London-based drag artist and performer Ash Kenazi’s new podcast The Pink Room invites listeners behind the curtain with a music industry insider to chat about the scandals, the hijinks and the pressures of life when touring”. Guests featured this season include Mac Demarco, Charlie Steen, Fenne Lily, and Holiday Sidewinder. When not being a newly minted podcast sensation, Kenazi is a performer, provocateur and rabid music fan. We sat down recently to chat about his merging his mutual loves of drag and music, poking fun at the patriarchy as a bearded queen, and what he would ask RuPaul if he ever had him as a podcast guest.
Michael Cook: Ash Khanazi could be looked at as a very daring name, even by drag standards. What made you want to be so forthright with it?
Ash Khanazi: I guess I got obsessed with some musicians that started using drum machines. They would name their drum machines like Al Esis, like when you have an Alesis drum machine. Sparkle Horse is an awesome artist who did a load of stuff with David Lynch, and he started naming his instruments also, That is where the “cutting it up” came with. Also, in order for me to come to peace with some of the internal anti-semitism I had, it made a lot of sense for me to outwardly express it. Ash Kenazi is the way for me to be queer and Jewish at the same time, and feel good about it. Not that Judiasm was homohphobic in a massive way, but Jews and gays don’t necessarily go together.
MC: A podcast for you seems like a very natural fit. You are a very forthright person so sitting down with people to discuss a myriad of topics comes naturally.
AK: Yes, and I think I enjoy bringing up topics that other people may not like to discuss. For example, with the Mac DeMarco episode, I dont think anyone has asked him very simply to look back on being the head of a movement that thousands of kids were obsessed with. Also, I got very frustrated with the way that musicians are generally treated in interviews, with the vague ego-massaging. I thought, why not bring some queerness to it and realize that these people are humans as well. They have interests and feelings outside of their musician status. I hope that people were disarmed by the drag queen asking those questions, but who knows.
MC: When did you fall in love with music and know that it was going to be one of your passions?
AK: Very early when I was a kid. The connection wasn’t there in my head. The only time I was at peace was when I was on-stage playing something. As I’ve gotten more into drag, I realize that a stage presence is what gets my cockles rumbling. Drag and playing music was where I felt peaceful; when I was in the closet, real life was really tough. Performance life and being on stage and playing music was almost meditative. Even with drag, even when I am on who knows what and doing something bizarre. We just did Latitude Festival and I bought one of those little kid’s electric cars and drove it on stage and did a car wash. That is meditative to me; I know some people need to sit in a dark room and be silent, my meditation is that.
MC: You fell in love with drag later in life; was the feeling very similar to when you fell in love with music?
AK: I think drag was the way for me to bring the queer in me out. I naturally fell in love with music, drag was a bit more difficult for me to get into drag. I mean, anyone can do drag but it is quite a difficult thing to get into. There are skills that you need like gluing down the brows, they don’t tell you these things. Either you need someone to tell you or you need to watch millions of videos and try to make sense of it. I think it was more like watching Bob the Drag Queen; when Bob said he knew he would win Drag Race, it lit a spark in my head. It was like, if he enjoys it so much and is good at it, than surely I will too.
MC: So many performers are influenced by Drag Race and don’t cop to it, but its refreshing hear you own that fact.
AK: I am a product of Drag Race, Bob is a product of Drag Race. I think it is important to establish that because nothing is made in a vacum. At the same time, for those queens that are influenced by Drag Race; I think that they have a tougher time now.
MC: You are also a bearded queen, which is now becoming much more commonplace. How does it feel to be part of that sub-movement
AK: It’s funny, people always say that the beard must really be a “thing”. Half of it is because I really dont like my chin (laughs). I think the other half is how I am going to bring a bit of myself to it? I think there is a little bit of that Jewish element where a lot of people have beards. The thing that I love the most though is that I will walk downtime street in full drag and said heterosexual will see me from across the road. Then, as soon as they get close enough and spot the beard, it is all over for them.
MC: Manifestation is something that so many people believe deeply in. If you were to have RuPaul on your podcast, what do you think you would want to ask her?
AK: I am one of those people that wants to investigate things, I want to know why. I would probably ask questions that would make her less comfortable. There are things like the fracking drama that came up, it had nothing to do with RuPaul at all. I would want to ask on that note, it was easy to blame RuPaul. Bob the Drag Queen thought it had a racial aspect to the issue, which I agreed with. I would also go back to the Wee Wee Pole era, I would ask about that and I would ask who influenced you during that. I would ask what made you make that transition, because I have been through a similar transition, In my twenties, I was obsessed with being some sort of artist. I looked up to certain artists, like Brian Eno or Sparkle Horse or Bon Iver. I was obsessed with how do I maintain that or become that level of artistic greatness. Drag has allowed me to drop that and be more at peace with the thing that I do and the things that I listen to etc. I think the question would be what made you drop being a punk artist to becoming a queer pop commercial drag queen.
I got involved briefly in the scene in Athens, GA that grew from the B-52’s that I think RuPaul was involved in. There is a great documentary called Athens Inside Out. I would be interested to know about the question of being that kind of artist actually put me in a state that didn’t feel free or creative. Doing drag and dropping some of that snootiness or the “I am highbrow and my art is better” type of vibes.
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