BODEGA frontman Ben Hozie believes that many of the words he writes, sings and shouts in his band aren’t entirely his own. “If there’s one BODEGA thesis that we’ve had all along, it’s that we don’t trust our own thoughts,” he tells DIY just minutes into a Zoom call from his New York apartment. “We know that we are being thought by the media, or something as seemingly innocent as a YouTube advert that we saw that day. The older I get, I realise that many of the words that come out of my mouth are not my own.” So far, so heavy.
This deep thinking and scepticism of technology has always been deeply ingrained in BODEGA’s music since the beginning, the title of their 2018 debut album ‘Endless Scroll’ emblematic of the way Ben and songwriting partner Nikki Belfiglio skewer modern trends with openly pretentious wit on their songs. Listening to BODEGA has always been more fun than that sounds though, with ‘Endless Scroll’’s biggest hit, ‘Jack In Titanic’, seeing Ben compare himself to Leo DiCaprio’s beloved character through a host of winking one-liners.
On ‘Doers’, the first single from second album ‘Broken Equipment’, Ben hits out at the ‘always on’ culture, bemoaning how he’s been dragged down with the rest of us into a hazy malaise of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. As is his skill, though, the track ends up being as funny as it is thought-provoking. In its chorus, he borrows from Daft Punk’s biggest hit, saying that this lifestyle is making him “bitter, harder, fatter, stressed out.” His painfully-relatable schedule, which he lays out in the track’s bridge, goes: “Ten minutes Calendar / Ten minutes Bandcamp / Ten minutes Wiki browse / Ten minutes planning my next ten minutes.”
It’s not entirely surprising for an endlessly wordy, literate band that the genesis of ‘Broken Equipment’ came from a book club Ben and Nikki started with friends at the start of 2020. At the time, the band’s bassist Heather Elle and guitarist Madison Velding-VanDam had left the band to focus on their own groups - Flossing. and The Wants respectively - and the book club’s leader, philosophy professor Adam See, also happened to be a bassist. “We thought, ‘Oh it’s too bad Adam isn’t in our band’ because BODEGA is somewhat of a philosophical project,” Ben remembers, with the band then inevitably recruiting him. “A lot of our discussions impacted my lyric writing.”
“If there’s one BODEGA thesis that we’ve had all along, it’s that we don’t trust our own thoughts.”
— Ben Hozie
While the first handful of songs on ‘Broken Equipment’ are easily identifiable to older BODEGA fans - Ben and Nikki’s sardonic delivery set over wiry post-punk - the album takes a turn around a third of the way through, when speaking is replaced by singing and melody is suddenly prioritised. On ‘NYC (Disambiguation)’, Ben sings of how his hometown was “founded by a corporation” - a familiar subject matter for BODEGA - but its lyrics are sung with such a melodic turn and set over anthemic electric guitars that it ends up sounding completely joyous.
“After touring the first record for two years, I was getting sick of shouting every night,” Ben says. “A songwriter ultimately wants to convey their soul or worldview through song, and I started to feel like only a slither of the Ben that I’m constantly in dialogue with in my head is coming through in this music. I’m not that guy. When I grew up I was a Beatles obsessive,” he adds, revealing that - despite developing obsessions for The Fall and Parquet Courts, bands who make music that’s tonally aligned with the original iteration of BODEGA - his favourite band of all time is Athens, Georgia-based indie-pop masters Of Montreal. “We wanted to convey a gentleness and sense of humour with the music,” he says. “We want to be a little sunnier, a little more fun, a little more inviting.”
This softening of the band’s tough, worn-down exterior is extremely evident on the album’s back half. ‘Pillar On The Bridge Of You’ - another warm, melodic departure - is the first love song Ben has ever written for Nikki, while the album closes with ‘After Jane’, a stark and emotional ballad written for Ben’s mother, who passed away while the band were recording ‘Endless Scroll’. In getting as personal as it’s possible to get, he also firmly reclaims the words and thoughts he believes have been taken from him by society.
“We haven’t recorded them yet, but we have 33 new songs already written,” Nikki says matter-of-factly, stating that the second half of ‘Broken Equipment’ and its brighter, warmer textures signal the way forward into the band’s future. “After the first three songs on the album, we’ve started a new era,” she adds.
The song that’s emblematic of this change, balancing the new and old BODEGA delicately but perfectly, is album highlight ‘Statuette On The Console’. The sugary, wonderfully addictive song sees Nikki pondering religion, overlords both ancient and modern, and “anyone who puts their reality on your back and forces you to carry it around.” To embody the different perspectives in the song, she recorded vocals in nine different languages.
“When you look through the lens of discovering who you are,” Nikki says, “the first step is to define who you’re not. A lot of the things that you’re not are these external forces pushing down on you. We don’t have any answers on this album, we’re just still reflecting upon the weight bearing down on us… or maybe it’s the Wi-Fi.”
‘Broken Equipment’ is out now via What’s Your Rupture?
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