"We were a performance art troupe that played pop songs. There was this element of wanting to destroy rock": meet Bodega, the next NYC band who could be your life

(Image credit: Pooneh Ghana)

There have been many exhilarating rock’n’roll bands who have emerged from New York since the turn of the century, but none quite like Bodega. A five-piece centred around a pair of creative dynamos (and real-life couple) in Ben Hozie and Nikki Belfiglio, Bodega combine the garage-rock swagger of The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ blend of barbed chaos and poetic poignancy, the arty oddness of Liars alongside an Interpol-ish erudition. The difference is that none of those bands grew out of a philosophical reading group who decided to turn their book club into a rock band.

Since the release of their debut Endless Scroll in 2018, the group’s playful, punky theologising has taken on an increasingly melodic shape and it culminates in the jangly power pop of their fourth record Our Brand Could Be Yr Life, an album that lands somewhere between R.E.M., Television, Ramones and Dinosaur Jr. Bodega still have the smarts, but now the hooks hit you first. It is both a giant leap forward and a record that reaches deep into the band’s past. These songs were originally recorded in a much more DIY manner back when the band were a local outfit operating as Bodega Bay, but something about where the breakthrough success of the past few years prompted a revisit. 

“It’s like a prequel and a sequel to our other two records,” explains frontman Hozie, over Zoom from the home he shares with Belfiglio in Queens, New York. “It’s a sequel in the sense that it shows we’re moving in the direction of being more of a melodic band but prequel literally because most of the songs were written before those songs.”

When Bodega Bay broke up, Hozie says, they made their new band’s name as similar as possible so people would realise it was basically the same project but with new members.

“The ethos and the philosophy of the band is the same,” he states. “Bodega Bay was like a philosophy project in the beginning and most of the members were not musicians. We were a performance art troupe that played pop songs. There was this element of wanting to destroy rock music, especially the troupes of it, but at the same time we were all diehard fans of the classic rock canon. We’d always say, ‘Bodega Bay: critique and reverence for the rock and pop apparatus’. That was our slogan.”

They were a group built on confrontation, the amicable and fast-talking Hozie recalls.

“The whole point of our shows was to be provocative,” he says. “We definitely ruffled some feathers early on. There’s a song on the first Bodega record called Can’t Knock The Hustle and one of the best experiments we ever did was when we wrote it, the next day after that practice we had a show and I was like, ‘I have an idea, let’s play no other song but Can’t Knock The Hustle, let’s put it on the setlist 15 times.’”

They cleared the room, he laughs.

Recently, Hozie bumped into one of the ten-strong audience members who stayed. “That was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen,” the singer was told.

“We would do stuff like that,” he reflects. “We were more interested in testing the boundaries of what a band can do rather than trying to win over fans.”

By transplanting that avant-garde mischief onto a more palatable approach in Bodega, though, they have begun to amass a flock of diehards, retaining the attitude of their formative years but, you know, actually playing more than one song per set.

A more pragmatic reason in reworking the songs from Our Brand Could Be Yr Life was simply that Hozie wanted to play them live. They were catchy (listen to the record – they are catchy) and Hozie felt that they deserved a wider audience.

“Nobody really outside of Brooklyn had heard that [initial version],” he reasons. “And it was so aggressively lo-fi. There’s a big part of me that wanted to make a better document of the songs.”

Now signed to Chrysalis, Bodega are required to work within a more traditional framework these days, something that Hozie says has taken some getting used to. There is a part of him that wishes the music business operated as it did in the '60s, artists putting out a record or two a year, something he imagines as extremely stressful but artistically rewarding. But that is not the reality in 2024.

“The way the music industry works now is it’s like, ‘OK, come up with an interesting 45-minute statement, promote it for two years, come home, take a year off and do another one of those’.” 

It’s an approach isn’t going to be sustainable for him in the long-term, he explains.

“I’m happiest when I’m working on stuff,” he states, adding that Bodega have already written 50 songs for their next record. “I’ve realised that working on something every day is what it’s all about. Not even for the business side of the band, just for my own happiness. I had to learn that regardless of what’s happening with the touring and the promotion and stuff, just keep making stuff and the rest will sort itself out.”

What Hozie is proudest of so far is how the musicians and collaborators who have passed through the world of Bodega (and Bodega Bay) have taken the band’s inventive spirit into whatever they’ve done next.

“Many of them go on to start their own things or do their own things and it’s like a big community,” he marvels. “The Bodega consciousness is bigger than any of us and having helped create that has been rewarding. That’s the dream. You make stuff so other people are inspired to make stuff.”

His long-term dream for the band is that they can exist on their own terms with minimal outside interference.

“I think there are a few bands who’ve achieved this, where you get this cult-like thing and can make records whenever you want and put them out and there’s an audience for them, not even a big one, but one who cares,” he opines. “The dream for the band is that it can exist on its own, outside of any gatekeeping apparatus. That’s the goal, to make it a self-sustaining thing.”

Our Brand Could Be YR Life is set for release on April 12 via Chrysalis.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.