The Younger Lovers' Brontez Purnell on Rock Bands Sounding the Same, "Gay Buffoonery," and Getting Beat Up by Bigots in Oakland
Matthew Melton Brontez Purnell, of the Younger Lovers
Brontez Purnell possesses the rare skill of being able to shift effortlessly from a serious discussion of art to absurd anecdotes about Reeboks, hesher boyfriends, and the raw "'hood beat" that informs the garage-pop of his current band, The Younger Lovers. Of particular interest is the development of his queer politics. Through his disillusionment with his role as Junx in the "gay buffoonery" of Gravy Train!!!! to his recent endeavors in other artistic mediums, Brontez has become a pillar of the Bay Area queer community. The Younger Lovers' new EP on Southpaw Records is a shot of syrupy pop tainted with gritty swagger dug out of the potholes of Oakland's San Pablo Ave. Taste it live at Eli's Mile High Club in Oakland this Thursday, Nov. 17.
So you have a new EP out on Southpaw Records, how do you celebrate?
I go and fuckin' get high and look at the 7-inch art over and over again. I look at it 30 minutes one way and then I switch it 45 degrees and look at it 30 minutes that way. Then upside down, I think about it a lot. I'm just glad it came out, I'm glad to have something out in the U.S. that people can buy, because the other record is only available in Europe.
I just interviewed Matthew Melton from Bare Wires, and their new record is out on Southpaw, just like yours. What's so special about that label?
What's special about Southpaw is that Rob is a badass and he lives here in Oakland. It's very centric to the rock 'n' roll that's going on here. Southpaw is awesome because it thinks locally, acts locally, and the globe is watching.
How does living in Oakland influence your songwriting at this point?
Well, I have this drum beat that keeps it moving, and I call it the 'hood beat, know what I mean? Living on San Pablo, I'm just privy to seeing just some raw shit. But when there's families walkin' around, it's positive and upbeat. With bands coming out of Oakland, their tactic is so raw. There's a blue-collar aesthetic to it, and it's very bold, but it's not always the most polished thing. I'm not gonna name any towns, but I hear shit in other places that still just sounds like some blasé indie rock that you don't want to fuckin' deal with. I like the bands that come from here.
Ever feel like there are too many bands in Oakland that sound similar?
Of course there are too many bands in Oakland that sound similar! There are too many bands everywhere that sound similar. To have so many bands that sound similar makes you very keen to distinction. There are 20 of my peers who can sit around and say we're in garage bands, but that alone can mean 50 different things. For instance, someone's band can sound like surf music, and unless it's really fuckin' bumpin', I fuckin' hate most surf music. I can't deal with it, but there are surf bands here whose beat is just something I'm so used to that I get it, I'm into it. Some bands that shall remain nameless have put out records and I'll be listening to that shit and like, ew! They sound like the fuckin' house band on Hee Haw. Really? Fuckin' country/Americana, maybe it's just because I grew up in Alabama, but I can't really deal with it. But there are bands here whose show I can see that sound like that, and I get where they're coming from. With my band, I like a slight R&B beat that makes you move, but some people are sick of my shit! But they come to my show and fuckin' love it. Why? Because I'm their sister and they live down the street.
In your Maximumrocknroll column, "She's Over It," you write a lot about the anger you have from growing up in Alabama, but it's interesting that the music you make is really catchy, straight-ahead pop music. Why doesn't your anger lead you to start a hardcore or metal band?
Okay, I'm gonna tell you, when I was 18 years old I was in this band with the one black punk girl in Alabama. So I sang in a hardcore band for my first outing, ya know? I used to scream, yell, get so fucking pissed, but I felt like that part of my life ended. Then, for a few years, I was part of other people's projects, so this time around I essentially have the chance to make the music I wanted to when I was a teenager. I must say that lately, I've wanted to start a metal band, I want to learn how to fucking slay. There was this metal band that played recently at my house and everyone had long fucking hair and was just fucking grooving out on it. My first boyfriend was a hesher anyways. I used to bone a lot to Black Sabbath records, so I feel like that's the next step -- but I wouldn't quit doing The Younger Lovers.