Tonic arrives August 5
Vicky Greer
11:28 4th August 2022

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Ever since they walked off the stage in one of the most iconic moments of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, Ginny Lemon has become something of a national treasure. A mural in their honour has popped up in Worcester, one of their costumes was displayed in the Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum, and just last week they took part in the opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

If that wasn’t enough, they’ve got an album coming out on Friday (5 August). Inspired by everything from the Post Office to biscuits and featuring contributions from some of the finest artists in West Midlands, Tonic is Ginny Lemon in at their finest. We caught up with the icon to chat about the new record, the West Midlands drag scene and of course, Kate Bush.

Gigwise: Your single ‘Ding Dong’ is all about working really shitty jobs – what are some of the worst jobs that you’ve had?

Ginny Lemon: I have to be very careful what I say. Some of the shit jobs that I’ve worked have been in higher education, and a lot of HR and admin work. Those air-conditioned, soulless units. I remember working for a very well-known university in the West Midlands (probably not the one you’re thinking). And I remember someone referring to my mental health - I’d just lost my sister, I was grieving - referring to my mental health as if it was just like their broken hip. However, their broken hip was visible, so it was more important. And the in-woven hypocrisies and laws that go on within those environments is so toxic, and as a queer person trying to navigate that I was fucked. There’s a lot of corporate jobs that I worked, just to pay the bills.

At heart I’m always a bit of a shopkeeper. I worked in a vintage shop for about 10 years of my life and that was the best job I ever had. When life was like that, it was fabulous. So going into that polyester bum, waterfall cardigan, biscuit, home-baked, smelly microwave – it just drained me of life. I had to break free. More people should be doing what they love when they wake up, not what they love but what they can tolerate and what they can stand. And if you can’t stand it anymore then do a Ginny Lemon and walk out.

GW: And on a completely different topic, ‘Biscuits’ name drops more biscuits than I’ve ever heard on a song. What’s your go-to with a cup of tea?

GL: Well, you said to go with a cup of tea, that’s quite different. I always say my go to biscuit is a pink wafer. People say it’s not a biscuit, it’s a wafer. And this then starts the typical British debate about mundane things like how do you have your tea? What’s your favourite crisp? And what is a biscuit? So, I wanted to write this ode to biscuits, or sweet treats and there are a few in there that aren’t even biscuits, but who cares? I also like to get people slightly agitated with my work.

I’d say with a cup of tea, a classic milk chocolate digestive. You know how it’s going to dunk. You just know that it’s a reliable dunker.

GW: How does Tonic relate to your previous release, Greatest Pips?

GL: Greatest Pips will be back online with this whole new album. The Greatest Pips was about four albums I’ve been working on for years under my old stage name, Lewis Spelt Backwards. When Ginny Lemon came about I kind of cherrypicked some of the songs that related to her. Some of the of the songs are re-recorded, I’ve taken them to the dance floor. Before they were in some seedy bar. Sometimes I think a song is never really complete for me, I want to go back and redo it.

I think with Tonic what I wanted to do was make the first ever good post-Drag Race album. Make something that was more inclined to exploring musicality and performance, and just generally a good listen, I hope.

GW: Has your songwriting process changed since those earlier tracks?

GL: The way that I write songs is always on my own. Pretty much in my bedroom. I think it’s about a bedroom being a queer safe space. Being at home, particularly in Worcester or when I’m in the West Midlands I’m able to write. I can’t seem to write anywhere else.

GW: Did the songs on Tonic come about during lockdown?

GL: The bulk of the songs were made during lockdown, during Covid, kind of as an outlet. I returned to old poems and lyrics that I’d written which kind of resonated throughout the experience that we were all going through. It was all so shit and traumatic. What else was I supposed to do? I wasn’t performing, I wasn’t earning any money, I was terrified. And I had to put all of that artistic energy into something.

‘I Am Over My Overdraft’, which was really the first single from it really, is all about being absolutely skint. We’re all in this financial ruckus because we couldn’t work, and I’ve poured my life savings into buying bloody costumes for a reality TV show! So, when it was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve made the big-time baby!’ And then I was like, ‘Oh, fuck, I was actually then stuck at home for 2 years’. It kind of drove me mad, but it also drove me to write this album.

GW: What was it like collaborating with your boyfriend Jack on the album?

GL: Yes, I collaborated with my boyfriend Jack, also known as Some Little Cakes. We wrote a lot of the songs together, which was kind of a magical time. We spent lockdown together, with myself, Jack and my husband, all together in this kind of thrupple bubble during lockdown, which was strange, peculiar, fabulous and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

We were able to work together, we were able to send tracks off and work with friends of mine. Luke Elliot, who did a lot of the engineering on the album, and my good friend Adam Green, who did a lot more of the dance tracks that you hear on the album. A constraint of lockdown was that I was working with friends, I couldn’t meet new people, so I was working with and reconnecting with old friends, which was magical. And my good friend Fatt Butcher provided backing vocals and arranged all of that. It was a Lemon family piece.

