I'm pissed off at Richard Peters, aka drag queen Bella Gigante, when we meet at new mac and cheese restaurant Macalicious on Guadalupe Street. There's no parking, and I wind up driving all around the neighborhood looking for a meter. But he doesn't seem to mind my saltiness when I finally arrive. He's pretty salty, too.
Of course, Bella Gigante as we know her has only existed a mere four years (her band, Hella Bella, for just about one), well after a time when it must have been terrifying for people to dress outside of their gender (or lack of one)—and this is semi-progressive Santa Fe, after all—but it's still quite the feat to spend so much time dolling oneself up and performing, a notion Peters confirms.
"We've talked about it before, but you're a bit of a rarity in the drag world in that you actually sing rather than lip-sync," I tell him.
"More drag queens are doing it," he
"Oh good," I say, "because when I've spent $20 on a show and see a drag queen just lip-syncing, I start to wonder what I'm paying so much for."
"Well, there's the three or four hours you need to get ready; all the clothes and makeup," he says. "That stuff gets expensive."
Peters grew up in St. Louis as a churchgoer who cut his performance teeth on gospel. He stayed relatively close to home for college, attending Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, as a vocal major. There, he says, he was "earmarked by the teachers for opera." His vocal range, by the way, is straight-up bass, but he gravitated toward musical theater instead. "I don't mind listening, like, on the radio when it's done well," he says. "But I don't get the opulence and the pageantry of opera."
"That's kind of weird," I respond, "since you're a drag queen and all."
"Ah, but I connect with people," he says. "There's no wall there—I still connect from a real place, and for me, it's about my natural connection from my soul; everything that spews out of my mouth comes from a real place within myself. Nothing is facade."
Not performance-wise, anyway. Peters spent time working at local costume shop Costumes! Limited. The tips and tricks he picked up from styling women, when applied to his own creation, may tread into facade territory—but he ain't faking when it comes to the singing. Hella Bella may be one of the first drag queen-led rock ensembles ever, according to Peters, who further explains that while most drag shows are about an overall experience, hers are firmly planted in a music-first mandate. Perhaps you saw her band at last summer's David Bowie tribute concert in the Railyard? If not, they blew everyone out of the water. Currently, Hella Bella has a catalog of 27 covers ("Knights in White Satin" is her favorite right now), though she does strip down to voice and piano from time to time with pianist Melanie Monsour along for backup. Bella can't choose a preferred performance style.
Still, as far as alter-egos go, the character elicits a certain degree of freedom. "There's a lot of Richard in Bella, there has to be; but I say things I would normally try to not say," he says. "Bella has no filter, and it pisses people off, but I think I get more people laughing than angry." Indeed, there's a level of not taking things too seriously required to be a drag queen (just look at the undisputed monarch of all drag, RuPaul) or to attend a performance. But even so, Peters says it can sometimes throw people that Bella's day-to-day identity is that of a "big, burly gay man who likes to camp and barbecue and fish." There's something in there about not judging a book. But I digress.
"I always like to ask people from cover bands why we should care about them if they don't write their own songs," I say.
"If I get to sing for a living and people love those songs, I'm going to do them," Peters responds. "Sometimes you go see a band who does their own stuff and it's like vocal masturbation. … There's a moment in a song when you can take a rest and there's not a peep in the entire house. They're there with you. You've
He-She Bang Afterparty with Hella Bella
8 pm Saturday Nov. 18. $10.
Mine Shaft Tavern,
2946 Hwy. 14, Madrid,