Seth Bogart is a musician and artist who’s been making, and basically living super gay art since he popped onto the Oakland music scene in 2001 with his first band Gravy Train!!!!
Since then, Seth’s career has centred largely around his music career both as a solo artist and with his band Hunx & His Punx (we interviewed Seth in his Hunx days back in 2011).
On top of being a prolific songwriter and performer, Bogart’s work as a visual artist has allowed him to bring his DIY, pop-inspired work into the physical realm. Whether making large sets for his LA-based store Wacky Wacko or his TV show Feeling Fruity, which shares a network with RuPaul’s Drag Race – Bogart’s aesthetic is a unmistakably trashy and familiar to him alone. He recently was the subject of several solo gallery shows where he showed his ceramic versions of everyday consumer goods such as toothbrushes, hair combs, and of course — poppers!Photo by Beth B
!! omg blog !! tracked Seth down on the eve of his debut performance as one third of his newest band, which he shares with punk goddess Alice Bag and pioneering Riot Grrrl Allison Wolfe. The as-yet-unnamed supergroup were set to perform their first show the night of this interview!
We got to talk about everything Seth’s been up to, but also made time to complain about boring straight guys we think stink! More after the jump!
As per usual you’ve been up to so many things. We should talk about the new band first because I’m really excited about it! What’s the story?
I’m really excited about it too — our first show is tonight! We couldn’t figure out a name though… Alice (Bag of ’70s punk band The Bags) recently played at the Folsom Street Fair, which is like a leather daddy… Well, way more than that, but it’s kinda like a leather S&M style street fair in San Francisco where people are just like doing all kinds of nasty stuff. Alice played there while we were struggling to find band name, when she noticed this banner that read “Double Scorpio.” Allison (Wolfe, pioneering Riot Grrrl and member of many rad bands most recognizably of Bratmobile) and Alice are both Scorpio, so we were going to call ourselves that, but apparently it’s the name of a poppers company.
They weren’t really happy about us trying to use it and were like, “Look, we’re your fans, but we’d prefer if you change your name.” I looked them up and we have all these mutual friends, so I was like, “Well fuck, I don’t want to piss off this small, cool poppers company,” but I was also like, “We would have promoted you!”
Wow, poppers rule the world. That’s sad! Sounds like a great brand pairing!
I know. I’m like, how cool would it be if we had a popper brand for our band! Anyways, we don’t have a band name still, but we’re playing our first show tonight with Screaming Females and this band called Kitten Forever! I’m really excited because I can’t remember the last time I was like so excited to play music.
How did you end up in a band with Allison Wolfe and Alice Bag?
I’ve been friends with Allison for like 20 years because her band Bratmobile was like the first to ever take my old band Gravy Train!!!! on tour. I’ve known Alice for a long time, too, and they are also really close. What happened was, we filmed the video for Alice Bag earlier this year (which also featured Garbage’s Shirley Manson and Kathleen Hannah) that had a Nine to Five theme.
In the video I’m like the shitty boss or whatever, and we just had so much fun! So when I was making my show Feeling Fruity I was like, “I’d love to have all you guys on an episode.” We had a fake band on the show and then we were just like, “Let’s have a real band!” I honestly didn’t think it was going to really become anything, so I really love it!
How much have you all been writing? Where are you in terms of being a functioning band?
Well, we just finished our sixth song, so we have six [laughs].
So it’s a truly punk rock set!
Well, we talk a lot, so there’s that. I think we’re going to try to make an album, though! I was focusing on my art stuff and getting really grossed out by dealing with art galleries and stuff, so this kind of came together at the perfect time and saved me in a weird way.
Did you feel exhausted by the music scene at some point?
Yeah. All my other bands just always became business. Not only business, but we would do things where I would always have to answer a zillion emails and it just became not as fun. So it’s kind of nice to just be in the stage where we’re just being creative and having fun. And also they’re both super responsible, so it’s like three bosses in one band!
Yeah. They’re like get shit done type of people.
Yeah they get shit done and I just get to play guitar and chill in the back, which is really nice.
What were you missing, or saw as lacking about being in a band that this collaboration is giving back to you?
The only things I’ve done over the last few years have been like fully solo. I did a few shows with Hunx and His Punx, which I loved, but we haven’t really done anything in like five years or something. So it’s just fun to be with other people and like we all just like similar stuff.
When you did your multi-media solo project, The Seth Bogart Show, why did you choose to go solo at that point in your career, as opposed to playing with the Punx?
I don’t know what happened there [laughs! I think I just wanted to find a way that I could incorporate everything I like to do into one thing, like video, music, painting, installation and TV shows and stuff. It was a way for me to do my own thing and just bring it all together, and just experiment and get away from Hunx and just being in a band for a minute — but now that I did that I’m like, “Okay, I’m ready to go back!”
