We caught the NYC bunch at the tail end of a relentless UK tour, to talk through the sarcastic post-punk of their ace debut album 'Endless Scroll'
It’s 6pm on an otherwise pleasant London summer’s day, and BODEGA’s Ben Hozie has got his arse out In public. You can perhaps forgive the moment of madness – tonight, the shaven-headed frontman and his bandmates will take to North London’s The Lexington for their eighth UK show in as many days – “it’s the second coming of The Beatles!” jokes co-vocalist Nikki Belfiglio.
Not that, bum flashing aside, they’re showing any signs of fatigue. As we migrate upstairs to the Lexington’s cramped backstage room, their every word is as delivered as purposefully as the razor-sharp post-punk of BODEGA’s incoming debut album, ‘Endless Scroll’. It’s that balance of the silly and the serious that makes it one of the most accomplished debuts of the year so far.
There’s a duality to most things BODEGA do. Completed by guitarist Madison Velding-VanDam, bassist Heather Elle and drummer Montana Simona, its nevertheless Hozie and Belfiglio who spearhead the project, sharing primary songwriting duties, and engaging in on-stage vocal sparring, as they yelp their sardonic, sing-shouted missives on pop culture atop each other.
Even off-stage, that sparring continues, the pair occasionally vocally (but always politely) disagreeing with each other. Nikki claims the band’s formation, borne out of the dissolution of several other New York City acts, was “very organic” – Ben doesn’t totally agree with that wording. “It sounds organic, but you know, it was a long time coming,” he says, assuredly. “Many of us had been in lots of bands, and projects, and we knew exactly what we wanted when we came together this time.”
Montana agrees: “Actually, a lot of it wasn’t serendipity, but our mutual love of art.” They all come from a “visual world”, she says.
That image-heavy universe which BODEGA operate in is essential to their make-up. They talk of their on-stage light boxes as “the sixth member of BODEGA”, while their sound – equal parts Matrix-esque futurism (they all walk on stage later this evening clad head-to-toe in black and copious amounts of leather and PVC), and dusty, New York-indebted post-punk – occupies the kind of stylistic realm that art students dribble over.
“I think we were all really excited about a kind of rock minimalism,” says Ben, “which can mean a lot of different things. For example, not having cymbals in the drum set, or doing anything frilly in the guitar parts; not repeating parts or lyrics, just in and out.”
It’s easily picked up on ‘Endless Scroll’, and its brittle, brilliant lead single ‘How Did This Happen?’, a track that’s all sharp angles and cutting pontifications on consumerism – “This machine? You know it don’t kill fascists? / This machine, it’s just a guitar,” Ben quips at one point. He calls that stark approach to music-making their “sonic mission statement”, while also referring separately to an ethical one.
You talk of a BODEGA ‘ethos’ – what is that?
Nikki: We wanted to bring sexiness to rock music, which a lot of people were scared to do. It comes naturally to me. I wasn’t really a musician before all this, and I feel like bringing my natural inclination to be, like, sexy, and have bass driven music, kind of shaped the beginning of this project. Feminine mystique.
Do you think that’s been lost a bit?
Ben: I think a bit; definitely in New York. And rightly so – you can see what’s happening socially with people pushing back against a certain idea of males in rock. It’s very good that that’s happening. But maybe there’s a paranoia that, when people do that, it’s no longer fun or cool to be explicitly sexual – I think that’s the wrong way of dealing with it. I mean, everyone is extremely sexual – apart from some asexual people, not to leave them out. But that’s a big part of creation and daily experience, and it’s also just really fun – me personally, I like to see a really sexy band. That could mean just wearing a nice shirt, or singing about –
Nikki: Your genitals!
Ben: Or fetishes they have, or whatever.
A lot of bands that were overtly sexual in the past, you look back on that and it’s kind of gross. Is there a way to channel that that’s not so male-centric and predatory do you think?
Nikki: Definitely – I mean, anything with consent, you know? We’re talking about ourselves and our sexuality, we’re not coming out and pointing at you and being like, ‘Strip!’, or, ’I want your power to be taken away from you in order to feel sexy’ – that’s really not it. We’re definitely putting ourselves forward and saying ‘Hey, I look sexy – you can look at me, I give you permission’. There’s consent in everything that we’re doing, which is not so prevalent in rock music from the past.
‘Endless Scroll’ feels like a record torn between past and present. On the one hand, there’s that futuristic vibe; on the other, there’s Ben’s lyrics. Lashing out at modern society’s reliance on technology, it feels at points like he might be longing for a bygone era – one where that pure embrace of art and music is unencumbered by crowds glues mobile phones, and the instant gratification of streaming and social media. His answer, in typical BODEGA fashion, is two-fold.
“I would say that I hope there is no cynicism on the record whatsoever – for me, it’s a romantic record,” he counters. “It’s all about trying to express this sort of yearning feeling for something else. So, if I’m criticising things, it’s because I think that they can change. I guess I am very pessimistic about a lot of modern trappings – I hate a lot of web 2.0, and social media and things like that. I really do think that it makes people duller and morally weakened. I do really believe that. But that’s not coming from a place of cynicism, that’s coming from a place of… sort of like a utopia.”
Madison says he sees some of Ben’s outlook coming to fruition already. “You can see young people at the moment reacting negatively to the trappings of social media – like, it’s not cool,” he shrugs.
“The litmus test is like, imagine if Bob Dylan had an Instagram – fuck no would he have an Instagram!” laughs Ben – a statement which sets off another wave of disagreement amongst the group. BODEGA, by the way, do have an Instagram.
“I like the idea of using tools in new ways,” Ben shrugs. “It’s like television – people thought, in the 70s, they thought you could fund and make really interesting art on television and you could educate the masses. Maybe it does work, but I think that the experiment of television was disastrous – all it did was create one giant endless stream of advertisements that has retarded our culture.”
Montana interjects – “that’s not the technology, that’s the capitalist system” – before Ben doubles back: “Yeah, but the medium is the message, come on!”
“We like to debate,” deadpans Madison, to a room full of laughter.
That functional fizzure that’s so central to BODEGA’s collective entity truly comes alive on-stage. As the band take to the Lexington stage for that final UK show of the tour, that sarcastic, sexual energy is palpable as they writhe, lurch and sweat about the dinky pub venue like tangled up shaggers, making steadfast eye contact with the front rows throughout. It’d feel almost voyeuristic, were Ben and Nikki not crying out for more at every opportunity, captivating the crowd with their hypnotic, hedonistic presence.
“Rock is kind of amazing in that sense,” Ben says of their all-or-nothing approach, “you can smell when something doesn’t really come from someone’s gut and blood, and that really matters.” It’s a statement which, once again, is pored over and picked apart – one that feels almost contradictory, but when delivered in BODEGA’s confident manner, comes off more like yet another mission statement.
“Rock is just so much more superficial – and I mean that as a compliment,” Ben continues, before peeling back on himself. “That’s kind of what I meant about the sexy – when you see, in the NME, a group standing there posing and they look good: it makes you feel good. There’s something extremely superficial in that, but in the best sense of the world.
“How do you think people should feel seeing your bare ass on the NME?” smirks Nikki, to a peel of laughter. “They should feel empowered to take off their clothes,” Ben chuckles, “Well… and read the interview, you know?