is cool, but give us credit where credit is due, damn it. And it took people putting their necks on the line — the Hunters, the Justins — these white men, who are notorious for not putting themselves on the line, they put their neck out to uplift Black greatness and brilliance, and we need more of you all to do the same for us.
What’s next for you?
I’m headlining Silicon Valley Pride in California on Aug. 28, and I’m co-composer on Kinetic Light’s piece WIRED, which was postponed due to COVID and is now finally reaching its audience.
Can we expect more country collaborations down the line?
Definitely. I love country music. I love every genre and I don’t think there’s any rules. Brandi Carlile, Ryan Cassata, hit me up. We have rules to break and walls to tear down.