At the end of last year I went along to a gig at the Toff. Though I was expecting something a bit out of the usual nothing could have prepared me for the hours of booty shaking and pussy channelling I was in for. If I’ve lost you then you probably aren’t familiar with the Queen Diva of bounce music, Big Freedia: a crossdressing, 6-ft bounce performer from New Orleans. For a taster of the intensity of one of her shows I recommend undertaking a ‘Booty Battle’ on the frontpage of Freedia’s website which made me pant almost as hard as I was from dancing at her show (you’ll also score a free download).
The latest style of music for Diplo to jump on (read: ‘Express Yourself’), bounce music has been pounding through the clubs of New Orleans for around 20 years, but is now gaining popularity outside the city’s reaches. Last year Freedia, a rising star not just in the queer side of the scene, introduced the sound to our shores for the first time and is back again next week for the Melbourne Festival.
During our conversation featuring her strong N’awlins accent, a dizzying number of ‘you know’s and a smattering of barks from her dog, Rita, we covered her music making with drag queen superstar RuPaul, etheric pussies, potential reality TV shows and what it was like performing after Hurricane Katrina.
Anna Horan: So where did you get your name from originally? Is there a story behind it?
Big Freedia: Big Freedia? One of my friends, one of my best friends… My name is Freddy, so he was like, ‘ we gotta give you something a little bit more girly.’ It was way back, I wasn’t really big; I was a young kid and I had a lot of baby fat on me you know, (laughs) probably 300 pounds on me. He was like, ‘we gonna call you “Freedia” instead of Freddy.’ So back then when I started to rap, when he said ‘we’re gonna call you Big Freedia’, I felt like I had to come up with something else to go behind it and that’s when the ‘Queen Diva’ & ‘Dick Eater’ came from.
AH: What’s your process when you’re writing a song intended to get people’s arses shaking?
BF: Actually it comes all kinds of ways. I could be riding in the car and may see something that’s just funny or catchy, or I can be in an everyday conversation talking to one of my friends and they say something catchy or I’ll say something catchy. Then when I get into my zone. When I’m in the studio I start thinking about what I saw at the club, what I see out of town at some of the shows on the road and what made me really excited. I might go jot it down in the hotel room, it’s just all kinds of ways that I write depending on what kind of mood I’m in.
AH: And you recently collaborated with Ru Paul for ‘Peanut Butter’.
BF: Yes. (Rita starts barking again to which Freedia tells her, “Baby, please take off outside. Go outside!”) She is just something else, going crazy! Sorry about that.
AH: That’s alright. So how did it come about?
BF: Actually he called me on the phone and was like, ‘Hi Freedia’, and I was like, ‘Hi, how’re you doing?’ You know, just normal. Then I was like, ‘Um, who am I speaking to?’ He says, ‘This is RuPaul,’ and I completely lost it (laughs). I was completely out of character and just lost it and couldn’t believe it. (He said) ‘I’ve been trying to reach your staff for three months and nobody responded,’ so he personally called me. He was like, ‘I want you to do a song with me,’ and things just happened. He sent me the track and I immediately went to the studio (thinking) ‘this is big for my career I have to hurry to the studio.’ I dropped everything, ran to the studio, recorded the track and sent it back to him. A month later I get another phone call saying ‘let’s shoot a video’.
AH: What happens in the video? Can you reveal?
BF: Well, the video is really interesting. He did his part and then they called me in and I did my part, we had it all set up on the green screen. I had a really nice make up artist help and stylist – it was really nice, I had a real nice time. I shook in the video, I think people gonna really to like it.
AH: Awesome, do you know when it will come out?
BF: It should be finishing the editing process. They were pushing for the end of this (September) so it should be coming out, if not at the end of this month, it should be the beginning of next month. (Unfortunately, the video hasn’t been released yet).
AH: Just in time for when you’re in Australia.
BF: Yes, and I also made a new song when I left Australia last time, it’s called ‘Get Amongst It’ (a phrase she came across last year when she was in Oz). I’ll definitely be performing that when I return.
AH: That’s so cool.
BF: Yes! Get amongst it. Get amongst it, mate. Get amongst it! (Laughs).
AH: I was actually at your first show in Melbourne last year, and I heard you invited some of the people from that show to come and dance with you at Meredith.
BF: Yes, they definitely came too.
AH: How did you pick people out?
BF: Actually, I had Indra the promoter, and he actually went and rounded up all the girls. There was like 15 – 20 of them. We told them all what colours to wear and they were all there.
AH: Do you think it took your performance at Meredith to the next level?
