Writer, critic, model, zinemaker, dancer, musician, and what have you, Brontez Purnell is the sort of effervescent queer artist that deserves all the roses. Moving with humour and sparkling brilliance between his various cultural outputs, Purnell creates and emulates the sort of unadulterated darkly comic tone that makes one wish that everyone could be as funny, or at least as honest.
Perhaps it’s this jealousy that emboldened us, alongside other interviewers to ask the cloying question, “do you have a favoured version of your art?” as if Purnell’s embodiment of several different artistic spheres is improbable, or impractical. We should really just shush and enjoy the varied fruits of his labour.
His latest cultural output, the electronic album, No Jack Swing is an excellent patchwork of written media, gospel, 808s, and synth. This foray into electronic music after twenty-five years of being a punk musician takes that same erratic energy and transposes it into a mixtape, or ‘audio zine,’ that is as lyrically complicated and poetic as it is innately catchy. Purnell, in his early work as a zine curator of Fag School, which he still produces today, has a knack for touching a nerve. Threading the counterculture with art deemed perhaps more mainstream, or at least recognised by the ivory tower powers that be, (his novel 100 Boyfriends won him a Lambda literary award for gay fiction), Purnell has written for both the New York Times and Interview Magazine.
Following up on No Jack Swing, which was released in July, with an upcoming memoir, Ten Bridges I’ve Burnt: A Memoir in Verse, in the new year, it appears Purnell’s star is ever increasing. As this article begins to read as an almost posthumous list of Purnell’s many desirable accolades (he recently graced the runway for Collina Strada), it’s almost one hundred percent more effective to just let Purnell speak for himself.
Hi there, thank you for taking the time to talk. How would you describe yourself as an artist for those unfamiliar with your work?
My name is Brontez Purnell. I am 41 years old. I am a dancer, writer, musician, and anti-porn porn star (I used to be a sex worker but then I got fat). I’m a cancer (just like my idol George Michael), I also played in a ska band as a teenager (also like my idol George Michael), and I have a Mercury and Venus conjunction in Gemini (yes, again, you guessed it, just like George Michael). I'm like if George Michael had a highly celebrated failed career. Blessedly poor, but rich in spirit.
Your novel 100 Boyfriends resulted in you being awarded the Lambda award among other accolades. How does it feel to be recognised for your artistry?
I honestly thought this book would land me like, a husband who had a house in upstate New York, and like, I would be wearing J. Crew and feeding chickens in my Vogue magazine spread. But literally, my DMs are full of other brazen and abandoned bottoms (cis men and a REALLY HIGH number of trans women –I don’t know why that shocks me?–), both twinks and middle-aged like myself who wanna cry together, and honestly, I just wish one of us sad bitches could find the courage to be a top for all the others. Like, all its takes is ONE, y’know?
If the world of writing had a Superbowl, who would you want on your team?
Ocean Voung (tight end), Justin Torres (wide receiver), Valerie Solonas (coach), Maya Angelou (I have no fucking clue what she would do, I just want her there), Nicki Minaj (middle linebacker), Old Dirty Bastard (safety). I should stop here…
How do your different modes of creativity interplay with each other? Is there one form between the
writing, singing, and dancing that you feel is most you?
No. I am interested in why I’m always asked this question though, the whole notion of my artistic fidelity comes up a lot, and sometimes, I feel is coded as ‘you can’t actually ever love two things equally.’ But honestly, it’s a balance. There’s things words can’t say, and for those things, I have to dance out the expression; and there’s things movement can’t express, so I sing a song about it. They all work together to make a body, so to use a sloopy metaphor, thing of lungs, brain, heart , and hands as all things that meet and move from a  certain center. 
Your writing for Interview Mag, whether it’s art-centric interviews or a critical and excellently funny review of The Little Mermaid adaptation, is super personable and highly readable. How do you approach journalism and writing a novel versus a magazine profile differently?
