The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
There have been some big changes taking place in the Big Apple even though you might not have even realized it. With Bianca Del Rio winning the most recent season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, she’s clearly not going to be around nearly as much, that leaves a larger than life and an obnoxious void in the city’s drag scene. Mimi Imfurst has moved on to greener pastures and a fresh start in the City of Brotherly Love. Dallas DuBois retired from drag and moved to LA, presumably after the Rockettes refused to hire her. Epiphany is spending large chunks of the year overseas and I can’t blame her even slightly for that. But even with the outgoing talent there is still a lot of established talent in the city as well. Drag Race villainess extraordinaire, Phi Phi O’Hara made the move from the Windy City to New York. Legends like Lady Bunny, Sherry Vine, Hedda Lettuce and others are still killing it. The cupboard is clearly not bare.
But now, more than ever, there is a hungry (by hungry I mean ambitious…and, well…hungry. Most of these skinny bitches need a sandwich or three) crop of young drag talent ready to burst into stardom. As a part of this series, NewYorkNowNext, we’re going to be taking a look at some of this talent that is blooming all around the Big Apple. Ladies and gentlemen, I am very happy to talk with Miss Erika Klash!
Chiffon Dior: Hi there Erika! Thanks for making some time to talk with me on Thanksgiving week. Are you ready for some turkey and stuffing?
Erika Klash: OMG Thansgiving is the time when I put cinammon whipped cream into hot chocolate and replay Banjo Kazooie for the 800th time. So YES! I am ready!
Cinnamon whipped cream into hot cocoa? Whoa, slow down there honey! You’re a wild woman!
Living on the edge. Of diabetes, but it’s an edge nonetheless.
You don’t have to tell me. I got a checkup recently and it turned out my blood type is mint chocolate chip!
Ohhh you can donate your blood to anyone you want! Lucky bitch!
You think I’m sharing perfectly good ice cream? Gurl please!
This week on Drag Hoarders: Freaky Eater edition.
So you looked fabulous the other night at the Glam Awards although we didn’t get to talk because of….well….two severe cases of ADHD. How was your night there though?
It was good! Last GLAM awards I walked on at the tail end of the Look Queen opening number and wasn’t nominated for anything. A lot was different for me in January, there has been a lot of artistic and personal growth for me. So I was sort of enjoying being in the moment and enjoying presenting/being nominated, but before and after I became very reflective and sort of took stock. I guess that’s just the kind of person I am. Very cerebral and introspective.
And remember, its an honor just to be nominated. At least that is what I kept telling myself. What were you nominated for?
I was nominated for Breakthrough Artist! Which was a huge honor for me because I am very much a lone wolf in the community. Both in terms of my style and in terms of how I relate to others. I can be shy/to myself with folks I don’t know too well.
That was a loaded category! Congratulations on that!
Thank you! And congrats on your nomination as well! Most nominees deserved to be nominated, I thought.
Oh thank you. I had no expectations of winning but just to be mentioned with the people in my category was humbling. So let’s travel back in time together a bit, shall we? Where are you from originally?
I am actually from New York City! Was born in Miami, however I come from a long line of Nuyoricans and we moved back here when I was 3. So New York has always been it for me.
Oh well, you’re the first native New Yorker I’ve talked to in all these interviews. So you have tell me where the best pizza in the city is. No pressure.
My vote is Pizza Palace off Astoria Ditmars to be honest! For the chicken parm heroes, anyway.
I’ll make a note of that! You don’t get hips like these with salad gurl!
Although a heavy penne pasta slice with a Caesar salad is awesome!
That sounds heavenly, we might have to scrap this interview and just go get some pizza instead.
Maybe we can squeeze out a few more questions on the subway. What was your very exposure to the world of drag when you were young?
Oh goodness! I think I was 11 and my mother and sisters were watching To Wong Foo. I was so confused! But also subconsciously wishing that I could unlock that part of me that the characters in the film had. Other than that, I am of the Drag Race generation, so that was really when my fascination with it started.
