Katya Talks About Making Her Music Debut And Why This Isn't Your Average "Drag Race" Alumnae Release
Her EP Vampire Fitness is out now.
BuzzFeed: I know you'd been planning your debut EP for quite some time, so walk me through the timeline on working on Vampire Fitness. When did you first get the idea to begin doing music?
Katya: It happened a while ago. It was around two or three years ago, actually. And we started to work with the producers to do a rough draft and came up with all these different sounds, and different sketches for all of these songs. And then we finished two of them, "Come In Brazil" being one of them. Then I just put it on the back burner for a while, and didn't revisit it ... I would revisit Come In Brazil, and I always loved it, so I knew that I was going to release it as a single.
But then revisiting the other songs, I was like, "Oh, I still kind of like this." I had different ideas – a lot of [the songs] went through different iterations. And then being in quarantine was the perfect time to just go through everything, and then re-do stuff, and rework it, re-record. We had the meditation song ["Be Your Own Dentist"] that was originally with this weird affectation, a bizarre transatlantic accent. And I was like, "Oh, I hate that." So we just redid that. And then yeah, it was just having the time to have it fit, and being sure about the fact that I was like, "Oh, nothing is so timely that it's connected to a fad, or nothing's so of the moment that it won't lose its luster in a year or so." It all seemed to be pretty timeless, more or less. So I was happy about that, and I was confident in releasing it. I wouldn't be embarrassed by it in five years.
It seems like every Drag Race contestant who wants to have a career after the show goes the music route, but it can be pretty hit-or-miss to say the least, and this EP shows that you actually put a lot of care into standing out and doing something different.
Katya: It was important that it wasn't just another – I think that some of the music that the Drag Race alumni release can be just going through the motions, or it's just another piece of merchandise. I didn't really want that, because if I want to release a T-shirt, I'll just release a T-shirt. I don't need to do music just because it's the thing to do. I wanted it to be special. I was really only concerned with me liking it, because if I like it, I think that whether or not it does well, or performs well, it's beside the point. I just wanted to have something new and different to work on that I like. Also an excuse to do music videos.
Let's talk about your lead single, "Come In Brazil." I remember reading that you wrote the song for your Brazilian fans because they kept saying "senta na minha cara" to you. Is that true?
Katya: They call me vagabunda (slut), and then biscate (whore), and then quenga (prostitute) and vadia (bitch). It became this funny thing. And then I remember I just learned a couple of phrases when I was down there, "senta na minha cara," sit on my face was one of them. [Brazilian fans] are so engaged, and so passionate, and so just...I don't know. They're just so enthusiastic. They're so wild. They're absolutely, by far, the wildest group of fans in the world. They love to love stuff.
They really are so passionate about their fandoms. I feel like nobody gets shit done more than Brazilian fans – they can get anyone to visit their country with how persistent they are.
Katya: Oh, yeah. And I think the song in particular was a response/song to Alaska's "Come to Brazil," which takes the piss out of the fact that that's always the comment under anything, whether it's Lana Del Rey, or Dawn dish washing liquid online, it's just like, "Come to Brazil. Come to Brazil." It's so funny.
That song in Russian, "ГЛАЗ" (Eye), made me so pissed that we're still in a pandemic and I can't dance to it at a goth club.
Katya: Yeah, that's the idea! A lot of music is most important to me when I'm working out. If I'm going to the gym by myself, it can't happen without music. It's more important than pre-workout in terms of motivation, and sticking to it. I had the idea of it being the soundtrack to a goth gym at night, because every gym that I go to is the same crappy music, and it's just such a distraction. I just thought it'd be great to have a scary, energetic soundtrack for vampire personal trainers.
It's absolutely perfect for that. I also love that you included the orgasm sound in it, which then turns into something darker. Where did that concept come from?
Katya: It's so funny, that was one of the songs we did super early on. And it was a lot...oh my God, I remember being in the recording studio, in the booth, and doing that part. We did a few passes for it – it was just improvised. And I started just screaming. There's actually another portion that we cut, because it's just so ridiculous. I ended up having this really long, protracted orgasm sound. And it ended up being too funny. I didn't want it to descend into total comedy at the end. I wanted to keep it a mix between funny and dark. So then we added some effects on it, because it was just so ridiculous.
The EP also features a collaborative track with Trixie, "Ding Dong," and it's so different from the folk sound she's known for. You two have done nearly everything together – including writing your book – but what was it like to collaborate on music?
Katya: It's funny because, originally, we had this banjo breakdown where she was supposed to rap. And then it didn't really work. So when she got into the studio, she just ended up saying a line from Silence of the Lambs ("James Gumb"), which is a personal joke between us. And I was like "Okay, that's perfect." She was a good sport. [The song] is definitely not her – she's a very serious musician. But it was nice for her to be able to just be an idiot on my track.
It's also great that the song is an homage to LOBODA's "Boom Boom."
