Gramma’s got a new boyfriend

Haley Bonar's band Gramma's Boyfriend will perform this Saturday at Icehouse.

Photo courtesy of Graham Tolbert

Haley Bonar’s band Gramma’s Boyfriend will perform this Saturday at Icehouse.

Mary Reller

After one of Gramma’s Boyfriend’s first shows, a man in the audience approached the punk band’s frontwoman, Haley Bonar, with a puzzling observation of the performance.
 
“This guy was like, ‘That was like watching the birth of Blondie or something.’ I didn’t really know what he meant by that, but now I look back at it and I’m like, ‘Yeah, something was born. It was natural,’” Bonar said. “And now, it’s turned into a small fucking toddler.”
 
The members of Gramma’s Boyfriend started playing together more than four years ago, but they didn’t start getting serious until recently. Bonar said Gramma’s Boyfriend has grown legs to run with, but it’s still young enough that it’s pliable. 
 
“It needs a bath, has some wild-ass hair, runs around a lot,” Bonar said describing her band. “It’s a happy child I think. It’s poor and filthy, but happy.”
Bassist Mark Erickson agreed.
 
“We’ve spent too long away from it, so it developed some bad habits,” Erickson said. “Now we’re back in town to hang out with the kid, and we’re like, ‘Whoa! What happened to this guy?’”
 
The group’s long-awaited sophomore album, “Perm,” will come out in September. The record is true to Gramma’s Boyfriend live shows and full of intensity. 
 
Guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker, who’s also involved with Alpha Consumer, Andrew Bird and Fog, said “Perm” was recorded on a hot day in the studio. And the band had to drink 32 cans of Hamm’s in an hour and a half just to cool down.
 
“There’s an excess of energy in [the album]. Songs are maybe a little too fast and just a little too tight,” Erickson said. “That’s what you feel — the excess coiled energy springing through the songs.”
 
People who are familiar with Bonar’s more delicate solo music will experience something different with sound of Gramma’s Boyfriend. The group exposes Bonar’s punk side, and — considering that the rest of its members are male — she said the sound carries itself in a more androgynous manner.
 
“This is taking one sliver of your personality and exercising it. People are like, ‘So what’s this project where you act like a weirdo?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, I am a fucking weirdo,’” Bonar said. “It’s not that I put any less feeling or emotion into it — it’s just a different kind [of emotion.]”
 
On the album, Gramma’s Boyfriend blends sweet, feminine love songs with more masculine ones — like one about a creepy guy, Bonar said.
 
“Her solo music is from a girl’s perspective, mine is from a boy’s perspective. So this [group] is more of a soup of gender that’s kind of appealing. It’s a bigger understanding of boys and girls,” Ylvisaker said. “It’s an energy blob of human experience, and we’re all sensitive white people, so that comes out in our songs.”
 
Bonar said her gender doesn’t define her role in the band. Collectively, she said, they’re just a group of “silly smart-asses.”
 
Bonar said she feels a bit uncomfortable when people recognize her outside of performances, but she glows when someone says they know her from Gramma’s Boyfriend. 
 
Bonar said the band is pleased that people associate it with entertaining shows where the musicians are having as much fun as everyone else in the room.
Erickson agreed, saying Gramma’s Boyfriend is a force of pure joy.
 
“I think every band starts because people are tired of being themselves, so they decide to be somebody else for a little bit,” Erickson said.
 
At Gramma’s Boyfriend conceptual live shows, Bonar dances around in a painted body suit and giant inflatables.
 
“It always pays to inflate something,” Erickson said. “We talked about this at our last band meeting; inflating things is a good strategy.”