GW: Has collaborating with your friends, especially people in The West Midlands, always been important to you when making music?

GL: It’s one of the most important things whenever I do anything, is to work with friends, to work with other amazing artists, people who need the support, who need their artwork to be shown. One of the main reasons that I’ve ever gone on to do any reality TV or anything like that, is to not only build a platform for myself but to bring other people with me. Working with such a diverse group of people is something that will always remain key to me. As queer artists we don’t get given many opportunities.

GW: Is there anyone you’d like to team up with in the future?

GL: I always say this, and I will make it my determined goal in life to do a collaboration with Tori Amos. Tori Amos is my biggest inspiration along with - I call it my Holy Trinity - Kate Bush and Bjork. There’s other people like Enya and Grace Jones. And then I want to work with Julie Walters and stand-up comedians and things like that. But it’ll always be Tori Amos and until I can get that collaboration, I’m gonna make it happen. I’m gonna manifest.

GW: Mentioning Kate Bush – what do you make of her revived Stranger Things popularity? Are you embracing it, or are you feeling a bit protective?

GL: Of course. I’ve got the most famous Kate Bush related fingers so it’s done wonders [Ginny Lemon has KATE BUSH tattooed across their knuckles]. Running Up That Hill has made my fingers even more famous. The idea for me that people are not only interacting with Kate’s music, which for me was life changing and made me see a vision, a true artist. If you’ve heard Running Up That Hill, what’s next – click another one, click another one. Listen to The Dreaming. Listen to the whole of The Dreaming and then tell me how you feel about Kate Bush.

One of the other things that I love so much is the idea that Kate doesn’t make a lot of work. She keeps to herself and only releases when she wants to, and now all of us listening are just paying for Kate to get a new sofa or a conservatory. 

GW: And she owns all the rights, so she’s getting all that money…

She’s always been the boss and always will be. I’m more than happy to pay people like Kate Bush and listen to that song. So that she can sit on her arse eating cakes and vegetarian snacks and doing what the hell she wants to do because she’s Kate Bush. And I think that’s a level of respect that I would love to get! Work really hard for a couple years and then never again.

GW: Back to your album, tell us about the visual inspiration behind the artwork for Tonic?

The visuals were done by an amazing artist called Jordan Fallas. I love anything that’s fresh, queer, and fabulous. I always think Ginny is my stage persona, it’s also a spiritual possession. It is also a mask that I wear, the blue eyebrows, the big red lips, the white face. So, this idea of a mask and hiding I wanted to emulate with the whole Gimpy Lemon look.

I was also very inspired by sploshing - you know when people put custard on their tits? I wanted Tonic to be a sploshing for the ears.

GW: How would you describe the current drag scene in the West Midlands?

In the West Midlands, we proudly call ourselves Birmingham bastards. People like Yshee Black, Pork Elizabeth Pie, Blanche and Fatt Butcher, Lacey Lou. These are queens who are absolute bastards. We obviously live in a post-Covid world, but also in the new pandemic of Drag Race UK. In Birmingham, there’s really this sense of community. That’s what I really like about it. Birmingham is unlike any scene because it embraces everybody. For better or for worse. And believe me I’ve seen a lot of terrible performances.

What scares me is the huge influence of Drag Race is that we’re seeing one defined element of drag which is female illusion. The show has come a long way, and I’m very proud to be part of such an amazing show, but I’m also going to be like ‘Hey, we can make it better’. Or we could just do something else, we could have a show which celebrates queer people and doesn’t pit them against each other. We need to step away from this competition format. 

GW: Are there any up-and-coming drag artists we should be looking out for?

There’s two drag artists in particular we need to warn the public about. The amazing, amazing Midgitte Bardot is a phenomenal talent. One of my favourite performances ever. And also Sharon Le Grand. If I wasn’t Ginny Lemon, I would want to be Sharon Le Grand. Those two are absolute trouble.

GW: What advice would you give someone who’s just getting started in the drag scene?

Don’t do it. I need the money!

My advice would be fuck the rules. Watch a couple of makeup tutorials , but then you do you, do something new. Surprise me, surprise yourself. Don’t just blend in with all the other queens. Don’t do a cut crease if you don’t want to do it, don’t glue your brows if you don’t want to do it. Drag can be whatever it is that you want it to be. You can define it and that’s what it’s all about.

Tonic arrives August 5. 

Issue Four of the Gigwise Print magazine is on pre-order now! Order here.

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