A couple of months ago, O&AN featured Nashville transplant Glenn Stewart, an independent LGBT musician from Massachusetts who blends country and classic rock styles to create some rather unique music. Unique may sound like a strong word, but think again! On his newest album, Breaking Boundaries, there is perhaps no other song that defies more categories than “Around Again.”
If you saw Stewart on the street, chances are you’d mistake him for a country boy, with his jeans and t-shirt style and rugged beard. But that country boy would be bearing a ‘terrible’ secret: he is absolutely obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race. When we first met, one of the first things Stewart told me is that he loves the show and watches it religiously!
This in part explains how “Around Again” came to be. “Before I moved to Nashville—which is two years ago in April,” Stewart explained, “I was just messing around in iTunes and came across RuPaul, and I stumbled on her song ‘Here It Comes Around Again,’ and I thought it was pretty cool.” Ultimately, this would lead Stewart to write his own country cover of a RuPaul song.
Stewart immediately bought and downloaded the song. “I wrote down the lyrics and chord structures. I transposed it into different keys, played around with it, and wrote out the acoustic lines. But as my vision of a country-rock cover took shape, the lyrics didn’t fit this vision, so I added a little to it and changed some lyrics and rewrote it, giving it more of a story line,” Stewart explained, channeling some of the enthusiasm that fueled his rapid reworking of the song.
“I recorded it in acoustic in my basement,” he added with a laugh, “and it got the parts sent out to the musicians who would play the parts. When the song was all charted out and we sat down together, we played the song and I tweaked it a little. In like three takes, it molded into the final cut that was on the album. It was really amazing.”
And how did the musicians Stewart assembled in Nashville’s traditionally more conservative music scene feel about helping make this song a reality? “When we were done, I thought to myself, ‘I just totally redid a RuPaul song, and no one even realized what they were working on. No one recognized the song! It’s so straight-laced and conservative here, compared to other music scenes. I really couldn’t help but laugh that these guys had no clue but had just recorded a RuPaul song!” To be fair, though, the style and feel of the song is so different, not even his manager and partner realized the “Around Again” was actually a RuPaul cover, despite being fans themselves.
Shortly after Stewart went back to the studio to record the vocals, he and his partner Brad sat down to watch the interview challenge on the sixth season, when RuPaul used “Here It Comes Around Again.” At that point, Stewart’s manager Becky Szymcik, who was watching in Massachusetts started texting him with questions about “Around Again.”
“It was only at that point,” Stewart said, “that I came out to everyone that it was a cover. In the interim I’d already gotten licensing for the song, so don’t worry, Ru is getting her cut. A month or two later Joslyn Fox pulled me up on stage at a show for an impromptu performance, with music played live … from my cell phone! Afterward she was gushing and said she wanted to do the video.” The two had already collaborated on a music video for Stewart’s “Little Miss John Wayne,” so the deal was practically sealed.
On October 15, 2014, RuPaul tweeted a link to Stewart’s song with the following message: “My song “(Here It Comes) Around Again” beautifully covered by @teamglennkicks.” At that point Joslyn Fox said to Stewart, “You know we’re going to have to do a video around this song.” Stewart and Fox both started to reach out to RuPaul girls, and eventually they recruited six who would participate in the video shoot: Joslyn, of course, Jaidynn Diore Fierce, Jujubee, Kelly Mantle, Jade Jolie, Jade Sotomayor, and Monica Beverly Hillz.
Eventually the video shoot took shape as a weekend-long drag-stravaganza centered on Play Louisville, from February 6–8, 2015. Stewart secured Play Louisville for the shoot by networking through friends who knew some of the local owners and opened the dialogue. “We explained our vision and worked out details. They allowed us to go in, gave us the club for Saturday shooting all day, and it worked out great. It was an amazing venue, the girls love playing there.”
On Friday, Stewart’s crew practiced setting up and taking down their set-up for playing the song live on stage. At the first drag show, the RuPaul girls (except Joslyn who would arrive the following morning) performed for an extraordinarily packed crowd. Then between the first and second shows, Stewart performed live, while camera crews shot footage of the performance and the crowd.
The next morning, the girls all returned to Play, but as boys for the part of a shoot illustrating the story Stewart’s song tries to evoke. “It was Joslyn’s idea to get them dressed as boys during the morning shoot,” Stewart explained. “It’s cool to see them in the video in both roles, and it doubled our cast!” After lunch served by Play—with Joey Brown acting as bartender for the day—members of the public showed up for the open casting call so scenes featuring Stewart on stage with the various queens, now in face, playing to “an audience” could be shot.
“Jaidynn Diore and Joslyn were real troopers,” Stewart said. “They shot in the morning as boys, then got in full drag for the afternoon. And then both performed both shows at Play that night!” Because shooting the first night had been so successful, “We ended up not performing our song live Saturday night. Chris Gibbs felt he got the video he needed to get, so we decided to hang out and support Jaidynn and Josyln. Then on Sunday we shot a few more scenes at the Frankfurt Avenue Beer Depot, a hole in the wall BBQ joint and bar full of awesome character.”
Joey Brown’s visit to Louisville was a surprise for Stewart, but a pleasant one. “I don’t know but I think he and the other owners were surprised by the scope of our production and the amount of vested collateral, with the girls, the filming, etc. The level of professionalism was really high. I had a crew of sixteen between band, road crew, and techs, and eight queens and their entourages! A couple of dozen people showed up for open casting, and our Friday night shoot will have captured hundreds of audience faces!”
So what was it like to work with, and more importantly coordinate with, so many prominent queens? “It was kind of hectic, with Jaidynn being in, then not in, then back in because of the delay with this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. But everyone pitched in. Jujube helped pull in Jade Sotomayor. Honestly the greatest part of the weekend was getting to know the queens on a personal level. Monica Beverly Hills, for instance, was not what I expected from watching the show: in reality she’s so much bigger than life, such a big personality! But the bonding we had was awesome.”
Stewart keeps breaking boundaries, keeps trying to bring worlds together. “These projects are all about bridging this country rock scene with the drag community and the LGBT community. The two don’t have to be so far apart: no matter what walk of life you come from you can dig the music. If you can bridge this gap, you can break through on so many levels. Jujube, for instance, is all about the activism and saw this as a great opportunity to expose a new community to what queens do.”
With RuPaul supporting his cover and the new season just beginning, the time is prime for Stewart to release his video. “I would love to have the video out within four to six weeks,” Stewart said in February. “But a lot depends of Chris Gibbs, the videographer. I completely trust him because he’s just fantastic at what he does. I know it’s going to come out freaking fantastic, but you can’t rush it.” Having been there for the shoot, I venture to say the result is going to be amazing.