Country Queer

Lifting up LGBTQ+ voices in country and Americana.

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Q&A With McKain Lakey

By Christopher John Treacy

“Queer AF” appeared on McKain Lakey’s 2021 album Somewhere, but a fun AF new video for it just premiered on Monday, giving us the perfect excuse to make it Song of the Week in the current Roundup. Playful, proud, and contagiously catchy, the track employs classic country flourishes so authentic sounding, you’d almost swear they’re samples (but they’re not). It’s a feel good tune about being in love, in America, when it seems like the rest of the world is falling apart around you, and the video? Well, the new clip is next-level-frolicking in, as it turns out, a queer art installation. Among other things. Lakey took some time to answer our questions about the song, the clip, and about being out and proud in Arkansas.

The song seems to be about finding respite from the world’s ills in queer love, but maybe it magnifies to something larger? 

When I first wrote the song it was early 2020, pre-pandemic, and it was more or less a song about falling in love. I’d been living in a small town in the Ozarks, functionally closeted, and I wrote the song about a week after a visit from a really incredible person who I was falling for pretty hard. I feel like I was emerging from the euphoria of early queer romance feeling deeply seen, comfortable in my own skin, profoundly happy, in love… and grappling with what it means to then return to the stresses of daily life. For me, queerness feels emboldening, affirming. I think the song was initially about me trying to capture those feelings and be able to hold onto them as a part of myself, even in moments when I’m away from queer relationship, queer community.

But there’s always been a political element to the song, and I feel like the significance of that has only grown over the last couple years, as the “world’s ills” have become so much heavier and more potent. I don’t feel like any person’s existence should be inherently political, but right now we’re living in a world where, for so many of us, our bodies and our life experiences are being constantly politicized. And time and time again we are being shown the ways that policy has the power to endanger our lives and restrict our access to health care, education, jobs, housing, and fair treatment. That’s true for queer and trans folks, true for Black and Brown folks, and we’ve been seeing in the last week just how true that is for everybody with a uterus as well.


A Honky-Tonk of Our Own

You’re right that “Queer AF” is about finding respite from the world’s ills in queer love. It’s also about figuring out how to live authentically as yourself while also trying to engage with who you are as a political being. I see both of those elements reflected constantly. I’m gobsmacked by the love and deep-rooted support that I have been shown by queer and trans folks all across this country. I’m grateful to live in a world with so many fiercely loving people, and to be a part of a community that can lift each other up the way we do. This community also has a long track record of fighting like hell and getting shit done, which gives me a lot of hope. I hope the song can, in small part, work to connect people and foster that sense of love and hope and fight.

How did “AF” find its way into your song? Did you start with that and build the song around it, or…? Were you parodying it a little?

I honestly haven’t ever given it much thought! I think “Queer as fuck and cute as fuck” just felt like the most accurate description for how I was feeling/wanted to feel at the time I was writing—adorable and brazen, wholesome and smitten and sweet and mischievous and so silly. 

It looks as if you had a lot of fun making the video. Did you do it at home? Where do the cameos come from? Did you have a concept you were working from, or did you just let it play out naturally?

I had so much fun. The shots of me were all filmed inside my friend Olly Greer’s masters thesis—an art installation called “Dykesthetics” at the Krannert Art Museum in Champaign, IL. Olly’s art is incredible: playful, full of rawness and texture, a smattering of raunch… It felt like the perfect setting for the video and I’m so grateful and excited for the way it really brought everything together. 

My plan had always been to incorporate stop-motion animation, and it was so much fun to try my hand at that. 

And it also felt important to include a sense of community. That feels really central to my relationship with music, and everything I want to make. Not to mention… there are as many ways to be queer as there are queer people in the world. It felt important to showcase more than just my one experience. I put out the call and a couple dozen people submitted videos of themselves being “Queer as fuck and cute as fuck.” So those are the cameos. I’m also hoping that viewers take a look at the credits and check out all those folks—it’s a pretty kickass bunch of creatives, and I feel so honored that they all took the time to send videos in.

In the song, you raise an interesting question: “Let’s see if Arkansas can handle…” So, can they handle it?

Oof. I had the pleasure of getting to hang out with the great Willi Carlisle at Folk Alliance in May and I feel like we talked for multiple hours on that very topic and just barely touched the surface. I have a lot of love for the state of Arkansas—the place, the people, and there’s a lot of nuance in all of this that is so hard to capture, especially as someone “from off” (I’m originally from Washington state). So I will say this: some of my most affirming, most connected, most deeply-cherished moments of queer community have happened in Arkansas.

Simultaneously, the state of Arkansas is constantly trying to pass legislation targeting the health and well-being of queer and trans folks, especially trans kids. I think it’s important to hold those two things together. There is a beautiful, thriving, powerful wealth of queer joy in Arkansas, and it’s also a place—just like everywhere in the US—where there is a lot of important work to be done to ensure the health, safety, and basic human rights of queer and trans people. I’d encourage anyone who’d like to support queer and trans Arkansans to donate to organizations like Intransitive and the ACLU of Arkansas

Part of what’s so striking about the song is the vintage country-pop styling matched with the unabashedly queer lyric. Did you set out to create that contrast?

Absolutely. I am a huge fan of classic country, and I wholeheartedly love playing country music. And, as I’m sure has been talked about so often at Country Queer, country music sits in a space of contradiction: there have always been queer voices in country music, and yet it continues to be a space that on a mainstream level has been pretty unwelcoming for queer people. I think it’s really important to point out that contradiction as often as I can, especially musically. I want country music spaces to be welcoming to everybody, I want people to see their experiences reflected, and I want to draw that line from past to present- to respect the traditions I come from while also trying to make space for broader representation within country music.

Christopher Treacy has been writing about music and the music industry for 20 years. He’s contributed to The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, and Berklee College of Music’s quarterly journal, as well as myriad LGBTQ+ outlets including the Edge Media Network, Between the Lines/Pride Source, Bay Windows and In Newsweekly. He lives in Waitsfield, VT.