Polari Pages – In Conversation With Singer-Songwriter & Drag Artist Alex Fincher

I’m thrilled to introduce to you my next interviewee, a spell-binding singer and enchanting performer, the fierce Miss Alex Fincher.

The interview covers a plethora of contemporary socio-political issues, from racism to Drag Race! As well as considered, heartfelt advice and candid insight into the inspirations, motivations, and work of the artist Alex Fincher.

At what age did you realise you were a performer?

How old are you in Year 5? Nine, ten? Around then my teachers had started to push me into school performances. Then my mum became very supportive. I think a lot of other people realised before I did. I didn’t really realise until I was 14, until I was actually at performing arts school.

My mum took me to the open evening for the Brits School, and I was like ‘Oh wow, this place is great!’. I didn’t necessarily think I wanted to be a performer. I knew I wanted to be a creative and write music and stories, but I was down so I auditioned as a singer. I got in! Within the first six months of being there I just fell in love with performing and putting on a show. I’ve always been into storytelling and I realised performing is just another medium. It sounds obvious but growing up those things click when they click!

How did you discover drag?

I’ve always been aware of it. I remember I’d seen Rocky Horror Picture Show quite young, it was one of the first films I can remember seeing. It was a strange interlude into drag that was like a fever dream memory of mine. I saw it later in life and realised it wasn’t just a dream I’d had!

I got into drag in performing arts school and by then I’d found Drag Race. I shared it with no one and I didn’t talk to anyone about it, even friends. I don’t know why because there were other people who were into drag. The 2010s was a weird time, people were still working shit out! I think Season 4 was airing – I saw an advert for it, and thought ‘That looks sick, how have I not heard about this?’, so I went back and watched Seasons 1-4 and carried on watching as the season aired.

From that point onwards I was completely captivated by it, I’ve always loved playing characters and transforming into someone from a different world. All the games I used to play as a kid – I’d be a character within a world, either one that already existed or one I’d created. I’d always create new characters, regardless of how I was playing.

I think that’s what made me fall in love with drag – I was watching these performers playing, essentially. It’s brilliant, it was reaching out to my childhood self like ‘Oh my God, we can do that? That’s fun!’ That’s how I discovered it for myself, but it was a while before I did drag publicly. I did it privately for years, basically ever since that moment of finding Drag Race, I was playing with make-up and creating wigs out of whatever I could grab together. It’s hard to pin-point, depending on what you mean I suppose.

How would you describe your drag act? Who is Alex Fincher?

So, Alex first and foremost is a singer. A singer-performer. Everything I do, whether it’s recording a song or putting an outfit together, it’s always with the intention of taking it to the stage. I love all the elements of drag and creating music, but it’s all with the intention of bringing it to the stage – even the music videos. So yeah, first and foremost a singer.

I think my aesthetic is something I allow to grow naturally with me. My inspirations throughout life, whether fiction, music, or film, have always been women. I was raised by my mum and I have my sister. All of the people close to me are women, so that’s what fuels my drag.

I know where it’s going, I know I’m an RnB diva meets a sci-fi alien princess – have my resources caught up to that yet? Not necessarily, but it’s getting there! I know where the aesthetic is meant to be, it’s just I’m allowing the journey to take me there. I’m not breaking the bank. The costumes I come up with, I can’t afford! Do I sew? Yes. Am I a seamstress? No. But I can sew and I do own a sewing machine.

What kind of response have you had to your drag so far?

I’ve got a two-sided answer – I’ve got the positive and I’ve got the negative. I’ll go negative first and end on a good note!

So, I’ve been performing for over 10 years. I’m not a stranger to the drag scene and I’ve learnt a lot. Being a performer in drag has opened my eyes to how certain performers get treated. I’ve definitely had to adjust heavily to the invasiveness.

