Country Queer

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Mixtape, October 16: Mercy Bell

By Eryn Brothers, Staff Writer

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Welcome to Mixtape, y’all! We have been trying to figure out fun ways to stay connected and spread joy while far apart. So every two weeks we ask one of our favorite musicians to sit down, make you a mix, and tell us about it. Each artist is given a different theme so we can continue that big ol’ grandma’s quilt of queerness for y’all – together while apart.

— Eryn

We kick off Mixtape with the splendid Mercy Bell. I gave her the theme of “Queer Prom,” and she did a fabulous job with it.

I know that one of the covers that you’re most well known for doing is actually on this playlist, Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own.” What’s your connection to that song? I know for a lot of queer people, it’s our anthem. What does it specifically mean to you?

You know, I think there’s a lot when you’re coming of age being a queer person. Like you’re inevitably gonna fall for somebody who hasn’t figured out their sexuality yet. I shun the term straight girl because I don’t think that exists – we’re all just at differing levels of figuring out our own sexuality. And so I think that we’ve all just had that feeling where we’re just pining after somebody who’s totally unavailable. I’m sure that people in heterosexual relationships deal with it, too, but there’s just something really kind of bittersweet and poignant about it from a queer perspective. I went through that multiple times, pining after people that were unavailable, which is its own thing altogether. It’s queer storytelling, a rite of passage. You gotta get your heart broken by somebody who you probably shouldn’t be into. 

Did you go to prom?

I was homeschooled, so I didn’t go to prom. But I ended up working at a disco bar, so every night is prom. 

As somebody who went to two proms, I can tell you that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. 

For me, my job really is like prom. We just can’t have dance parties right now. There is an element of joyousness and queerness at Rosemary and Beauty Queen [the bar Mercy owns]. It’s a queer-adjacent bar. It’s not a gay bar, per se, but we host a lot of queer events there. So it does feel like there’s a prom happening all the time and it’s very joyful. I feel like all the dance parties that I missed out on, I get to kind of relive through my job. I get to hear a lot of these songs that I put on that playlist there.

Rosemary and Beauty Queen is a little home for you, then.

Yeah, it really is. It’s a great place.

That’s really lovely that you have that. One of the reasons why I threw “Queer Prom” as the mix theme at you is because I think that people who are being raised now live in a more accepting world in certain ways.

I think the thing that I’ve witnessed over the years is that even if you grow up in — and this wasn’t necessarily my case — a liberal accepting household, it’s really the fact of you accepting yourself. You might really just be super progressive and you don’t have a religious upbringing, or you wouldn’t care if your sibling came out. Then you’d realize that you’re queer. It throws people for a loop. 

I’ve watched that happen to a lot of my friends. They’re always like, “I shouldn’t be having this problem.” And I was like, why shouldn’t you be having this problem? A life change is a life change. It’s huge. It’s something you have to grapple with. It’s just a lot. Your self awareness journey is hard. The self-discovery is difficult. I’ve watched people struggle with like changing a fucking career, they go from working a desk job to being a bartender or the other way around and they can’t sleep at night. So figuring out your sexuality is enormous and figuring out your gender identity is intense. It’s just big. It’s huge. And it’s like, well, that’s why we should stop being fucking flippant about it.

I completely agree.

I had religious struggles and cultural struggles, but I have friends who didn’t have those issues and it’s still hard. Life is hard. Changes are hard to grapple with, and figuring out your sexuality and things like that are very intense and precious. We should be more gentle and open-minded with each other, especially within the queer community. Sometimes I feel like I hear a lot of talking from people but not enough listening. 

It’s everything. Self-awareness is a journey. It’s not really a destination, as dumb as that sounds. 

So you were homeschooled. Did you ever watch movies with proms? What were your thoughts and feelings about them?

I didn’t really think about it, honestly. I just always liked pop music. If I ever saw anything about prom on the Internet  or in the media, the music stuck out the most to me. The reason I liked the queer prom theme is that I have been a student of pop music for so long and that’s really what drew me to it. I do have this soft spot in my heart for teenagers and young people who are trying to figure out their sexuality.

Since being a teenager and figuring shit out seems to be the underlying theme of this mix, do you have any advice for younger queers that want to get into country music or get into pop?

You want to make music, make music. Don’t worry, just don’t fucking worry about a label. I never think about what genre of music I’m playing. Don’t worry about the genre. Just write it. I just want to tell that to kids. Just write it. Just don’t care. Nobody’s going to care. 

You have lived in the song that’s in your head, so just do it. Write songs that can be played in every genre. Dolly Parton didn’t think she was going to end up writing a song for Whitney Houston and she fucking did. So if you really want some good advice, make sure that you can play that song with a guitar at a table and that any band that buys it from you can fucking play it. Otherwise you’re just being a lemming, honestly. So that’s my advice. Throw away genres. Can you play this? Can a punk band play the song? Can a country band play the song? Can a pop band play the song? Can a diva sing this song? That’s what matters because otherwise you’re pigeonholing yourself. Honestly, I just discovered that naturally. Then one day you’ll make a record and people will be like, “what genre are you?” And you can say, “I don’t have a genre. Go fuck yourself.” The hardest thing is writing a song that anybody can sing. So I challenge all y’all to do that. If anybody can go and sing your song, then you’ve written a good song.