Metro Weekly

Joshua Vogelsong reemerges as a stronger Donna Slash with a blistering queer-punk call to arms

New album 'The Dead Queen Rises' draws inspiration from "eighties slasher and Italian horror movies."

Donna Slash -- Photo: Farrah Skeiky
Donna Slash — Photo: Farrah Skeiky

“The summer of 2020, I was very much a mess and just fell out of touch with everybody,” says Joshua Vogelsong. “And then, when we were going into another lockdown, I went on a three-day binge, and then just came out of it and was like, ‘I have to stop drinking. And to do that, I have to change every single thing about my life.’ And so I checked myself into a detox center for a week, and that was that.”

Vogelsong had already made the move to Baltimore in 2019. He was further unmoored from D.C. once the pandemic rolled in and shut down nightlife, suspending his stints as a bartender and booker at Comet Ping Pong and as a party promoter and drag entertainer at Trade, where he organized and hosted Gay/Bash as his drag alter-ego Donna Slash.

However, as the nightlife industry gets back up and running, Vogelsong — and Gay/Bash — remain on the sidelines intentionally and indefinitely.

“Right now, for me, nightlife and events aren’t really the focus,” Vogelsong says. “I want to create more tangible art, and just kind of move away from parties and events that are at venues that require alcohol consumption and just later hours in general…. I would like to book shows — queer things, noise musicians/punk, things on the fringe — and do them outdoors, and do them at a little more friendly time, like seven or eight.”

Instead of nightlife, over the past year Vogelsong has shifted his focus to school. Having dropped out of college shortly after high school, the 37-year-old has recommitted to earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, where he’s focusing on graphic communication. That’s just one part of what he calls a “personal wellness journey” begun just over a year ago, when he enrolled in a virtual outpatient recovery program that lasted for six months.

That, plus the benefit of one-on-one therapy with a good gay practitioner, has helped to keep him “on the right track” — as well as given him a stronger sense of purpose. “As part of that, I rediscovered all of my musical talents that I had when I was a kid,” he says, citing his years as a member of his junior high school band. “Putting out an album was not part of the plan, but it happened, and it’s great, and I’m proud of it.”

Vogelsong recently released The Dead Queen Rises under his Donna Slash alias. Sonic inspiration for the album came from “a lot of eighties slasher and Italian horror movies with super weird synth soundtracks,” he says. In many respects, it registers as a maturation of the kind of music Vogelsong made with his former punk band, HomoSuperior. Meanwhile, the lyrics grew out of a dawning realization that, after essentially 20 years of heavy drinking, “I’m looking at the world clearly for the first time. And there’s a lot that needs to be done.”

He characterizes The Dead Queen Rises as a “very post-apocalyptic” memento with messages intended to rally his fellow queers to, as he puts it, “suit up, honey.”

Joshua Vogelsong-- Photo: John Teixeira
Joshua Vogelsong– Photo: John Teixeira

Suit up to take on those outside forces opposing the queer community, that is — and rein in all the infighting, canceling, and attacking of each other. “If we are going to properly fight Republican and religious evangelical forces, first we have to do right within. We just have to really help each other grow — or admit that you don’t want to do that and step aside.”

Vogelsong is still smarting over not feeling that kind of nurturing support and genuine camaraderie among his friends and acquaintances in D.C. “When I was down and out and struggling, so many people — all in D.C. — were just treating me like it was a choice, and I was just this mess that they couldn’t be around — ‘I can’t look at this’ — all of that super judgmental kind of bullshit. And I’m still angry about it.”

Fortunately, Baltimore and his growing circle of queer and sober friends have proven to be a fitting salve. “There are low expectations in this town, which is really nice. It’s a very cool, charming, and artsy town. It’s very, very low-key.”

Donna Slash’s The Dead Queen Rises is available for streaming from GAYRAGENOISE Records. Follow @DonnaSlashXO on Twitter or visit www.donnaslash.bandcamp.com.

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