Larry, DJ to a Tee
Published May 6, 2009
I first met Larry Tee on April 22 at a dinner party in his honor, and everyone was talking about Miss USA. At the pageant a few days before, the California contestant, Carrie Prejean, was asked by judge Perez Hilton to supply her views on gay marriage. Perez didn’t like her answer that “marriage should be between a man and a woman,” and the exchange sparked a national conversation on the subject.
It so happened that Perez had recorded a song for Larry Tee’s latest album, Club Badd (out May 5 on Ultra Records), “My Penis,” which was meant to have premiered the next day. It’s a funny little song, imminently danceable, in which Perez intones repeatedly: “My penis. My penis. My penis. Is famous.” When Perez did premiere the song a day later, he was one of America’s most-discussed personalities. It was a PR dream.
Larry Tee couldn’t have predicted his good fortune, but he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time—with the right people in tow. He’s got an impressive resume: Over the last twenty-something years—he’s vague about the 80s—he’s played with The Fans, who produced the B-52s’ “Rock Lobster,” co-founded the famous 90s Club Kid scene made of Fenton Bailey’s 2003 film Party Monster, coined the term “electroclash,” and helped to launch the careers of RuPaul and Scissor Sisters-and those are just the highlights.
On Club Badd, Larry plays host to a number of up-and-coming acts-among them Jeffree Star, Roxy Cottontail, Mel Merio, and Jodie Harsh—as well as Larry’s longtime—don’t call her “old”—friend, transsexual icon Amanda Lepore, and YouTube sensation Kelly (you know: “Shoes. Oh, my God! Shoes!”). The result is an album that is dense with personality. Princess Superstar’s “Licky,” below, had already gotten attention in DJ sets for weeks before the album was released.
It’s easy to see how Larry made all these friends. You can hear the exclamation points at the ends of some of his sentences, and there’s still a faint drawl left over from his days in Georgia. When I got back in touch with him a few days before the album’s release, he was eager to talk about everything from his collaborators to Miss California’s boob job.
ALEXANDRIA SYMONDS: What are you doing in Tucson? Are you DJing out there?
LARRY TEE: I’m going between Tucson and Phoenix. Basically, it’s hot out here.
AS: Do you find that doing DJ sets is different from state to state? Do the crowds look different and respond differently to what you play?
LT: Oh, my God. You don’t even know. I try to bring a little bit of everything, because you just never know what kind of crowd you’re going to get. Sometimes I get more of a mainstream crowd that just is not moving to what I’m playing. I have to have crossover secret weapons.
AS: Can you give me an example of one, or is that a trade secret that you can’t divulge?
LT: [Laughs] Oh, it’s a trade secret. For example, I have this trashed version of “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones that usually works. If they’re really being stubborn, I can go and do that one. It turns Justice-style in the middle, but they’re already dancing to it before it turns all crazy.
AS: Sounds like a good move. LT: It’s my secret weapon. Or there’s always the crossover things, like the rap crossover stuff that still has the funky electronica kind of thing, but it’s got a rap, so people go “Aw, yeah! It’s rap, okay, I can do this.”
AS: How did you choose the artists you worked with on Club Badd?
LT: I wanted to try to find artists that aren’t already used up. I’m always on the Internet, so I looked for some really crazy stuff that was funny and sexy and silly. So I found Perez Hilton, who obviously reaches a lot of people on the Internet each day. He had been a fan of Amanda Lepore, and he said, why don’t we do a song. So we had him do a song and video called “My Penis.” Which is, by the way, a lot better than it sounds.
AS: I think it’s great. So how has the recent Miss USA/Perez controversy has affected “My Penis”—do you think it’s been good for the song?
LT: He was supposed to put it up on his blog the day the controversy with Miss USA happened. He’s really a smart player. He knew not to put it up at that time because he really had a political point to make about gay marriage. I actually agree with the decision to hold off one day until it calmed down a little bit. He was running nonstop that day—he still blogged all day, and made sure the site kept going.
AS: And it’s probably not bad for you guys, and the song, either. A lot of people knew about him before, but after that happened, he’s skyrocketed as far as public notoriety.
LT: It definitely hasn’t hurt the song, for sure. And then I found Kelly’s “Shoes” video, which I just thought was hilarious, so he let me do a new version of it for my album. And then I found Jeffree Star, who’s kind of the emo girl in the Midwest’s dream.
LT: There are a lot of haters for Jeffree Star, but all these kids like him, and he’s got 68 million plays on his player. It was an experiment to bring Jeffree over into my territory, sound-wise.
AS: And you and Amanda Lepore have known each other for quite a long time.
LT: I met Amanda right after she escaped from her husband. She had this husband who would lock her high heels in the closet, because he was so jealous, so she couldn’t leave the house when he was gone. He would lock her shoes and clothes in the closet. So she snuck out of her house, in a bathrobe and barefoot, and got on the train, and came into town and started working for DISCO 2000, which was a party that I did. Actually Michael Alig, the Club Kid murderer, was the one who actually kind of helped her get set up. But as soon as she hit town, I immediately hired her, because she was so obviously unique.
