By Cory Sklar
By Alee Karim
By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
It's hard not to mention kitsch when discussing Gravy Train!!!! This is, after all, the band that posed on a green vinyl couch for an album cover, with one member wearing a fuzzy teddy and another shaking maracas. Onstage, the musicians wear more glitter than Marc Bolan and outfit themselves in outrageous thrift-store garb. At home, the group isn't much different, with singer-guitarist Hunx's Oakland apartment full of kooky items like a giant hamburger footstool and a beer mug shaped like a boot.
Gravy Train!!!! is a John Waters wet dream come to life, with openly gay boys and super-snarky girls singing hilarious lyrics about ghost boobs, 40-ouncers, and cottonmouth blow jobs, all the while playing a giddy form of bubblegum garage-pop that screams Hairspray(if not "holy crap!"). So it's kind of a shock to hear the Oakland quartet's third full-length, All the Sweet Stuff, because the disc sounds almost mature.
No need to worry, though. There's still plenty of the salacious lyrics and exuberant melodies that've made Gravy Train!!!! so fun. But for the first time, the band members sound like, well, musicians. By adding glam, disco, and even '60s French pop to their euphoric garage-rock, Chunx, Funx, Hunx, and Junx have created one of the most thoroughly entertaining records in ages, joining the upper echelon of local bands in the process.
How'd they do it? "We got a practice space, that's what happened," Hunx laughs.
Gravy Train!!!! has never been the most orthodox of groups. In fact, Chunx and keyboardist Funx (the band members prefer to go by their pseudonyms) started the band in 2001 as a kind of bitch slap. "It was a product of being unemployed and not having much success in the romance department and wanting to bitch about it in a constructive way, rather than just sitting on the couch and watching daytime TV," recalls Chunx. "The original plan was to humiliate this guy who had fucked me over. I wanted to record songs talking about him and put them on a tape and plant them at Amoeba with his name on them."
Out of those high-minded ideals came "Hella Nervous," which included the immortal lines "You were long in the pants/ Short in the wiener/ Sucking my muff like a vacuum cleaner." Soon, Hunx and Drunx joined as backup dancers, and when "Hella Nervous" became a surprise hit on college radio, the kids hit the streets. They crashed house parties, playing in living rooms and wearing shirts sporting their names scrawled in puffy paint. They went to other people's shows and yelled out "Gravy Train!!!!" between tunes. Sometimes they'd jump onstage and start playing, even though they had only two songs.
Eventually, though, the motley crew focused on music over shenanigans. "Funx and I had never been in bands before, but Hunx had been in bands for years, so he kind of took the reins," says Chunx. "When he started writing songs, it just came together."
Kill Rock Stars released Gravy Train!!!!'s first full-length, Hello Doctor, in 2002. The disc was unlike anything else around rude, crude, and hella lewd, like a gay 2 Live Crew recording booty rap on very cheap equipment. One can only imagine what all those earnest Sleater-Kinney fans thought when they came across the homofabulous gutter-rap of "You Made Me Gay" and "Double Decker Supreme."
"The lyrics on that first record are way over the top," says Chunx, the group's main lyricist at that point. "It was about what can we say that will get the most attention and be shocking and funny. And what's the best way to put [forth] my personality [which has] always been kind of grating and makes people uncomfortable."
Junx replaced Drunx in 2003, adding another gay boy, songwriter, and, most importantly, exhibitionist to the mix. "That first year I was here I was drunk and naked a lot," admits Junx.
"He would go to shows and strip down and get naked," says Hunx. ""Oh, there's that naked guy.' But now he's not really the Naked Guy anymore, except to my mom."
Gravy Train!!!! released one more disc on Kill Rock Stars, 2005's Are You Wiggling?, which had more of a punk/new-wave feel, while still dropping lines about pussy sauce, outer-space sex, and X-rated Polaroids. Imagine the Cramps as a sexed-up riot grrl band, and you get the (dirty) picture.
"We were sick of the style of our first record," says Chunx, "because we didn't feel like there was a lot more that could be done with lo-fi, raunchy rap."
While the sophomore release didn't have the same impact as Gravy Train!!!!'s debut, it did score the band a Playgirlpictorial (for Hunx, Junx, and some strategically placed grapes) and a Le Tigre tour.
"I love Gravy Train!!!! because they are the raunchiest, sexiest teenaged adults ever," writes Le Tigre's Kathleen Hanna via e-mail. "Their music is like if the Archies and the B-52's took ecstasy and had a baby and then the baby started a band with its weird friends while waddling around in a Day-Glo diaper with a beer."