The members of Bodega have “a spiritual and philosophical connection” as singer/guitarist Ben Hozie puts it. It’s an almost throw away comment, but he means it.
The New York post-punk outfit have been creating a stir since their debut single ‘How Did this Happen?!’ was released earlier this year. It was an intelligent, spikey slice of new wave dance punk. Imagine ESG covering Devo, or maybe Devo covering ESG, either way it felt fresh, exciting and was fantastic. A few singles and a tour of the UK later and their debut album, ‘Endless Scroll’, was released. It inhabited the area between post-punk, art rock and good old fashioned indie.
But while Bodega are a new band, they were formed after the collapse of another Bodega Bay. “Well, I've been wanting to clarify this, because a bunch of people have got confused about the similar names,” Hozie explains. “That was a totally different band, with a totally different set of people.” The story goes that Hozie started Bodega Bay in 2013. Nikki Belfiglio joined in 2014. After releasing the album ‘Our Brand Could Be Your Life’ they broke up in 2016.
“Nicki and I wanted to start a completely new band.” And that band is Bodega. A decision was made to drop the ‘Bay’ as “I liked a lot of things we'd achieved with Bodega Bay and wanted to kinda create a connection for those who want to seek it,” Hozie says. “We wanted to people to know it’s the same songwriter, writing most of the lyrics. But the new band is totally different. Apart from me and Nicki we have the other three members, Madison Velding-VanDam, Montana Simone and Heather Elle. Our music is its own thing,” Hozie adds.
“We saw that it was going in a direction that we wanted more from. We wanted less of a cabaret style band, more of a direct, personal type of music,” Belfiglio says. Hozie and Belfiglio created a Venn diagram of all the things that they did and didn’t want to do any more. “There's a lot of good things from Bodega Bay, but we kinda were able to pop through that experience.” They made a list of the things they no longer wanted do. “Glam was one of them,” Belfiglio giggles.
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After talking to Bodega for just a few minutes, you realise that they are having a ball and really enjoy the song-writing process, but they take it seriously. This isn’t something they’re doing in the gap between university ending and the world of work starting. This is something more important than that, and it comes across in the music.
“The Bodega Bay record is kinda anti-music. And we wrote pop songs, but we recorded them in such a way that it was not meant to be enjoyed 100%, it was more or an intellectual and satirical project,” Hozie explains. “In Bodega we still have that still have that same critical lenses, but the music is much more musical.”
One thing Hozie and Belfiglio wanted to do differently to ‘Our Brand Could Be Your Life’ is the way it was recorded. “Our last band’s album was recorded on an internal mac mic,” Belfiglio says. “Ben's idea” she quickly adds. “That definitely has a lo-fi sound to it, and when Madison joined we had our Venn diagram of ideas of what to do going forward and he was like 'Let's also translate that to the musical elements and define things. Make rules. Chords not to play'. This really kinda helped define the songs, and made them come out more expressive more on the record.”
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Let's also translate that to the musical elements and define things. Make rules. Chords not to play...
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‘Endless Scroll’ was recorded by Austin Brown, of Parquet Courts fame. The story goes that Brown came to a show and said he was really into recording and wanted to record Bodega. The band agreed and went to Parquet Court’s rehearsal space, where their last album was demoed.
At first Brown didn’t realise he was recording the whole album, but quickly came round to the idea, after he heard the strength of the songs. “We were working on doing the album all by ourselves, but after we met Austin, I got really excited as I'm a fan of his and wanted to just hang out with him. I thought he could a bring live energy to the record by just recording us live,” Hozie explains. “He was originally going to do it digitally, but I asked if he still had the tape deck (Parquet Courts) they did their early recordings on. He said it was in his closet, got it out, dusted it off and we went and bought some reels of tape and did it kind of an old school way.”
Bodega played everything live, and in the punk tradition, only did two or three takes and picked the best one. That was then moved to Pro-Tools. The vocals were recorded digitally. “We did all the tracking in just four days,” Hozie says proudly. “There wasn't much opportunity to fuss too much over the arrangements.”
The band had spent the previous year refining and sculpting these songs in rehearsal spaces and though conversations. “The initial demos were me and Nicki. We would track the simplest versions of how we had written the songs. A lot of the time it was just the guitars and a basic drum beat, or bassline and basic drum beat.”
