Words by Sydney MacDonald

Stepping into Joey Arias’s apartment feels like a step back in time. Between the clouds of incense smoke and menage of trinkets placed along his walls, each momento seems to encapsulate the time he’s spent as a performer. Arias, who’s been shaped by three decades as an entertainer, has been considered by some to be a drag queen. For those who have truly had the Joey Arias experience, however, it’s indisputably evident that he exists in a category of his own. CONVICTS got a chance to catch up with the performer and find out what makes him so uniquely gifted at his craft.

CONVICTS

When someone asks you what you do, what’s your response?

JOEY ARIAS

I write down on forms “singer and artist.” I love singing, it’s what I do best. I’ve also gotten involved in films and off-Broadway plays. I did Cirque Du Soleil for seven years.I co-wrote songs, and performed backup vocals on SNL with David Bowie, so I’m kind of a morphed character.

CONVICTS

Tell us about your childhood. Did you always feel drawn to performing?

JOEY ARIAS

As a child I liked to fuck around and sing along to records. My mom loved singing too — there was always music blasting from the radio or a record player in my house. When I was young I was like a little seed: I knew exactly who I was in a weird way because I was playing with dolls and transforming. When I was in grade school I did my eyebrows, put makeup on and dyed my hair. I was going through it all without knowing — it came naturally.

CONVICTS

Would you describe what you do as drag?

JOEY ARIAS

What I do is performance art dragged in with theatre. When we were all trying to get the Broadway shows it was like, “you’re too weird, you sound great but no…it doesn’t work.” So we created our own performance art shows.

CONVICTS

What persona have you created onstage?

JOEY ARIAS

I’m the same. The person that’s sitting here and the person on-stage is the same person…it’s just turned to ten. When I’m on stage I’m just Joey, you know I could be male, female. As soon as people look at me they’ll ask ‘who are you?’ I’ll be like ‘I’m God’.

CONVICTS

What made you go in the direction of performing drag?

JOEY ARIAS

It’s the money that made me go in that direction. It wasn’t because I loved it. I hated drag. I just put the fucking dress on and it became a part of the act, and then I just started falling in love with it because it was just dressing up and having a good time.

CONVICTS

In your professional career you’ve been compared to Billie Holiday. Do you try to embody her while you’re on stage?

JOEY ARIAS

When I do the Billie Holiday Show I’m channeling the voice. I’m not Billie Holiday. It’s still my own interpretation, but there will only be one Billie Holiday.

CONVICTS

How do you prepare for your shows?

JOEY ARIAS

I just go on stage and say to myself “Joey just don’t think about it, just walk on.” No more and no less. You don’t over act it, you don’t under act it — you’re beautiful as you are.

CONVICTS

Why do you think it’s important to perform?

JOEY ARIAS

I guess it’s kind of my protest. It’s my flag waving. It’s a way of speaking out and sending people messages. It’s entertaining and it gets people lost in a different world. They’re like “Oh my god I just saw this show and it blew my mind.”