Your use of the word unlock in that context makes me think you’ve got a video game background…..your obvious drag aesthetic aside. Would I be correct?
Yes! I grew up playing Super Mario All-Stars on the Super Nintendo. I was obsessed from a very young age. And in recent years the mentality that you have to have to be successful at a really good video game (an interest in adventure, tenacity, hard work) have really become ingrained into who I am and how I look at the world. So it’s very much a part of me. The metaphor I always use is that in the original Super Mario Bros, you can’t go back, just forward. And I try to think that way in life.
Now see the lesson I learned from that game is that the Princess is always in a different castle. I guess we took different lessons from that game. So what video games do you think have been more influential on your drag style?
Nintendo most definitely. There’s a campiness and bright art style that I always have been attracted to and that I think really translates well to drag. I love Mario, Pokemon, Kirby, Star Fox, etc
How did you come up with your drag name?
AH! Erika is the name my mom would have given me if I had been born a girl, and Klash comes from an obscure Mario game from the 90s called Mario Clash (it was for the ill-fated Virtual Boy console).
Have you taken Erika to a Comic/Anime convention yet? It seems like you would fit in quite nicely there?
I actually was booked for Flame Con, which was NYC’s Queer Comic Con! That was back in June. I made an appearance at this year’s New York Comic Con, but my goal is that next year I can get booked for something. I’d really love to continue bridging the gap between drag and cosplay.
Was that cosplay influence always in your drag from the very beginning?
The seedling of the Erika idea was that I was a Princess Peach stunt double. So, sort of. The more I did drag, the more I felt like I wanted to step into the shoes (heels) of different characters that I have loved and admired. And as my skills have grown there have been different looks I’ve been able to do and different applications of the same idea/brand. Like my makeup looks. At the same time, though, I feel it’s important to develop an aesthetic that doesn’t use licensed characters, so thats where my love of Japanese street fashion came into the fold as well.
How did you first time in drag come about?
On my 21st birthday I went to Lips and that was the first drag show I had seen that wasn’t a Drag Race event. I got a view of what being a working local queen was potentially like. And I just decided I would start doing it. It’s been a long journey (1 year 8 months) but I love what I do and I’m so glad I took the risk!
Speaking of conventions, you and some of your sisters are going to be traveling down to the Lone Star state to be a part of the 2nd Austin International Drag Festival. Can you talk a little bit about how that all came together for you?
I learned about the festival through social media. It seemed really great because right off the bat, there was so much diversity. Whether there would be drag kings and female drag queens, or whether all forms of drag would be represented weren’t even questions. There was already an amazing and diverse international community of drag performers involved, and I wanted to get involved so I could travel with my drag and showcase on a larger scale. I had a great time at the first one and signed on to be one of NYC’s ambassadors. It’s been great to be a part of the whole thing.
Mind you, I had applied maybe 6 months into drag and didn’t even think I would be accepted! But luckily they took me and by the time the first festival happened, I was really confident about my work.
Who is going to with you and what do you have planned for the fans?
We have a really great line up of performers. Brooklyn folks, Manhattan folks, male-bodied folks, female bodied folks, I’m really excited to represent NYC with all of them. I’m gonna copy paste a full list:
AMBASSADORS: Chris of Hur, Crimson Kitty, Erika Klash, Goldie Peacock, Jizzabella
PERFORMERS: AKIRA, Glace Chase, Holly Box-Springs, K. James, January Bones, Louvel, Lucy Balls, Maci Sumcox, Patti Spliff, Sasha Velour, Sophiella Da Vinci, Stefon Royce, Switch N Play (KC Steel, Lee VaLone, Miss Malice, Oliver Fist, Pearl Harbor, Ri Zen, and Stanley Steamer), The Countess Mascara, Untitled Queen, Violet Elixir, Vita Summers
Me personally, I’ll probably want to debut a cosplay while there and feature one of my J Fashion looks as well. Do some of my favorite numbers and really go out and support all the shows.
