Hunx and His Punx dish out trashy bubblegum pop Friday in L.A.
With a visual aesthetic that combines the red-lit, black-leather vibe of the 1980 movie "Cruising" with the splashy gonzo fashion sense of a John Waters cast, Hunx and his Punx hardly fit into the aggressive, no-frills mold of most garage-rock bands. But when the act, fronted by the strutting, flamboyantly gay Hunx, burst upon the underground garage scene in 2008, there was no doubt that something new was afoot -- even if it was steeped in the influence of '60s girl groups like the Ronettes, the giddy bubblegum pop of bands such as the 1910 Fruitgum Company and the lurid sass of punk rock.
Releasing a handful of cult seven-inch singles in 2008-09, many of which were collaborations with Justin Champlin (the artist known as "Nobunny"), Hunx was on a roll. Matador subsidiary True Panther Sounds released "Gay Singles," a complete singles compilation in late 2009, but it's been with Sub Pop's Hardly Art, where he signed last year, that Hunx has released his most polished, fully realized effort to date: The band's first proper studio album, "Too Young to Be in Love," a catchy and occasionally dark ride through an amusing and theatrical pop universe, came out last week.
For "Too Young to Be in Love," part-time hairdresser Hunx, born Seth Bogart, joined forces with Shannon Shaw, lead singer of the Bay Area garage band Shannon and the Clams, whose gutsy backup vocals helped take the band's sound to the next level.
"She has one of my favorite voices," Hunx said last week via phone. "It's kind of hard playing up against her because she's so powerful. In the past, I tried to be super girly, but now I can be deeper and the girls can go crazy."
With '90s L.A. punk rock veteran Michelle Santamaria (of Loli & the Chones and the Pinkz) on guitar, Amy Blaustein on guitar and organ, and talented drummer Erin Emslie, the band headed to New York City to record its debut in a studio that had once been used by Hunx's idol Ronnie Spector. The band had the added benefit of Richard Hell and the Voidoids alum Richard Julian signing on to produce the record. "It was instant bonding," said Hunx. "He just got our sound and made it really pop and full, but still trashy. I'm a huge fan of Richard Hell and the Voidoids, so it was really awesome to record with him."
Like many of the bands they admire, Hunx and His Punx spent a mere week in the studio to complete the record. With more solid backup and greater creative control than he'd enjoyed in the past, Hunx was pleased with the result. "I had a lot more to do with this musically," he said. "I wrote more than half the record. In the past, I'd written a couple of songs, and I definitely helped with the lyrics, but it was friends of mine I was collaborating with. This was more like our thing as opposed to a random project."
The band kicks off its spring U.S. tour Friday at the Echo, but Hunx isn't content to keep just one iron in the fire. "I like to do different things," he said. "If I don't have projects going on I get depressed." He plans to continue part-time hours at Oakland beauty parlor Down at Lulu's, and he's simultaneously working on two other solo projects. "One is over-the-top dance music, and the other's kind of sad. It's half hyper pop and the rest is like sad acoustic music."
He's also busy developing a webcast variety show called "Hollywood Nailz," which will debut some time this year. Billed as "an uplifting television show about elegance, tragedy and re-birth," Hunx says the program is "a comedy show. There's fake commercials and outer space phone sex and a gay judge," plus lots of glitter and musical guests lip-syncing to songs.
Later in 2011, Hunx and His Punx is planning a tour of Europe, where the band has a much more higher profile than in the States. "We get crazy press there," said Hunx, who posed for a fashion spread in Italian Vogue last year and was forced to endure an entire day of interviews during his last Continental sojourn. "I think they're into weirder stuff there. In America, the music press is like really serious, but over there ... they like everything. I think it's rad."
Check out the single "Lover's Lane," from Hunx and His Punx's "Too Young to Be in Love" here:
-- Jason Gelt
Hunx and His Punx with Shannon and the Clams and Grass Widow at the Echo, 1822 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, Friday at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.
Photo: Hunx and His Punx (from left: Shannon Shaw, Hunx, Michelle Santamaria, Erin Emslie). Credit: Kristin Cofer