Words by Tommy Johnson
Engrossed in a book club back in the early parts of 2020, Nikki Belfiglio, Ben Hozie, and others were exploring compelling works of highly respected philosophers. The seemingly impassioned conversations that the group found themselves lasted longer than the scheduled time allotted. In many ways, these exchanges also were the catalyst for Belfiglio and Hozie to amalgamate their ideologies into their musical project Bodega’s latest effort, Broken Equipment.
The recording of Broken Equipment during the pandemic enlisted the regrouping of Belfiglio and Hozie with drummer Tai Lee, bassist Adam See, and lead guitarist Dan Ryan. Pressed with references to New York City, BODEGA paints Broken Equipment with issues involving targeting, media gentrification, and the band itself. The attempt to be themselves while propelling existential quandaries with tongue-in-cheek humor, highly personal lyrics and irresistible grooves give listeners an album that is the most authentic and most polished work for BODEGA.
Off Shelf: How did the partnership with you and Nikki come about?
Ben Hozie: Nikki and I met at a Montreal concert in 2013 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. I quickly hit it off with her and her roommate – filmmaker Joe Wakeman – and invited them to be in my band at the time, Bodega Bay. We eventually became lovers and formed BODEGA together in 2016.
OS: What were some of the book clubs favorites that you personally need to check out?
BH: These lead to very fruitful/passionate discussions: Pedadgogy of the Oppressed – Paulo Freire, Between Past and Future – Hannah Arendt, The Question Concerning Technology, and Building Dwelling Thining – Martin Heidegger.
OS: When did it become clear that what was being talked about in your book club was seeping into the writing of Broken Equipment?
BH: The texts we read did influence the lyrics of the record to a certain extent but what was most influential was the camaraderie of our book club. We had such a good time hanging out with the de facto leader of our reading group, Adam See, that we asked him to join on bass guitar.
OS: It feels individuals have looked deeper into what has become of our lives to this point during the pandemic. Did the works you were reading help make you want to make any changes personally?
BH: If anything, the pandemic made me want to get in touch with my body more. I became much more aware of the fragility of health and began to cherish things such as playing neighborhood pickup basketball and flag football. There’s nothing quite like the euphoria of a runner’s high on a sunny summer afternoon. It’s not dissimilar to the feeling I get after playing a long and satisfying concert with the group.
OS: How impactful was it to regroup with Tai, Adam, and Dan during the pandemic?
BH: It was extremely impactful. Despite all of the advances in music production, there is nothing like playing music with other people in real-time.
OS: The overall production for Broken Equipment feels more polished and fleshed out. From previous efforts, did this time around feel different in terms of how you went about recording?
BH: Definitely. We had much more time to work things out, so I spent a lot of time getting better at home recording and learning how to build arrangements in Logic and Pro Tools. On the first record, everything was worked out mostly live in our practice space – or in crude demos on top of finished song forms – but this time we spent some time writing ‘in the box.’ My friend Bobby Lewis was a big help in encouraging Nikki and me to write in new ways. We’re interested in very different kinds of rock and pop music; we never want to get stuck doing one particular thing.
OS: Were there any artists or bands that you were listening to that helped influence the recording of the new album?
BH: Yes… this time, I wanted to lean more into two huge influences on the band: A. 80’s hip hop ala Eric B and Rakim and early Beastie Boys and B. Classic 60’s pop/rock – Beatles/Dylan. The goal was to synthesize those two very different influences and still sound like us, ideally in the same song. A track that does both simultaneously fairly well is “No Blade of Grass.”
OS: What I love most about the band is that the energy feels that it harnesses the vibe of NYC as a whole. Did you want to spotlight what has been brewing all around the city with some tracks?
BH: Yes, to a certain extent, but also, there are so many different versions of New York City. My experience of NYC is going to be very different from somebody else who lives there. That is why I titled the song “NYC (disambiguation)” — that song is a very condensed history of New York’s relationship between finance and the arts, but it is only one way of looking at that story. I thought of it as perhaps one entry you’d find on Wikipedia.
OS: With the toxicity of what the internet invokes in people, how difficult has it been for you not to fall into the traps laid out? Do you find yourselves just ignoring most of what’s presented?
BH: I read somewhere recently that negative posts on social media always get far more engagement than positive ones. For example, if somebody says, ‘I really hate this band because of X,’ it will get far more likes and comments than if somebody says, “I really love this band because of X.” That says something about the kind of psychology and hate-mongering that social media encourages. It’s very similar to gossip in grade school. It’s important to remember that the hungry, low self-esteem personalities social media highlights are only a small sliver of the population. I engage with it on a small level because I want to present our band’s music and my cinema to the culture, but I also am wary of putting too much stock into it. Lately, I’ve been trying to use it only to share things that I enjoy and news from the band.
OS: How much does your work with filmmaking consign with your music? Do you try to keep both entities separate?
BH: I deal with the same thematics in my songs and cinema, and prescient viewers will spot cross-references, but the process of filmmaking is completely different from songwriting. Also, with some very few exceptions, I don’t particularly appreciate it when movies use pop and rock songs, so I almost never have rock music in my movies. I like songs too much to have them relegated to score or background music. On the other note, I’d like to make a movie about a bumbling indie rock band one day. I’ve never seen one appropriately done and certainly I have a lot to say on the subject.
OS: Tracks such as “After Jane” give listeners a deeper insight into your life. How difficult is it for you to be that open?
BH: I almost kept that song off the record for how heavy it weighed on my heart, but Nikki convinced me to release it. Hopefully, it helps other people who have gone through something similar.
OS: You worked with Julie Fox on PVT Chat. How many people have sent you the clip of her discussing her involvement in the writing of Uncut Gems?
BH: Not too many, fortunately. I’m very happy for Julia’s success and was lucky enough to get to work with her before her fame exploded. Hopefully, all of the attention she’s getting doesn’t drive her mad. It can’t be easy.