In addition to being the rare entrepreneur who owns a vintage store/record shop/hair salon, Seth Bogart also bears the distinction of being one of the few resurrectors of the doo-wop '60s pop/garage/rock hybrid. That this front man for Hunx and His Punx also happens to be queer only stokes his appeal: A former member of the electro-pop band Gravy Train!!!!, Bogart -- backed by an all-girl band -- is a crafter of feel-good/feel-you-up tracks with names like 'Cruising' and 'I Won't Get Under You.' (Both can be found on his full-length compilation, Gay Singles). Lest that seem niche, the Oakland resident's playful sing-alongs are so irresistible they've won accolades from The New York Times and NME alike, not to mention the vanilla ad team at LensCrafters, which just licensed the tune 'Gimme Gimme Back Your Love' for a commercial. Out caught up with the indefatigable Bogart, who, fresh off a six-week European tour, has hit the studio to work on 'the gayest dance record ever' for his side project, H.U.N.X., and to polish new tracks for Hunx and His Punx's proper debut album.
Out: How do European audiences differ from American ones?
Seth Bogart: I think that when they're milder, they're way milder. But when they're crazier -- like in Paris, people were literally ripping off my clothes. Male and female. There was this topless girl in the front [row] desperately trying to take off my pants.
Is this a typical reaction to your music?
People feel compelled to do that to me. Usually I go with it, but that was a little intense just because I was having a hard time performing. Actually, this one guy did get really crazy, and I had to, like, throw him off stage. He was like trying to get me to go home with him after the show. I was like, 'You're crazy. No way.'
You've also taken a strong anti-manscaping stance. What are European men like?
I'm into hairy dudes but not exclusively [laughs]. I think it's just good to be natural. In Europe, so many people shave their chests! But in America, I've noticed more dudes in clubs flaunting their hairy chests, which I think are cool. I also love the way '70s dudes look. I think they're so hot. Pre-AIDS.
You're so playful with sexuality. Do you ever get criticized for that?
There are always some anonymous comments about me on message boards, like, 'AIDS tour' or 'STDs everywhere.' I think some people still have homophobia like that. Not to be a jerk, but I know so many straight people who are so much more irresponsible. I just think it's not worth it for one fun night. So I'm safe. You should be able to talk about what ever you want, but it does worry me because I've met so many young guys with HIV. We played this gay bar in Chicago, and they gave us this giant bag of condoms. We handed them out at every show.
Since you're from California, do you feel any obligation to discuss Proposition 8 with fans?
It's hard because I think marriage it just so stupid in general. But it sucks to not be able to do it based on being gay. My personal opinion is to be political just by doing what I'm doing -- especially in garage rock, which is pretty straight. If someone wanted to talk to me about it, I would. But I don't really want to go on stage and preach to people.
What does your mom think of your persona?
She saw the album when she was drunk at our show. [The cover of Gay Singles features a close-up of Bogart's crotch, swathed in a zebra-print Speedo.] She was laughing, 'Is that you? Ahhhh!' She's really cool and funny. But when I did this photo shoot in Paris where I was naked, she wrote on the [site], 'I'm shocked and dismayed.' I don't know if she's joking, because I still haven't asked her.
How do you feel about the fact that many people discovered your band after you appeared naked in the band Girls' video for 'Lust for Life'?
It's crazy how many people have seen that! That was so random, actually. I was kinda friends with one of the directors, and he was talking to me about making a video for my band. One day, I got a text from my ex-boyfriend saying, 'Come over. Aaron wants to tape us getting sexy.' I didn't even know what it was for until I got there; the guy from Girls was sitting on the floor, and they were playing that song. But I'm glad I did it. I feel like it gave them a lot of attention. And, yeah, it got me attention.
Well, most folks don't normally drop trou for a video...
[Laughs] I know. You only live once, so you should just go for it. You know what I mean?
What were you like growing up?
I'm from Tucson, Arizona. I was really bratty and obnoxious and funny -- pretty flamboyant. I guess I am kinda the same [laughs]. I wasn't self conscious -- nothing to be embarrassed of. My mom was a nurse. She worked for a long time at a rehab center called Sierra Tucson that was really expensive -- a lot of celebrities went there for eating disorders and sex addiction and drugs. My dad was a lawyer. But he died when I was in high school. I had a perfect, really great family with no problems, and then it went all crazy.
How old were you when your dad killed himself?
Eighteen. I moved right away to Oakland with a friend of mine, because my family was just, like, a mess. I just distracted myself by being in a new city and doing music. I got this shitty little apartment and slept in the living room and worked crappy jobs and was punk and stuff.
When did you come out?
To my friends, in high school, and then to my mom when I was 18. She was totally cool with it. She kinda knew.
Did you ever date girls?
A couple. And I was into it! I feel like everyone's somewhat into both sexes. If everyone had sex with whoever they wanted to and there was no society judging, people would be more bisexual. But I'm definitely more gay than anything.
What sort of music did you listen to growing up?
I was really into the Ramones and Blast Off Country Style, this weird girl band from D.C. Kind of like the same style of music that I play. Sixties girl groups -- I always loved those. The Ronettes are, like, my fave. I love the Cookies and the Shangri-Las. But I also have a riot grrrl thing going on: I love Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. Kathleen Hanna [of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre] took us on tour like four times or something. Kathleen is great; she loves gay dudes. I don't know if you know this, but she wrote this song about this gay friend of hers dying. It's the saddest song. She's just so supportive of gay artists.
And like Le Tigre, you wear coordinated outfits on stage. Where do you and the Punkettes get those clothes?
Most of those are from thrift stores. In Europe, we had a jungle look, and we had what I call Chippendales -- but they're really just waiters' outfits. All the girls also dressed up like grandmas. We're working on some new ones now. I actually have friends who are fashion designers. One person who's made some looks for us is Peggy Noland; she does stuff for CSS and Fischerspooner. But I [also own] a vintage boutique sort of store where I get some stuff. There's a hair salon and records, too. It's painted pink, and there's some weird gold grandma stuff. It's called Down at Lulu's. That's my part-time job.
So Hunx doesn't pay the bills yet?
I get some money from music, too! Like we're in this LensCrafters commercial. I was watching Toddlers & Tiaras, they played the commercial like five times during that show! It's really awesome and just funny to me, because it's such a Mall of America store. I am positive if they knew what anything about the band, they would never have done that.
For more information on Hunx and His Punx, including upcoming tour dates, visit the band's official MySpace page.