I first came across Brontez Purnell's work back in 2008 when he started to release his zine, Fag School. The 31-year-old Triana, Ala., native was living in Oakland and had already spent the past several years making a name for himself in the Bay Area's indie party scene with the band Gravy Train!!!. The proudly gay electro rock band gained national prominence with their wild live shows.
In some ways, Fag School was Gravy Train!!! in written form--a collection of unapologetically irreverent stories of sex, love and heartbreak written with an honesty and snark seldom seen in the buttoned-down, marriage-obsessed gay rights movement. "I basically wanted to do a zine that reflected what I was feeling at the time," Purnell told Lambda Literary about his Fag School days. "I hadn't really seen a zine or at least a personal gay zine that dealt with the difficult subject of gay sex with both humor and frank talk. It covered some real issues. Race, the condom code, poop dick. You know?"
Taken as a whole, Purnell's work is a refreshing reminder of the political power of queer love. His indie, DIY-aesthetic is both a throwback to the radical beginnings of the queer rights movement and a recognition of how the vast majority of young queer folks exist in the world. These days Purnell's work has evolved into a punk rock band of his own called The Younger Lovers that's getting ready to release its third LP "Sugar In My Pocket" on Tuesday, December 10. Go ahead and pre-order the album at Southpaw Records. In the meantime, here are five reasons why you should love Brontez Purnell and The Younger Lovers.
1. He's a lover...
That much is obvious from his band's name. After his Gravy Train!!! days, Purnell says he was ready for a change. "I got older and I just wanted to go out onstage in my normal clothes and play music." The result has been a project that's been 10 years in the making and can't help but pull at your heart strings.
2. ...and a fighter
Outside of his art, Purnell made local news headlines a couple of years ago when he was gay-bashed outside of a club in Oakland. The incident, which was covered in detail by the Bay Citizen, led to a meaningful online discussion of what it means to be a victim; namely, does a victim have the power to fight back? And if they do, are they still considered to be a victim? Writer Kenyon Farrow captured some of the fallout on his personal blog, including Purnell's response to alleged witnesses who were ashamed by his actions. "Sorry. I'm not the type of girl who's gonna cross her legs and act fucking nice after some jock tells me I'm at the wrong club two blocks from my own fucking house!," he wrote.
3. This video for "Hey Now," the first single off of "Sugar in My Pocket" is too cute. Seriously.
4. He's much more than just black and queer and punk.
As he told me recently over e-mail:
"I feel like every aspect of my personality is central to my art you know? Like sleeping in a punk warehouse for 10 years; being 'thick;' having a super femme voice; making art in Oakland as opposed to like [San Francisco] or New York; not having a snowball's chance in hell of ever escaping the underground; making art with no money and then being like, 'Oh shit how did i do this really cool thing with no money?;' being a voice of a generation; being the anti-voice of a generation; crying myself to sleep wondering if there are 10 other me's in the world; being an incurable slob; being an incurable slacker alongside being a rampant over achiever and the list goes on.
5. His art demands your attention.
In addition to writing and making music, Purnell is a dancer. He studied contemporary dance at Cal State Easy Bay. As he told Lambda Literary, "I'm ultimately a communicator and will use any dirty trick to get you to notice and understand me, be it my body or my words."