Sometimes, when you’re in drag, people love to grab, they love to touch, they love to pull. They love to do things you know they would not do to another person. You wouldn’t go up to someone and pull on their hair and go ‘Wow this is amazing!’. I like to say in drag, ‘Think of me as a museum exhibit, look don’t touch’ – this is some expensive shit, and we want to keep it pristine and in good condition so it’s like a museum, or an art gallery.

The positive response from people – I feel myself so much that people feel that. I’ve had a lot of compliments about how when I’ve performed on stage people ‘feel’ what I’m singing, even if they’ve heard me sing that song a hundred times. How many times does someone need to hear me sing ‘I Have Nothing’? The same people still come up and are moved. As queer people we deal with a lot of pain, so I’m trying to put mine to good use.

So, tell me about what you’ve been working on recently? I hear on the grapevine that you’ll be releasing an EP soon?

Yeah I’m currently working on my EP. I’m the queen of sitting on a project! It’s a two-part EP of six tracks, three on each side. It’s called ‘Energy and Dreams’. I started writing the songs at the beginning of 2021 just because I felt during the previous year I’d been through a lot of change – a lot of friendship and relationship changes – I was realigning myself after I’d settled as a drag performer.

I used a lot of these songs to shake off some old demons. A lot of the songs tackle those issues. The first half, ‘Energy’, those three tracks are the most personal on the EP – they’re about me dealing with those things, saying things aloud for the first time, and then moving on.

The second half, ‘Dreams’, is about things I want for the future, or things I want to manifest – which is actually what one of the songs is called, ‘Manifest’, – nice little plug there! These songs are about taking that stuff from the past and moving forward. They’re a lot more hopeful and upbeat. The other three are a lot more emotional, whereas these three are more like ‘Okay, let’s go and get it now’ – which is the title of another song on the EP!

What do you have planned next? You mentioned a collaborative album.

Around the time George Floyd was killed and BLM came into focus, I really struggled. We were in lockdown, cut off from people. I don’t live with my mum or sister, and living in Sussex of course there aren’t many black people around. I felt really isolated and without a kindred spirit with whom to express the collective grief and anger we all felt. Again. So, I wrote songs.

It spurred off into not just talking about race, but I started writing songs about gender, sexuality, the environment, any social issue. I’d been in the music industry for a while and the songs I’d been writing weren’t very personal. I just opened the flood gates, and decided to talk about any political opinion I had. It formed into this project called ‘Being’. Over the last year I’ve been slowly working on that, recording songs and getting people to feature.

I have an incredibly talented and eclectic range of queer artists from Brighton and London featured. That album will be coming out later on in the year. I’m very excited! This project has a lot of meaning and intention behind it. Regardless of how it does, I made this to heal myself and raise awareness to other social issues that don’t have anything to do with me, but other people can shed light on. Any profits made from the album will be donated to charity. Obviously I’m not streaming in the millions, it’s not this big gesture of giving away wealth – I’ve not got wealth!

I’d say comparatively it’s a massive gesture. Into the realm of politics, will you now please go on to fix society? In your view, how do the power dynamics of race intersect with the drag scene? Do you feel the Brighton scene is divided?

Specifically the Brighton scene? When it comes to race, I wouldn’t say the scene and nightlife is entirely divided on the Brighton drag scene. I don’t feel like there are many of us, or perhaps rather not many of us are given the opportunities on the scene. I don’t, however, think that’s because of any specific agenda, I don’t think there’s people sitting at tables going ‘We’re not booking black queens’. Well, I hope that’s not going on!

Oh, Lord! Am I going to get into trouble for saying this? Let me put this down. I think a lot of the drag in Brighton post-Drag-Race has changed. I’ve noticed a shift in the kind of drag people want to see and the kind of drag that’s being booked. We live in a post-Drag-Race-UK world now, so Drag Race is here. It was different before when it was just in the US and the girls would come here, but now there’s a Drag Race industry that’s being built here.

Let’s just be honest, Drag Race tends to cater more towards the white queens. So, I think by knock-on effect we kind of have that on the scene as well. I mean, you and I could probably sit here and name all the queens of colour on the Brighton scene in two seconds. On one hand. Out of how many? And that’s no shade, I support all of my sisters, every single one of them out there.