So one of the main focal point of this series is how with some of the more established queens in the city are moving on to new projects and phases in their careers, there has been a bit of a vacuum at the top of the NYC drag scene. Who do you think is poised to fill that void?
It’s hard to tell! I think there’s a lot of really great talent in the city, but I also think New York is a really unforgiving place and can be a hard place to survive and build a career. I see Brooklyn on the rise and really giving Manhattan a run for it’s money. I see a lot of veterans continuing to work, I see a lot of folks rising through the ranks really fast. I see a lot of unique brands and risk-taking. So I’m excited to see where thing go, but honestly, it’s anyone guess.
How do you feel you’ve seen the drag scene in New York has changed and evolved in the time you’ve been following it?
I think the most exciting thing I see is that people are (more than ever I think) able to create spaces for themselves and the people they admire and want to work with. Drag has become so big, and because of that, you can do any kind of drag you want. You can be any kind of performer you want. There is always a venue for you. At least in NYC. And that’s the best part: seeing that I have come so far out of left field with my style of drag and still being able to build a career.
The dark side of that is that you have people self-dividing. There is this imaginary line some people have drawn between Brooklyn and Manhattan. There’s some very childish clique behavior that happens sometimes.
I hear they eat babies and kick puppies over in Brooklyn….I mean, yes….I agree with you.
Your look is the most obvious thing but what else do you think makes you stand out from the crowd? In a city filled with so many talented queens, what is about Erika that makes people notice her?
My numbers! I love mixes and I am a queen of comedy, which I think is pretty standard for NYC. But I think the way I approach my performance is different enough that I can still keep certain drag staples fresh while still performing material that folks love to see.
I also think in general I have a very writerly approach to my drag. A lot of queens were musical theater majors in college. I was a playwriting major! So I have a lot of character construction and structure ingrained in my creative practice.
ITS A THANKSGIVING MIRACLE!!! Every interview I do involves the words “musical” and “theatre” when the gurls start talking about their backgrounds!
Ha! I always joke that I have probably the most cerebral and introvert-heavy arts backgrounds of any queen.
So with a playwriting background, do you have ambitions to put on some huge drag production eventually?
Absolutely! My thesis was about four drag queens working/competing together. I am a big lover of Charles Busch, Varla Jean Merman, CoCo Peru and others who have done theater. So I would definitely love to do that, I just have no idea what that would look like as of now. But someday maybe an idea will come.
In the meantime you’ll have to be satisfied with taking your drag on the road. You’re heading down to Philly soon. Can you talk about that a bit.
Yes! I’m so excited that I have been booked for BUTCHQUEEN at Tabu on Dec 18. It’s my first booking in Philly and I’m so excited to be working alongside Phi Phi O Hara who shares my love of cosplay.
That she does, in fact those looks won her our Drag Look of the Year at our Year End Awards last year (here). Could that be a more gratuitous plug?
Not more than all the plugging I did in this interview!
We’re both shameless I guess!
While we’re being shameless, for our readers not in Philly, where else can they see you do your thing?
Well in the coming weeks I will be at the Monster for Look Queen, I will be hosting my own show at Albatross Bar in Astoria again in December, and I’ll also be hosting the Stonewall Fundraiser. I’m also working with one of my favorite queens on a duet show involves everything kawaii! So NYC folks, keep your eyes peeled for that!
Well my dear, it looks like we’re almost at our subway stop so we should wrap this up so we can go get that pizza. Do you have an final words of wisdom for our readers before we go load up on carbs?
For all the weird/different entertainer out there. Do what makes you happy and creatively fulfilled, but also recognize that you have a responsibility to entertain. So always impose standards and high expectations on what you do if you want to be successful at it. And follow me on Instagram. And follow me on Facebook. And you can find me at your local Gamestop passing out hugs. Thank you for the interview Chiffon!!