What happened after that record, when you focused more on your object making? How was it having two big solo art shows?
Well, I still don’t really know how I feel about it. Both of those shows were different experiences, where one was really negative and one was really positive. I’ve just had a lot of weird experiences with art people and I didn’t really like it. It was the first time in my life where I was like, “Oh, I can actually make money,” but based on those experiences I’d rather just do what I was doing before and then hopefully it will all work out. I kind of feel like I’ll do all this stuff always and just shift between which one I feel like focusing on.
What’s it like having that seemingly natural instinct to continue making art when there’s not necessarily a financial return, for somebody who works so hard?
Success is weird! It is hard to make a living, but I always had a day job as a hairdresser. A lot of it is because I do Wacky Wacko, where I make clothes and stuff, but I do make some money from music — and I sell a lot of toothbrushes!
I make and sell these ceramic toothbrushes. I could almost make a living off being a dentist-artist! Its hard because I’ve been doing shit forever and I don’t make a lot of money from it, but I also don’t really do it for that. So when it becomes all about money it kind of ruins it and makes me not want to do it anyways. Like with art. So I don’t know, it’s a hard thing to figure out, but I can’t complain really.
Allison and Alice must understand that struggle, having been in the music scene for so long themselves. How has being in a band with Allison and Alice inspired you to continue doing music?
They’re like punks for life! It’s so refreshing and so inspirational to work with them so closely. I love that they’ve just always done what they do and they will always do it no matter what.
It’s really interesting to watch older artists, who aren’t necessarily recognized for their contributions go through the phases of creative exhaustion and disillusionment, and then realize that they have this rich depth of knowledge that they didn’t realize they had because they were just in the middle of living it. Is that something you’ve experienced?
Exactly. I think the important thing is to just keep making stuff, because if you stop and let yourself think too much, you’ll realize like, “Why the fuck am I doing this?” I think it’s true that it’s hard to look at the overall picture when you’re in it so hard. For instance, I have this new album that I made all on my own, but I just have to like record it and figure out how to finish it.
There have been so many iterations of your bands, all of which share a similar theme lyrically, yet seem to satisfy different urges in terms of presentation. What are you hoping to do with this self-produced record that you haven’t done before?
I’m just determined to do it myself and not have to rely on straight dudes for anything. No offence to straight guys, but I feel like they always dilute it a little bit, so I’m just learning how to produce myself and I think it’s going to be the most true reflection of me as an artist. It might not be the best reflection, but at least it will be like 100% me, and maybe a little more punk, too!
Do you think the world needs a straight up punk moment right now?
I mean, that’s just what I’m feeling and what I like the most, so I’m just doing what I want to do, you know? I might try and find a woman or queer to help mix it, but otherwise I want to handle it all as much as I can.
Speaking of that, in one of my favorite moments in your TV show, you and the band beat up and rob a shitty guitar store employee who treats women and queers like incompetent morons! Can you tell me about that?
That was based on my real experiences!
It’s such a hilarious but also not hilarious representation of the reality of that cliché of how abusive guitar dudes and even sound guys can be to women and queers. Can you talk more about what you’ve seen in that respect?
These guys are like technically talented at what they do, but also sort of musical failures who are shitty to everyone — especially if they’re a fag or a woman! It is true, and it’s bullshit, and I’ve dealt with that for almost 20 years! I recently did this thing for this big museum in LA where they actually gave me money to buy equipment to re-record the soundtrack for Todd Solandz’s Welcome To The Dollhouse.
So I had all this money and I went into a music store trying to figure out if I wanted to keyboard or a synthesizer, and the guy was like, “Why don’t you just come back when you know what you want?” I was like, fuck you! It was so Pretty Woman!
If you were to go buy makeup or whatever and wanted something specific to happen to your face but I don’t know what kind of makeup to use, it’s their job is to help you figure that out! Why is it different in a guitar store?!
Yeah. It’s like, don’t you need money? I guess not, but your store looks like shit, and you could use some! So I said “fuck you” and I found this girl that knows her synthesizer shit and has her own shop in LA. She was so nice, and so smart, and never once made me feel stupid. I bought this really cool synthesizer I had never owned before!
Within the call-out culture that we live in, I think that what you do is really smart because it’s like you’re able to make work and jokes that are by queers and punks but also for queers and punks. The joke is meant for us, as opposed to pointing outwards with any purpose of helping heteros or really boring people learn anything or feel better about being that way. Is that part of your intention?
