By Eryn Brothers, Mixtape Editor
Welcome back to MIXTAPE, Country Queer’s home for observations, explorations, conversations, and all sorts of other ‘ations about queerness and the soundtracks that come with it. This week’s theme is JUKEBOX, and here to talk Joan Jett, growing up country and queer in Iowa, and other rascally nostalgias is the glamorous Paisley Fields.
Paisley: You caught me at a very country on-brand moment, because I just won a pair of rust colored chaps I was bidding on.
CQ: That’s amazing, I’m over the moon for you! When I worked in vintage, we had this pair of big leather chaps for sale at the shop I worked at. Anytime someone came in that would fit the bill I’d be like…you know what you need in your life? These black leather chaps. I’m five foot four, or else I would’ve bought them in a heartbeat, but whatever, it’s just not my destiny.
CQ: So I’m pretty sure that we do have the same music taste and that we’ve hung out in the same bars.
Paisley: Oh, definitely.
CQ: This mix reminds me a lot of one particular bar in Austin, did you make it with a certain bar in mind?
Paisley: It was, this one specific jukebox. I always used to go to this place in Red Hook (That’s in Brooklyn, for you bumpkins). It’s called The B61. The B61 is this bar next to the bus stop, and it was right next to my house. I think all those songs [on the playlist] were on that jukebox, and maybe there’s a couple on there that are just memories or made up memories.
CQ: You know, I think a lot of jukebox culture is pretty lost. You don’t really see a lot of jukeboxes in gay bars. I was thinking about that while listening to your mix. Am I making this up? Is this actually a thing?
Paisley: You know, I’ve never thought of that, but you’re totally right. I wish there were [more jukeboxes in gay clubs] because gay people have such eclectic taste in music.
CQ: Right? I always like to ask people about this when they cite this as one of their favorite songs, and I see you put on this mix. Let’s talk Tom Waits. Let’s talk “Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis.”
Paisley: I love Tom Waits and I also think that song, in a way, is kind of a country song. It’s a story, you know? It tells a story and I just love it. It kind of pulls at your heart strings. I feel like I’ve known the person who wrote this letter.
CQ: I think a lot of people who love country love Tom Waits because of how visual he is. There’s also this factor of…hm. I feel that country music really gives emotionality to machismo, and I think that’s what Tom Waits is all about.
Paisley: I think so too. I heard somewhere that his wife writes a lot of his lyrics, so I think that might have something to do with it. For me with country music, I like a story in a song the best. And I like being able to just visualize it. He’s so masterful at that.
CQ: You know, I wrote a review of your new album “Electric Park Ballroom” for [Rachel Cholst’s zine] Rainbow Rodeo, and one of the things I commented on the most was the storytelling you do. One of the things I love about your music is how you have a very strong country sound, and very, very, queer lyrics. Is this a purposeful and intentional move on your part?
Paisley: In some ways, yeah, it is. I mean, it depends really on whether I’m writing the song as a co-write. When I’ve been writing lately, I’ve been pretty obsessive about the lyrics. I’ve been writing new music during this whole lockdown thing. And I’ve been editing like crazy and I want every word to be perfect. I do love telling the story and I think the thing about country music, as I said before, it’s all about the stories and queer people have just as much of a right to have our stories told as anybody else. So why not? Those are my stories.
That’s one thing that I always struggle with, though, is doing something universal. Lately I just have been writing about my own experience and hopefully that will resonate with other people.
CQ: It’s difficult, because one of the things I love about country music is that it can be so fucking dramatic! It’s strange to me that more queer people don’t like country music. Do you have any theories on this?
Paisley: I would say because a lot of people feel like they aren’t welcomed by country music. There’s this sort of straight white genre where they’re looked down upon. I know growing up in Iowa, that was kind of the sentiment that was put out there. Country music is for families and traditional. And it’s like, well, it’s just music. Music is for everybody. But I think they feel as though that notion is kind of put out there by country music.
CQ: I understand that from growing up in Arkansas. For me,I loved the music, but I always felt very displaced from country culture in a way because a lot of my bullies were the ones who were wearing the camo and the boots and blasting Toby Keith.
Paisley: One of my cousins lived in Arkansas for a while in the Ozarks. She was out in New York visiting and we went to this bar called Skinny Dennis. It’s a country bar and she’s like, “This is great. It’s like Arkansas, without the racism and homophobia!”
CQ: Living for that day, it can happen. It can be, I believe in that South, I believe in it so hard. And I believe that it’s our job as country queers to say, “We’re here and we’re taking up space in these places.” One of the things I loved about this mix is how loud it is. I’ve found a lot of comfort in loud music, I felt safer in that musical space than country growing up. Being from Arkansas, I got to be a huge Lucero fan, and it was like, “Oh shit, I can be country AND punk?” It changed my life.
Paisley: I love that you said loud! Just be noisy! I felt like that was the music that I really connected to as well. Just like really loud guitars in your face. I felt like maybe I couldn’t always speak up and speak up truthfully and that music could speak for me. And that could be my noise, you know?
CQ: Totally. It’s that hiding in plain sight that you have to do. Honestly, if we had grown up in the same place, you and I would have been best friends, like 100%, because I’d have someone to talk to about being in love with PJ Harvey and Nick Cave at the same time.
Paisley: [laughs] Oh my god, I should’ve put Henry Lee on there.
CQ: That’s a beloved one of mine. This mix you’ve made is one of my favorites because it reminds me of my own mind, in a way. You transition from Joan Jett to Waylon Jennings without a blink and it just…works. Does anything on this mix inform the music you’re making right now?
Paisley: In a way, yes. I’m always influenced by a lot of different music. Whether it’s from music from my past or new music. I’m listening to a lot of Arthur Russell, have you heard of him?
CQ: I have not!
Paisley: He’s this gay artist who was a classical cellist. He’s from Iowa. He moved to New York in like the seventies or eighties. He died in 1992 from AIDS. A lot of his music has been released after he died. He never really got his due while he was alive. Now he’s having this resurgence and it’s really powerful music. I really connect with it a lot because he sings about Iowa a lot. I’ve never really found other musicians from Iowa who will sing about it too, because where you’re from has a huge impact on you, obviously. So to have that sort of connection is really inspiring.
CQ: That sounds so comforting, to find someone you connect to like that. So the bar that inspired this theme, JUKEBOX…what was the most wild night you had there?
Paisley: Oh god, maybe a Halloween or a New Year’s Eve? It was just a place where all our friends would be at any given time. I can’t think of one specific night because all of them were pretty wild. [Laughs.] It’s definitely more of a local neighborhood vibe as opposed to when I would go out to like a gay club. This bar was a place to just hang out with your friends and sort of have a conversation and drink too many beers. Remember when we used to do that?
CQ: Oh God, yes. I miss it. Let’s be bad kids at dive bars when this is over, you down?
Paisley: Hell yes.