10 Gay Indie Rockers (In Otherwise ‘Straight’ Bands) With Revolutionary Ideas

Even the casual Top-40-during-your-work-commute music listener can probably name a handful of young gay musicians: Adam Lambert, Lance Bass, Rufus Wainwright, John Barrowman (he’s also a pop-singer, didn’t you know?). But these guys are either soloists or mainstream pop stars. What about the handful of gay frontmen leading otherwise straight indie rock bands? They’re changing the musical landscape with fresh music and ideas unlike anything you’ve ever heard. We found 10 gays hiding in plain sight, and pulled out their best songs and juiciest queer bits your hungry little eyes and ears. Enjoy!

Just a note: We know there’s lots of gay solo musicians like Patrick Wolf, Chris Garneau, “Gentleman” Reg Vermue, etc., but here we’re focusing on gay indie rockers within larger groups. Also, we haven’t forgotten about you ladies. We’ve highlighted five lesbian indie rockers before, but we’ll profile even more this coming week. Promise.

Kele Okereke of Bloc Party

ROLE: Lyricist, lead vocalist, and rhythm guitarist

HOME PLANET: Liverpool, England

HOW HE PUBLICLY CAME OUT: In a Butt magazine article


QUOTE: “I didn’t talk about [my sexuality] when I did interviews for the last record because it wasn’t an area really reflected in the music; I didn’t talk about race for the same reason. Why was that still a discussion point? The only reason it was a discussion point was because of the racial prejudice that exists in the mainstream media.” (Guardian)

QUEER MOMENTS: He hid his involvement in Bloc Party from his “super-Catholic” Nigerian parents until he signed a record deal. For a while, he also hid his homosexuality from them.“In Nigeria… there weren’t any visible gay people who were out and were happy. My parents are getting older and I didn’t like the idea that they could possibly die without knowing something that is a big part of my life. It’s not easy. But I know that they love me and I love them.”

He wrote the lyrics for the band’s second album, A Weekend In The City, partially in response to the death of London bartender David Morley who was beaten to death in a possibly homophobic “happy slapping.” The song “I Still Remember” is about an unspoken attraction between guys; “Kreuzberg” is about unfulfilling promiscuity. He’s since moved to Berlin “to seize the city’s music oriented spirit.”

Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend

ROLE: Producer, keyboardist, guitarist, and backing vocalist

HOME PLANET: Washington, D.C.

HOW HE PUBLICLY CAME OUT: In an Out magazine interview

LISTEN TO THIS GAY SONG: “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” (not his best, but definitely his gayest)

QUOTE: “I don’t associate the term composer with exciting music today. As a songwriter and producer in our band, I get to be the composer I always envisaged for myself. I get to sample M.I.A. There probably are a bunch of contemporary composers who wish they could do that but don’t have the balls.” (Out)

QUEER MOMENTS: Batmanglij burned Vampire Weekend’s first tracks onto CDs and gave them directly to influential bloggers. Their online buzz grew to such a pitch that labels sought them out. Their second album features “Diplomat’s Son”, a six-minute dancehall song about a gay relationship. It goes, “That night I smoked a joint / With my best friend / We found ourselves in bed / When I woke up he was gone / He was the diplomat’s son / It was ’81.”

He recently wrote “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” (a self-described “a gay pop song”) for the 2009 debut album of his electro-soul side project, Discovery. It goes, “I just brushed my teeth / and I made up my mind / I don’t want to have to act coy / haven’t slept in weeks / and I can’t think at night.” He said, “I was disappointed when it didn’t become a gay anthem, but, you know, it’s not too late.” Vampire Weekend and Discovery should both give him ample opportunities to write even more gay anthems.

Jón Þór “Jónsi” Birgisson of Sigur Ros

ROLE: Guitarist and vocalist


HOW HE PUBLICLY CAME OUT: A reviewer mentioned it in The Economist, though the info’s also available on the Sigur Ros website.

LISTEN TO THIS GAY SONG: “Sinking Friendships”

QUOTE: “[Being a vegan] makes you a social outcast, definitely, but I think I like that. I sometimes think I am drawn to obscure food the same way I am to obscure music. I like to be different. But I also very much like raw food itself. It’s wonderful! Tasty! Who wants a horrible burger when they can make their own cheese instead? I make my own, from macadamia nuts. It tastes very… um, cheesy. You should try some. You’ll never look back.” (The Independent)

QUEER MOMENTS: Jónsi named the band after his little sister Sigurrós who was born at the same time the band was formed. Though he speaks English and Icelandic he also sings in “Hopelandic,” a sort of beautifully sung gibberish. He also plays guitar with a bow—awesome.

