New York is known for embracing pioneering art rock acts like Talking Heads, the Velvet Underground, Patti Smith and Sonic Youth, so it’s no wonder why Bodega, art rock’s best new band (and arguably New York’s best new band) is also based in the famed Big Apple. Though band members consider themselves part of the city’s rich art rock tradition, they insist they’re not mere imitators.
“We kind of purposely wanted to put ourselves in that tradition, but we’re not a revival band. We want to update that lineage,” says Ben Hozie, the band’s co-vocalist, rhythm guitarist and songwriter, in a recent phone interview.
Singer-songwriters Ben Hozie and Nikki Belfiglio lead the Brooklyn five-piece that also includes lead guitarist Madison Velding-VanDam, bassist Heather Elle and drummer Montana Simone. The band will release its debut album, Endless Scroll
via What’s Your Rupture on July 6 and is set to play the Beachland Tavern
at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday with Mister Moon and the Movies.
Bodega plays proto-punk tinged art rock with razor-sharp, driving guitar riffs, minimalist percussion and lyrics of dry sarcasm, skillful irony and biting social commentary. What’s particularly stunning is the sheer frequency with which the band’s quips will make you smirk or think deeply. Sure, the lyrics are compelling when read in full, but they’re still wildly amusing even if you’re unable to properly digest every single line on first listen. But perhaps most crucially, the lyrics are characterized by a delightfully droll, laugh-out-loud sense of humor, which provides a perfect counterbalance to their cynicism and inconceivably cultured wit.
Hozie and Belfiglio first met at an Of Montreal show back in 2013, and they soon formed the now-defunct Bodega Bay, not to be confused with their current band, which has a completely different lineup. Bodega was born from the ashes of their previous band when the duo recruited some of their music-involved friends for a new project. Velding-VanDam played in bands like the Wants and ONWE, Elle played in Please No Radio and was a roommate of Hozie and Belfiglio’s, and Simone had an art gallery that the pair had played in before.
Hozie says some of the songs that ended up on Endless Scroll
were written at the tail end of Bodega Bay and some were written just a few weeks before they recorded the album. Their best-known song and the lead track from their album, How Did This Happen?!
distills the band’s provocative essence and sparse sound into one angular, jolting three-minute tune. It also contains some of their most amusing lines (“Your playlist knows you better than a closest lover”) and their much-discussed, controversial line, albeit only controversial when taken out of its original context of technological addiction (“Everyone is equally a master and a slave”).
Hozie says the track came late in the album’s writing process as he felt the album was missing its central rallying cry.
“We were missing a good opening track and a good manifesto track about what’s going on in America right now, so we wrote that one really fast and we hadn’t even played it live before recording it.”
The album was recorded and produced by Parquet Courts’ Austin Brown; his collaboration with the band was simple happenstance.
“He accidentally saw one of our shows. I was a big fan of his band,” says Hozie, who couldn’t help but gush about the fellow New York band while maintaining that he hoped Bodega would impress Brown in the studio. “We did it all with [Brown] over the course of four days recording and four days mixing. One thing we were really adamant about was recording to tape, so we had him drag out the Tascam 388 8-track tape machine that they had used to record Light Up Gold
, the Parquet Courts album, which is one of my favorite albums. So I thought it would be cool, not necessarily to get the sound of that record, but to have the reels go through the same machine that that record went through so it would have a spiritual connection to that record.”
With regard to their quintessential New York rock 'n' roll sound, Hozie and Belfiglio aren’t trying to dodge the comparison.
“We have a stand-up drummer so that tends to remind people of the Velvet Underground, which is the great New York City art rock band and certain elements of our sound are definitely indebted to that on purpose,” says Hozie.
He also namedrops the Ramones, Talking Heads and Sonic Youth as massive influences and even some New York hip-hop. Belfiglio chimes in and comments that the band’s visuals are also indicative of a New York style.
“In a literal sense, we also wanted to create a visual around the entire album. I think that’s a very New York idea that we also try to emulate with the [computer mice] and the light boxes. We wanted to keep an aesthetic where you know when you walk in that it’s a Bodega show.”
The computer mice and light box visuals are a reference to the band’s questioning of the modern world’s unyielding dependence on the Internet, which is a common theme threaded throughout several of their tracks (“Bodega Birth,” “Bookmarks”), their music videos (“Jack in Titanic”) and the title and album cover of their debut record. The band’s album also explores a wide range of themes like toxic masculinity, the contentious political climate, the breakup of Bodega Bay, female masturbation, the outrageously expensive cost of living in New York City and the absurdity of weird, new slacker rock subgenres like Pizzacore (bands that sing about weed and pizza).
Hozie says the album captures where his and Belfiglio's heads were at in the summer of 2016.
“We were thinking critically a lot about social media and how it makes people duller and made ourselves duller,” says Hozie.
The band’s distaste for social media is certainly evident as their presence is highly curated and barely existent. Instead, their Tumblr page serves as their online headquarters and functions like an old punk zine where fans can enter into the band’s world and indulge in whatever artistic expressions Bodega has decided to share. Social media certainly isn’t immune to the band’s status quo-questioning ethos and if there’s one old saying that repulses them to their absolute core, it’s “ignorance is bliss.”
“I’m like Socrates,” says Hozie. “I think a life unexamined is not worth living. That’s my take on it and I think with the amount of information that’s available to people in the world today, if you’re tuning out things…look if someone says they’re gonna be a lot happier if they turn this stuff off and go live in the woods. Fine. They can do that. But if you’re an artist you have a moral responsibility to capture what’s going on in the world.”
Hozie is aware of the band’s overt cynicism and while some might use that as a critique of the band, he actually considers it to be one of their strengths.
“Pointing out the ills of the world doesn’t mean you’re an anxious, depressed person. It takes a great kind of romanticism to be a proper cynic. Like the Oscar Wilde quote, ‘A cynic is a romantic on holiday.’ Usually the most cynical people are the most romantic people because they have the utopian ideals. I think it’s the most romantic bands that criticize things. I would think Bodega is a romantic band.”
The band recently supported Scottish indie giants Franz Ferdinand here in the states and also played its first-ever European shows where it managed to record a session at the storied BBC Maida Vale Studios (home to the famous John Peel sessions) before it’s due to close for good. Like many other American bands, most notably the Strokes, Bodega hopes to catch fire abroad first, only to be highly publicized and then welcomed back into the U.S. with a much bigger audience than before. Things are looking very promising for them as they just made their first trip abroad as a band and already had their music played on the BBC and more European dates are slated for July.
While Bodega are spellbinding on record, they really have to be fully experienced live as the band will freely spout ad-libbed lines like “We are Bodega and this is sponsored content” and diverge into extended musical tangents, ensuring that no two shows are the same.
“I hope [people] walk away inspired,” Belfiglio says. “If people walk away and be like, ‘Oh man I just want to go home and write a song right now’ after one of our shows, that would be the highest compliment.”
“I hope to create some kind of catharsis hypnosis in a way,” adds Hozie. “I hope some of the things we say make people think twice about certain things or at least laugh.”