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Bodega: 'Believing in a Great Band Can Be a Life-Changing Thing'

The NYC Cultural Agitators give the skinny on 'Art Punk', brand identity and why their new album is about 'having a crisis of faith in rock music and trying to redeem it at the same time.'

Source: Pooneh Ghana

Brooklyn 'Art Punks' Bodega's third album will be released April 12, 2024.

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The first most people outside Brooklyn heard of New York rockers Bodega was 2018, when their debut Endless Scroll – described by the Guardian as “riot grrrl rant meets deadpan satire” – brought a new fizz and intelligence to the post-punk game. So much so that comparisons were quickly made with the likes of Courtney Barnett, Parquet Courts, and even LCD Soundsystem – an assertion that was backed up after the release of the follow-up, 2022’s Broken Equipment. While fiercely maintaining their unapologetically literate edge, the at-times ramshackle, stoner rock of the debut was tempered with a more melodic edge, or, in the NME’s words, “sugary post-punk goodness”.

Two years later, and they’re back with LP number three… except, in an odd way, it’s sort of LP number zero. Our Brand Could Be Your Life sees songwriters (and co-singers) Ben Hozie and Nikki Belfiglio return to their pre-Endless Scroll output, previously only heard by what Hozie insists is “a handful of people in Bushwick, Brooklyn”, to rework the very first songs they wrote together into 15 sparkling, hook-heavy, supremely catchy new numbers.

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If it sounds pretentious to talk of looking backwards in order to move forwards… well, that’s the kind of thing Bodega themselves would say, so go figure. Either way, the first releases from Our Brand Could Be Your Life are immensely promising. Lead single and glorious earworm “Tarkovski” has been all over BBC 6 Music, with Steve Lamacq and Deb Grant especially championing the song, and this week the superb follow-up “City Is Taken” was released. Less obviously radio-friendly than “Tarkovski”, Belfiglio’s ever-so-slightly menacing, nursery-rhyme vocal on “City Is Taken” is offset by a driving, off-kilter melody that gets into your consciousness and stubbornly refuses to leave.

Ahead of the release of Our Brand Could Be Your Life, Q caught up with Ben and Nikki to talk art, books, the redemptive power of great music, the problem with America, and the tricky balance of “treading a very thin line between punk rock theater and ‘whoa, this is a train wreck’.”

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Hi Bodega. Congratulations on the forthcoming album – both the singles are getting pretty strong airplay on BBC 6 Music here in the U.K. Has it been surprising for you to get to get such a strong response over here?

Ben: Wow, I'm so glad, I love 6 Music. I feel like it's because of 6 Music that that we're able to tour the U.K. at all. We're such Anglophiles in terms of our music taste anyway, and it's like okay, people over there seem to really like the sh*t that I really like… so it kind of makes sense that they would like our band too.

Nikki: We're trying to do more melodic stuff this time. We're hoping we'll grab an American audience. There is a New York scene and we dip into it I guess, but I think as yet America hasn't quite gotten into our post-punky, rap, rocky style of music. I mean, America is so big, it's like a thousand different countries… but I think Americans might like this record too.

Ben: I grew up in South Carolina and even if you know where that is, bands just don't go there. Like, huge bands like Foo Fighters are not even going there. There's no market for rock music there. And that's what a lot of America is like. Of course, New York is an exception, and there are other exceptions... But yeah, in order to like, “Break America”? I don't even know how that happens.

bodega at the atm
Source: Ebru Yildiz

Bodega'a new album is a reworking of songs written before either of their first two LPs.

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You've been described as “Art Punks” – how do you feel about that? Do you see what you do as art… or is it just rock and roll?

Ben: All rock and roll is art. All music is art. That should be pretty clear to see. But I actually like the term. When I was a kid, if I saw that, I would be like, okay, this is something that's going to be a little bit more conceptual than just, you know, the Sex Pistols.

You said that this record is more “melodic”: to me it feels like this is the most commercial of the three albums you've made and that it's more… I don’t want to use the word “poppy”, but it's got more hooks and radio-friendly songs. Is that fair?

Ben: Yeah, it's funny because these songs were written before the first two records, so I feel like they have a naivete about them. They’re actually some of the first songs we ever wrote, so their simplicity maybe lends itself more towards like, ear-candy or something like that?

Nikki: I think that it does have a more commercial aspect, but it is funny that it came from such strong DIY roots. It just goes to show you how branding can really be effective.

Ben: It’s weird because we were playing a very similar set of this album in, let's say, 2013, to 75 people tops every night and it never went anywhere.

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art punks bodega
Source: Pooneh Ghana

Singles 'Tarkovski' and 'City is Taken' have received support from BBC 6 Music.

