In 2016, when Ben Hozie and Nikki Belfiglio’s band Bodega Bay broke up, they determined things had to change if they were going to keep making music. The co–lead singers had been in various bands for years, carefully taking notes of what worked and what didn’t. They ultimately compiled a list of twelve commandments — rules to rock by — for Bodega, their newly formed Bushwick/Ridgewood–based post-punk act:
Hozie, having grown up all over the country, is a bit of a musical nomad and had been playing in loads of what he calls “generic guy rock bands” since moving to New York a decade ago. He met Belfiglio, who grew up in Kingston, New York, in 2013. A year later, she joined Bodega Bay, which Hozie had started with drummer Aiko Masubuchi, and they released their only album, 2015’s Our Brand Could Be Your Life, but grew tired of that group’s glam rock tendencies. They wanted to launch a more serious project, eventually rounding out the lineup with bassist Heather Elle, guitarist Madison Velding-Vandam, and Montana Simone on the stand-up drums.
“This is an older band — we’re all 28 to 33,” Belfiglio explains. “When we got together two years ago, we were all going through our Saturn returns, we were facing what it is we wanted from our own lives as well as from the projects that we’d been in — there was a lot of contention around that. This band is very vocal — everyone is an alpha dog, every member has their own very particular opinions and wants to be heard. That tension was really good in creating rules because we had to fight. We had to make rules about how we had to come to terms with how to make decisions with each person feeling good and feeling heard. It was a really good aspect for pushing us forward with intention.”
That intention makes them likely the most self-serious and motivated band coming up in Brooklyn at the moment — and perhaps the best. But the last rule on the above list, that every lyric needs a specific context, is what separates them the most from their local contemporaries and what has led to their debut album, Endless Scroll (out today via What’s Your Rupture?), sounding like the best account of what life is like in Bushwick in 2018.
“So many Brooklyn bands don’t sound like Brooklyn bands,” Hozie says, noting that they wanted to place the listener in Bushwick specifically. “The third song is all set in my mind in [legendary DIY music venue] Palisades, which is now long since gone.”
That song, “Name Escape,” simultaneously takes the piss out of gentrified Bushwick culture while providing a loving account of its bar and music scene, where a sea of predominantly white bearded men, all trying to stand out, end up looking exactly the same.
Hozie, trying to figure out who the hell he’s run into at Palisades, pseudo-raps through each memory he associates with the mystery man. “I’ve seen him at Palisades closing out tabs,” he begins, adding: “I’ve seen him outside of metros flagging down cabs”; “his pants are much tighter than the last time we met”; “he’s got a pizza-core badge which he bought on the Internet”; “online he’s typing with a pseudonym so even messaging I’m not quite sure it’s him.” In a neighborhood that prides itself on being different and unique, everyone ends up looking the same, complete with leather jackets and skinny jeans.
The local references don’t stop there; Endless Scroll’s lyrics see Hozie move out of his apartment on Bogart Street in Bushwick following a breakup; complain about $9 smoothies in Union Square; ride the Staten Island Ferry while mourning a lost friend; hook up at the halfway point of the Williamsburg Bridge; and travel to see Belfiglio’s great-grandparents’ name on Ellis Island — all while staring at their various computer screens and slaving away at their various desk jobs. When on “Bodega Birth,” Endless Scroll’s second track, Belfiglio sings, “This is documentary,” it’s easy to believe her; the album perfectly describes the struggle it takes to live in a gentrifying New York neighborhood in 2018 — the glamour of experiencing this city’s famous landmarks, the monotonous everyday work grind to afford to do so, and the drunken release at closing time at Brooklyn’s various cheap dive bars. When Bodega say, “You can’t knock the hustle,” you know damn well that they’ve worked their asses off to get here.
“I was just trying to write from a much more personal place,” Hozie explains. “I feel like you have a moral responsibility when you write a song or when you’re on a stage to really tell the truth.”
Taking what they call “the route of honesty,” Hozie and Belfiglio leave their lives exposed throughout Endless Scroll’s fourteen tracks. Though they write about their home neighborhood in a remarkably similar way to how Ryan Adams described the East Village in the early 2000s, the two songwriters also explore more intimate topics, including their own relationship origins — the two met by chance at an of Montreal show at Music Hall of Williamsburg in 2013 and began dating three years later — the breakup of Bodega Bay, and the death of Hozie’s mother, who passed away a week before they started recording the album in April 2017.
Produced by Parquet Courts’ Austin Brown, Endless Scroll interrogates the role of technology in their relationship, social lives, and their day jobs. “I fell in love staring at screen/Triple dots I see bouncing/Name lights up/My heart will beat,” the two sing simultaneously on “Bodega Birth,” describing the thrill of seeing each others’ Gchats come through, later adding, “I touch myself while staring at your chat text box,” on “Margot.”
“We’re always communicating through the internet somehow,” says Belfigio, who spent her days behind a desk as a receptionist at a massage parlor, and later at a post-audio production studio in Union Square; Hozie, meanwhile, worked in the edit lab of the New York Film Academy. “That’s how we got together as a couple,” says Hozie. “We would be talking eight hours a day. That lyric, ‘Stare at computer,’ popped into my head — ‘Wow, that’s my whole life.’ All day from nine to five I’d be staring at my computer. I’d get off, come home, maybe write a song and track a demo staring at a computer. Then I’d be editing a movie staring at a computer. Then time for some rest and relaxation, maybe some porn or Netflix — that’s still staring at a computer. Maybe I’ll listen to an album now — computer. Catch up with an old friend — computer. You literally can’t escape.”
Such is life in 2018; love stories increasingly begin online and are perpetuated through text conversations, Facebook relationship statuses, and Instagram couple photos. Hozie and Belfiglio are hyperaware of this, using the all-encompassing role of technology in our lives not only to describe their own experiences, but also to portray what being a resident in Brooklyn during the Trump era is like for the outside world. Bodega have made their lyrics intensely specific, but in doing so, they’ve created perhaps the first quintessential Bushwick album to date, uniquely relatable to those who live here. It’s no wonder that they’ve become the neighborhood’s favorite band — members of the Mystery Lights, Future Punx, and the aforementioned Parquet Courts frequent their shows, often moshing in the first row.
As they mentioned in the list of rules that were conceived at the start of Bodega, every lyric needs a specific context. Just as Arctic Monkeys introduced the world to Sheffield, England, on their debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, Bodega have done so with Bushwick, providing the first relatable and comprehensively detailed account of the gritty, pretentious, and perpetually fucked-up neighborhood that’s come to dominate the New York music scene in recent years.