His boyfriend Alex Somers does a lot of the band’s artwork and the two create collaborative art together. Alex and Jónsi released 1,000 copies of their embossed hardcover book in November 2006 and their first album Riceboy Sleeps in July 2009. The song “Sinking Friendships” comes from that album. It goes, “My lips are pale blue / My shivering half-moon / My last night’s lost tune / It’s the end of the end of the end / We’re sinking friendships / We drown more and more / When I sing inside you / It’s as though I’m too.”

Jónsi says, “It’s a classic break-up song. I suppose I have gone through many. Growing up gay in Iceland, I didn’t know anybody else like me, so I really didn’t know how to… what’s the word? Proceed Basically, I fell in love all the time, with all of my friends. That made for lots of… drama, a lot of awkwardness, and so much misunderstanding. I had to apologise a lot.”

Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear

ROLE: Vocalist, guitarist, omnichordist, and keyboardist

HOME PLANET: Massachusetts

HOW HE PUBLICLY CAME OUT: He crafted the band’s debut effort Horn Of Plenty between two relationships. As a result it had a lot of gay lyrical content.

LISTEN TO THIS GAY SONG: “Two Weeks” (not a particularly gay song, but the fan-made video puts a lovely gay spin on the song’s message about calming the heck down)

QUOTE: “I like a lot of [music played in gay clubs], but it’s also kind of a bummer sometimes. I was recently in Vegas and granted, it’s Vegas, but we went to a gay club and it was the worst music, and the worst people, and we left after ten minutes. It wasn’t even horrible in a funny way, it was just doomed and expensive. I’m not judging, if that’s what floats your boat, great, but generally a lot of the extreme house-remixed Kylie/Kelly Clarkson stuff is just headache-inducing. But I love a lot of the originals, depending on the track.” (East Village Boys)

QUEER MOMENTS: The band’s name came from the nickname of his fuzzy ex-boyfriend. Droste is the only gay guy in the band and according to him only gay publications ever seem to mention that, which suits him fine as it’s not a defining feature of their music. Nevertheless, the band’s name has gotten them a bit of undue attention from the bear community. Some bears have approached Droste at concerts and a site called Bears Gone Wild hit them up for an interview.

When he’s not touring, Droste lives with his boyfriend Chad McPhail. If Droste were single, he’d prefer to slut around in France (as opposed to England, his least favorite place to hook up). He also identifies as a bottom.

In an interview with East Village Boys Droste said, “This one gross guy in Amsterdam, who’s in his 30s and looks a bit sickly always comes to our shows, and the first time he came he had read an interview I did in BUTT magazine, and he came up to me in front of my whole band and was like ‘Ed Droste?’, and I said ‘Yes?’, and he said, ‘Heard you were a power bottom.’ That was the funniest shit ever. The band still brings it up. He’s totally creepy, and to this day will show up at our Dutch shows, but luckily I can easily avoid him now.”

Owen Pallett of Final Fantasy

ROLE: Composer, Violinist, and Vocalist

HOME PLANET: Toronto, Ontario

HOW HE PUBLICLY CAME OUT: His butt appeared in BUTT magazine (NSFW – Umm, do all gay indie rockers come out in BUTT magazine?)

LISTEN TO THIS GAY SONG: “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt”

QUOTE: “Gay culture has these stereotypes that they kinda have to rely upon to make it successful… Successful like gay art, and I’m really not interested in gay artists who are going to conform to those stereotypes.” (Lost At Sea)

QUEER MOMENTS: Pallett’s boyfriend Patrick Borjal began working as his manager in 2006 and founded the company Boyfriend Management. Some of Pallett’s song titles include “Blood Orgy!!!”, “You’re Worth More to Me Than 1000 Christians”, “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” and “He Poos Clouds.” Pallett has also collaborated with other gay musicians such as The Hidden Cameras’ Joel Gibb, Gentleman Reg, Pet Shop Boys, Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste, and bisexual indie rocker Mika.

Of his music Pallett has said, “I’m not a preening princess in real life, but yes, my music is really flamingly gay. Gay performers, whether they’re Rufus Wainwright or a drag queen, make themselves the irresistible catamite of the audience, debasing themselves, possessed by the audience and yet possessing them, fucking with the power relationship… I don’t sing ‘dick goes in bum’ or anything, but there is a great deal of subject-object reversal, deconstructionism, solipsism, and moments of intense self-obsession, self-deprecation and narcissism. There is an element of public self-excoriation involved: an artistic metaphor for the mutilation of our natural masculinity that is implied by gayness.”

