Hunx and His Punx (due at the hi-dive this Saturday, May 7, with Shannon & the Clams, Thee Goochi Boiz and Lust-Cats of the Gutters) started in the Bay Area in 2008 when Seth "Hunx" Bogart of Gravy Train!!!! decided to do something very different from the band he had fronted for the better part of the decade. Bringing his native charisma and knack for a catchy tune to the new band, Bogart teamed up with a group of people to make the kind of pop songs that embodied both the bouncy melodies of '60s pop and the exuberance of punk rock.
The band's early 7-inches quickly became collector's items on eBay, even after the release of the 2010 compilation of those songs as Gay Singles. This year, Hunx and His Punx released Too Young To Be In Love, a surprisingly tender and introspective set of songs that hearken back to girl groups of the '60s, without sounding like other modern would-be practitioners of that aesthetic. We spoke with the frank and thoughtful Bogart about the songwriting, his stage persona and how his band is perceived.
Westword: How did you meet Shannon Shaw and what do you think she brings to the band, especially her contributions to the new album?
Seth "Hunx" Bogart: I met her when I lived in Oakland forever, and that's where she lives. I met her at a gay bar called The Eagle in San Francisco. She came to one of our shows there and introduced herself, and I was instantly really drawn to her. I heard her music and loved her voice. She would sing back-up vocals. We went on a tour with Jay Reatard, and our bass player couldn't go, so I begged her to come with us. Ever since the first show we played with her, I knew she had to be in the band. She has an incredible voice. I think she'll be a huge star for sure.
Why is Ronnie Spector such a huge inspiration to you?
You would think it wouldn't any different than with any other girl group but... Have you ever read her book Be My Baby? I forget what the subtext, but it was something like "How I Survived Mini-Skirts, Madness and Mascara." It's about her life, and it starts out with her childhood and then it goes to her living with Phil Spector and all the insane stuff he did to her.
He wouldn't let her drive alone, so he made a life-sized replica of himself to put in the driver seat so that people would always think she was with him. He would hold her hostage and, I don't know, just insane stuff. After reading that book, I found her so inspirational and amazing. I just love her so much. She has one of my favorite voices.
You've often said that you want your band to be even more like one of those '60s girl groups. What is it about that whole thing that you find especially appealing, and how do you think you could push that further with the band?
Honestly, that's just for this record. I like to do something different for everything I do, so I don't think that will necessarily be what we go for next time. I just think when I started writing songs with Shannon, she's so into that era, and I've always been into that too, so it took off. It wasn't really intentional. I love any girl band, not necessarily girl group. These songs ended up having that kind of vibe to it.
There are probably people who have no idea you were in Gravy Train!!!!, or know who Gravy Train!!!! was, that come to see your current band...
I don't try to make that huge thing. I don't try to hide it at all. It's just different, and I just don't care -- do you know what I mean? I don't like when people are like, "Oh, this person did this thing." Maybe they just want to do something new. I've met people who are embarrassed of the stuff they've done, and they try to hide it. And I'm not embarrassed of anything. It's just a different thing.
Seeing as you fronted both bands, did you adopt a different persona or singing style for your current project?
Yeah, Hunx is kind of his own person that is not really me in my normal life. But I didn't really try to do it. I guess when I started performing these songs and putting wigs and make-up on, and drinking a lot, turns me into a different person. Normally, I'm kind of more of a grandma. In my day to day life, I'm not that wild. I stay home a lot and paint and work on music and don't go out very often, but then when I go on tour as Hunx, I'm like an insane, wasted teenager. It's kind of nice to have a double life.
In the interview for Amp Magazine, you said you'd love to make a movie for Too Young To Be In Love. What do you envision for that movie, and who would you want to star in it?
I just wanted it to be kind of almost a cartoon [laughs]. I just wanted it to be me and the Punkettes doing our usual funny stuff. But then have love and death in it, as well. Mostly a really funny, stupid comedy with a little bit of dark, death and suicide and romance.
In an interview for L.A. Record, you said you see yourself as more an entertainer generally rather than just a musician and so forth...
I'm a musician, but I care more about the show than I care about in tune. Obviously, I want to be good, but I'd rather have people be entertained than think we're a really solid, rehearsed band. I just don't give a shit about that.
When did you first get the bug to entertain people outside of maybe being a class clown?
When I was a kid, from my grandma. I didn't get it from here. She was just really supportive, and I would perform for her. I put on shows for her because she would let me do anything. She's the best grandma.
Hopefully this isn't too personal but did you write "Blow Me Away" partially as therapy?
I think I did kind of write it, I don't know if I'd necessarily call it therapy, but I was depressed. We had toured Europe, and when we came home, I didn't really have the will to do anything, so I just started writing these really sad songs, and I wrote that one about my dad. It made me feel better, but it's kind of a sad song. It doesn't really come across as much on the recording as it does live, I think. It was just nice to kind of do something serious, I guess, after just being stupid my whole life. Do you know what I mean? Not stupid, but just make everything a joke and funny. I just wanted to tell a story about something that was close to my heart.
I wrote a ton of them when I was working on a solo album, weird songs I recorded in the middle of the night and don't really remember, then I wake up and go, "Whoa, what is that?" It feels good when you hit bottom. The worst thing in the world is to be depressed, so it was nice to write music to get over it.
You said that the gayest record ever was probably The Night at the Roxbury soundtrack. Why that record, and how do you think you would top it?
Have you heard it? That's, like, the best movie, and the soundtrack is one giant megamix of gay '90s club tracks. It's amazing. I'm also working on another project that's kind of music like that with my friend Nick. It's great. It's really gay. I guess I like to do different things because I get so bored if I'm not doing something. I just think it's hilarious - -gay club music in general.
I like it, don't get me wrong, I'm more into punk; it's just so over the top and distinct and obvious. I actually recorded a couple of songs when my friend was deejaying in New York, and someone asked if it was Kermit the Frog singing, because my voice was so hideous. I think it would be fun to make serious gay dance music with my voice. That's my goal.
You're pretty open in terms of who you are and what you're about. Do you think there are any misconceptions about you and your band?
I don't know if this is necessarily a misconception, but I think people make way more a deal out of my sexuality than necessary. Not to say that I don't like to put it out there. I guess I like to put it out there in a way because there's not a lot else like what we do. Which I find sad, more than anything, that people make such a big deal out of it.
But at the same time I feel like there should be more of it, so I'm happy to be pigeonholed like that, you know. It doesn't bother me because maybe there will be more people doing it. It's kind of annoying because sometimes I just think we're a really great band, and there's a fucking million dudes singing about girls, and no one makes a big deal out of that.
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Also, I don't feel like it's really that raunchy and gross as people say it is. It's more love songs or something. So it's kind of a bummer, but it doesn't really bring me down because I don't really care what people think or say.
I think a lot of people like us because what we do is good or interesting and not because we're some kind of gay novelty group. I don't see us like that. But at the same time, I'm not going to lie, I don't mind the attention. And if that's what it takes, that's fine by me, but it can be annoying.