INTERVIEW: Karen From Finance

Karen From Finance is one of Australia’s premier drag queens. From her online rise to stardom, to touring the country with InTheDark Events as the official hostess of some of the biggest tours from Rupaul’s Drag Race stars, she very early on established a passionate fanbase for herself. And then earlier this year the Melbourne drag queen had the opportunity to finally compete on the first ever season of Rupaul’s Drag Race Down Under. Making her way to the grand finale, she charmed audiences with her wit, heart and balloon making skills. 

To celebrate the beginning of the new financial year, Karen From Finance has released her debut single which is poignantly titled ‘Out Of Office’. The comedic meets drag-pop track feels like it quintessentially captures the character that people have got to know while also opening up a visual world that we’ve not yet got to see yet with the accompanying music video. 

I recently chatted to Karen From Finance about finding her voice as a singer during the recording process of ‘Out Of Office’, discussed some of those iconic Rupaul’s Drag Race Down Under outfits that make a cameo in the music video, and dished some goss on her worldwide travels from her annual leave over the years. Check it out BELOW;

THOMAS BLEACH: Your debut single ‘Out Of Office’ feels very quintessential Karen From Finance. The verses are quite comedic and in a similar styling to Aunty Donna while the chorus is very hooky and drag pop esq. So when you decided Karen was going to get on the mic, did you have that sonical vision in mind already, or did it take some experimentation to find that sweet spot between comedy and pop? 

KAREN FROM FINANCE: That is a great question because it did take a bit of experimenting. I didn’t plan on it taking so much experimenting but it kinda just ended up that way. I actually recorded the song twice. I wrote the song and then I went in and initially recorded it and got about three quarters of the way through before I felt like it wasn’t working. I bounced the track and went home and listened to it with my partner and I said “you know what’s happening here? This is Richard doing a pop song and not Karen the drag queen”. So it was really about finding the voice for Karen. Not just the voice that people expect to see live, but also if Karen was to have a music career; what does she sound like? So it did take a while to get to the final product. 

TB: Did doing the Drag Race Down Under song challenges help that sonical solidification? 

KFF: Yeah the song was recorded after Drag Race and I think doing the songs there gave me a little more confidence in recording in a studio, but it also gave me a little heads up in the sense that my voice isn’t ready to belt out a tune. But there are ways and techniques where I can find my character through a campy spoken word moment.

TB: You ‘re not going to be serving us any Jantasy moments anytime soon then?

KFF: There’s definitely no Jantasy happening in the finance department at the moment. But maybe there’s a little Ja’mie instead *laughs*. 

TB: The accompanying music video is a very playful and colourful experience. What was the funniest, strangest, or weirdest thing that happened on that shoot? 

KFF: Whenever I do any filming or work in drag outside during the day, everyone that passes by just thinks that I’ve been at the club and they’re like “what is this tragic mess doing”. Especially when I was filming the scene where I wake up in an abandoned lot and I have my make-up ruined and an eyelash stuck to my cheek. It looks amazing in the video, but trying to get that shot in public is really awkward and embarrassing. 

TB: Where was this office you shot in, is this from the real daytime job of Karen? 

KFF: The office we shot in is actually a friends marketing company who were my first ever corporate client years and years ago. We developed a really great relationship and I always knew that if I needed to do some filming where Karen had to have a physical office then it would be there. So actually filming there and achieving those shots felt like a full circle moment which was really special. 

TB: The music video also sees you wearing some of the outfits from DRDU. Why was this something you visually wanted to highlight in the video too? 

KFF: I didn’t actually plan on wearing all of the Drag Race costumes, and I honestly just thought I would have one new quintessential Karen From Finance office look throughout the whole video. But when it came time to actually shoot it I thought that I had all of these amazing looks from the show that I could see Karen in that makes sense in my world and vision for her. But on the show some of the looks, like the Melbourne Cup one for example, is just Karen on the main stage of Drag Race. But as soon as I put her in the nightclub and put those costumes in a visual world of Karen From Finance I feel like they were given a second life. It was really fun to draw some sort of connection between Drag Race and the physical world of Karen From Finance.

TB: I was personally upset that the Schapelle Corby outfit didn’t make the video

KFF: Well my darling, the Schapelle Corby outfit didn’t make my suitcase coming home from New Zealand *laughs*. Everyone else packed their things and they were like “Karen, you’re not going to take yours?” and I was like “absolutely not! What am I gonna do; go to the airport with a boogie board bag? I don’t think so!” *laughs*. 

TB: Looking back at all the outfits you wore on the show, what is the one that you would say you’re most proud of?

KFF: I think I’m most proud of the poodle look from the ‘How’s Your Head Piece’ runway in the second last episode. I think that episode had a really interesting and funny storyline. One because I twisted a balloon poodle and then dressed as a poodle on the runway which was completely unplanned. But there was also a funny storyline moment where for some strange weird reason Rupaul was insisting that I brought sexy into the game. Once that challenge was finished and I came out on the runway as a poodle, I actually felt really sexy in that costume *laughs*. So I think that had the most beautiful story to it. 

TB: You’re bringing your debut one woman show ‘Out Of Office’ to Brisbane Comedy Festival in July and Darwin Comedy Festival in August after touring it in 2019. So with the song of the same name out now, are you going to work this into the new show?

