Firing the BULLIT: Interview with Music Artist Brandon James Gwinn

“Cristal Conners” is a new single by musical artist Brandon James Gwinn; it is the first release from his brand-new "BULLIT" album that was inspired by a character from the 1995 movie “Showgirls”.

“Cristal Conners” is a new single by singer and songwriter Brandon James Gwinn who has worked as a producer for star Trixie Mattel.  The first release from his BULLIT album, “Cristal Conners” is a country-rock pop-infused ode to the character that was portrayed by actress Gena Gershon in 1995’s infamous “Showgirls” film. The hilarious music video that accompanies the song features Brandon in drag playing the part of Cristal (makeup courtesy of drag queen and make up-artist Chelsea Piers).

Brandon James Gwinn recently discussed this song and video, his career, and more via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): When did you first realize that you wanted to be a singer and how did you break into the industry?

Brandon James Gwinn (BJG): I have always been a musician, truly, ever since I was a young child. I always say music saved my life – well, has at least made it very interesting -and that it’s the one thing I ever happened to be any good at. I have played or written music almost every day for almost two decades. I always knew that it would be a big part of my life, but when it became my full-time profession, well, let’s just say, I count myself very lucky that I get to do this every day. I think that you work hard to get good at what you do, and from there you try to make friendships and collaborations with other artists that get you. I moved to New York in the early 2000s to write music and theatre and work in nightlife, and I think that being here and being out and about in the scene lead to making a lot of material, playing a lot of late nights, and meeting folks like Broadway’s Alysha Umphress (the speaking voice of Cristal Conners in the video), Alexa Green, and, of course, Trixie Mattel whose first two albums I produced and performed on. You look up and you have made some really great stuff with your friends. You’re in the industry. The “break” takes years. Or it did in my case.

BullitMM: What typically comes to you first, the lyrics of a song or it’s melody?

BJG: This is a very famous question for songwriters. I think for me, the first thing that comes is the idea and maybe a hook will materialize. I know what musical world I want to be in for a particular song and then I usually sit at the piano or a synth, and the lyrics and melody happen at the same time.

MM: What gave you the idea to base “Cristal Conners” after the movie “Showgirls”? What is so inspiring about that particular film?

BJG: I think that “Showgirls” is a camp masterpiece. Now, whether the creatives at the top of that film meant it to be remains to be seen. The blood, sweat and tears and massive amounts of effort that went into this huge film that ultimately is just so bad is really fun and funny to me. It’s trying so hard to be so sexy that it’s ultimately sexless, and all while Elizabeth Berkley is giving awkward lap dances completely in the nude. Meanwhile, Gena Gershon (who plays Cristal) vamps through this movie like she’s the only one who understands what kind of movie they’re making. She makes some of the most heinous situations and dialogue seem like “well, of COURSE Cristal would say it that way.” “Of course, she used to love Doggy Chow.” It’s a great performance in a brutally ridiculous film. And, I have to say, I watch it fairly frequently. It creates a world of characters and places that are so unrealistic and exaggerated. It has the kind of cult appeal to me that the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” has had. It’s “All About Eve” with cocaine and tits.

BullitMM: What inspired the theme of the music video and how long did it take to film?

BJG: The song uses my affinity for Cristal Conners, and Gena Gershon’s portrayal of her, as a nickname for those moments when we all get “over-served” and maybe become a monster until morning. Oh? Just me? Great. The idea that I’d be me as a “boy” and me as “Cristal” was born out of my love for drag and queer nightlife. I have always been a huge drag fan and have made an appearance in drag here or there over the past few years. But, I leave full time drag to the amazing queens of NYC nightlife. I am floored by performers like Bootsie LeFaris, Chelsea Piers, Boudoir LaFleur, Pixie Aventura and so many others. What stars! The video was shot over two days. A “Brandon” day and a “Cristal” day. Both, had to start fairly early in the morning so we could use the bar at Stonewall (the bar is obviously crowded with patrons at night). Shout out to Kurt Kelly who owns the place, and who is my friend and has booked me there on the piano for years.

MM: How did you get Chelsea Piers on board?

BJG: Chelsea and I were actually together for a few years. We are still good friends. I mean, you’d have to like me to agree to paint my mug at 6 AM to make the 9AM call time at The Stonewall Inn. Nightlife people very rarely see 6 AM…unless they’ve been up and out since the night before. Chelsea is an extraordinary talent; a true renaissance woman. She’s extremely smart, funny, dances, acts, sings, she is a brilliant wig stylist and an incredible professional makeup artist. Since she has put me in drag in the past, I basically begged her to do Cristal’s makeup and bothered her until she said yes. She’s working her tits off in New York nightlife these days and if you can catch her in person at one of her shows. GO! @thechelseapiers

MM: Why was it so important for you to make comedy so central to the video?

BullitBJG: Well, I think the tone and message of the song begs for this visual version to be funny and full of hijinx.  Ultimately, it’s about misbehaving and acting like a bitch, but how it’s also sort of fun and funny to make a mess and be a monster. As the song says: “I try to be good…. But, baby, I don’t try TOO hard.” It’s weird when you’re filming comic situations like… stealing someone’s drink or phone, or pushing someone over, or throwing a drink in someone’s face. I’m never sure it’s funny until I see it on screen. The video is edited beautifully by Chris Ruetten, the director, and he and I both were really pleasantly surprised at how we laughed out loud at what we made the first few times we watched.

MM: What has been the best thing about working in the music industry so far?

BJG: The variety of people and places. I have met so many incredibly interesting folks in my work and travels; some wonderful and forever friends and some absolutely nuts and a good story. I also have literally been all over the world traveling and making music. No two days in my career are ever the same. There’s always something or someone or somewhere new, and it’s exciting.

BullitMM: What projects are coming up for you soon and is there anything else that you would like to discuss?

BJG: I am excited AF to get back to performing in front of real live audiences and get out there to promote BULLIT. I am appearing on a gay cruise with VACAYA (to Iceland!) in September. I have been writing (with long time theatre writing partner EllaRose Chary) a queer rock fantasy musical called “TL;DR – Thelma Louise; Dyke Remix” which just won the 2021 Richard Rodgers Award and is being presented in the National Alliance of Musical Theatre’s 33rd Annual Festival of New Musicals.

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To learn more, visit Brandon’s official website and follow him on Instagram @ brandonjamesg.