ABOVE: SHARON NEEDLES IN THE “CALL ME ON THE OUIJA BOARD” VIDEO. IMAGE COURTESY OF SANTIAGO FELIPE
When we met Aaron Coady, he was waiting, perched on a couch in the sleek but cozy lobby at The Out NYC Hotel, the upscale gay urban resort on West 42nd Street. He wasn’t wearing creepy white contact lenses, macabre raccoon eyes, black talons, a Bride of Frankenstein wig, raven feathers; nothing black or Goth-inflected. There wasn’t a speck of blood dripping from his face. He was just an average everyday guy, sitting there in a white t-shirt, chugging on a Red Bull.
It’s only surprising if you know that Coady just happens to be Sharon Needles, Logo TV’s RuPaul’s Drag Race fourth-season winner, recording artist, and outré personality, who was in town to promote his new music video, “Call Me on the Ouija Board,” which we’re pleased to debut below. He has a reputation for outrageous antics—like the time a few months back when he was accosted by NYPD for peeing in the alley right beside where we conducted the interview, or when was thrown out of Austria for mentioning Hitler at the Life Ball. Needles enjoys playing the provocateur (even if this renegade does hail from Iowa).
During the interview, he talked nonstop but barely alluded to the video or song: a glossy, humorous pop romp in which Needles impersonates characters from a slew of horror flicks like Poltergeist, The Exorcist, The Bad Seed, Children of the Corn, and Stephen King’s It, as though you’re flipping the channels through a haunted TV. New York nightlife personality Santiago Felipe directed and produced the video, which also features cameos by nightlife personalities like writer Michael Musto and a bevy of club kids. The private preview party for the music video last night was held at Le Baron, the trendy Chinatown bar tucked away on a quiet stretch on Mulberry Street. A cluster of admiring drag queens clustered around Needles, who was wearing a dress and wig in —atypically!—bright neon green.
GERRY VISCO: Who are you? Aaron or Sharon Needles?
SHARON NEEDLES: Well, I consider myself a very passionate person, so as much fun as I like to have, I’m also the biggest asshole I know.
NEEDLES: I think it has to do with me being a Sagittarius. Two people live within me. One’s a very savvy businessperson; the other’s a party girl. Part of me is a very sensitive, connected, balanced person, and the other part is a selfish, fame-seeking asshole. Terrorist, really. Can you say terrorist in New York?
VISCO: Oh yes, but you can’t be one.
NEEDLES: I acknowledge that I have no idea who the hell I am, and I think that’s the first step.
VISCO: Look at Sagittarius Anna Nicole Smith, for example.
NEEDLES: Yes, we share the same birthday. November 28th. I took her death particularly hard. I’m obsessed with celebrities and fame. I always will be. But that was the first celebrity death I remember taking particularly hard, after Tammy Faye Baker’s. I think Anna Nicole’s death was the first that changed the media as we know it, the first that changed sensationalistic news into 24-hour entertainment. And I love it. To this day I can watch up to 29 hours of CNN a day, in 24 hours. Don’t ask me how I do it. I’m obsessed with media and news. I could watch it all day.
VISCO: You sound like my mother. Are you like some old lady from Pittsburgh? No, you’re from Newton, Iowa, right?
NEEDLES: Yes. I love what news has become. It’s no longer based on facts, it’s based on entertainment. And it makes you wonder. You look at cases like Newtown. Is adult entertainment killing our children, or is killing our children adult entertainment? I don’t know. What came first, the chicken or the egg?
VISCO: So when did you leave Newton? You ran away from home?
NEEDLES: When I was 16, I ran away to the glossy, high-end, celebrity-addled major city of Des Moines, Iowa. Which was 36 miles away from my farming community.
VISCO: I like people from Iowa, though. They can be really nice.