KFF: Well…. ummmm… I don’t want to give anything away yet I don’t think. So you will just have to come see the show *laughs*. 

TB: Well you originally premiered this show in 2019, so from doing that run of dates to where you’ve got the show to now, what have you adapted within the show? 

KFF: It’s actually a completely different show this time around. When I originally debuted the show in 2019, it was the first of its kind for me. I had never performed a one woman cabaret like that before, so I went in with a scripted show that was quite fabulous however as the years have gone by and I have breathed some new life into it, it’s just become a whole new moment with the same story. It’s a lot funnier, a lot quicker, and I think it’s a lot more fun. 

TB: In celebration of Out Of Office lets do some travelling talk, because you have travelled quite a bit. Firstly, you’ve been to the UK and Paris. So did you have any Euro-Trip sort of moment, or some crazy funny story that happened while you were over there?

KFF: *Laughs* well the first time I went to the UK and Paris I did 3 days in London and 3 days in Paris on my way up to my very first season at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The first 3 days in Paris were very beautiful and lovely, and my first 3 days in London were very rainy and quiet, and then the Edinburgh Fringe season was a raucous circus. We performed for 5 weeks with a sold out 5 star cabaret, and the afterparties were what I like to call LIT *laughs*. 

TB: Everyone always thinks America and Australia are quite similar, but they are really not. What’s one thing you couldn’t get over how different the US do it to back home?

KFF: One of the most interesting things I found out about the US is that they have this really epic sense of nationalism and pride which can go both ways. One, it can be really quite inspirational that I wish we could incorporate more here in Australia, but at the same time, their nationalism is sometimes the worst part of America. So I find that really interesting. 

TB: I’ve been to America a few times and I find their food so greasy, and I always come home from my trips there just craving a bowl of steamed vegetables because I can’t find vegetables anywhere over there *laughs*. 

KFF: Oh my gosh, that’s exactly right. I’ve been there 6 or 7 times now, so I know just to find a Wholefoods no matter where I go. So much so that I wish Australia had something like that. I would love a healthy buffet on every corner, it’s such a good go-to. 

TB: The drag shows and gay clubs are quite different in America too, aren’t they? 

KFF: Yeah the clubs are so different, especially in the way they do drag shows. The drag queens get tipped in a similar way to strippers do here and in some ways it makes for a much better show. It’s very raunchy and sexy, and the drag queens really have to work for it. 

TB: You’ve also been to Japan. So how fluent are you in Japanese? Did you find you butchered any words by accident?

KFF: *Laughs* well, I did my due diligence and made sure I learnt a few phrases before I went over there. But I quickly realised that the most important phrase that I needed to know was “where is the bathroom please?” which is; “Keshō-shitsu wa dokodesu ka”. However I don’t know whether it was my pronunciation or accent, but it meant that it was illegible to them and they didn’t understand what I was asking them. The amount of times I nearly wet myself trying to find the toot is something I need to polish up on before I go to Tokyo again *laughs*. 

TB: You’ve toured a lot around Australia over the years, so where has been one of the most surprising places you’ve been to that you think Aussies need to visit in their own backyard? 

KFF: For me it’s always regional shows. There’s nothing more exciting than being on a big stage in a city with a huge audience, but the connection you get to make with people on regional tours is so special. I recently had 5 shows at The Vine Hotel in Wangaratta which is just down the road from where Ned Kelly famously grew up and had the Last Stand. So it was just the most amazing and different experience. The regional people take the jokes and content so differently, and it’s a very exhilarating experience. 

TB: Now, you’ve created us a playlist of your favourite out of office tunes for people to blast on their own annual leave. There are some absolute bangers on the list from Dolly Parton, to ABBA to Fifth Harmony, but out of all the songs, what would you say is the CLASSIC Karen From Finance out of office tune? 

KFF: Of course the classic Karen song is ‘9 to 5’ by Dolly Parton. The reason I like it so much is that it has such a positive fun poppy vibe to the production, but the lyrics are actually really sad and quite depressing. It suits the Karen From Finance persona so much for me to be on stage smiling, lip synching and having a good time with everyone dancing along to a set of circumstances that still ring true to this day; we need equity in the workplace and we need more power for the people!

TB: Have you ever been stuck on a road trip with someone who keeps playing one song and one song only the whole time? 

KFF: Yes! 8 or 9 years ago I spent 12 months living in a place called Shark Bay in Western Australia. It’s about 12k’s north of Perth. It’s a bit of a tourist destination so I made friends with some backpackers that were living there and about once a month we would do trips down to Perth. I had a CD player in my car and one day this amazing girl Nicki from Liverpool put in the Best Of Fleetwood Mac CD, and it got stuck. So on that 24 hour return journeys all we would listen to was Fleetwood Mac. I mean, it could be worse, but 24 hours straight is a lot of work *laughs*. 

TB: Lastly, today is the beginning of the new financial year, so what is Karen from Finance’s biggest tip for people’s tax returns this year.

KFF: Karen From Finance’s tip for the new financial year is that anything can be a cash write off as long as you word it properly. So just move those 0’s around, change your reasoning, mark your receipts in any which way, and anything can be cash write off. You just have to be clever about it! 

To celebrate the release of her new single ‘Out Of Office’ Karen From Finance has created a playlist of all of her favourite Out Of Office songs to blast on your annual leave!

‘Out Of Office’ is out now!