FOUR-time Helpmann award winner, actor and Australian cabaret star Paul Capsis is lending his musical craft to help celebrate the first LGBTI arts and cultural festival for Brisbane, MELT.
A Night Out with Paul Capsis will be the long-awaited return for the singer to Queensland’s capital after a long absence, and the singer is looking forward to being a part of a new wave of Brisbane and Australian LGBTI culture.
“But I haven’t even decided what I’m going to do. I might just decide at the airport. I know I’d like to do Patti Smith, Janis Joplin, the Doors, Eurhythmics, Amy Winehouse, Lou Reed. So you can probably count on some of them making an appearance. The main objective is just to have fun.”
On what attracts him to his favourite musicians, Capsis said he was drawn to artists he held a strong connection with.
“It’s the combination of their artistry, their skill and their voices in terms of how they connect with themselves and allow themselves just to be who they are; not really giving a shit about what anyone else thinks,” he said.
“It also always comes down to the lyrics for me, what they’re about and how I connect with them. That has to be there otherwise I wouldn’t be able to or want to do them. I wouldn’t be interested.”
It may be a cliché for gay men to have an affinity for strong women, but for Capsis it’s familial.
“I have always connected with strong women and I really don’t know why that is but that’s how it is for me,” he said.
“It might have something to do with the fact that in my family the women were incredibly strong. So there might be some subconscious thing where I gravitate towards those kinds of women who are not conventional.
“Women that are out there, gutsy and loud. They’re not apologetic, and they’re not soft. They’re broken, they’re ripped-apart, they’re destroyed. I’ve always been drawn to a sexual ambiguity within some women and men as well.
“I’m more interested in broken artists like Billie Holiday and Judy Garland. I don’t like artists who are in control; they need to be falling apart and fumbling in the gutter.”
Capsis notes that his style of performance has changed from one of mirroring his favourite performers, to that of a more personal delivery.
“I’ve definitely had to find my own voice within a song. I’ve gotten into how I connect with a song a lot more than I used to, when I thought about how I should best present the song’s original artist. For me, that’s just more interesting,” he said.
“I’ve tried to move away from emulating those artists but if I’m singing something like a Judy Garland song and if I feel her spirit coming through, I will channel her if she wants to come out. I just let myself be in the moment and whatever happens, happens.”
Referring to semi-serious comments made last year by Canadian singer Rufus Wainwright that gay men have “terrible taste in music”, Capsis agreed and said the LGBTI community used to be the hardest audiences to please.
“There’s no harder or difficult audience than a group of gay men. They’re probably the hardest audience I’ll ever get,” he said.
“When I first started out, I was a performer in the underground scene in Sydney. I came from where the drag queens were hanging out. I was literally under the ground where you’d have to go down flights and flights of stairs and fight your way through reams of drag materials to get to the stage.
“I know in those past days it was definitely a battle. We were fighting just to be and exist and to live during AIDS. It was just a tough environment.
“On the other side of that though, there was this incredible unity and support.”
Capsis lamented a time where he saw the gay community as leaders in trend, social progression and creativity.
“I often have said that once upon a time, not too long ago [the LGBTI community] led everything. The community led fashion, politics, music. But not now. We don’t anymore,” he said.
“There was a time where the gay community educated people. We allowed closeted and repressed heterosexuals to be themselves and dress how they want to and not care what people thought of them. We led all that. We don’t lead anything now, which I find really sad.”
For the singer, much of the community has “sold out” and become “corporatised”.
“That isn’t to say that didn’t exist when I was young but it was different. It was a little more accepted to be different. Now I feel like guys try very hard to fit in. I just don’t come from that; I’m from the idea of revolution, rebellion, accepting and embracing difference. We’ve sold out and become corporatised to an extent.
“It’s a very personal opinion and view and I accept that. I obviously don’t speak for everyone.”
However, through events like MELT, or other LGBTI festivals such as Melbourne’s Midsumma and Sydney’s Mardi Gras, Capsis sees hope that the light for queer creativity and uniqueness can endure.
“I think every generation and each voice needs to find their own way of [establishing themselves]. It’s why I get excited when I see young people doing their thing the way they want to do it. They’re strong and they’re proud and they’re going against what is supposed to be the norm or whatever that is,” he said.
“We are not like everyone else. We are not other people. We are who we are and should be celebrating that.”
The politically-rebellious nature still exists with Capsis, evidenced during a recent plane flight from Adelaide.
The singer found himself standing in front of controversial and ultra-conservative South Australian Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi — infamous for linking marriage equality to bestiality — and put his theatrically-trained voice to use.
“We were just in that claustrophobic tube leading up to the plane and I just looked behind me and saw him. I’ve never seen him in public. I despise that man, he’s just a fuckwit,” Capsis said.
“The pure shit that comes out of his mouth. It was that thing of where I wanted to say something and I just started to talk. I’ve been told that I’m very good at throwing my voice apparently.
“He kinda went bright red in the face but looked like he was pretending not to hear. I didn’t quite do animal noises or anything like that. I just commented about Abbott and ‘digging holes’.
“I regret that I didn’t turn around and say something witty or funny, or something indirect like ‘how is your book going, Mr Bernardi?’ or more direct like ‘hey, I think you’re a c*nt, have a nice flight’.”
But it’s not all bad news in politics for Capsis: there’s also Jacqui Lambie.
“Jacqui Lambie: God bless her,” he said.
“At least there’s someone bringing blue eye shadow back to parliament. For that I’m grateful of her.”
A Night Out with Paul Capsis is on Sunday, February 15 at the Brisbane Powerhouse. For tickets and more information, visit www.brisbanepowerhouse.org