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Becoming Joey Arias
April 17, 2012 | 9:00AM

ALL TEXT: Andrew Bucket
ANDREW BUCKETS CLOTHES: It’s Vintage Darling @ 14th and Newton
ALL PHOTOS: the inimitable Jeff Martin

Joey Arias is a legendary performer and performance artist who has worked with Klaus Nomi, David Bowie, Cirque De Soleil, and is now the lone human in the awe inspiring musical puppet show Arias With A Twist (now playing @ Woolly Mammoth), with the master of avant garde puppets: Basil Twist. Don’t miss it.

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JA: I love your psychedelia.

AB: Thanks!

JA: If you don’t mind, I’ve got all my [make-up] laid out here and I need to do it while we talk.

AB: Oh wait that’s perfect actually. I wanted to ask you for some makeup tips. I actually brought this along. This is Gary Numan’s eyeliner- my friend stole it from his dressing room.

JA: Oh ok, well lets see, you should put just a bit on the outside there, and now just kind of rub it.

AB: That’s it?

JA: Yeah you don’t really need much more than that. If you’re just walking around town you don’t want to wear so much. What I have on is for the stage.

AB: Ok can we go back in time?

JA: Sure, yes.

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AB: Well let’s start with you being a kid in LA and how you came to make your big move to new york.

JA: I had worked in a shop where all the stars would come in… like Rod Stewart, the Mamas and the Papas… I was in my band Purlie, and we had our record out, and so I was in show business when I was 16. But LA wasn’t for me, I had always loved New York. So me and Kim, who later started Paper magazine, we went in our… what do you call those cars that are…you know they have like a truck…

AB: An El Camino?

JA: Uhhh…well it has a cargo part…well so yeah we went in one of those and we covered the back of it and called it our covered wagon.

AB: Was your first performance dancing in the shop windows at Fiorucci?

JA: No, no that was later. I had finally got an interview there and I told them what I wanted to do, and you know thinking back on it now, I was really performing on the shop floor in just my day to day, it was all part of sales you know.

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AB: So you were already developing what would become your stage persona in just going to work and going around town.

JA: Oh yes, the shop floor was a stage. But I didn’t think I’d be a performer. I always thought I’d be, you know, a celebrity stylist.

AB: Like behind the scenes.

JA: Well I don’t know. I went to London and came back with pink hair and I had my bondage pants and the whole thing, and people would throw rocks at me as I went down the street. I mean NOBODY had pink hair, I really was the first.

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AB: So when did you perform for the first time?

JA: With Klaus [Nomi]. He had a show coming up and he was freaking out, he was saying you have to do this with me. He had sang the Aria and everyone freaked out about him and then next thing you know we’re on SNL with David Bowie. Club 57 was for us just a place to hang out, have sex, get fucked up. People try to say it was so much more than that, but no it really was just a place to fuck, do drugs, do shows.

AB: Were people trying to get you in their band?

JA: Well you have to remember we were the high concept, futurist kids, so they were more like “let’s just leave them to do what they do over there.”

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AB: How did Suicide figure into your world…I feel like they have conceptual performance art modes, but they’re more punk.

JA: That was so Lower East Side. I mean they’re great, but our pieces were very strict and specific. It was very out there and futurist, we were off in our own world.

AB: So what inspired the choice to undertake the sort of rigorous performance schedule of the Bar d’O?

JA: Bar d’O was all very filthy, very real cabaret, I mean it would get racist and filthy and over the top and that was why people came, because it was so over the top, and it was so packed they would be sitting on the floor, and these are, you know, celebrities and fashion people sitting on the floor watching this filthy cabaret show. I’m actually doing a show at L’enfent cafe that is a sort of nod to the Bar d’O shows.

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AB: So now with this show Arias With A Twist, how did it come together?

JA: Well I had seen his work and really marveled at it. I thought “puppets under water,” I mean what magic. But I had just got back from Cirque [de Soleil] and I asked him very flatly if we could work together and he said yes right away. So he came over to my apartment in New York and started talking over a bottle of wine about what we could do.

AB: This is all pretty new territory for you so I’m curious if you see a shift in yourself manifesting in the work?

JA: You know my director Thierry Mugler, he makes this fragrance right here called Angel…

AB: I wear it!

JA: He says that your career is like a staircase and every show you do is like going up another stair until you finally reach this ultimate place…

AB: Like a Maslow, self-actualisation thing.

JA: Right, you don’t just wake up and you’re Klaus Nomi.

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For more information/to get tickets to ARIAS WITH A TWIST-click here.

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  • svetlana Svetlana says:

    wish i was there

  • Lisa says:

    great photos to accompany a really thoughtful interview.