CP 208 closed out the night at Roostercat Coffee House for the Westword Music Showcase. Most of the crowd had filed out following Echo Beds' set. Their loss. The four-piece took to the stage and sprawled out a herky- jerky, noise-jazz, No Wave-esque post-punk. Its sounds are used like a calligrapher's brush with a strong, dense sections of sound and thinning, sometimes abruptly, in tone while employing unconventional melodies and inventive rhythms. Fronting the band was William Wallin III, known to most as Tripp or even Tripp Nasty, his solo-performance moniker. His vocal style for this project is reminiscent of the nearly atonal poetry of Witch Doctor's Justin Kinnett -- fitting, as guitarist Doug Mioducki was in that band. But it is Wallin who leans into the crowd with his blond wig, see-through blouse and large-lensed sunglasses, like something Kim Gordon would wear.
Wallin's gender transgression is part of the inherent challenge of the music, uncompromising in its conception and execution, yet too original and accessible to dismiss. After the set, we sat down with Wallin to discuss this most fashion-conscious phase of his career as a performer.
Those steeped enough in the underground scene going back a decade got to see Wallin perform in the noise-punk band Dream Wig, playing modern classical compositions (some his own) with the Tripp Nasty Orchestra, creating a hybrid of Turkish, Indian and Western music with Bongo Fury and as a confrontational performance artist up and down the front range. But it wasn't until July 2013 that Wallin got the confidence in his dressing as a woman for a secret performance at Carioca Cafe, where he told everyone in attendance the he was his own sister coming into town.
"I did take a Women's Studies class at the University of Arizona, and we had to do something that broke gender boundaries for ourselves," reveals Wallin about his earliest forays into drag. "So I shaved my arms, legs and chest and got my friend Becky, who's about the same size, to dress me up."
Over the course of this last year, Wallin has benefited from his friendship with bandmate Tiana Bernard, formerly of noise-rock phenoms Hot White, and Kayla von Haubenschild for ideas on honing his look.
"I was trying totally for Alicia Silverstone in Clueless," admits Wallin about that look. "I really like that '90s, sort of preppy, almost valley girl-esque thing. I bought this skirt on eBay, the stockings on eBay, I bought the top at Buffalo Exchange, I bought the bra at Kmart. The necklace I bought on eBay. I never knew how to buy a necklace before. It's already broken a bunch of times, and I've had to learn how to fix it. The wig I bought at Vogue Wigs in Hollywood, California. I have five or six wigs now. I bought two of them, but people have been giving me wigs since I started doing this."
Although there are those who don't cotton to Wallin's stage outfits, it's rarely anyone in the audience.
"I always had friends who supported what I did," comments Wallin. "Even if the audience didn't like me, someone close to me supported my decision."
Wallin is far from the first performer to gender-bend even to the degree he does. New York Dolls, Bowie, even Mick Jagger -- to name perhaps the most famous examples -- come to mind. However, Wallin considers his specific expression, especially given the context, something off the beaten path with this sort of thing.
"I think it's something people don't expect," offers Wallin. "It's a little drag queen-ish what I do, but it has to be a little drag queen-ish. This is sort of different and weirder than the standard drag queen. When I was younger, I got to see Sun City Girls and Caroliner Rainbow and other bands that were truly different and strange, and they made me think about why is this different and strange. I think a sort of talking, Garrison Keillor drag queen singing songs is not the same thing you see at every one of your shows. It just challenges people's ideas of what you can do. Society seems to me, at least for me performance-wise, in this rut and I see the same thing over and over again."
"People seem to be a little weirded and freaked out about the drag," continues Wallin. "People get stuck in their ways. I don't try to talk about it at any of my shows or explain why I'm doing it. I feel that would detract from it. The point of it is for me to have this performance and dressed as a lady and have somebody asking, 'Is he a transsexual, a transgendered person or a drag queen?' That way they remember and maybe think about what you did in that context. A lot of times I try to make that part of what I talk about. Over the last year I've been talking about how people are stuck in a rut and need to change. On this tour I talked about why I thought a band was a certain thing. I'd try to piss people off and interact with the audience and get in their face a little bit. And a lot of people talked to me after the show for a long time a little intensely. It was kind of annoying but it was kind of cool because what I said, by rambling on, they were going to think about for a long time. And that's cool."
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.