Story by Sydni Hampton she/they
Photos by Ash
When I first met Larah Helayne (they/he) at a bar during a show I was performing in, I was just drinking up the compliments and praise a drag queen receives throughout the night. I had no idea this random introduction would lead to me ending up being a self-proclaimed STAN of one of Kentucky’s brightest songwriters. Before I’m anything else, I’m a huge fan of Larah’s. Their music has touched me in ways I can only describe as life-altering. I count myself extremely lucky to call Larah a close personal friend now, because that means I can demand to hear the demos of whatever they’re working on.
I discovered his first body of work, “Roots,” on Spotify when they followed me on Instagram and I saw in their bio they had a link to the album. I listened to every song, but it was “Roots” that really resonated with me. Helayne is a proud queer Appalachian. “Roots,” released in 2018, spoke to me as a fellow Kentucky queer, and someone who champions the importance of Kentucky queers staying in the state to effect change and inspire the next generation of scared queer kids, like us, who’d have been so pleased when growing up to see queer and “othered” adults thriving.
Helayne has been very busy since then. They have since released a second EP, “GOOD RIDDANCE,” in June 2022; have toured around the eastern United States promoting the EP; playing South by Southwest; and have most recently wrapped up touring with Paisley Fields. Despite being busy, Helayne never stops creating. ow, they are working on their first LP. One of the new pieces is called “Communing with the Divine.” The song celebrates their transmasc lover and his body as it exists, wishing they could “teach him how to love his body, if only you could see it through my eyes.” When I first heard the song, I wept. I’m a hopeful romantic and the song captures so purely the love they feel for their partner, and it feels relatable to anyone who’s ever loved someone who experiences dysphoria.
Helayne’s songwriting always captures the nuance in existing and loving as a queer person. Rather than simply singing about the pain and hardship queer people experience,hechooses to also celebrate their queerness, their transness, and their roots in the Bluegrass. These themes continue to be present in what is shaping up to be their best record yet.
I sat with Larah and we talked about their upcoming record, their big move to NYC in pursuit of a label, and challenges they’ve faced as a trans masc artist in the Bluegrass.
SH: So, diva, what’s the tea with this record? When do we finally get to hear it?
LH: Well, I’ve independently released my records, and it’s been very difficult. Everythings done, I’ve written the songs, I just need help getting into the studio to record everything properly.
SH: What is it that you need? A label?
LH: Yeah, I’m hoping that moving to New York I can find a label or make connections to help me get in the rooms I need to be in.
SH: It breaks my heart to see you go. New York could be the spot for you, though.
LH: Yeah, I love Kentucky, but I’ve had so many challenges due to being queer, and even more when I came out as trans. I’ve lost out on gigs since coming out, some that I’ve worked for years and suddenly I’m no longer welcome. Then there have been others that I’ve gotten pushback, including the one I wanted you there for. I was told ticket sales were low, but they were not and what really happened is they were afraid of protesting. I think New York will pose fewer challenges for me.
SH: I didn’t know all of that. I know there for a time you were doing really well here.
LH: During Pride season, yeah. My favorite gigs are ones where I’m [the only] musician, and I’m surrounded by drag queens and queer people. Those gigs are seasonal, though. When I visit New York, I can line up gigs [like that.]
SH: I am manifesting for you. I hope that you get to make this record. You know I lost it hearing the demos.
LH: I wanted to write a tactful, beautiful depiction of T4T (transgender for transgender) relationships. Simple Southern Life has a few love songs-
SH: Well, Communing with the Divine is MY T4T anthem.
LH: After this I want to make a disco record.
SH: Please are you kidding? We LOVE the nightlife. We LOVE to boogie.
LH: On the disco round. Yeah, a disco record. I have so much I want to do. I want to make the music I want to make, I want to share my connections with other Appalachian artists. I want to just exist and not be scared all the time and start a life with my partner where we can grow and thrive. I think time away from Kentucky will also remind me of the things I love about it. Touring taught me so much; I made so many friends on tour and now we are all scattered across the country. Part of growing up is figuring out how to exist with your heart torn in little pieces all over the world. I know I’ll miss it here. It’s true.
Larah and I ended the pseudo-interview here and began making plans to see each other before they came to town for the Queer Kentucky x Mile Wide Pride Kick Off Event, and I did, in fact, cry at ‘Communing with the Divine.’
Take a listen to Larah’s music here and if you’d like to support Larah in securing studio time to master this new record, you can donate via Venmo @LarahHelayne.