It's easy to see why people are so crazy about Seth Bogart. Better known as Hunx, the flamboyantly gay songwriter and part-time hairstylist who fronts the band Hunx and His Punx, he's got a winning smile, a penchant for tights and an endlessly entertaining Twitter feed.
Known for his breezy, sleazy, punked-out garage-pop, 32-year-old Bogart's gained a reputation as one of the most fun-loving characters to emerge from the Bay Area garage scene, also home to popular bands like Shannon and the Clams and Nobunny. Now based in Los Angeles, Bogart's won praise from an array of critics and commands an adoring cult following.
"Sometimes people dress up like me," he says, noting that he's seen fans at his concerts dolled up in tights, leather jackets and leather-daddy caps. "It's really cute."
With the release of his new solo album, Hairdresser Blues, Bogart offers the latest in what's looking to be a whole Hunx franchise. Last year, he and musician Daniel Pitout designed eight collectible Hunx dolls (only $79.95 each!). He's currently working on a new TV show, Hollywood Nails, which he describes as a cross between Saturday Night Live, Pee-wee's Playhouse and Supermarket Sweep, the supermarket-themed game show.
Of course, he's far from being a queer Britney Spears, his favorite performer and celebrity. He doesn't aspire to stardom or consider himself a role model. He says he was downright embarrassed by a recent profile in LA Weekly in which the writer called him a "de facto advocate for every gay kid across the country."
"I'm sick of 21-year-old straight guys trying to write some touching gay story about my life," he says.
At any rate, his celebrity seems to be growing. At a restaurant during a recent stop on his current U.S. tour, fans sitting at a nearby table took photos of him and posted them on Twitter.
"It's so weird," he says, speaking by phone from a stop in Atlanta. "I really like it, though. I love fans. I just don't think of myself in that way."
Bogart cut his teeth in the '00s as a member of Gravy Train!!!!, a goofball electro band that sounded like a raunchy version of The B-52's. Hunx and His Punx started in 2008 with the idea that Bogart would be the boy singer of a '60s-style girl group. (He co-wrote some of his early songs with his boyfriend at the time, Justin Champlin of Nobunny.) Eventually, he assembled an all-girl backing band that included his friend Shannon Shaw, the frontwoman of Shannon and the Clams.
On the face of it, Hunx and His Punx seem like just another fun-loving novelty act, but they have a way of being both sweetly innocent and slyly provocative. On their 2011 album, Too Young to be in Love, their squeaky-clean vocal harmonies, ramshackle riffs and doe-eyed lyrics hark back to the happy-go-lucky world of '50s and '60s pop. But with a randy Bogart singing in his goofily nasal voice, tracks like "My Boyfriend's Coming Back" and "Bad Boy" take on a whole new meaning.
But Bogart strays from the retro theme on Hairdresser Blues, his first solo album, which came out via Hardly Art in February. Accompanied only by Pitout on drums, Bogart plays most of the instruments himself, and the songs are more personal—and much sadder. "When will you leave me alone?" he sings in "Always Forever," a jangly-yet-bitter kiss-off to an ex-lover. This time, his voice is deeper, almost mournful.
Though Bogart's enthusiasm can be infectious—in the interview, he regales me with his love for cheesy biopics and big supermarkets—he hasn't always had happy days. Raised in Tucson, Ariz., his father committed suicide when Bogart was 17. In recent years, he's battled debilitating depression, he says.
Writing songs has helped him deal with loss. The reflective Hairdresser Blues track "Say Goodbye Before You Leave" is an ode to his friend Jay Reatard, who died in 2010. It's followed by album closer "When You're Gone," a heartfelt song about his father. His song "Blow Me Away," the closing track to Too Young to be in Love, is also about his dad.
"It was such a tragic thing, and it happened so long ago, and I never really dealt with it properly, so I guess music started coming out," he says.
Still, Bogart doesn't want to be a "sad sack," he says. Even his saddest songs tend to have an upbeat, chipper vibe. He loves the craziness and abandon of touring—and especially loves playing all-ages venues, where younger audiences are usually much more excited to see him play.
And even though it can be weird sometimes, he loves the adulation he gets. Fans have given him presents at shows. They've sent him adoring emails. Occasionally, a cute gay guy will even ask him for advice. However, he's yet to receive a good, old-fashioned fan letter.
"I wish," he says. "Maybe I should request them."
Hunx and His Punx play with Natural Child and Plateaus at The Casbah on Saturday, April 21.