Sharon Needles, the Season 4 winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race, is one of many Drag Race alumni flooding the marketplace with original music – most recently with her sophomore album, Taxidermy. But with her edgy, indie musical influences (among them My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Throbbing Gristle, and Ministry), Sharon is no typical pop queen.
“I’m more Courtney Love than Courtney Act,” Sharon jokes, rocking a stained G.G. Allin T-shirt, Blade Runner/Adam Ant warpaint, and a Pete Burns wig, as she visits Yahoo Music to publicly perform stripped-down, so to speak, for the very first time. “My musical tastes are all over the board. I didn’t hang out with a lot of pop-culture-obsessed gay youth. I hung out with a lot of punks and people in rock bands, and I never identified as one [thing]. The ‘90s genre – you know, the raver, the Goth, the punk – I was so interested in all of it, so my musical tastes ranged from ‘90s punk, U.K. glam, surf-rock, EDM, electronica, industrial… and then, of course, I got my Britney Spears in there, too.”
All of these elements (except maybe Britney) are evident on Taxidermy, a darker, more personal, and more somber work that veers away from the campy, clubby sound of Sharon’s debut album, PG-13. “I have a large repertoire of music that I enjoy… I wouldn’t say she was typecasted; I dug my grave and I have to lie in it, and I don’t mind being Elvira with a d—,” Sharon admits. “[But Taxidermy] is written a little bit more about the person behind all this [makeup]. PG-13 was a tongue-in-cheek kind of Elvira-inspired, punny, fun Halloween record. But I’ve been in the spotlight as a drag queen for four years now, and that beats you up quite a bit.”
“What went from my beloved hobby has turned into blood, sweat, and tears, no sleep, and a lot of work,” Sharon elaborates. “And with that comes a lot of good things – great money, great fans, great travel. But at the same time, life has its balances. It had a lot of dark things to it. I just had a lot of dark things to write about. I went through a public breakup, I was thrown into the spotlight literally overnight, and a $100,000 check doesn’t come with a manual for fame. It kind of drove me a little crazy. And that’s what Taxidermy is all about. And, if you really just look through Taxidermy, it really is a love record. I wanted to write a pop record that was solely based around love, because it’s a universal thing that people deal with – I just happen to write about love a little differently, and a little morbidly.”
Sharon is referring to her four-year relationship with fellow queen Alaska 5000, a top three finalist on Drag Race Season 5, with whom she split in 2013. While she says she “didn’t use any part of that breakup to be any kind of biographical song,” she does explain that one Taxidermy track, “Glow in the Dark,” is “about taking responsibility for why me and Alaska broke up, but also that there’s light at the end of that tunnel, and that you deserve and have that opportunity to be loved, and love someone else again. And ‘Dead Dandelion’ is one of my favorite songs on the album, and it’s a love song, but it’s really morbid and it’s really about how the world’s most ironic punishment is to find true love, only for you to die and for you to leave each other. And it seems like there’s no benefit to true love, because you’re both going to abandon each other for the soil.”
Clearly Sharon has just found new ways to artistically explore her longtime fascination with all things macabre. “I don’t know if my soul came from another planet or what, but I’ve always been attracted to fantasy and darkness and macabre things,” she says, reflecting on her days as “a little gay boy in Newton, Iowa… daydreaming of getting out of that desolate cornfield and becoming a rock star.” She continues: “I remember at 6 years old watching Sleepaway Camp Part 2, my first horror movie – I just remember the feeling it gave me. I remember the concept of dread, and very early on attracted to morbid things. You know, being an odd kid and being an obviously, ridiculously obvious gay kid, I tended to get lost in my head and lose myself in a fantasy world, to kind of protect myself from the evils of school and hanging out with other kids.”
Sharon is philosophical now about her difficult Iowa upbringing. “I think every gay kid’s childhood is difficult,” she shrugs. “I don’t like to be the posterchild for anti-bullying or things like that, but if people see my story and they relate to it, I’m glad that that happens. But I somehow got given the sheriff badge for the bullying story and having a rough childhood. Anyone my age – I’m 34 now; I’m a child of the ‘80s and early ‘90s – that kind of Reagan-era clash and how people treated each other was not how it is today. Yeah, it was bad, but when you become an adult, you have to take self-responsibility of how you’re gonna allow that to affect you. And I think a lot of that has fueled my art to be a button-pusher, punk-rock. Sorry, Yahoo, but I think my childhood experience has propelled me to be a button-pushing punk, and I enjoy kind of poking fun at culture.”
Check out three debut acoustic Sharon Needles performances and in-depth interview here, for definitive proof that she’s not some “Party City” queen.