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It wasn't super organic, it was very analytical.
Hozie explains: “Then we would then play them with Montana and demo that version. Then Madison would get his hands on it. He would be like: 'Why don't we try it without the open chords? Why don't we make it a little hypnotic and droney? Why don't you change the melody a little bit, to fit the emotional of what you’re going for?' It wasn't super organic, it was very analytical. It wasn't like we were just jamming in a room and then this magic happened, without any of us talking about it. For every five minutes of playing there was an hour of chit chat before. But that suits our personalities. The music has an analytical quality to it, so that process worked for us this time around.”
On some versions of the album, there is a bonus disc containing a second ‘live’ album ‘Witness Scroll’. Recorded during the band’s first UK tour in May, half the songs are from a show in London and the other half is from a show in Glasgow. The gigs were recorded for the bands amusement, as a reference point to how the tour was going, and how they were sounding live. “We really liked them. The way we're playing the songs live now, the record kind of it has a laid-back pop quality, only you might not think that if you first heard it. It’s much more violent and sporadic and the songs tend to be faster and tougher. So, we thought it would be cool to put them side by side. Just to capture the songs in a different kinda light.”
Hozie says: “It’s not that it’s better than the actual record, but when you have the whole package it illuminates the stuff in a way that gives it context and allows you to enjoy it more”. ‘Witness Scroll’ also contains the song 'Mo Vanguard Revival' that's not going to appear anywhere else. “It’s got some secrets on there. It’s actually a Bodega Bay song too,” Hozie adds.
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As the title suggests, ‘Endless Scroll’ is about living in a digital age. “I want things to be really fast, tight and succinct and loaded with content. Bodega packs more of a lyrical content in 30 seconds than most bands, in 10 minutes of their records. Maybe that's a product of the, living in an age where I have to stare at the computer all day and my brain needs a quick fix of data. I do think the way technology and social media are gonna not necessary morally change people, but literally and physiologically change the way our brains react to stimuli is the most important issue of our epoch. It would be false to not write about that. And even if I didn't want to write about that, I'd still be writing about that.”
There is a lyric on ‘Bookmarks’ that the whole album hangs off. “All day at work, stare at computer. Come home from work, stare at computer. Do my own work, stare at computer. Rest and relax, stare at computer. With the ones and the zeros, stare at computer. The ones go in the zeros, stare at computer. Mother nature is ones and zeros, stare at computer. When I die and meet my maker I will stare at computer”.
“If you let your brain run down these rabbit holes you start with the 1's and 0's, obviously the binary of digital and that lead me to a famous Goddard quote I read, where he said 'In the west we use the decimal, because its based on the origin of the species, to sex with the penis and vagina being the 1 and 0.' And then if you take it a step further, there are recent philosophers and scientists who have debated that we might just be in a simulation, that it’s highly plausible that below, at the surface of matter, below, through the atoms, quarks and the very basis of physical reality, there's 1's and 0's. We might actually be living in a digital world.”
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I think we're gonna make a big grandiose statement on this next thing.
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“And of course, when I die and meet my maker and that as to do with, my make might be someone who's got my brain in a vat in a matrix type scenario. Anyways if you’re wondering what those four lines meant, there you go,” bursting into a deep laugh as he finishes. This is the power of Bodega, they tackle big issues, but deliver them in a way that makes them feel manageable and throwaway, but if you want to, you can spend the late nights trying to decipher their meanings and work it out.
The rest of the year looks good for this New York post-punk quintet. “We're gonna try and do an EP before we do another record. The goal was to try and try and start working on it, in earnest in October. So it definitely won't come out until next year. It shouldn't take too long as we want to do it quick and have it be a reflection of where we are right now,” Hozier comments. “I think we're gonna make a big grandiose statement on this next thing. We're quite ready for it yet,” Belfiglio adds.
In less than a year Bodega have gone from some like-minded people making the music that they felt passionate about, with one of their heroes recording them, to being one of the most talked about bands of the year, and delivering one of the most exciting and exhilarating New York debuts since some guys from boarding school decided to form a band. How did this happen? Easily!
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Bodega's debut album 'Endless Scroll' is out now.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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