Shea Couleé on “DIVINE,” Nostalgia, and Creative Growth

Shea Couleé by Magnus Hastings

We spoke to Shea Couleé, drag superstar, actor, and recording artist, about their latest release “DIVINE” and their ground-breaking tour The Love Ball. Couleé’s debut album “8,” released under HausDown Records, hit #1 on the worldwide iTunes dance album chart and features collaborations with artists like Mario Winans and Sam Sparro. The track “DIVINE” has been praised as the perfect pregame anthem, and Initial Talk’s remix adds an irresistible nostalgic vibe.

With over a year of success, Couleé’s genre-bending album “8” showcases R&B, disco, house, and hip-hop influences, reflecting Couleé’s musical journey. They performed across the US and internationally, including a solo tour in Europe. Their recent tour, The Love Ball, celebrates Black excellence with an all-Black ensemble and has sold out shows in major cities.

Looking ahead, Couleé will break new ground as the first drag queen to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the upcoming series “Ironheart.”

KALTBLUT: You’ve recently released the remix of your single “DIVINE.” Can you share how the collaboration with Initial Talk came about?

Yes! My manager Adéllyn had put us together after I had expressed what a fan I was. They were incredible and kind and produced such a great remix. It happened so organically and with so much ease. That’s normally how the most successful collaborations go, the ones that just kind of come together with very little effort.

KALTBLUT: Your debut album, “8,” premiered at #1 on the worldwide iTunes Dance Album chart. How did it feel to achieve that milestone with your first major music project?

I feel like it is now over a year and a half later, and it still hasn’t hit me that it even happened. I should probably take a little bit more time to reflect on that and see how that truly makes me feel. It’s everything that I would hope for. In so many ways, I didn’t even think that it would be possible to do that my first time. I owe it to myself to give some more moments to truly appreciate it.

KALTBLUT: Your latest tour, The Love Ball, has been described as an electrifying celebration of freedom and expression. What inspired you to create such a dynamic and multifaceted show?

I wanted to create a space for drag queens who are also musicians and recording artists, to get the chance to come together in a festival-like production and perform their music in a way that it deserves to be seen. A lot of times, drag queens record music, but still lip sync on the road because they don’t feel that their songs can excite audiences. But, The Love Ball proved that wrong. We really put on an incredible show where the girls got to feel their utmost pop star fantasy, and it was incredible to create such a memorable experience for all the fans and the girls.

KALTBLUT: You were inspired by Beyonce’s Renaissance World Tour and her collaboration for the On the Run Tour. How did these influences shape your vision?

These tours really pushed me to think beyond just the sounds of the songs and the costumes and to create a full sensory experience. We got a large LED screen to be the background for us to run these visuals. We had Isis King record spoken word monologues to help transition from number to number. We put our whole hearts and souls into creating an energy that was so palpable that the fans could not even look away. It really is a visual spectacle, and I’m excited to do it again.

KALTBLUT: You have performed across the US and Europe with your album “8.” How has touring internationally shaped your perspective on your music and performance style?

Being able to perform for international markets was a great boost in confidence for me, because a lot of times American audiences are harder to win over because we just have such a wide range of talent and entertainers. It’s such a competitive market to exist in, whereas in Europe, because they don’t get as many of these American acts as frequently as we do, there is a higher level of appreciation and attention to the work that you put into it. It’s really validating to be able to go into markets like that and have the experiences with fans where you can tell that they are so genuinely excited to see the work that you put out in front of them.

KALTBLUT: As noted by Rolling Stone, your roots are in church music. How has your musical upbringing influenced the melodies and harmonies in your current work?

I feel like my upbringing in the church and singing and choir really helped me to have an intuitive ear to what types of melodies really work and what tells a story. I’m still learning so much about the process of writing. I’ve always come from the experience of being a performer, singing things that other people have written or composed, so now I rely upon that experience and that knowledge of all the work that I’ve done before to help influence how I go about creating.

KALTBLUT: What was it like working under your own company, HausDown Productions, to bring The Love Ball to life?

It definitely was a challenge because there’s so much on the line when you’re producing something yourself. As difficult as it was, it also was an incredible lesson. I learned so much and all that I learned from this process can now be applied to making myself a better artist in the future. Being able to work on a smaller scale and to have control over your vision is the way to go, because for any artist, I know that they want to feel like they are truly delivering what feels most real to them, and a lot of times that gets sacrificed when you have suits and executives that are making the decisions for you versus you being able to stand firm in your creative process.

KALTBLUT: How do you balance various aspects of your career, from drag to music, recording to acting, to live touring?

That is a good question. I would say I balance it all by just handling one thing at a time. I devote my focus to what is most necessary in the moment, and then when I have the time, I try and build upon ideas for where I can take my career in the future. It is about being open and not saying no to possibilities. If there is an avenue that is of interest, then I owe it to myself to at least put in the effort to work towards making things happen.

KALTBLUT: Your performances fuse live music, choreography, fashion, etc. How do you ensure each element complements the other to create a cohesive show experience?

The way in which I make sure that they complement each other is by having a strong vision. It all has to come from the original vision, the picture that I’ve built up in my mind. I always rely on the vision that I have for an experience and, I spend a lot of time coming up with all of these concepts, and I really don’t even step out and share them until the vision has a lot of color and texture and detail, so that I know how to communicate it to other people, and therefore fans. It just has to be thought about. I have to spend a lot of time thinking about it, and when it feels right, it’s right.

KALTBLUT: What advice would you give to aspiring drag performers or recording artists who look up to you and your career as a role model?

A piece of advice is to get a team of people that see your vision and are committed to helping you make your dreams come true. As long as you’ve got a core group of people that are looking after you and can help you facilitate your dreams, you’ll be good.

KALTBLUT: You are set to be the first queen to enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a series regular in the forthcoming series Ironheart. How does it feel to break this ground in such a significant way?

I don’t spend too much time thinking about breaking ground, I focus on showing up and doing the work that I’ve dreamt about doing. Being the first to do something used to feel impressive, but a lot of times with going into uncharted territory and being the first to do something, there’s a lot of additional work that’s required because people may not know all that’s entailed with working with a drag queen. In the way that we have our own unique process that us as a community may understand, but the entertainment industry as a whole may not. So, I’ll say it is very humbling to be in a position where I can open doors for other people like me to gain visibility and entertainment as queer performers.

KALTBLUT: Reflecting on your extensive career, what personal growth have you experienced, and how has that shaped you as an artist today?

I think my biggest form of personal growth is to learn to not be such a people pleaser and to trust my instincts. That comes from experiences where you’ve had to make compromises that you wouldn’t otherwise have to and those compromises yielded the exact results that you were apprehensive about. It only confirms that your intuition is always right, and so you should trust yourself before anyone else.

Photo by @magnushastings