NEEDLES: Oh, now that I look back upon it, I’m very happy that I came from Iowa. It’s an interesting, progressive place, but I was raised by a television set and I knew there was more than six-foot-high corn and methamphetamine labs. I knew the world worked the way it did inside my TV, and I didn’t really waste a lot of time figuring that out. So I left high school at 16, and a lot of people say, “Don’t you wish you had finished your education?” and I always say, “But I got my degree at Fuck U.” And a bachelor’s at Screw U. To this day I can still beat out anyone I know on Jeopardy!. School only teaches you how to conform and stand in lines. I don’t stand in lines. I snort them.
VISCO: So if you went back to Newton, what are those people doing now?
NEEDLES: I don’t know. A lot of people ask me, “Do you think you got the last laugh because of your success on RuPaul’s Drag Race and the success of your album and your acting career?” But I don’t think they get to see all of it, since RuPaul’s Drag Race airs at wife-beating hour.
VISCO: I still think they know you.
NEEDLES: The thing is, I don’t fucking care.
VISCO: You have family there?
NEEDLES: Yeah, my mom and my dad. They live in Des Moines, Iowa. I’ve always been close to my family, but I wasn’t one of those bullied gay kids that clung to their family. In fact, I pushed my family away even further. Since I couldn’t defend myself in school, I took it all out on my parents. So I started drugs really early and sneaking out and sleeping with boys and not coming home for weeks on end. So I really put my parents through it. But then when I got onto Drag Race, I was 29 years old, and I was proving to my parents that nightmares do come true, and that the stars align, prophecies can be fulfilled. This idea of me becoming successful, beloved and famous by being a man who dressed up as a fuck-clown being a total asshole and visual terrorist… and ta-daa. My mom’s my biggest fan now. She flies all over the world to see me.
VISCO: How did you wind up in Pittsburgh?
NEEDLES: I was looking at jail time in Boulder, Colorado. I was living there in a punk cooperative with 30 hippies and punks in this run-down mansion outside of Boulder, Colorado and Lafayette. And I got a DUI and I think an assault on an officer. It was so long ago I don’t even remember. It’s weird what the brain chooses to remember.
VISCO: Well, how old are you now? Twenty-nine?
NEEDLES: No, now I’m 31. And the only reason I remember that is because Baskin Robbins has 31 ice cream flavors. Yeah, I was looking at jail time, and I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to have to deal with the responsibilities of all that. And a couple of punks were like, “Well, we’re gonna go live in Pittsburgh…”
VISCO: Because it was cheap?
NEEDLES: It was cheap, one of the kids was from there…
VISCO: You knew you could live there without really getting a job.
NEEDLES: Right. I thought I would be there a couple of weeks, maybe a couple of months. And that’s where I got struck by “adult lightning.” There was just something about me that wanted to settle my roots and stay. I really, really liked it.
VISCO: Will you stay in Pittsburgh?
NEEDLES: Yeah, as long as I can. I mean sometimes, in this industry, you are asked to move to New York or to L.A. and be closer to the work. But right now the ball’s in my court. I never stop working, I never stop creating. And I never sit around and wait for the industry to need me. I force the industry to want me by continuously creating what I do. And in this age of airplanes and Internet, it’s not about where you are, it’s more about what you do. But I travel every single day.
VISCO: Didn’t Pittsburgh just award you some citizenship award?
NEEDLES: Yes, last year June 12th was proclaimed Sharon Needles Day, which was a great honor. I got a key to the city, which unlocks nothing. But it’s the home of so much history and so many secrets. We’re not like Seattle or Portland, we don’t advertise how underground we are. We keep it to our fucking selves. We don’t want to get any bigger or cooler and we don’t want it getting more attention. We love just being a rough around the edges, dying industrial city that’s hanging on by a thread. If it’s good enough for Andy Warhol, it’s good enough for me!
VISCO: Do you think people are flocking to Pittsburgh because of you?
