GOLDIES After being informed that Bay Guardian editors and a theater critic vetted his Goldie nomination, Brontez Purnell reacts. "I think it's fuckin' rad. I'm pretty into it. A theater critic? Was I criticized?"
Sitting in the backyard of his Mission District apartment, braced leg extended with crutches at his side, Purnell reflects on roughly 12 years of living in the Bay Area (his Mission digs are temporary; he's about to move back to Oakland). A storyteller of many mediums, his injury prevents him from dancing until mid-March, which is no good since he's the founder of the Brontez Purnell Dance Company. If you've lived here a minute, you might recognize him as a former Sparky's Diner waiter, working the "drunk tank" every Saturday night.
"When I was 24, my entire dating pool had seen me dance naked or in my underwear — literally get fingered at a Gravy Train!!!! show. They'd see [me] there and think they could be mean to me like, 'Gimmie my fries!'" He recalls this, along with other illicit memories from his time in the Oakland-based, exclamation point-loving electro clash band.
But like fans of that fad, he's moved on. He's 31 now and for the past 10 years the music he writes, records, and performs live is for his band Younger Lovers. Its newest record, Sugar In My Pocket, recently came out on Southpaw Records.
"I don't think anyone knew I had this background of a punk that had been playing in bands since I was a teenager," he says, explaining there was overlap between the two music projects with distinctly different flavors, though Younger Lovers' first album initially received a "hateful response from a lot of the gay boys around.
Everyone thought it was this flash-in-the-pan thing, but it's something I was actually working on for a long time. It was cool to smash a lot of assumptions with Younger Lovers. People would say, 'Wow, we didn't know you played an instrument. We thought you were just kind of drunk and danced around.'"
People still ask him about those old shows, but he admits to not
remembering a lot of it and that some of that life bleeds over to now. "I would call myself an alcoholic.
I would never call myself a drug addict. I feel like the next set of Younger Lovers' songs will probably be about addiction."
Purnell is nothing if not self-aware; he points out his own patterns of over-consumption, whether it be food, men, drugs, or alcohol. But his ability to turn weakness into strength is artistry in itself. In his dance company's The Episodes, universal themes of struggling with identity and finding oneself are apparent, but being black and gay only makes the search for acceptance that much harder.
"I romanticize the outsider. There's always going to be this running theme of me versus the world, but it's never so personal to me because I feel like I'm embodying the story of 100 of my friends in one voice."