Seth Bogart is worried that his lipstick is attracting attention.
Bogart, aka Hunx of the garage-pop group Hunx and His Punx, is walking through Six Flags Magic Mountain on a crowded Saturday afternoon. He's getting looks from women with cheetah-print tattoos on their shoulders, pimply-faced teen boys and obese men in trucker hats because Bogart is dressed in skintight jeans and a black leather jacket with a black-and-white polka-dot vest. The final flourish, his bright red lipstick, seals the deal.
"It's extremely trashy here, in a high-schoolers-making-out-on-a–roller coaster kinda way," he says. In spite — or maybe because — of the stares, he seems to be enjoying himself.
Walking with his shoulders thrown back, Bogart radiates confidence; the singer is outspoken about his homosexuality and every other topic. His new record and first solo effort, Hairdresser Blues, was released last month. The album's title was inspired by the Rolling Stones documentary Cocksucker Blues and is filled with jangly, low-fi songs that sound like a prom band with a sad, flamboyant singer. It's a surreal ride through a bizarro 1950s world with song titles such as "Do You Remember Being a Roller?"
Bogart calls it a "faggy, special kind of pop music."
His onstage persona is even more colorful. "I'm always wearing some stupid outfit, and I get really flirty with the audience," he says. "I feel like a wild teenager, which is funny 'cause in real life I'm more like a boring granny." That seems doubtful. At one point, he says he had a "foot slave": He would walk the guy around his apartment on a leash while the slave worshipped Bogart's feet.
Bogart, who is 31 but looks younger, grew up in Tucson, Ariz. His childhood wasn't anything too out of the ordinary; he says he was teased just as much as any other kid. But when he was 17, his father committed suicide. The event was cataclysmic; even this latest album includes a song about it. "I feel like a lot of people have really fucked-up childhoods," he says, "but my fucked-up-ness didn't really start until I was 17."
Bogart left Tucson for Oakland almost immediately afterward. "I couldn't have stayed because it would have been too hard, but honestly, there's a tiny fame whore in me that would have left anyway," he says.
In Oakland, Bogart learned to cut hair at Laney College and opened a combination vintage-clothing store and hair salon called Down at LuLu's with his friend Tina Lucchesi (of the Trashwomen) in 2006. He still cuts hair there occasionally. "He's quite the extraordinary hairdresser," says Lucchesi, now the sole owner of the salon. "His hairdresser persona is totally different than his musical persona but just as crazy."
Oakland also was where Bogart started his first band, a queer-themed electro outfit called Gravy Train!!!! There were four members in the group, each with a nickname: Chunx, Funx, Junx and Hunx. Thus Hunx was born.
Bogart followed up in 2008 by forming a punk-rock outfit with Justin Champlin of Nobunny. With Bogart as the centerpiece, the group was called Hunx and his Punx. They released two albums, Gay Singles and Too Young to Be in Love, which sound like flirty Jay Reatard recordings.
Bogart moved to L.A. in August, and the transition has been more difficult than he thought it would be. "It was shitty and hard at the start," he says. "I couldn't find the right place, and there were a few bad roommate situations."
But he has settled in Chinatown Heights and is off on tour at the end of March with a backing band that includes Shannon Shaw of Shannon and Clams.
Hairdresser Blues, with its shiny pink cover art and press-release photos of Bogart posing provocatively in a pink-tiled shower, which brings up an interesting question. Is it possible to separate Bogart's music from his flamboyant persona? Do we even want to?
Because here's the thing: Without knowing Bogart, Hairdresser Blues is not a great record. It's a simple record with some nice songs. But if you listen to it in the context of it being an outlet for a very free man who does whatever he wants even though society might not accept him for it, then suddenly it's an important record. It makes the jump from gimmicky to empowering in a microsecond.
Context matters — Hairdresser Blues isn't an explicitly gay record, but it's the kind of record that might make a gay kid feel more at home in his own skin. Hell, it might even make him pick up a guitar.
Bogart is concerned for that gay kid in the middle of the country, partly because he has experienced ignorance and prejudice firsthand. Touring across America, he's felt genuinely frightened at times, out in the middle of nowhere, where people call him "faggot" and "homo."
Back at Six Flags, Bogart suddenly encounters the lost boy of Odd Future, Earl Sweatshirt, roaming around the park with his crew.
Bogart seems a bit peeved that everyone is fawning over Earl; he doesn't understand L.A.'s obsession with Odd Future, musically or otherwise. For one thing, he thinks the rap collective's explicitly homophobic lyrics are out of line. "It's one thing for me, who can try to understand the artistic context it's supposedly created in, but I worry about a gay kid in the middle of the country who hears it. And I also worry about a bunch of idiots in the middle of the country, who hear stuff like that and then go and gay-bash someone."
And that's just it about Bogart. He's inseparable from Hunx but in a good way. He is always turned on to the bigger issue, a de facto advocate for every gay kid across the country whether he wants to be or not, because he wears lipstick at places people really don't want men to wear lipstick. And he's going to be bothered by that until it doesn't exist anymore, which is never.
Finally, Bogart arrives at Revolution, the U.S.'s first modern roller coaster with a vertical loop. While in line, he sees two gay teenagers hugging against a guardrail. "That's so nice," he says, placing his hand lightly on his chest. For a moment, he seems to be at peace with a world he's so often at odds with.
Hunx and His Punx perform Tues., March 20, at the Echoplex.