The sprawling, irreverent mythologies of Champagne Larry, Mae Flood, and Lazy Susan inform surrealist drag band The Loungettes.
“We’re an act touring America,” says Garrett Vance (Mae Flood) when explaining their origin story. “Champange Larry and I came from the freaky southern Pentecostal church. We used to be married and we escaped that life, founded a cabaret act, and went on the road. Our original bandmate died – Lazy Susan did the beats for her – and we heard [Lazy Susan] signing in the mortuary and it was a beautiful angelic voice.”
Obviously, the act asked Lazy Susan (Cody Volk) to join them on tour. “I literally did her beat as a cadaver, like her makeup,” Cody elaborated.
An act that began a year and a half ago, the trio have hosted and performed with Betty Wetter, Strawberry Shartcake, and Jackie Hell, and have been in Cucci’s Critter Barn, and Astoria Oregon’s Pride festival. “They loved us in Astoria,” Christian Swacker (Champagne Larry) says.
In the beginning, The Loungettes came from an admittedly more darker, brooding place. It was “loungy, smokey, and weird,” Swacker describes. It seems a natural starting place for Swacker, who got his start in drag with Princess Charming, a doomed, southern chanteuse. The vibe matched with Vance, who wrote music that was included on Brilliance, a collection of songs and art inspired by David Lynch. Vance also scored part of Drag Becomes Him, the Jinkx Monsoon documentary. As the group began performing at gay clubs and other venues, they evolved to include high energy, pop heavy acts, while keeping their dark cult comedy camp intact.
Notable songs are Champagne Larry’s crooning of Shirley Bassey’s “Feelings,” while Mae Flood and Lazy Susan lip synch clips from The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby. The Loungettes sing parody songs like “Ready for Anal,” from Real Life’s “Send Me An Angel,” cover Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel,” and revamp The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me Baby” to critique Amazon’s gentrification of queer neighborhoods. The group also performs mashups of George Michael, Leonard Cohen, and Nico songs, making a collage parody act that sings about “Late stage capitalism, big tech and toxic masculinity in the gay world,” Vance explains.
Cody Volk makes the beats, produces the show and, as Lazy Susan, is the spaced-out deco wildcard. Vance writes most of the parody songs and, as Mae Flood, the leading lady of sorts, channels Dynasty, animal print, and Blanche DuBois. Champagne Larry has “this Atlantic City angle mixed with a little Liberace, a little Dean Martin, and then a little bit like, street corner drug dealer,” according to Swacker. “[He is] Princess Charming’s Bizzaro World counterpart.”
Drag for The Loungettes takes place in a post-genderfucked world. Vance’s aspiration is less about fish and more about “surrealist acting and dramatization as opposed to just doing a number.” Mae Flood and Lazy Susan have chest hair and Champagne Larry is like a drag king, “but I’m often half-naked in spandex and heels.”
The Loungettes have a flair for ambitious live sets, bringing their own lighting and performing up to 14 songs. As Swacker puts it, “usually 9 out of 10 things go technically wrong. Then there’s this spontaneous magic and people keep giving us positive feedback.”
While the shows are iconoclastic mishmashes of references from different decades, styles and sentiments, the one mainstay is the dramatic songs. These days, Vance is taking on power femme 80’s ballads from Pat Benatar and Toni Braxton, and probably splicing in some Lynchian tropes and 60’s girl group influences as well. Up next for The Loungettes are forays into YouTube videos, more territory for their irresistible surrealist act.
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