There's no one quite like Bonavega, if you've been to one of his shows you'll know what I mean. He's always in some version of a speedo and his makeup is better than your, you can expect lots of dancing, skits, and at some point you will have to chant his name to save him from crucifixion. Behind all the theatrics, Bonavega makes shimmery songs with a hint of danger.
His latest song "Pain and Pleasure," produced by ABSRDST, is a classic "the one who got away" story. He worked with Izzy Fontaine and Tom Lipka on the song. He wasn't sure where the story was going at first, but the song has an interesting muse, the cologne of a past lover. We've all been in that place where a smell just brings back all those memories. He says, "When I got to the studio, I had never met Izzy before, I showed up and gave him a hug. He was wearing a cologne that was the same smell of the person "pain and pleasure" is about. I wasn't even thinking about that person and realized that was their smell. I didn't know it was going to be about her yet, the whole studio smelled like her, I couldn't see straight."
Bonavega may be a glam rockstar in the making but he came from humble beginnings. He was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio. He grew up in an evangelical Christian household but always had that musical spark. "It was pretty stifling creatively and musically. It was taboo. I had to listen to Led Zeppelin secretively with headphones under my covers at night," explains Bonavega. "I feel like now I've harnessed and directed that oppression into artwork."
He moved to LA when he was 25 and found out he had been living in a bubble his whole life. When that initial shock hit it was difficult but he needed to work through it to find his voice. He says, "I felt angry and resentful because I felt like I had wasted the past 25 years of my life memorizing Bible verses. I felt shame and guilt about the most natural of human instincts but I felt this intense relief thinking I can just exist and be and I don't have to feel bad about it. My purpose in life wasn't to fulfill Christ's plan. There's no plan for you. You can create your own plan."
While he didn't set out to put a spotlight on the hypocrisy of religion, it was definitely in the back of his mind. His performance is raw and shocking, often involving skits between songs.
"I've never consciously had that conversation with myself. That's more coming from glam rock. I was doing a theatrical narrative this whole summer where a preacher would come out and berate the crowd and I'd slap him with a dildo. At the end of that show there was a redemptive moment where I turn the preacher into a fan. It's kind of a beautiful moment. I want to embrace what happened in my childhood and turn it into something beautiful."
As for the narrative of the shows, he likes to have that redemption point at the end. In his latest series his friend and collaborator Tom Lipka plays the antagonist. He explains, "I'm trying to push across Bonavega as a rock god and a mysterious, unbelievable thing and Tom's character comes out in the beginning and messes up the show. I kick him off-stage with my guitar and he runs off scared. At the end he hangs me on a cross and the crowd has to chant me off the cross but then we accept him."
The show is wild but that religious background is ever-present. When I asked him what he thought his hometown thought of his new life, he said, "I wouldn't be doing something that important if a bunch of my hometown Christian friends really liked it and got it, and I mean that with all respect."