Blast From the Past: The Younger Lovers
This originally ran in MRR #317, October 2009, that issue is sold out but you can download it here
The Younger Lovers is Brontez Purnell’s solo project. Me, Brontez and Ramdasha sat together in Central Park to do this interview while the Younger Lovers played shows in NYC this past May. That was me & Ramdasha’s first time hanging out even though we’d had our eyes on each other for at least a couple years cuz you always wanna know who the other black punk kids are when you see them around. Feeling super connected, like old friends, we both talked to Brontez about his newest band, his writing and about the experiences that made him who he is today. He’s added so much personality to every band he’s ever been in and now he’s pouring every ounce of it into his own project and it is de-lic-ious.
Interview by Osa & Ramdasha
MRR: When did the Younger Lovers start?
Brontez: It started in 2003. I was in Panty Raid and then we broke up, but there was this song I’d already written for that band, “Sha-Boo-Lee.” I was really into that song and I just told myself that I should still record it by myself. Then I was like, “Why don’t I record a bunch of songs?” I have this friend Vice who was/is in XBXRX. We moved from Alabama to California together. He was recording stuff at this place called Club Short and I was like, “Can you record my EP for free?” and he was like, “Sure!” and so it kicked off then.
MRR: The thing I like about the Younger Lovers is that there’s so much of your personality in all of those songs. So when you first wrote “Sha-Boo-Lee” did you have a concept for the kind of music you wanted to make or did that happen naturally?
Brontez: In this weird, metaphysical way, I say both. I knew I wanted to hear cute pop shit again, and I knew I wanted it to be lo-fi because you don’t hear stuff that sounds raw anymore. So intentionally, I wanted it to sound like… I dunno, fucking Motown but on my terms.
MRR: I feel like that really comes across. There’s that soul element that’s about you loving soul music but also about you being Black, then there’s also this romantic, dreamy-type-shit which is a cute part of your personality…
Brontez: That’s my indie rock girl side.
MRR: …And then there’s the pop-punk influence and on top of that, all your songs are about being gay!
Brontez: Yeah, I do have that dreamy side coming out, but I do have, of course, my pissed side where I’m angry about shit. And with all the bands I’ve been in, I feel like I make this music, but underneath I want there to be this really rough edge to it that answers to the side of me that isn’t all just nice pop songs. Cuz the song are all about either boys who wouldn’t date me or they’re about some wrecked drinking buddy that I had. They’re pop songs, but there’s this edge to them. I feel like I was just fed up with boys, which is kinda what “The Newest Romantic” is all about. Being obsessed with something you’re done with.
Ramdasha: It’s interesting what you’re saying about having the raw elements of rock’n’roll in your music because sometimes I forget that black people invented rock’n’roll.
MRR: Totally. And the thing I love about the Younger Lovers and also Chris Sutton’s band Hornet Leg and Mick Collins’ bands the Gories and the Dirtbombs is that all of you reunite rock’n’roll with its black roots. I was just reading some article in a zine about race and punk where this person was talking about the racist history of punk, like for example, the Ramones priding themselves on being a band that supposedly wasn’t influenced by the blues. So as time goes by, white people have claimed rock n roll for themselves so much that it definitely has been divorced from the blues and from soul even though those were the roots. But all of your bands, the ones I just mentioned, just reunite the blues and soul with punk rock so well, so intuitively and I think it’s really cool.
Brontez: You know, it’s hella cute that you said that because growing up, I had an uncle named JJ Malone and he has such a crazy story. He’s from Pete’s Corner and he’s my grandma’s brother. He left Alabama and didn’t come back for 30 years. My grandma didn’t hear from him for 30 years! He shows back up one day in Cadillac cuz he had gone into the Air Force and then somehow ended up in California and started playing the blues and got pretty fucking famous there. He played at Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland, which is just a few blocks away from where I live. I went there one time and I was looking in this glass case and there were all of these pictures of him. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but him and his girlfriend—he was dating a white girl at the time and it was kind of a scandal in our family—they would come back from tour and they had this weird style. As a teenager I didn’t recognize it, but they were totally California bohemians and they really latched onto me too. My uncle taught me that first boogie riff, the one that every garage band played. He was always really nurturing. I didn’t know myself as gay then, but of course I was, and all I had were these weird straight guys to play music with, and my uncle was a straight man, but when we played guitar he never tried to make me feel stupid. And he could play everything! Drums, bass, guitar. I was always really blown away by him. And so when I saw Mick Collins for the first time, I think that’s why I was totally in love because he was a punk rock version of my uncle. So yeah…I do have a kinda weird obsession with a person I don’t know [laughs].
MRR: So who are the other people who have inspired you musically and otherwise?
Brontez: I don’t know, right now I guess I’d say it’s who my contemporaries are, like I’d love to play shows with Shannon and the Clams or Hunx and his Punx. Punk bands that sound all girl group-ey. But then all the shit I grew up with, a hodgepodge of shit. Of course riot girl. Like I thought about that Bikini Kill album Pussywhipped when I was making the California Soul EP, trying to bring that same edge to it, that bite. Bratmobile! Okay there we go! Okay, yeah, in a political way, I was more into Bikini Kill, but in the way I go about things, I feel more Bratmobile. Like hearing Pottymouth…
MRR: That’s a classic punk rock record. Forget riot girl and subgenres and whatever, that is a classic punk rock record just like any Ramones record to me…
Brontez: Hell, yeah! I love when shit is so urgent! You know motherfuckers was like, “We gotta meet up, we gotta do this, it’s gon’ be tight, it might be a little bit of a mess…” But the overall affect is tight. If I ever have some afterschool punk rock teacher’s course where I get to teach little kids how to play rock’n’roll, I would totally give them the first Ramones records and the tabs to it, and the first Bratmobile record and the tabs to it. And I would give them my awesome fucking record and the tabs to it. Course curriculum, done.
