Conquering the hearts—and, occasionally, the loins—of a town better known for its truck nuts than its tucked ones.
Here are some stats about Fort McMurray, Alberta, the sub-arctic industrial town at the heart of Canada’s infamous oil sands: It has the third largest oil reserves in the world. It boasts some of the highest paying jobs in the country, thanks to the energy industry, but also one of the highest costs of living. It has an average temperature of -11 Fahrenheit at night in January. It has a population of 61,374 with a ratio of 110-140 men for every 100 women. It was named Canada’s fifth most dangerous city in a 2010 poll thanks, in part, to the presence of Somali gangs and the Hells Angels, but its crime rate is currently declining.
It also has one drag queen.
We’re not talking about one tragic and misunderstood drag queen who can’t wait to escape her oppressive surroundings, either. Fort McMurray has one happy and successful drag queen who adores her hometown and the feeling, increasingly, appears to be mutual.
Her name is Iceis Rain and she’s the alter-ego of a local native man named Massey Whiteknife. She started as a bit of a lark—a costume for a young man who wanted to be a ho instead of a pimp on Pimps and Hos night at a bar called Cowboy’s—but she quickly became a more important part of his life. Through Iceis, Massey began to find the strength to deal with substance abuse issues and confront a brutal childhood that left with with post-traumatic stress disorder at the ripe old age of 14. Early on in their partnership, he made a deal with her: “You help me be strong and independent and build my company and I promise you that you can live your dream and pursue a singing career.”
Now that Massey has transformed himself into a successful entrepreneur, it’s Iceis’ turn. And having already conquered the hearts—and, occasionally, the loins—of a town better known for its truck nuts than its tucked ones with her appearances at the town’s karaoke hotspot and her star turn in Oil Sands Karaoke, the new documentary about that scene, she figures she’s ready to take on the rest of the world.
Massey and Iceis are currently dividing their time between Fort McMurray and Vancouver, BC in aid of this goal. The former takes care of business Jerrica Benton-style back at home, while the latter is spending her time as a Jem-like rock star on the West Coast, learning everything she can about the music business, writing songs that come to her in dreams, and recording her debut album.
I called Massey on a rare lunch break back in Fort McMurray to check on her progress, and he told me all about Iceis’ new songs, her creative process, and her confused admirers back home.
Noisey: You’ve described Iceis as a bitch, but you’re quick to point out that she’s really nice, too. Is it the plight of the Canadian drag queen to have to balance fierceness with politeness?
Massey: Yeah, I think so. I love RuPaul and Drag Wars and all of that stuff. I just don’t like the negative cattiness where they have to cut a bitch up. Iceis is a bitch in the sense where she’s aggressive and dominant and she’ll stand up for people that are being bullied and she will defend anybody, but Iceis is very sweet and honest. She’s very giving and generous, just like Massey. Just don’t cross her with attitude and misrepresentation and being untruthful, because you will see the bitch in her. And you don’t want to see that bitch.
What’s it like going out on the town in drag in Fort McMurray?
I just went out on Saturday night, just for the hell of it, and I had a great time. I had dinner and then we went for karaoke and we went out to the club and it was fine. If anything, everybody came up and told me that I looked beautiful. I did get hit on by a construction worker that is... I guess they’re confused. They always tell me “I’m straight, but I just have to let you know that you’re beautiful” and I’m like ”Yeah, but keep in mind the first three words that you said are 'I. Am. Straight.'”
Were interactions like that what inspired your song “Curious?”
It’s about all of these guys in Fort McMurray here who are supposedly straight and they have girlfriends and they’re married and all that, and yet they hit on Iceis daily. I’m on this website called Plenty of Fish and I get, like, six pages a day of all these straight guys wanting Iceis in Fort McMurray.
But there’s a subliminal message there that... Say you’re a lawyer and you want to be an artist, that’s you being curious about it. And why not just try it? If you’re a successful business owner and you want to be a singer, why not go and just try it? What do you have to lose? I mean, of course I dreamt of a man having sex with me that was straight that really, really thought about it. So maybe he wasn’t straight in the first place. And I’m just like “Just try it. See if you like it.” At least if you try it, you’ll be able to go on with your life and not have to worry about it, because you tried it! But there’s subliminal messages in there.
You have a unique songwriting process. Can you explain how that works?
I dream about a certain song... I actually see it in a music video. I hear everything and see everything in my dream and then I write it down when I get up in the middle of the night. Then I put words to it and then my producer helps puts the music to the words.
How would you describe your sound?
I don’t know! I love rock, but I love new age. I want it to be mainstream so that everybody can listen to it. I think that, for me, I don’t like to put myself in a whole category of like “I’m going to be country or “I’m going to be rap” or something like that, because I kind of just write what I feel and what I believe everybody can relate to. So I don’t really know what genre to put myself in. Do I really have to?
When I first heard your demo, I was surprised to hear a hint of twang in your voice. Is that a case of being able to take the girl out of Fort McMurray, but not being able to take the Fort McMurray out of the girl?
I guess! It could be just my gay nativeness. I love music like Mary J Blige and Aretha Franklin, but then again, I also love, like, Trisha Yearwood and Patty Loveless. I grew up with Georgie Jones and all those country singers, so I put all of those together to try to make my own sound. And when I feel something that I sing, I can really sing it from the bottom of my heart. That’s when it really comes out with the twang or singing like I was in a church or something. Everyone always tells me, “You sing like a black person.” But I don’t know. I guess I’m just kind of finding myself as Iceis with her singing.
What’s the next step for Iceis once you finish the album?
The record company that I’m working with, DCM Records, and I want to see if we can get in touch with a larger company to see if somebody out there would listen to my music and see if I do have something there and maybe they would want to help Iceis become a big star. I’m finding out that it’s very...there’s thousands of people out there that all want to be famous, and there’s so many people out there that probably have stories, so I guess I’m just one fish in a big sea that has to try to do it on my own. And so that’s kind of where I’m at right now. I’m hoping that there’s someone out there that believes in me, if they saw the movie or they hear my music and they’re a record producer or a big agency. That’s kind of what I’m looking for. But if not, then Iceis will just keep doing what she’s doing.
You’ve got big dreams for Iceis, but you’re also approaching all of this from a really practical and business-like perspective. How do you manage to balance the two?
You know, I used to watch the Grammys and the Golden Globes and I used to think “Oh, fuck you guys!” First of all, everybody thanks the Lord, and then they go “You know, your dreams do come true!” And I used to think “Oh, God. You sucked some director’s cock. That’s how you got your job.” I used to think it can never happen to someone in a small town of 250 people and, as much as we all wish to be Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera from the Mickey Mouse Club and become famous, it just doesn’t happen for us small town folk. We’re not living in Los Angeles. We’re not in New York. We don’t have rich parents and stuff like that. So for me, now, to actually get as much success as I have, coming from where I’ve been, with all of the trauma in my life, I can actually say that yes, your dreams can come true. And they’re not necessarily dreams. They’re your goals, your aspirations and it’s only going to be determined by your strength and your will and the fight that we all have inside of us. And it is a battle. But with every battle you win, you will eventually win the war and accomplish your goals. And that’s what I’m doing.