"Your playlist knows you better than a closest lover," Bodega's Ben Hozie sings on "How Did This Happen?!" The first track off the NYC band's stellar debut Endless Scroll, it blazes by in a jangling burst of caustic and witty lyrics about political protests, social media addiction, and personal disconnection. Hozie and his Bodega bandmates (Nikki Belfiglio, Montana Simone, Madison Velding-Vandam, and Heather Elle) cram more ideas into those three minutes than most bands manage to spit out on an entire record.
Formed from the ashes of Bodega Bay, Hozie and Belfiglio's last group, Bodega proudly owns up to the influence of fellow New York art-rock bands on their sound. It's hard not to hear traces of The Strokes, Talking Heads, LeTigre, and Parquet Courts in the band's potent stew of male/female vocal interplay, propulsive grooves, and willingness to sweeten their cultural community with humor. The influence of Parquet Courts should come as no surprise: P.C.'s Austin Brown produced Endless Scroll.
While Endless Scroll is another link in the great chain of arty NYC music, they still manage to sound unique. Their music videos are full of savagely funny commentary and beguiling light boxes; they post polemics on their pages about their refusal to be a "basic" or "Pizzacore" band; and they aren't afraid to get sexual in their lyrics ("Can I tell you that no one shows devotion when they're down on their knees quite like me," Hozie sings on "Jack in Titanic") and stage performances.
Bodega are on tour now. We got a chance to talk to Hozie before their Tuesday show at Valley Bar. We talked about The Grateful Dead, the band's songwriting process, and what's the deal with Pizzacore.
You've talked about not wanting Bodega to be a Pizzacore band ('We're drinking light beer, eating pizza, and we're going to rock'). I cracked up reading about the idea of Pizzacore because I can think of quite a few groups in Arizona that fit that bill. Are there a lot of groups on the East Coast that match this description? Is Pizzacore a big thing in New York?
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I think it’s a very American phenomenon. I noticed it the most in SXSW when we went down there in Austin. I don’t think that’s a quality inherent to Austin — there are garage bands from all over the state that go there now. It’s a California thing, but there’s certainly a lot of bands like that in New York … It’s tricky because I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me after reading that. Like, angry about it. “I’m Pizzacore — fuck you, man!” I’m not exactly saying I hate what you do, it’s just not at all what we want to do.
If I had more time, I’d write an essay — I think it’s this interesting phenomena that no one’s defined yet. I just see it everywhere now, you know?
Where do you think that impulse stems from? Why are so many groups embracing this Pizzacore identity?
I think it’s because rock, at least on a pop level, is no longer seen as cutting-edge. It’s not on the radio. It kind of feels stagnant for a lot of reasons. It could be a strange reaction to that. Like, “We don’t want to be a part of the pop culture.” It’s a whole nostalgia thing. Let’s act like we’re still 15 years old, Mom’s going to make us Bagel Bites, and we’re going to play video games and smoke weed and stuff.
In your past interviews, you've talked up the virtues of being pretentious. I think it's interesting that, in a social media era where we're all encouraged to be performative and put on these facades, that you don't see more groups embrace that kind of attitude. Like, we're in a band, let's be fucking weird and arty. It almost seems like that kind of attitude is discouraged in the digital age.
Yeah, there’s this tendency with social media for everyone to be completely transparent. Everybody’s trying to keep it real so hard. You even see intellectuals on Twitter and they’re like, “Hey, I’m a normal guy, I like baseball too.” Which is ... there’s something very nice about that, but it’s weird. It seems like it’s become a big part of social media for everyone to seem more normal and down to earth, in a way.
I was watching your "Knock The Hustle" video on your Tumblr the other day and one of the questions you pose in that video — "Does social media make you more moral?" — stuck with me. Do you think that has something to do with that transparency you were talking about? That need to be seen as down to earth?
It’s because you’re being watched so you have to perform being a good person all the time. The downside to it, what I was trying to imply with that question, is that there’s this witch hunt thing that happens on social media. I’ve seen this a lot. One of my friends will make a mistake or say something a little sensitive on the microphone on stage, and the next day the whole community is just giving it — just railing into this guy. It’s like, okay, maybe that guy learned his lesson, but there’s also something that’s so scary with how quickly a community, the algorithm, can flip.
As a collective, how do you approach songwriting?
It’s collaborative in different ways. Me and Nikki tend to write all our songs in isolation, just to be able to think about what’s going on. A lot of what we say is a product of group — we hang around a lot and talk about things. A lot of times these songs are the result of long conversations. For example, that video you referred to earlier, that’s something we talked about a lot in the van while on tour.
Usually what happens is that me and Nikki will write something real crude and simple. Just the words, melody, and the most basic chord changes. And then we bring it to the band and Madison, who’s the other guitar player- he’s the most musical one of us, by far — he’s kind of our de facto musical director. He helps with the arrangements, strips away any cliche things we’ve written. And then we’ll bring it to the rhythm section, and we’ll work really hard to make sure it has a good groove.
Recently we’ve been trying to jam the old-fashioned way. Someone throws an idea out there and we try to build around it. We’ve got two or three new songs from that, but so far that’s the exception to the rule.
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Y'all have been pretty open about the NYC art-rock and post-punk influences on your music. I was wondering if there were any influences on Bodega's sound and approach that would surprise people? A role model that would catch your fans off-guard?
The biggest influence for me, in terms of how we run the band, is The Grateful Dead. They eventually became something terrible but for the first 15 years of their band, they were way more punk than most punk bands were. Something we really aim for in our live shows is a kind of intoxicated transcendence. We do these extended jams. I value that spontaneity. You go to one of those shows, you wonder, “What are they going to play? Maybe they’re gonna bust out this version of that song.” We don’t have that big of a catalog yet but we try to make every show unique.
Nikki’s really, really into pop music. She’s obsessed with Madonna. She doesn’t have the same reverence for the post-punk bands that were important to Bodega on this last record. Like, for example, “Gyrate” — I was like, let’s make it sound sonically like a funky New Wave song. But I think in her mind, that’s more like one of the weirder Britney Spears songs.