It depends on the level of fun? I don’t know, sometimes I feel expected to deliver my most sacred thoughts in the words to this really carnivorous system of constant content, and I hate that. It has to be something I’m juiced about or something that happens on the fly (I work best improving), but also, I don’t know, so much of art is presented as something being handed down to us instead of something that’s supposed to return our humanity to us. So let’s say my writing is like, a nightclub goer: I want my writing to always be in the middle of the dance floor kicking it with everybody, not hiding in a VIP all night, if that makes sense.
Congrats on your No Jack Swing album, what did you want listeners to experience? And what makes it different to your work with The Younger Lovers?
I had never officially made an electronic record, so I thought it was time. I’ve played punk rock for twenty-five years and felt like, I dunno, no one really cares, so I wanted to exist in another creative void, but one where I worked to make myself happy. In all honesty, I feel like it was the indie  electroclash record I wanted to do in my twenties but had no access to, so I was fulfilling a future promise of a past self if that makes any sense. I’m too old to be in a band called The Younger Lovers; I’m an Older Hater now.
How did your project Fag School take flight? What is the magic of zine culture, why is it so timeless?
Fag School was my third attempt at making a zine and the one that ‘landed’––I did a zine when I was fourteen called Spandex Press, then one when I was seventeen called Schlepp. I think Fag School is timeless ‘cause I came from a really specific time and a really specific aesthetic, like where I was from ‘zine’ meant blurred typewriter font (where you could see the ink smear on the page. You can only get that affect from a typewriter), and ACTUALLY Xerox.
I remember a couple of years ago, seeing people refer to things as zines that were either actually glossy print magazines or done on a computer at home. And let me say, I’m not a snob about anything, but I was like, damn, they really let anybody in the club these days, huh? (Lol, kidding). But yeah, it’s funny because Xerox machines have changed, they are more so calibrated for photos and not text anymore, you know? So, I dunno, it just looks different.
Also, what does a zine even mean now in a world poisoned with content? But also, I still think that most people don’t use their social media in any type of creative zine-oriented way. The future leaves a lot to be desired, but after twenty years, I still make Fag School.
What zines were you into when you started making your own?
Omg! Puberty Strike by Seth Bogart, Doris by Cindy Crab, Finger on the Trigger by Adee Roberson. Fuck, I wish I wasn’t so fucking old and could remember the others! There was some good ones. But to be honest, zine culture of yesteryear totally imitates the content culture of today, 94% of them were fucking terrible.
What sparked your foray into writing and music, and what sort of influences are you drawn to in your work?
OMG, that would be like a whole essay on its own! What I could say that would be of more value is the reason I stay in music and writing is because –and I don’t say this lightly– the voice of God gets lost sometimes in the static of the universe and the hell that is ‘industry’ – these are the solitary practices I had and held onto that was like an escape for me, and the the only effective way I had to defend my reality–. I made public the private conversations I had with myself. 98% of it was ignored, and one or three things made some impact. From whatever happens from this point out, I can say I did better than most in my shoes.
As a longtime resident of the Bay, what do you love about the area?
I have my gripes, but there’s nothing I can say about it that wouldn’t be true of most of the United States. It’s the place I fought to be, the place where I watched myself grow from boy to man. I’m not a deeply nomadic spirt, I am someone that tends to sink with whatever ship I’m on. I like it ‘cause its literally (in my eyes) the most beautiful landmass on the face of the planet – it shows its problems – and it’s a deeply bizarre place socially. And in times of change can feel weirdly… deserted? I love it ‘cause it’s home.
Any heroes? Any enemies?
Enemies––oh, of course.  I am either the lion who is not concerned with the gossip of the mouse or the mouse who feasts on the dead carcass of the lion. Maybe both? I’ve been symbolically murdered all my life but never actually destroyed because like, honestly, who on Earth are they gonna find to do my job, especially at the ridiculously low price at which I do it? Being an enemy of a bitch like me is a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week-for-the-rest-of-your-life kinda job. Most people who’ve ever thought they were beefing with me weren’t built for it or wake up way too late in the day, subsequently, I have few natural predators.
Heroes? I think everyone is a hero!
What are you looking forward to in the coming months? What can we expect from Brontez Purnell?
Don’t expect anything out of me ever, I will generally prove you wrong.