NEEDLES: I don’t think anyone’s moving to Pittsburgh, but fans of drag race or of drag culture have definitely made a mecca [of] Pittsburgh. My show bar, the Blue Moon, which people think is this opulent gorgeous ballroom where Alaska [Thunderfuck, Needles’ boyfriend] and I started our careers—it’s a hellhole. It’s a Mars Bar with a disco ball.
VISCO: Are you going to start putting on the ritz now? Do you have any star ego?
NEEDLES: Do I have a star ego? Abso-fucking-lutely! Are you kidding me? Being a celebrity is a fucking privilege, it’s not a right.
VISCO: But you’re not a diva, right?
NEEDLES: Depends on what person you’re talking to. Depends on my mood. A lot of people have told me, “Sharon, don’t let the fame go to your head,” but it’s the only empty space I’ve got, so I don’t know where else it would go. Why wouldn’t it go to your head? If your job is to be constantly cultivating this artificial character that is you, how the fuck is it not going to go to your goddamn head? You know, when people say, “Even when she was a star, she was humble until the day she died”—they will not say that in my obituary. They won’t. I was so obsessed and enamored by the idea of being famous that when the impossible happened and I have it, I’m not wasting it! I’m a diva. I can’t help it!
VISCO: Would you rather live a skanky lifestyle or an elegant lifestyle? Or both?
NEEDLES: I think when you blend them together nowadays, you call it Lindsay Lohan. When I was a kid, you called it Mötley Crüe. You applauded the self-destructive aspects of a celebrity. Nowadays it sells more tabloids while you completely alienate someone’s life and put them in a box. I live in the Mötley Crüe state of badass celebrity, not in the Lindsay Lohan. I don’t want to be felt sorry for, I want people to relish in my mistakes and my mishaps and my asshole-ism.
VISCO: So you won RuPaul’s Drag Race, you’ve done a lot of things, you hosted a TV show on Logo, you cut an album, now “Ouija Board.” What would you say your focus is on? Songs? Performances? What’s your goal?
NEEDLES: Well, since I was on RuPaul’s Drag Race and it was the first year they allowed fan voting to weigh in on who won, and I got 80% of the fan votes, right now I’m just writing my “thank-you” letters. That’s what I call it. You can’t open your presents ’til you write your thank-you letters. So I’m basically just touring every city from major to minor, every country from legendary to terrifying, thanking the world for their support. And the best way for me to do that is by performing my album PG-13 live. I’m not singing parodies, I’m not singing cover songs, I’m singing 12 tracks that I handcrafted specifically for myself and my fans.
VISCO: Did you write them all?
NEEDLES: I wrote them all except for the two covers on the album, which is “Everyday Is Halloween” by Ministry and “Why Do You Think You’re Nuts?” by Penny Pearce.
VISCO: Are you rich?
NEEDLES: Am I rich? I’ve never had this much money in my life, ever. Am I in the Forbes 100? Absolutely not, and I’ll never be there. But for the first time I make so much money that I feel poor, like I have to cultivate and protect this fortune. But I never had more than $20 in my pocket before RuPaul’s Drag Race so I feel so privileged with money, it’s terrible. I bought a $300 beige t-shirt today.
VISCO: And you’ll probably ruin it.
NEEDLES: Oh, I’ll ruin it.
VISCO: How about the Ouija board? Do you believe in it?
NEEDLES: Oh, absolutely not. Another of my songs is called “Hail Satan!” A lot of my imagery is about the macabre, the supernatural, but I don’t believe in any of it. I just tend to be more interested in fact than fantasy, personally. Religion tends to kill more people than it does bring together. And that’s why I bring up images of the macabre and the supernatural and Satan, because we live in a God-fearing nation. I mean, we have such great technology and freedom, but still live under this polyester bullshit fucking God. It’s murdering people, keeping rights from people, it’s alienating friends and family. So instead of saying “Oh my god!” I’m rather say “Hail fucking Satan!”
VISCO: But you don’t really believe in Satan.
