My journey into the world of CHRISTEENE began with a barrage of cryptic texts messages. “See CHRISTEENE, it will change your life,” they read, like Bible belt billboards. Why were all my gay friends acting like crazy evangelists? I Googled it. “CHRISTEENE is an American drag queen, performance artist, singer-songwriter and rapper, noted for untraditional, 'terrorist drag',” it read. "What the hell was 'terrorist drag'?"
When CHRISTEENE burst onto the stage, I thought my fears had been confirmed – I felt like I had been ingratiated into a weird underground sect. CHRISTEENE was like a ratchet, drag version of all the nasty shit from True Detective; the accent was from the Deep South, it looked like a creature that had been in captivity for 20 years, and the audience’s adoration was almost cult-like. Without giving too much away, the performance that ensued was high-octane mixture of rap, rim-job inspired dance routines, and costumes that conjure up all your childhood nightmares.
Musically, it was a bit like Chris Lilley doing a hardcore porn infused parody of a Mikki Blanco or Die Antwoord set. In which context, CHRISTEENE could be viewed as the artist at the forefront of this gender-fucking rap movement. And yet, it was so much more. Like a perverse Deep Southern preacher, between songs CHRISTEENE rallied the crowd with a gospel for the outsider. When really incensed, and forgetting to do an accent, CHRISTEENE reminded me of David Wojnarowicz – the voice of a queer generation. And then suddenly this angry creature would morph back into the coy, childlike CHRISTEENE, and sing an a capella ode to Oprah that almost moved me to tears.
Desperate to make some sense of the madness, I spoke to Paul Soileau, the man behind CHISTEENE’s terrifying mask.
Hi Paul! Can you tell us how CHRISTEENE came about?
Paul Soileau: CHRISTEENE was like this little stank voice whispering in my head that I couldn't shake. Those voices usually come when when environments shift, when there is a lack of something important to you, or an overabundance of a good or bad thing. This cocktail was served to me containing the ingredients of being thrown about by Hurricane Katrina, finding myself in Austin after the winds calmed, feeling the need to create something quick and sharp like a switchblade, having a job that sucked ass, and not finding any dick anywhere to ease my achin' heart. I was feelin’ it, and this little voice starting singin' a song to me called "Fix My Dick".
"Fix My Dick"
What were your inspirations?
Honestly, what inspired me about CHRISTEENE was the fact that I had plugged into that theatre fag inside of myself and realised that I had struck on something that encompassed so many things that made me go cray when I was a little kid. Costumes, wigs, music, dancing, prancing, dangerous women, dirty things, boots with heels – you name it. This creature was a golden nugget to me, and a scary one at that. I honestly had no clue what I was turning on… and I still fucking don't.
How would you describe CHRISTEENE, musically?
An electronic buffet of emotion.
And her look?
Would you class yourself as a drag act? Or is CHRISTEENE just kind of alter ego? I feel like there is some CHRISTEENE in all of us…
I think there is definitely some of CHRISTEENE in all of us… like it or not. That's a good thing, by the way. It's definitely a strange breed of drag, but it doesn't operate as traditional drag does. I'm not very present when the wig goes on. It definitely has a life of its own that I quietly regard from the backseat. I guess I'm weary of calling it an alter ego. It's more of a… possession, like I've fallen victim to this really intense relationship that is tearing me through and through in all the right ways.
You often get called a “drag terrorist”, is that because you’re pushing the boundaries of taste? Is this an intention?
I think that I am simply getting out there and wrecking away at all of the safe, sane and normal shit that we are constantly fed. It's not my intention to push your boundaries of taste. It's more my intention to create a very dangerous and exciting space that I, personally, would like to walk into if I were attending a gathering or show. I'm hungry for so many fucking things, and I'm really tired of waiting for someone else to feed them to me.
Your a cappella ballad about Oprah and Gayle really moved me. What’s your favourite song in your set and can you tell us about it?
I like "Tears From My Pussy" and "African Mayonnaise". The both really hit hard with the audience in two completely different ways. And they are two of the songs that I can look out and see the bright faces singing along too. Or scared faced… or crying faces.
In your music video for African Mayonnaise, you storm a Scientology bookshop. Are there institutions you want to fuck with? And is CHRISTEENE a good means of doing that?
Hell yes. I think CHRISTEENE is a fantastic machine to roll out into the city streets or the sacred halls of our homes and institutions. I definitely loved the idea of fucking with the Scientology people because they play the power game. They have strong fucking fingers in very dangerous pies. They met CHRISTEENE and they did not like it at all. PJ Raval – the director of the videos – and I laid out a list of the places in Austin, and surprisingly Paris, that we felt needed a sweet kiss from the stank C. It was really, really exhilarating and pretty dangerous at times.
Have you ever had a bad reaction to CHRISTEENE? Can you tell us about it?
Of course. Not everyone likes the same damned things, although the big shits upstairs sure would like it if we did. CHRISTEENE has definitely struck a nerve with tons of groups who have very strong feelings about this character. I've been called everything. If you don't like it, don't fuckin' watch it. But if you start trying to shut it down completely because it just doesn't ring right with you… well, we then have a big problem.
Is it hard to get funding or get booked at big institutions because your show features rimming, your penis and songs about crying vaginas?
No. That's the best part of it. People are hungry for something right now and many of us are really fucking sick of what's being fed to us. The game is up and there is a lot of anger and a lot of counter culture kicking strong. We've have many successful funding projects happen for us, and we have been damned lucky enough to perform in a spaces like Ficken 3000 in Berlin to the Soho Theatre in London, with some University of Texas in the middle.
When I came to see CHRISTEENE, you mentioned Dawn Davenport and Grace Jones. Who’s your inspiration as a performer?
I'm inspired by those out there who let themselves be completely vulnerable and free. Dawn Davenport and Grace Jones, sure. They have huge rooms in my heart. There's many more.
Who are your backing dancers, how did you choose them, and what do they bring to the performance?
Their names are C Baby and T Gravel. We found each other in Austin about six years ago. The chemistry was there immediately. They are really wild rascals, especially when together, and I asked them if they would like to be in the first video for "Fix My Dick". They said yes, they showed up in panties with trucker hats and cowboy boots, and I knew we were meant to make magic.
When my friend came to see your show, she decided to quit her job, I think it was CHRISTEENE’s freedom of expression and rousing anarchic speeches. Do you think CHRISTEENE could be some kind of leader? I do.
I think CHRISTEENE speaks on many things that we are all feeling deep inside, but is just "decorated" in a way that brings it to another realm – almost not human. I would like to think of CHRISTEENE as a gatherer of emotions and hawt hawt rumblings from within.
Where do you see CHRISTEENE in the future?
I can't make out what in the hell the future holds for CHRISTEENE. I just want to continue to dig deep into all my shit and pull up the best and worst for that character to chew on. I want to share the work with as many people as I can, and I want to meet other artists similar to myself who have or can inspire me and show me strange realms that I could never have found.