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Cultural Capital

Bodega Has Seen Every Scene

The band's new release "Our Brand Could Be Yr Life" embodies the last several eras of Brooklyn rock.

(Pooneh Ghana / Bodega)

The green room at Baby's All Right isn't a room per se, it's a small section of hallway that's cordoned off by a red velvet curtain, with servers emerging from the kitchen in the back, passing through with tacos, burritos and burgers on silver trays. That's where the five members of the Brooklyn-based post-punk loyalists Bodega were running around on Friday night, ahead of their release show for their third LP, "Our Brand Could Be Yr Life," a series of reflections on the discord between one's artistic and professional lives—who's a friend, who's just an "ATM." In accordance with the color scheme of the album's cover, which features a turquoise ATM made out of cardboard standing in a black void, they were wearing coordinating black and turquoise outfits. 

Ben Hozie, one of Bodega's lead singers, had a huge beanie on his head. He was talking to me, but keeping one ear on the opener, Consumables, who were soundchecking on stage. I asked him about his first encounter with Michael Azerrad's "Our Band Could Be Your Life," the biblical tome of punk history that the album is named after which chronicles the bands that, in the 80s and 90s, wove the tattered remains of the punk scene into a devoted quilt of indie rock communities that spanned the United States's cities and suburbs. "I read it at the most perfect time. I was graduating from college, trying to figure out what to do," Hozie said. "I was already in bands, I must have been like 21. It just made me take music super seriously."

The scenes in that book are practically mythical, the kind of dream that leads kids from South Carolina, like a young Hozie, to move to the city in the mid-2000s and start their own band. "Sonic Youth was like my favorite band at the time, so that's why I picked it up, but through it I got into Fugazi, Minutemen," Hozie said, his Jazzmaster in his lap. "Fandom is an important topic for me. If I have any say in rock at all, it's because I'm a superfan of so many," he added, as the band's comped burritos and tacos arrived. "My only skill lies in that I've willed my fandom into making stuff, and doing things I wished my favorite artists would do."

Bodega formed in 2016, out of a previous iteration called Bodega Bay, the band's precursor that also included Hozie and Nikki Belfiglio, the other lead singer of Bodega, which had performed since 2013. "Our Brand Could Be Yr Life" is a higher fidelity remake and re-record of a Bodega Bay album, a victory lap on a decade of music made and played in Brooklyn.

The story of Bodega is the story of a swathe of Brooklyn rock history of the past 15 years—to understand both where that scene has been and where it's going, you can listen to Bodega's discography, from Bodega Bay's dry, GarageBand-take on psychedelia to the wry records that broke them through. "I've been a part of maybe three eras of Brooklyn," Hozie told me. 

"I was part of the Todd P, early DIY era, where bands like Black Dice and Animal Collective were all of our heroes." Then came the lo-fi resurgence led by Vivian Girls, he noted, and then the woozy, beachy Captured Tracks sound—Mac Demarco, DIIV. "Bodega Bay started as a response to that kind of music, because we were like, we're not gonna have any reverb, chorus, or delay. And our lyrics are gonna be super direct," Hozie said. "We were all really interested in revitalizing a certain tradition of punk that doesn't sound like punk." Going back to the 2015 version of "Our Brand Can Be Yr Life," you can hear how they're both being influenced by and reacting to those other records. The whole idea of a 33-track album recorded on GarageBand is such a 2010s thing, the era's notion of a punk gesture. That's how musical reactions can become innovations, and eventually a trademark sound. 

When Bodega Bay reorganized into Bodega in 2016, the band re-emerged into a scene that Hozie said was focused on making "contemporary political music," like Parquet Courts, B-Boys and Gustav. "That's a scene that's mostly dissolved now," he noted. Bodega's opening salvo was 2018's "Endless Scroll," an album that wandered in the ruins of the hipster's semi-digital empire, encountering guys like the antagonist from their song "Name Escape," who menaces you both on message boards and in bars, talking your ear off about the "latest single from the so-and-the-so's." "Do you know this guy?" Hozie asks jokingly on the record. It seemed like everyone did, and deep down feared they were that guy, too.