Pallett originally named his musical effort Final Fantasy because “the experience—and the tone of the material—was reminiscent of the hours and hours” spent playing the RPG video game classic of the same name. However, he has since decided to drop the name and use his own.

Bradford Cox of Deerhunter

ROLE: Singer, songwriter, and guitarist

HOME PLANET: Atlanta, Georgia

HOW HE PUBLICLY CAME OUT: He’s been open about his sexuality since his first album, Turn It Up, Faggot.

LISTEN TO THIS GAY SONG: “Fluorescent Grey” (starts off slow but plunges stylishly at the midpoint)

QUOTE: “I have no interest in the bourgeois life of growing up, getting married, and having kids… I don’t relate to heterosexuality at all. I don’t relate to the couples who come to our shows and hold hands while they watch us. [However] I have a lot of respect for the people who like us because it’s challenging music.” (Creative Loafing)

QUEER MOMENTS IN HIS MUSIC: Deerhunter created their first album Turn It Up, Faggot after the death of their bassist Justin Bosworth. He died of a head injury from when a car hit him while skateboarding. The album resulted from “a lot of negativity” and after finishing it Cox decided, “I don’t ever want to make this album again.”

“[Bosworth] was gay, a heroin addict, an outsider, alienated all of his friends. But he could’ve been such a happy guy if it weren’t for all that fucked-up stuff that happened to him when he was a kid,” Cox said. “He was involved with that ‘bear culture’ where they go to leather bars and start shooting up and getting really tame… He was just a wild kind of guy and had a lot of creative energy… And I feel like this record could’ve meant something to him, because it comes from the same place.”

For the album’s cover art, Cox asked Jared Swilley from the Black Lips to get semi-hard for a photograph; some people recognized the musician from his tattoo. Mr. Cox identifies as gay but considers himself asexual.

Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons

ROLE: Vocalist, pianist

HOME PLANET: Chichester, West Sussex, UK

HOW HE PUBLICLY CAME OUT: He has always identified as transgender yet openly gay.

LISTEN TO THIS GAY SONG: “For Today I Am A Boy” shows off his gay duality, but the video for “Epilepsy is Dancing” is a gorgeous gender-bending fantasy.

QUOTE: “I think people tend to be really obsessed with transgender people’s physical configurations. But transgender is a condition of the spirit, you know? There’s something very reductive that tends to occur in perceiving transgender people and even gay people, in that society tends to want to reduce them, in almost a crude way, around an obsession with their sexuality or even their genital configuration, which has—there’s a kind of a cruelty to that, when, in fact, what we are dealing with is people whose spirits are different.” (Curate)

QUEER MOMENTS IN HIS MUSIC: Antony’s songs contain recurring images of transformation, metamorphosis and hermaphrodite shape-shifting which makes sense considering that he identifies as transgender. He sees transgender as more of a “spiritual condition” rather than a purely psycho-physical one.

A fan of John Water’s muse Divine, Hegarty started experimenting with the limits of his gender identity in his early 20’s by wearing a “filmy black slip with a pair of stomping combat boots, and [an] inked ‘Fuck Off’ on his forehead as a riposte to gaping passers-by” in New York’s Lower East Side. Today he sees himself as both privileged and responsible to be “a vocal role-model for other gender-variant individuals.”

Hegarty says, “I think the fact we’re led to believe we’re different because of our sexuality is a hoax that’s been pulled on us. When you think about how much time you actually spend having sex compared to how much time you spend eating or talking or listening to music, it’s really not that significant or important. I might be an active homosexual for an hour here and there, but I’m myself 24 hours a day. Obviously I have quite a big gay and lesbian fan base, but I’m hopeful that the thing that binds us together isn’t our sexual orientation—it’s the fact that we’re all special in our individual ways.”

Antony and the Johnsons’ 2005 album I Am a Bird Now features guest performances by Boy George and Rufus Wainwright, among others. In 2009, he collaborated on a disco album called Hercules and Love Affair which had a commemorative song about a gay-bashing victim. The LA Times called his most recent album The Crying Light “the most personal environmentalist statement possible, making an unforeseen connection between queer culture’s identity politics and the green movement.”

Hegarty said, “It’s a done deal with the human species. It’s all over thanks to capitalism and Catholicism—or maybe I should say patriarchal monotheism. Why do we have to have endless evolution, perpetual change? Why not stability, balance, keeping things sustainable?”

Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields

ROLE: Ukulele player, keyboardist, lyricist, and lead vocalist

HOME PLANET: Born in a houseboat off the Virgin Islands, he lived in 33 houses across the US during his first 23 years of life.