BF: Oh yeah. It definitely did because it was just me (that came out) and one of my dancers, because Australia’s such a far place to come to and expenses… but me and 20 girls? Come on, now. It definitely enhanced my show (laughs).
AH: I remember when you and Altercation (her dancer) were teaching us the bounce moves, there was a lot of talk about the etheric pussy and the ‘power of the pussy’. I was just wondering if you could tell us a bit more about it?
BF: Well, it’s the inner chakra system, the power of the pussy. Everybody has their inner pussy to be able to work it. And like Altercation said, it’s those humping and positions that you wanna pretend that you’re in, but it also helps you move into that – to the bouncing of that motion. You know what I’m saying?
AH: Yeah! And you’re even getting the guys to channel their inner pussies, too! (Laughs)
BF: (Laughs) Yeah, definitely. That was so funny, we had the whole class laughing at that.
AH: I hear you’ve also got a reality TV show in the works?
BF: It’s actually (still) in the works, I’m not really sure what’s going on with it ‘cos they’ve shopping it for a while or whatever, but I’m still pushing and making things happen in all kinds of ways. I’m blessed if it happens, I’m blessed if it don’t.
AH: Yeah, so were they just been following you around? Following the day-to-day life of Big Freedia?
BF: Yeah, that went on for a while. I’m kind of glad it stopped for a minute ‘cos that can be challenging, I must say. Someone recording your day-to-day life, it’s very challenging. And you know (sighs), we just hoping to shake that ass.
AH: You’d just never be able to switch off, I guess. When you’re not performing you’re also an interior decorator, I’m intrigued as to what your style is like. Can you describe it?
BF: My style is really glam, fab, over the top. I like a lot of shine; I like a lot of glitz and glam to it. I like a lot of swathing and drapes, the whole nine yards. When we do it, we try and make it so the customer says, ‘wow’. That’s the theme of my company… You know, I live up to that name. When I pull out the fabulous drapes and the big beautiful vases and do the flower arrangements, and the whole nine yards – people love me (for it). That’s why I have name in decorating as well.
AH: Do you do a lot of residential houses, or do you do more hotels and that sort of thing?
BF: I usually do a lot of venues and birthday parties and weddings – I do a few houses. I do a lot of houses mostly ‘round holidays, like Christmas and that sort of thing.
AH: Ah, so it’s always a special occasion when you get Big Freedia to decorate your house.
BF: Yeah, definitely.
AH: What kind of music do you listen to that isn’t bounce?
BF: Everything except bounce. I don’t listen to too much bounce at all ‘cos I’m always bouncing, 24/7. I like all the stuff, like Lil’ Wayne, Rihanna, Kanye West… Sometimes I listen to a little electronic, it depends on how I’m feeling. I try and keep my ears open to it all. Like listen to some of New Orleans’ thing, some of my friends who have things going on. I’m all over the board.
AH: Sounds good. After Hurricane Katrina, you were one of the first artists to return and perform in the first club that re-opened, Caesar’s. What was the first night back like?
BF: It was like they were about to blow the roof off the whole damn building with their voices. It was like I was Michael Jackson and I had just arrived in town, and people were losing their minds and going crazy. It was an experience that I will never forget, and it was such a joy because people were happy to see each other – not just family members, people in general – to see people from New Orleans and who they grew up with and been around and listened to their music. It was definitely a rewarding time for me, to see me bring so much joy to so many people.
AH: That sounds amazing.
BF: It was. It was the best time – it was the most miserable time of my life in what I went through. After having to sleep on the ground at the convention centre and all that. But it taught me more value to life, to love people more, to not cherish material things, to just value life more than all of the awful things that come with it and the negativity. Be positive about everything because you never know when it could be your last moment. Katrina taught me that.
AH: That’s really great. You perform up to six nights a week regularly, how do you stay energised?
BF: Oh girl, my fans. My fans, that’s it. I don’t know how I do it sometimes. People wonder, like when I cancel a show they be pissed but you know, I’m human. I’ve been working three years non-stop, travelling all over the world. I deserve to be sick or take a break or miss a show even if I don’t want to, but my fans always give me the energy to keep going. When I see that crowd just holler my name or when they introduce me and the fans scream louder, that just gives me another switch of energy, it flicks my switch on even higher.
AH: Awesome, well I think that’s all our time.
BF: Okay, well let everybody know that I’ll be in Melbourne on the 18th and I’m very excited and I hope to see everybody at that show – as many (people) as I can fit – until my return.
AH: I’m sure it will be crammed!
Originally published 11 October 2012 on Everguide.com.au