Brighton isn’t the most diverse place in the UK. It is a great place to start when it comes to acceptance and moving towards respect and equality. It’s a city that promotes that kind of thinking, but simply because of the way things are there aren’t many black people in Brighton. So, consequently we have less black people doing drag in Brighton.

There are some queens of colour in Brighton and they’re all amazing – Melanin Monroe, Tayris Mongardi, Vlad, Mercedes Benz, Son Of A Tutu, me! We’re all out here doing it.

Let’s just hope more people of colour in Brighton and surrounding areas feel encouraged to do drag, maybe if they see more of us performing at the clubs and other venues they will be inspired to! I know that’s what got me into it. As much as all drag inspires me, I was really inspired by people like Bob The Drag Queen, Naomi Smalls, Bebe Zahara Benet, Shangela. They spoke to me. When you see yourself represented in that way you feel as though it’s possible to achieve those things for yourself.

When Mel and I did our RnB show, it was really interesting to see a night of crossover. It was interesting to see other young queer people of colour at the shows. I was wondering where y’all been! I would like to see more crossover. I mean, we love all gay people of course. Come to the shows, come to the shows!

Drag Brunch gigs, Karaoke nights. You often get a huge group of straight people heading down to the seafront, and they walk past an advert for Karaoke. They come in and have a great night. There doesn’t need to be this divide between the scenes. We have it on the gay scene, where we have the Cabaret circuit, the club circuit, etc. We don’t need to be restricted to St. James Street. We should be set loose in the city, let us be free!

Do you have any plans to apply for Drag Race UK?

I’ve not counted it in and I’ve not counted it out. I hope that doesn’t sound like a politician’s answer! From my perspective, I wouldn’t say I’m a very conventional drag performer. Obviously there are queens who also sing and write songs, but that’s who I am first and foremost. I can be funny, I can act and dance, but singing and songwriting is my core. Everything else is on the outer line of the core.

World of Wonder just announced a new show, ‘Queen Of The Universe’, which is a singing competition. I won’t lie, that appeals to me a lot more. Of course, it has nothing to do with the quarter-million prize! Well, maybe a little. I’m excited to see how the show pans out and it’s more likely I’d apply for that than Drag Race. Like I say, I’ve not counted either of them in or out.

When someone goes into drag or any kind of performing, even if you know the eventual goal is to end up on something like Drag Race, you should always build up your career, artistry, brand and everything else first. Not counting the show in – you don’t want to put all your hopes into that. It shouldn’t be about getting famous. Work now as if you’re never going to go on Drag Race – as if your only resource is your own will power. I learnt that from working in the music industry. Basically, don’t accept promises from anyone. It’s a harsh lesson I had to learn a few times.

What’s the best advice you could give a budding performer?

Just from what I’ve learnt from restarting my career – don’t rush. Even if you’ve got a song or an act together don’t rush to get it out there as soon as you’ve got your idea. Take your time, sit with it, play around, make mistakes. Just don’t be afraid to experiment, because that’s how you’re going to find whatever your unique brand is.

It’s about knowing who you are and sticking to that. For example, Prince. I know he’s dead, but when you see Prince present an award or see a Prince video you know it’s Prince. It’s not confusing and it makes sense. That’s the Prince brand and you know it is. I think sometimes when we watch performances and we feel uncomfortable it’s because the performer doesn’t know what they’re giving off or trying to give off – they don’t know themselves as an artist very well yet. An audience can sense that, whether they’re watching you perform a song, cabaret, a runway, a video, a live performance.

That’s why the time at the beginning to experiment and play around is important. We all have unique references and it’s hard to not be unique when you’re true to yourself. We’re all so different. When we see all these carbon copies of other performers we’re like ‘How the fuck did that happen?’.

A pleasure as always, Miss Fincher.

Photography by Ashley Wickwar @wickerss

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