HOW HE PUBLICLY CAME OUT: He’s always been out, but perhaps most notably in the gender-switching lyrics of his album 69 Love Songs.

LISTEN TO THIS GAY SONG: “Papa Was A Rodeo” (a funny yet sad song about the thoughts preceding a one night-stand)

QUOTE: “I have a low voice and a sad facial expression, and I’m not enthusiastic about anything. And I prefer honesty in conversation. That combination drives some people crazy. Almost everyone in California thinks I hate them. I relate well to the English; they understand that I don’t hate them. [The] emotions I actually feel… [range] between delight and agonizing depression.”

QUEER MOMENTS IN HIS MUSIC: Stephin Merritt typically writes his songs alone in Manhattan gay bars. His closest relationships are with his Chihuahua (named after Irving Berlin) and fellow Magnetic Fields musician Claudia Gonson.

In an interview with The Advocate, Ms. Gonson said that Merritt’s songs are primarily about “Loneliness, isolation, and the need to be recognized by another person,” adding that without homophobia “[these experiences] would be less rampant instead of being so associated with the gay personality.” As a result, she feels that a lot of LGBT youth and young straight females turn to The Magnetic Fields for “words of wisdom.”

Merritt’s currently working on the songs for a stage musical about gay children’s author Hans Christian Andersen called My Life as a Fairy Tale. He’s also writing songs for the Broadway version of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline in which actor David Greenspan will play the role of “the Other Mother.”

Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu

ROLE: Singer, guitarist, and programmer

HOME PLANET: Los Angeles, California

HOW HE PUBLICLY CAME OUT: It seems he first made mention of his bisexuality in Free Williamsburg

LISTEN TO THIS GAY SONG: “This Too Shall Pass Away (For Freddy)” (a dancey song with an awesome 8-bit video)

QUOTE: “All the songs are about sadness and trying to dance it away. The very first night I ever wrote and recorded a Xiu Xiu song, I’d gone to this terrible dance club in San Jose alone on Christmas night—as pathetic as that is—and had gone home alone after feeble attempts to pick someone up. Xiu Xiu came from feeling stupid and lonely and then wanting to dance it away, but having the club and its music only magnify that stupid and lonely feeling.” (Pitchfork)

QUEER MOMENTS IN HIS MUSIC: Although Xiu Xiu (pronounced shoe shoe) have a techno pop sound, their songs are also darkly comic and disturbingly personal. Stewart says, “I am bisexual. I am singing as much about boys as girls. A lot of very negative and weird sexual things have happened to me as much as with boys as with girls. The whole point of the band is to write about real life stuff.”

He adds, “The queer audience seems a big part of people who come to our show. I write about the queer experience or politics and people who listen have responded. Whoever is listening, I always want our music to be about something real. But sometimes, I try to take it too far.”

As of April 2006, Stewart was single. “I am the mayor of shyberg when it comes to the first move,” Stewart said. “It’s a wonder I’ve ever dated anyone. I am so single. Please give my number to anyone you know.”

Joel Gibb of The Hidden Cameras

ROLE: Lyricist, vocalist, and composer

HOME PLANET: Kincardine, Ontario

HOW HE PUBLICLY CAME OUT: Gibb’s debut CD is titled Ecce Homo and had overtly gay sexual content.

LISTEN TO THIS GAY SONG: “Golden Streams” (a song using piss as a religious metaphor)

QUOTE: “People are usually so afraid of smells. My answer would have to be that, getting into your own smell. People are so afraid—especially in North America—and there are all these weird products. They keep getting weirder and weirder. Useless products that are just about targeting someone’s insecurities. And I think our culture is going to get more and more like that. It’s just bullshit that people can’t have a body. They’re not allowed to age. They’re not allowed to have hair. They’re not allowed to smell. They’re not allowed to sweat. They’re not allowed to secrete. They’re not allowed to cry.” (Phillyist)

QUEER MOMENTS IN HIS MUSIC: The Hidden Cameras’ first albums had lots of raunchy gay sex in the lyrics, but the sexual content in their recent work has been a tad more subtle (read all about it here). Gibb oversees every aspect of the band: composing, production, cover art, stage design, video, everything.

He also prefers to perform in unexpected public spaces like porno theaters, old churches, and soccer fields and regularly invites fans to partake in the show, even if that means stripping onstage. In 2007, Gibb did solo recordings for a tribute to gay musician Arthur Russell. In 2008, Gibb starred in an experimental documentary described as a “fucked up family film” and an “amateur porno flick” entitled The Lollipop Generation. Gibb now lives with his boyfriend in Berlin where he’s turning the band’s most recent album Origin:Orphan into a stage musical.