Alexis Blair Penney celebrates the release of debut album 'Window,' and mourns a personal loss
Some of the craziness he experienced while in SF can be chalked up to excessive drinking and other drugs — from which Penney now abstains. He's stopped drinking, and says he sees life much more clearly now. And being able to write books and songs about it all has been a part of that process, airing all his dirty laundry. He interviewed Traci Lords last year for V Magazine, and she ingrained this mantra: nobody can say anything about me that I haven't already put out there. He plans to come back to SF for a few shows in September, including a guest spot at High Fantasy. "That will be my first time back since I quit drinking, I'm excited to see it all with the newfound clarity that I have."
His New York life seems slightly different from his known SF persona, mainly as he's doing a lot less drag, and focusing more on these newer projects. "[Weeklies I've done here] just didn't have the same kind of magic as High Fantasy. There's something special about Aunt Charlie's. It's kind of really hard to compare to that." He also hosted the Hot Boxxx Girls drag weekly at the Tenderloin's Aunt Charlie's, after Vicki Marlane passed away.
But he does have a new crew out there in NY, a kind of drag, multidisciplinary girl-group (drag En Vogue is the inspo), doing monthly reviews, called the House of Chez Deep. They feature heavily in that video for "Your Eyes." The performers shown in the video alongside Penney are his two crews out there, the House of Chez Deep, and the band Icewater. "I have like, four drag queens on one side, then four — now three — incredible, super sweet straight guys who are musicians on the other side."
"That's where I've always been in between," he says, "These super outré artists and these super intense music people. I hope my music resonates like that, this weird moment between all these different slices of culture."
His personal sound influencers are just as broad. When he first started working on Windows, he was really into house music and poppy '90s club tracks, but he also is long-inspired by late '70s and early '80s new wave and experimental albums like Marianne Faithfull Broken English, and Grace Jones' Nightclubbing, along with the works of David Bowie, Yoko Ono, Massive Attack, even Madonna's Ray of Light. "I really like these genre-blending anachronistic figures that make people want to draw a line in the sand."
Ray of Light seems to be particularly close to Penney's heart. He was given the record in his Easter basket as a the child by his music-loving and religious parents. His dad is a classical pianist, and his mom was a theater major and is a singer who liked Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell, and Heart. It was a "'70s-meets-old Hollywood aesthetic in a suburban home," as Penney describes it.
He also discovered more weirdo music through religion, though tangentially. A kid brought Cibo Matto's Viva! La Woman to his youth group one day. "I was really into anime then," he says, "[Cibo Matto] kind of just felt like this Japanese export, anime soundtrack, but also just this so-crazy, in-your-face, and also really pretty sound too." He found the song where Le Tigre name-checks Cibo Matto ("Hot Topic") on the Internet, and that opened him up to Kathleen Hanna. "That was like this landslide into this whole crazy world of punk and these women making it, all of it." He fell into electroclash and joined an "ill-fated electro-rap group in high school."
But despite his voracious intake of music, he didn't start singing live until a few years into his stay in SF, and says he didn't really have anything to write about until the demise of his relationship with Bogart, which eventually grew into Window.
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