Katya: ["Boom Boom"] came out in May, and I was like – the song and the video, I was just so obsessed with. I learned about that singer, Svetlana Loboda, I think only in the last year. And I've just voraciously consumed everything she's recorded, and I'm so obsessed with her. And yeah, the idea for ["Ding Dong"] came pretty automatically, especially after we had done this thing for Netflix [I Like To Watch] where we reviewed this show, Glow Up. And Val Garland, the host, says this catchphrase when she really, really likes something, she says, "Ding dong." And I was like, "Oh, that's perfect." I was so pleased when I found out online that she had reposted the snippet of "Ding Dong" on her Instagram. And I was like, "Oh, yay, we have the Val Garland 'Ding Dong' approval."
That's amazing that Val shared it! Does LOBODA also know about "Ding Dong"?
Katya: Well, I don't know. I think so, but I'm not sure. Here's the thing: She's a huge star in Russia and in that part of the world. I don't necessarily think that I'm on her radar. I know she's reposted me on her Instagram a couple times, because I sometimes do a story of myself singing some of her songs. But I don't know that she really knows and I'm a little bit nervous. If she hates it, I don't want to know. Or if she's offended, I don't want to know. I'd just rather be ignorant. But I was literally seriously considering traveling to Russia soon to see her concert. I think I might still go next year if the COVID shit is easing down. But we'll see.
You never know, you could eventually end up touring with her!
Katya: Oh my God. I mean, she's so legit. My dream is just to somehow, some way, to go to her concert, and then wiggle my way backstage and just meet her. But that's all I have, dream-wise. Right now, I'm keeping it realistic. I feel like it's a bummer that she has a few songs that are so great and they should be crossover hits, but I think Americans just don't want to listen to anything in another language.
I think you're doing your part to change that, too. You're forcing fans to listen to an EP that is mostly not in English.
Katya: Yeah, I know. Most of the music I listen to – I'd say 90% of it – is not in English. So I mean, there's a whole world out there. There's more music than a person can reasonably discover in their lifetime.
I've always been curious about your affinity for languages. It's fascinating to me that you grew up in Boston but you're fluent in so many foreign languages. Where did this interest come from?
Katya: I don't know. I mean, it's just something that I excelled at in high school. I went to college to be a French major. At one point in college, I was better at writing French than I was English. It was weird, because I think it's the fascination with the other, with the grass is always greener. Everything that was away from the United States seemed cooler, foreign stuff seemed more interesting. And that's just stuck, especially because, in a sense, anywhere is cool.
If you just close your eyes and spin a globe, and wherever your finger lands on is going be worth pursuing. But I just happened to succeed in these particular languages. I really don't know why. And it stuck. And then Russian is so hard, it's a lifelong pursuit to learn it, especially if it's just for fun. It's so difficult.
It's interesting that the one track you have in English is the most "out there" of all of them; it's a meditation track about pulling out your teeth. How did you come up with the concept for "Be Your Own Dentist"?
Katya: I love guided meditations. I was doing just a lot of exploring with different apps that do sleep stories, and YouTube videos that have all these different ways to relax, or fall asleep, or to meditate. I just became fascinated with them, especially the sleep stories that are narrated by celebrities like Matthew McConaughey and Harry Styles. I just found them to be so hypnotic and fun. A lot of times, they can be very cheesy, so I thought it'd be fun to do one that sounded quite calming, but in reality was pretty brutal. So I feel like it would work if you don't speak English, but if you do, then it's a little bit disturbing.
Yeah, it's pretty nightmare-ish. When I first listened to it, I was like, "Oh my God, I can't listen to this. I'm going to fall asleep and have a nightmare where my teeth are falling out."
Katya: Yeah, that's the idea. I wanted to make it longer, but I don't know, I think a 15-minute song would be too much.
I would definitely buy a whole album of you doing meditation tracks.
Katya: Oh, that would be great. I would love to do that. I love that stuff. I feel like it's just so great that there's so many different avenues you can go down to where the literal, and the absurd, and the comedic, or heartbreaking. There's so many wonderful things to explore with that. It's definitely worth thinking about.
We're in the middle of a pandemic; it's such a weird time to be a drag performer, and a musician in general. You would likely be on tour right now if this wasn't happening. What has it been like to promote Vampire Fitness during this strange, fucked up time?
Katya: It's less stressful. It's a bit anticlimactic doing everything from home. But it's getting to the point where I haven't performed live in so long that it's going to be so nerve-wracking when it actually comes time to do it again. It's going to be crazy. I'm going to be so nervous, and so out of practice, it's going to be like, "Urrrrhhhh." The idea of performing music live right now is so terrifying.
I hopefully will be able to get back into the swing of things gradually, because oh my gosh, the more time that goes by, the more foreign [it'll feel]. It's a skill that just needs to be groomed constantly, and it's like, "Oh, God." Daunting.