Joey Arias: Past, Present, Future

Photos by Steven Menendez
Photos by Steven Menendez

“I think of myself as a more avant-garde artist. The drag thing, when I was doing it, it was more punk. Now it is more commercial,” Joey Arias says. He is musing on his long career as an artist and performer. For the unfamiliar, Arias began his artistic journey with music and comedy in the 1970s, moved into dancing and modeling, and wound up being heavily involved in drag, cabaret, and performance art. He has worked with icons like David Bowie, Klaus Nomi, and Andy Warhol and can easily be described as an icon himself.

This June – yes, as part of the city-wide celebration of Pride – Joey will be performing in Minneapolis for one night only. “I’m doing a full set with my band at Icehouse on Saturday, June 24th.” The show is at 6:00 PM and tickets are available on the Icehouse website, listed below. “It’s going be a fun night,” says Arias, “I hope to have some guest musicians join me on stage, musicians who have worked on my album and are based in Minneapolis.” It gets even better. “This is all happening during Minneapolis Gay Pride, and afterwards Icehouse is having a dance party, so it’s going to be pretty wild,” Arias adds.

A Joey Arias show is – to put it in the most Minnesotan way possible – a musical smorgasbord. Still, Arias’ manager, Tommy Karl, was able to give us a general description of what to expect from the evening. “He will be performing a full concert famously channeling Billie Holiday, performing jazz standards, jazz twists on popular rock songs…as well as a few originals from his upcoming album.”

Excitingly, much of that upcoming album was recorded right here in Minnesota. “[E]veryone who worked at Pachyderm was so professional, so amazing. Everyone from the tech, to the engineers, to the food, to the gardeners. It was like a dream,” says Arias, “It was a dream come true. It was the ultimate focus.” The studio time was extremely fruitful. “We were supposed to do 15 songs, but we ended up doing 30 songs,” Arias says, “Because everyone was so on top of it, and asking what do we do now, what do we do next.”

Arias collaborated with an impressive group of musicians, which included many talented Minnesotans alongside a few of his usual collaborators. “I was so blessed to work with a core group of Minnesota-based musicians, with Jason McGlone as our lead engineer. JT Bates played drums. Jeff Bailey played bass. David Feily played guitar. My long-time pianist, Eliot Douglass, flew in from Vegas to do all the sessions,” says Arias, “And all of us, we all literally lived at Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, for weeks. Music all day and night. We didn’t leave the property…There were no outside influences. Just what came out of all of us.”

This album is really a summation of Arias’ career to date. “When we first started this project I was asked ‘What do I want out of this project?’ I said, ‘Well this is going to be the past, the present, and the future.’” In seeking to fulfill that goal, Arias has built a track list that dives deep into the many artistic lives he has led.

“The past refers to songs and material I did, basically as a teenager, when I was signed to Capital Records. The present is all the material that we wrote in Minnesota, in the studio. The future is…. It’s a combination of everything. Pop. Modern. Avant-garde. The sexy. The sensual. It has hard hits. And it has soft hits.”

Being that this is a Joey Arias project, it will be as uniquely ineffable as Arias himself, but it can broadly be categorized as a pop album. “We are going straight ahead with surreal pop music…it’s the Joey style of pop. Not candy pop. Lyrics about love, but also about what is going on in the world today. And how might we better shape the future.“

Arias gets inspiration from many places, many genres. “The music just gets me. The music has a vibration,” says Arias, “I love seeing new bands. Hearing new music. Everything. Everything from country to hip hop to rap to jazz, heavy metal, rock n roll, disco. There is a vibration to it all.” He continues, “Every day I think about the songs. Think about where we are going. I am so grateful to be working with such generative artists and producers.”

The album is projected for a late September release and all of the associated music videos are already complete. “[We] shot [those] in upstate New York and Manhattan,” says Arias, “I play many characters throughout. We’ve been creating a whole world.“

Throughout it all, there is one thing that drives Arias. “I like to just push the boundaries. I am always asking what’s new, what is new about myself, how do I lean into that and explore what is new and different, how do I reinvent myself as a – I am going to use the word queer – as a queer artist.”

With his legacy as a career queer artist in mind, I asked Arias if there was any message he would want to pass along to other LGBTQ people –artists or otherwise.

“People should really focus on who they are, and what they believe in,” he says, “I hope everyone that reads this article remembers to stay inspired by their dreams; be inspired by who you see, by the things that are different to you. Keep an open mind….So BE lavender. Lavender is calm. Lavender is peace.”

You heard it here first, folks.

Be Lavender.

And if for some reason you cannot find it in you to do that, at least be at the Icehouse on June 24th for an extraordinary Joey Arias show.

Joey Arias
Saturday, June 24 – 5:30 PM Doors / 6:00 PM show
Icehouse, 2528 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis
Tickets $35 in advance and $45 day of

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