Well, If you think about it, straight guys are outnumbered by women and gays! We don’t need them. Look at the world, it’s going explode and its all the white man’s fault. Letting women take over is our only chance. I don’t say this for any reason other than I have eyes. That’s a quote from my friend (musician and visual artist) Jess Scott. She’s like “I just have eyes.”
It’s just true! My favorite scene historically about punk history is the LA scene, because it was always dominated by women and gays, artists and people of color. It maybe wasn’t so much like that anywhere else. But that’s what punk is, you know, it just got ruined of course by a bunch of like macho dudes and jocks, basically.
Are you going to do more episodes of Feeling Fruity?
I don’t know. I think I want to do a few more episodes next year but I also have this urge to make a movie! I’m just like leaving it up in the air and kind of like letting things happen. We’re using the set for something else that somehow to talk about yet, so there will at least be an all new set!
Do you find, when you take on these huge projects, that people are always just asking you what you are going to do next, rather than just let you celebrate the achievement at hand?
Yes! It’s always exactly like that, but the good news is I am always working on something next! So it’s not so bad. I kind of feel like a lot of people haven’t seen it because you have to pay for the website and use an app — so I hope to get more episodes up on YouTube. I have mixed feelings about it, because I like free stuff, too. I kind of knew that going into it — that there was a possibility a lot of people wouldn’t see it for that reason, which has been the case.
I also am learning to just be cool with whatever happens and just put it out in the world. Not everything has to have a life right away — I’m hoping it will last in a way that people can still appreciate it in the future.
Have you had any feedback from queers or women that maybe wouldn’t have seen something as punk as what you do because of the link to RuPaul, who is also produced by World Of Wonder?
Yah! One of the main reasons I did want to do it was because they have such a young, cute fan base. So I have gotten lots of messages from teens or whatever that are RuPaul fans that didn’t know about me and really liked it, so that’s always the best thing.
It’s so exciting to think about the possibility of your show liberating normal kids into the seedy queer punk underbelly of gayness!
Yeah, I just wanted to make something for kids, basically! Well not like children… I always feel like my work draws a fine line between a kids’ show and being super pervy, and that’s a very dangerous place to be! I just let people know it’s for adults. I mean, I watched all those John Waters movies when I was a kid and I turned out great!
That’s questionable. What do your parents think about your art?
Well, my dad died when I was 17, but my mom really likes it. I’m lucky my mom is just super cool and makes her own art. She’s down with the gays and has been super supportive of me.
Can you talk about how you chose the guests for your show, and how that all came together?
Well I wrote it all, and did all the music and cast everyone, so I just wanted to get my friends who were comedians and drag queens and in bands and stuff who I wanted to promote, and that I thought were really funny. It was a very small crew and a lot of work, but it was just like something I really wanted to do and I’m glad I did it. If we do it again, I feel like it will be a lot easier.
For someone in your position that constantly has to produce all this work, do you ever ask yourself why you keep on doing it in the first place?
Oh my God, all the time. I’m the worst. Why do I do this? I need to get a life and I’m also a Pisces, so I’m my own worst enemy. I hate almost everything I’ve ever done, but when it finally comes out I’m obsessed with it. So that’s why I just have to keep making stuff.
So what about being in a band with two Scorpios?! Aren’t you afraid that they’re going to fuck you up?
Well Pisces and Scorpios are two of the most compatible signs. I’ve known them forever and we are friends first, so if things get weird we can just stop. I think we’re going to add a bass player too, so hopefully they’ll be like a Cancer or a Pisces, water sign!
You’re already a great super-group. Can you talk a bit about Alice Bag, who has had this amazing resurgence?
Well she never really fully got the credit she deserved back in the day, because her band The Bags never made an album. She’s just put out a solo record, and she’s just going really hard right now. She’s just completely rad.
Speaking of bags — Wacky Wacko is doing this amazing collaboration with Divine I want to tell you about! It’s a collaboration with her estate, who travel around a museum where they show off Divine’s make-up case and other weird memorabilia. They asked us to make something for it so we’ve based this whole new line on this amazing old shirt of hers that says “Divine In Detroit.”
They are having a huge event in Palm Springs so we are going to go out and be part of that. It’s so cute. Its just really fun to be celebrating all these women. I mean it’s just like in normal museums , it just seems to be all art by straight white guys and it’s like, well, it’s boring. What about the art by everyone else? It would’ve been so much more interesting if we had celebrated that from the beginning, you know?
Well, I think because of people like you that shift is happening now.
It is happening now. It’s good to remember that when you get so depressed about it, but there’s still so much work to be done to let people know the truth!
— Q&A by Kevin Hegge (@kevinheggs on Instagram)