So why rework them? Did you just think, actually these are great songs, we should do them again and throw a bit more production at them?

Ben: Yeah, it's a little bit of that. I love these songs because I feel like they're when I found my songwriting voice. I feel like it's when the Bodega idea materialized. Those songs are an essential part of the story and until now nobody outside of Brooklyn would have known about them. It was sort of like a fun conceptual game too, to think, okay, let's go back, treat the past as a kind of sketch and see if we can adapt those songs to our new band.

We did originally make a record of them back in the day, but it was so aggressively lo-fi that it was basically unlistenable. We recorded everything through MacBook speaker mics, not even any microphones or anything, because at the time I was really into the whole sh*t-fi, no-fi kind of scene. It was like: we don't want to make anything that could be played on the radio, like f**k you, we’re making something that sounds like sh*t on purpose.

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Source: Pooneh Ghana

The album was inspired by the 2001 book 'Our Band Could Be Your Life'.

The album title come from the 2001 book, Our Band Could Be Your Life, which was a really deep dive into the American underground indie/punk scene of the 80s and 90s. How important was that scene to you?

Ben: So important. It's the reason I started the band. Not only that scene, but that book. I read it at a really important time in my life and it really lit a fire under my ass. The book maps out an incredible story of the American version of punk rock which is so different than the British version. And because America is so big you have this very Huckleberry Finn attitude of just getting in the van and driving. Literally you got to put 9,000 miles in to tour the country. And it's that kind of story which that book maps out. I think it's pretty essential to bands like us even today – no matter how digitized things get, you still got to get in the van and do tours the same old way. So yeah, it's super important to me, and I see ourselves as part of the legacy of those bands.

Also I wanted to sort of satirize my own music fandom, in a “kill your idols” kind of way. I feel like sometimes the “brand” can be so much bigger than the reality of the band. You know what I mean?

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Is that why you you messed with the title then? To change “Our Band” to Our Brand?

Ben: Exactly. My point is that for me at the time, Indie Rock felt like this really important thing that was different from the way corporate America seemed to be run… but then I saw that it's really not.

Nikki: It's just another niche market, and we got to experience that in Brooklyn, when we were seeing all of the venues start to shut down. That was our whole scene. I don't think we even played a venue that had a liquor license for a long time, for years.

Ben: I'm someone who's spent so much time thinking about, listening to and making rock music, and sometimes I feel betrayed by it. And maybe that’s my own problem for investing so much into it. So Our Brand Could Be Your Life is sort of like us having a crisis of faith in rock music and trying to coming to terms with its superficiality – but also trying to make a great rock record, trying to redeem it at the same time. It's complicated.

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That sounds quite despairing? Do you feel that bands can still change lives?

Ben: Of course! Bands will always have that power, with teenagers especially. For me it was Jane's Addiction. That band was my life for years. I think a big thing about growing up is when you come to a clashing point where the external world is all of a sudden scary and all the naivete that you had as a child is being shattered and you need to believe in something. And I think believing in a great band can be a life changing thing.

As for despairing… when I first wrote these songs and when Bodega started, I was pi**ed. I would get on stage and just talk sh*t about everybody in the room. In some ways it was a little bit disturbing. It was like throwing a temper tantrum on stage, like treading a very thin line between punk rock theater and whoa, this is a train wreck.

Nikki: Some people loved it, though.

Ben: Oh yeah, I mean it made for an interesting show, right? But as the band has progressed I’ve been trying to channel that energy into, I guess, less alienating ways and more artistically fruitful ways. So a lot of that's through humor, and a lot of that's through sublimating it into song.

Don’t get me wrong though: sometimes Bodega still has chaotic nights where the dark side comes out.

bodega our brand could be your life
Source: Ebru Yildiz

'I'm a cultural consumer... that's my way of making art.'

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So the reference to the book in the album title is part of that rechanneling of anger or energy?

Ben: I think when you throw out references to films or books, people think that you're playing metatextual, academic games. That's not what I'm doing at all. I'm a cultural consumer and I'm obsessed with films, obsessed with records, obsessed with books, and so if I'm gonna make music that directly captures my experience of the world, it's going to be through the prism of records, films and books. That's my way of making art.

We're lucky in that we can do a goofy rap song, we can do a ballad, we do a power pop song, we can do whatever, and people are just like, yeah, this is all rock, you know?

Some of the biggest bands in the world, like a good corporate brand, will just do one thing, and they’ll do it really well and it's easier to sell because it's just one thing. Maybe if we were a little savvier, we'd just do that one thing, but I think that's kind of boring. And who wants to make boring music?

Our Brand Could Be Your Life is released on April 12, 2024 on Chrysalis Records.


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