Unlike the other so-and-sos, Bodega is still here, though if you last saw them around the release of their previous album "Broken Equipment," they've added a new member: Adam Shumski, a Philadelphian drummer with a jazz background. (They call him "AS3," since he's the band's third "Adam S."—the first is Adam See, who is still in the band playing bass, and the second is Adam Sachs, who mixed the band's albums.) Over the years, including collaborators from Bodega Bay, former members have also included percussionist Tai Lee, Madison Velding-VanDam of the band The Wants, and the former Senior Film Programmer at Japan Society in New York, Aiko Masubachi.

The new release fleshes out the songs from nearly a decade ago, and streamlines the record from 33 tracks down to a sleek 15 that sound ready to be printed on vinyl, and like they were recorded on what sound like professional-grade microphones rather than directly into a laptop. "Webster Hall," a psych-rock duet that centers on two different sides of an argument about an of Montreal concert, benefits from the band's development, particularly Dan Ryan's winding guitar leads. You can hear the interceding 10 years of Brooklyn musical history, too: the move from scratchy, fuck you lo-fi to poppy focus and clarity.

At Baby's, their show was so packed the venue staff gave up on trying to fit everyone in the audience hall, pulling down the divider between the hall and the bar and shutting off the music elsewhere in the venue to accommodate the crowd of about 300 cool millennial Brooklynites. 

As the band charged into the punk bounce of "ATM," the Doc Martens started stomping and the flannel-wrapped arms went in the air. The members of Bodega like to command the stage, with Hozie and Belfiglio inhabiting flamboyant, masters-of-ceremony characters, complete with dramatic dance moves and sunglasses on stage—at one point during their show, they sprayed custom-made "Bodega Bucks" out of cash cannons, and brought the turquoise-colored cardboard ATM from the cover onto the stage. They even threw a Fugazi cover into "Tarkovski," the lead single from "Our Brand Could Be Yr Life."

In a phone interview some weeks earlier, I had asked Hozie and Belfiglio what they thought of indie sleaze, the rock-ish scene du jour in Brooklyn, and whether they saw any resonance, since they seem to share a post-punk influence. "Are you referring to The Dare and stuff like that?" Hozie asked. Well, yeah I was—the smirking nihilism seemed to be the other side of the arch irony Hozie said was an important part of the Bodega voice. "They're such a product of the post-pandemic," Hozie said of the indie sleazers. "Especially in like 2016 to 2020, that wave we were associated with, the music was very about social commentary. Maybe there was a burnout with that. And The Dare's music is just like, 'You know what? We just want to party, and do coke and try to hook up with people,'" he said. "It feels like younger people, their peak party years [were] during the pandemic, so they're like, 'Here's finally our band that's just fun.'"

Bodega, in all of its iterations, has also been all about fun, the kind of band that would go through the effort of putting on matching outfits and pulling stunts like playing the same song ten times in a row, or, as they did last Friday, shooting fake cash out of a cannon. "The difference between us and the indie sleaze thing is we're also cultural commenters and pop philosophers," Hozie said; I could practically hear him turning to Belfiglio for corroboration on that last point—the band tries to walk a line between delivering lines on malaise induced by the internet, or the scene, or consumer culture, without ever being, you know, "political." (Take, for example, "Cultural Consumer III" and its lines, "The tank's empty / consume, consume, consume.")

Belfiglio piped up: "There was a bit of a scene back then, and then when we got national, international interest, we kind of became an island," she said. "It's helped us not to follow any scene trends or anything, but at the same time, we lost the sense of community, because we were essentially forced to become a business." 

The success that the band experienced with 2018's "Endless Scroll" was unlike anything they had experienced before, and caused a disconnect with the Brooklyn scene. "If your friends are like, yo, hop on this bill! We really can't do that, because we're trying to pay our rent with this band," Hozie said.

They've been forced to learn that being a rockstar these days involves less scene, more social media marketing. But since 2022, Hozie has been trying to go out in Brooklyn every night again, and find new bands he's genuinely excited about. That's what makes Brooklyn different, he told me: "Everybody's trying to make scenes happen."

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