AS: Did she ever actually get officially divorced from her husband? Does she have a restraining order against him?
LT: I have no idea. She’s not really the vengeance type. She just escaped. She also talked to me about how she had a crazy mom. She’s used to being around crazy people. She really holds nothing against crazy people. And I can totally relate to that, because every manic-depressive schizophrenic comes to me like a magnet.
LT: Yeah, listen: if somebody locked up my shoes… And tried to keep me at home, I would totally be pissed. You know what I’m saying? There’s a line you can’t cross.
AS: You’ve helped to launch a lot of careers—who on Club Badd do you think is the next star? I think my vote would be for the little girl in the “I Love U” video.
LT: I’m doing the whole album with Mel Merio, and I think she’s just a force of nature. She’s from Vienna, which normally would be a negative for me-a Germanic accent is hard to work around! But I think she’s dynamic. Her and Roxy Cottontail are both going to blow up. Because Roxy is so cute, she’s so smart and so funny and sexy. She’s got a cute little ass. She runs around with this really trashy girl named Paloma. They’re trying to make a reality show, because Paloma is pure trouble.
AS: Is Paloma the stylist?
LT: The stylist, yeah! [LAUGHS] But I think Roxy has real potential, just because she’s really cute, but she’s got an Everywoman kind of thing going on that I think a lot of girls and dudes can relate to.
AS: So you and I talked a little bit last week about when you dated Michael Stipe…
LT: Oh, my God! I’m going to talk about dating Michael Stipe?!
AS: If you don’t mind.
LT: I mean, OK, what the hell. It was before R.E.M., which should tell you just how long ago that was. I was in this band called The Fans that had produced the B-52s’ first record, Rock Lobster. But I came in after they had produced the B-52s single. Athens was really a hotspot at that time: the B-52s, and Pylon, and R.E.M., and Love Tractor. It was sort of like the first indie rock scene city. Michael Stipe was a big fan of my band, and we had a mutual girlfriend who kind of hooked us up.
AS: Do you have any relics?
LT: There’s this weird picture of us hanging out from 19… God, I’m not even going to say it, because I don’t want people to know how old I am. But if you go on my Facebook, become friends with me, and there’s this series of pictures of me in Athens, Georgia when I was eighteen years old. They’re really funny. And very evocative, actually-they’re strangely touching when you can see just how much in the faces of the ‘80s, how it looks just like the kids of today.
AS: When did those pictures resurface?
LT: They showed up like a month ago. Also, if you go on YouTube, there’s this great clip called “Stomp & Twist” that me and RuPaul shot at the Versace mansion, back in the ‘80s before Versace even bought it.
AS: Oh, my God.
LT: It’s RuPaul on the beach, clawing the sand with her long nails and flopping her hair in the wind. It’s absolutely priceless. Again, I didn’t even know the footage existed, it just bubbled up on the Internet.
AS: Do you and RuPaul stay in touch?
LT: Oh, yeah. I love Ru. And it’s nice that she’s got such a big hit reality show right now. I think VH1 picked it up a second season, which is exciting. It energizes my franchise, since I wrote “Supermodel.” It’s gonna remind one of those cosmetics companies that they need that song for an ad. I’m hoping, anyway.
AS: You’re really open to technologies like YouTube and Myspace.
LT: I do think that the music is definitely getting better all over the country, because you can download the latest sounds right off the Internet for free. It’s really democratic, and making music more exciting in general. But the Internet changes everything. People are online meeting boyfriends and girlfriends, you don’t have to be out drinking and drugging to find somebody nowadays.
AS: Speaking of not drinking and drugging, you’ve been clean for-is it twelve years?
LT: Eleven years.
AS: How is the club scene different without all the addictive substances? Was it a huge transformation to drop all that stuff from your life?
LT: It’s funny, when you go in, they say “one day at a time,” but they don’t tell you that you’re going to have to change everything in your life. There’s a reason people use drugs and alcohol, and you have to get in there and clean things up. I think the twelve steps are a brilliant way of cleaning up your life
AS: So do you think it was harder for you, as someone in the scene, to get off of that?
LT: It’s hard for anyone. I feel lucky that I didn’t have to give up music in exchange for getting clean. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone else continue to DJ while they’re getting clean. But I’ve known bartenders that stay clean. Everybody’s different.
AS: Do you think it made you a better or different musician? Did you approach the process of making music differently?
LT: Oh, my god, I’m so much better. You don’t even know. The longer I stay clean, the better my beats are getting and the easier it is to zero in on one idea. Because I really want to, often, try to get an idea across. I can really get to the essence of a song better if I’m clean and I’m not waking up with a hangover.
The official launch party celebrating Club Badd will be at Webster Hall, where Fischerspooner will DJ, and Larry Tee will continue doing sets across America and internationally throughout the summer. For more information, visit Larry’s Myspace.