MRR: This question is more about your writing. Besides your zine Fag School, you write a bunch of columns. Recently, you’ve written about Jared of Black Lips and brought to light some racist shit that came out of his mouth and you also wrote a short article for Shotgun Seamstress about Gravy Train!!!! money and royalty issues. And it seems like you feel the need to be really outspoken about what goes on behind the scenes. You just played me those Florence Ballard interviews where she’s really outspoken about some crazy fucked up behind-the-scenes stuff that was going on with the Supremes at the time. It’s not really that typical to lay it all out like that. Not that many people really tell it like it is, especially when a conflict might result. Why do you think it’s important to do that?
Brontez: I suffer from being too real. [laughs] It just makes me think about my mama, not to blame her for anything, but she would just be balls-out. Nothing was ever secret or private, or our fights were always so public to the point where it kinda just numbed me, you know? With the Gravy Train!!!! article I regret that I didn’t put more of a resolution, but it’s just really hard to write about stuff like that with people you care about. But I feel like bands never talk about money or anything like that, and it was also just to get it off my chest. It’s a really heavy concept for me. There are things I wish I’d done differently, but I don’t regret the article. I just regret certain aspects of how it went about, especially that I didn’t really tell them I was writing it. The Black Lips thing was different. That was annoying and it pissed me off. After writing that column, I felt like I had every greasy cokehead, potbelly garage rocker wanting to scalp my black ass because I told Jared to back up from us. But at the end of the day, you can’t deliver a mighty blow like that and expect not to be fucked with.
MRR: You wanna talk a little bit about Fag School, like how long it’s been running and what you talk about it in it?
Brontez: I like zines and I really like punk zines and I wanted to have one. People think I’m crazy, but in some ways, I’m this really strict traditionalist. I just wanted to do a personal zine and I didn’t feel like there were any other true fag zines going on at the time. Fag School takes its spirit from its predecessors, like I have that queer zine encyclopedia from Printed Matter, and there are just so many I haven’t even thought about. I do feel like there are structural differences with Fag School because all those other zines were written pre-Internet and I think that being a post-Internet queer zine, especially if you’re gonna be a zine about cruising and hooking up, totally changes the landscape of what you’re talking about. And secondly, we definitely talk about race a lot more because a lot of those zines were written by these punk rock fag white dudes and the ones that were made by black fags were never that readily accessible to me.
MRR: I don’t even know them.
Brontez: Yeah, I know Vaginal Creme Davis’ but I can’t think of any others. But race is definitely a topic. In my cruising reviews people ask, “Why do you talk about race so much or guys’ bodies and ethnicities?” I went to this workshop at a bathhouse one time and I guess everyone has a different opinion about it, but they were saying that in a bathhouse, on basic instinct mode, attraction is broken down to age, race and dick size. And I’ve always been fascinated by those weird parameters and wanted to write about it in a story on my own terms. Because structurally, in some of those other zines… Like, you would never pick up an issue of Fag School and read about how much we love our skinhead boyfriend. Like, are you kidding? I mean, I was into skinhead porn in like 1999 but I think that’s just cuz I was duped into it.
Ramdasha: So who’s in your band? I know there’s Osa…
Brontez: Well all of the stuff was recorded all by me. But I guess I have different versions of the band. On the west coast, I’m playing with Megan, this girl who’s been in a shit ton of bands. She was in Before the Fall. She’s in the Street Eaters now. And also I play with this kid Matt who’s my roommate. He’s in Das Mega Cool and some other LA bands. But then on the East Coast it’s Ms. Osa Atoe from the New Bloods and Shotgun Seamstress zine! And Crystal. She’s in the Homewreckers and Partyline. She’s from Atlanta but she lives in New York. She fucking drops bombs. I love Crystal.
MRR: So what’s it been like playing shows?
Brontez: I don’t know, I feel like I’m back to square one in a lot of ways. Gravy Train!!!! is like my drag queen band even though I wear nothing, but still, it’s just as punk but it’s a different concept. It’s more of a performance. I have to dance and shit like that. But in the Younger Lovers I get to stand there and croon and do my thing. It’s actually a weird out-of-body experience and it actually takes more energy to play guitar than to shake my ass.
MRR: Yeah, it’s not alter ego but it’s definitely like two distinctly different projects you’re doing.
Brontez: I feel way more vulnerable in the Younger Lovers than I do in Gravy Train!!!!
MRR: So what does the future hold for the Younger Lovers?
Brontez: Well, I would like to know that after what feels like ten years in community college, I’m finally transferring to Cal State East Bay, Hayward, where I will get my bachelor’s degree in dance so I can teach the little children how to shake their ass. Right now, I’m doing a 7” with NoBunny and I’m recording my second LP this summer. I got all the songs and shit. Gravy Train!!!!’s also recording this summer and we’re gonna go to Portugal. It’s gonna be hella fun. I’m gonna write a new Fag School in the summer, but I think it’s gonna be a departure. I wanna write some science-ficition. I don’t know how that’s gonna work out, but I’ll get high and see… I’m sure I’ll think of something.