On the Hunx/Bogart Divide: Tracing the Musical Trajectory of Seth Bogart
Before there was Seth Bogart from The Seth Bogart Show, there was Hunx from Hunx and His Punx. Even further back, there was Hunx from Gravy Train!!!! Hunx and Seth Bogart are, of course, the same person. In his nearly decade long career in the queer punk scene, Bogart has produced a plethora of full-length studio albums, solo albums, singles, music videos, paintings, sculptures, installations, and even a record label (Wacky Wacko) — all with their own unique and downright weird sounds. The Seth Bogart Show, which came out in 2016, is just the newest iteration of the many styles of Bogart.
I was lucky enough to attend a live performance of The Seth Bogart Show this summer at Comet Ping Pong in Washington, DC. A friend and I greeted Bogart before the show at his merch table, where he sold a wide array of colorful and wacky items from tee-shirts to pins, all of which somewhere featured his characteristic DIY drawing aesthetic. He was a really nice guy in a satin white shirt and black tie, visible makeup. We took a photo together.
Later on, we walked over to the stage, where Bogart had already set up his goofy stage props, which included a cut-out cardboard drawing of a pink amp, a cardboard row of ocean waves, and a blow up personified compact named “compactie.” In the style of Andy Warhol and his Exploding Plastic Inevitable (show) with the Velvet Underground and Nico, Bogart screened selections from his music videos onto a huge projector screen that served as the stage backdrop. During the show, miraculous waves of light washed over his face with an intensity that at times obscured his facial expressions.
Bogart acted as a one-man band armed with an electronic guitar he seldom actually used and a microphone. Darting across the stage filled with energy, he moved with grace and poise during slow moments in the music, then jerkily and unpredictably during fast moments. At one point in the show, Bogart left the stage for a costume change — as he frequently did- and emerged from the periphery of the audience in a see-through mesh t-shirt and walked around the crowd, dancing with some fans, while sharing affectionate moments with others.
The show in my opinion ended entirely too early, but I left with an enjoyable experience. The Seth Bogart show takes form at the intersections of art and music, as art installation and live music performance, and is a truly multidisciplinary masterpiece.
And with that anecdote, here is a list with commentary of my favorite Seth Bogart Albums
Too Young To Be In Love: This album is the second Hunx and His Punx (HHP) studio album, but the first one I listened to from 2011. The album had recently come out and I read about it in Rookie Mag and immediately took to listening to all their singles on YouTube. I like to think this is the moment I finally discovered good music.
HHP consists of one front man (Bogart) and an all-woman band: Amy Blaustein, Michelle Santamaria and Shannon Shaw. What initially attracted me to this album was Bogart’s undeniable queerness. It’s his excessive camp and effeminacy that I exalted and couldn’t get enough of or stop listening to. I had never encountered queer punk music before. Bogart’s un-tuned singing pulled me in with its campy high pitched rhythm.
What makes this album great: TYTBIL consists of 1960s girl’s group ballads mashed with a Ramones style high energy punk. The campy lyrics about falling in and out of love, being underage, wanting to do “it” are a sweet and subversive alternative to mass produced pop hits from Taylor Swift, who at the time was playing the sweet and innocent girl next door. After all, why would you slow dance at the prom in a flowing white dance with a high school football star when you could skip the prom to go swing dancing with you outlaw friends in 1960s style high-waisted shorts and cropped blouse?
Hairdresser Blues: This album is the mellowed out solo album of Hunx, released in 2012 shortly after TYTBIL when Bogart moved from Oakland to LA and felt isolated from his band mates. The album sticks to TYTBIL’s similar sweet and salty ballads about longing and crushing hard but with a muted teenage bedroom kind of feel.
My dad is a hairdresser and I’d like to think this should be the soundtrack to his life. When I was little he used to take me to work with him. His salon was in a run-down building where the stairwells smelled a little bit like pee. He had this really funky furniture from the 1970s and 1960s that made me feel like we had just traveled back in time or entered a new world entirely. This is what Hairdresser Blues feels like. Like you’re in a bubble or you’re sharing a secret that only one person in the entire world knows about.
What makes this album great: the songs feel like they’re written in a teenage girl’s bedroom, complete with all the stuffed animals, posters on the wall, and magic. It feels like the purest form of creativity brought on by closing yourself off from the world and cultivating a rich interior life.
Street Punk: This third album from HHP released in 2013 ditches the sentimental sweetness of the last two and intensifies the high energy punk vibes. In true Ramones fashion, most of the songs are less than two minutes long and the whole album wraps up in under twenty-five minutes.
What makes this album great: Street Punk features more singing by Shannon Shaw, the incredibly talented badass musician who also happens to be the bassist from Shannon and the Clams. It’s a true queer teenage rebellion album. After developing these ideas and feelings in his bedroom album, Hairdresser Blues, HHP comes back on the scene full force with witty and campy songs about having bad skin and dying your hair blond as a lifestyle choice.
Seth Bogart: SB is the first self-titled album of Bogart that debuted after a three year break with Hunx and His Punx. During that time, Bogart went on to focus on his art. And indeed, his artistic ventures feature prominently in this album and the accompanying live show, The Seth Bogart Show.
What makes this album great: If Street Punk was Bogart’s musical teen rebellion phase, Seth Bogart represent the cool adult Bogart. In his newest musical venture, Bogart switched out the punchy guitar riffs for more mature synth melodies heavy on collaboration. Among his collaborators include Kathleen Hanna from The Julie Ruin, Jeremiah Nadya, Chela, Clementine Creevy from Cherry Glazerr, and Tavi Gevinson.
To go with the album, Bogart devised a whole musical experience that’s pop inspired, fun and quirky. It immediately reminds me of a whole slew of artists working in a range of mediums — Andy Warhol, John Waters, Pee-Wee Herman, Claes Oldenburg, Raymond Pettibon, and Rayan Trecartin — to name a few. It’s inspiring to watch an artist like Bogart work within such a rich creative queer legacy and create something entirely his own in an age where there supposedly are no “new” ideas.
Bonus Queer/Queer Inspired Bands and to Listen to and Watch Out For:
Shannon and the Clams: This is yet another band from which to experience the wonderful ray of light that is Shannon Shaw. Other band members include Cody Blanchard and Ian Amberson. People have variously described their sound as garage punk, rockabilly, and, my favorite, “punk oldies.” Shaw and Blanchard have a real chemistry and mystical vibe together, even more so when they dress up in weirdo costumes that include long white beards or shoes with pointy ends the curl upwards. My favorite Clams album is Sleep Talk, the band’s second album released in 2011. It features some great tunes about warlocks, weird dreams, magic etc. Perfect for letting your mind wonder and loosen up after a long day of dealing with straight people.
Pookie and the Poodlez: Would it be correct to place Pookie next in line in the lineage of new queer punk music? The name, certainly lends itself to interpretation as Hunx-inspired. The Poodlez have the same Ramones influenced punk aesthetic that will make travel to your nearest skate park and listen to them on repeat — on a cassette tape, of course. They play a really great set with entertaining commentary in a Jam in the Van session you can find on YouTube. Their self-titled 2013 album is a good place start listening.
Girls: Christopher Owens, who is famous for escaping that religious cult that doesn’t believe in medical intervention during a health crisis, moved to San Francisco and started making sweet and lovely ballads about things relevant to your interests. Girls is not necessarily queer per se, but the lyrics, the general aesthetic of the band, the musical legacy/influences, certainly lends itself to that interpretation, and makes the band ripe for queers to claim Girls as their own. Their 2009 album titled Album features their most queer songs, but definitely check out their second studio album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost as well.