NEEDLES: No. But if I had to pick between Heaven and Hell, I’d pick Hell, because I can’t keep white clean.
VISCO: Are you’re not worried?
NEEDLES: No, I never worry about the social backlash against my work because I’m a man in a dress, and somehow American society creates a buffer on how severe things are when you put a man in a dress. But right now the PC police have slowly but surely infiltrated American culture, and you can’t get away with anything anymore. It’s stupid. I’m more GG Allin than Marilyn Monroe. But what I’ve learned after getting a taste of fame is that some things are designed to stay underground.
VISCO: Like what?
NEEDLES: Like really button-pushing material. The old me would have showed up to a red carpet event in a hoodie, holding a bag of Skittles. And I think now that just doesn’t fly. It would give me negative press that would just be a fucking headache for me. And I get a lot of negative press. I was recently kicked out of Austria, the Life Ball, I was talking to the press about being in the homeland of Hitler.
VISCO: Maybe you should have kept your mouth shut until afterwards. Did being kicked out inconvenience you?
NEEDLES: Well, it did inconvenience me, but like Andy Warhol said, “Your worst day is your best tape.” I don’t believe in the afterlife, but I do believe in memoirs. Whenever I have anxiety about my bad press, I simply step out of my body and say, “If I wasn’t me, would I be a Sharon Needles fan?” Fuck yes, I would be. Would I idolize a drag queen who got kicked out of Austria for making raucous remarks about Hitler? Abso-fucking-lutely! I would love her!
VISCO: What’s next?
NEEDLES: Me and Alaska just designed a new TV show that I wrote. It’s called Pure Camp, it’s just me and Alaska living in the woods. It will air online, on Logo.com and Warner.com. I was like, if I’m going to do a reality show I might as well get a vacation out of it so we’re going to the woods, we’re going camping, and they can just film it and splice it and they can make it into whatever they want.
VISCO: Have you ever had a job?
NEEDLES: I’ve always worked, since I was 14 years old; how else was I going to get drugs?
VISCO: I don’t know, but what did you do?
NEEDLES: My first job was 14 years old, and I was the mint passer-outer at Burger King. But I’ve done it all, I’ve been a makeup artist, I’ve worked in thrift stores, I’ve been a barista—every disposable job that makes you partially suicidal. But I’ve always worked because I need to buy drugs and wigs so I could go out in drag and get wasted!
VISCO: So in terms of drugs, are you still doing them?
NEEDLES: Yeah, sure, I do drugs!
VISCO: So how do you function?
NEEDLES: I function because I am on drugs.
VISCO: Well some drugs are better than others, right?
NEEDLES: Yeah, I certainly don’t do the drugs I did when I was younger, my body just can’t handle them. I was talking to the great Armen Ra, the world’s most renowned theremin player, and he told me, “I don’t trust old people that do drugs, but I don’t trust young people that don’t do them.” I think what he meant by that is that you’ve got to be young, you’ve got to be adventurous and experimental. I’m certainly not asking any of my fans or kids to do drugs, but I certainly wouldn’t judge them for doing them.
VISCO: You are able to do whatever you are doing—like you said you’re drinking all day, but you are still able to function and get it all done?
NEEDLES: Absolutely, I’ve never missed a gig!
VISCO: What have you learned becoming Sharon Needles—what’s your advice?
NEEDLES: Never feel guilty. Don’t hold yourself back by guilt or fear. No other species in the entire world deals with guilt. Guilt is a bizarre emotion that makes you feel bad about decisions that you make.
VISCO: So you’re saying be brave.
NEEDLES: I don’t want to sound all Lady Gaga about it, because honestly, I don’t want to be anyone’s role model. My mole models were assholes. My role models are dead. My role models never made it to 30, so I’m a bad person to ask for advice.
SHARON NEEDLES’ PG-13 IS OUT NOW. FOR MORE ON THE ARTIST, PLEASE VISIT HER WEBSITE.