Bodega analyzes the philosophical and physical restoration of “broken equipment”

It’s 2020. The coronavirus has hit, and Bodega is isolated and enters the world of philosophy together at a book club. There, endless hours of conversations between members of the Brooklyn, NY-based punk band helped formulate the songs of broken equipment and the “ambience” around the group.

“Our book club really had the gang mentality that rock bands tend to have, which carried over directly into our new lineup,” Ben Hozie told the American songwriter, who along with vocalist and percussionist Nikki Belfiglio, drummer Tai Lee, guitarist Dan Ryan, and new bassist Adam Lee discovered more mutual connections. “In my experience, musicians tend to play with more emotion when they have direct experience connecting to the source of the lyrics, which this current line-up certainly has.”

Recorded at Trout Studios in Brooklyn in September 2020 and mixed by Bryce Goggin later that year, Bodega returned to the studio in January 2021 to record two new tracks – “How Can I Help Ya?” and “Seneca the Stoic” and re-tracked some guitars and vocals with additional mixing by Adam Sachs.

Following the group’s exit in 2019 Shiny New Models and start Endless Scroll debut in 2018, broken equipment is a statement track about socio-political imbalances, existential pivots – and even a nod to Shakespeare – bouncing off the band’s proto-punk and hip hop renditions.

broken equipment is a box of musical pieces assembled around interrogations of the self, an exploration of New York City and art history, old relationships and family ties, and navigating the aftermath of a social and a world driven by productivity and how it can make one become bitter, harder, bigger, stressed, as shown on “Doers”.

Hozie chatted with American songwriter on the “seven pillars” of the group broken equipmentcross-examining their own identity, and why certain “foolishness” never hurts.

AS: Tell me how the songs of broken equipment started to assemble. Was it mostly a collaborative effort while writing?

BH: There were several stages. It tended to work like this:

I. Me and Nikki first started our respective songs the traditional way, with just an acoustic guitar (playing chord changes or a bassline) and/or a notepad to work on the lyrics [and] melodies. Sometimes the lyrics came first (i.e. “Thrown”). Sometimes the riffs came first (“CIRP”), and sometimes they happened simultaneously (“How Can I Help Ya?”).

II. Nikki and I shared these simple song ideas and got some (usually harsh but helpful) feedback. We edit lines from each other and suggest new contrasting sections. We always want to make sure that emotion and ideas are translated in the right way. Tone is often the hardest thing to achieve with a song.

III. We start making very simple demos (usually in Logic software) with drum samples. At this point, we start to get feedback from band members and see which sonic direction the melody should be shaped in. In early 2020, just before the pandemic, we also did some demos in our practice space with live drumming. The biggest challenge with our band is always how to try a song in a new genre (eg the power pop of “Statuette on the Console” or “How can I help ya?”) and still make it sound like Bodega.

IV. At this point we would usually start working the songs live in front of an audience, but the pandemic obviously put a stop to that.

V. After the pandemic hit, my neighbor and friend Bobby Lewis came over to my house and Nikki’s apartment and helped us do some more elaborate Pro Tools demos while we shaped the overall arc of the record. We made mixes of 12 of these demos in April 2020. We wrote another 12 and demoed them in June 2020.

VI. At the end of the summer, we were finally able to come together as a band in our practice space, but only as four musicians since our lead guitarist [Dan Ryan] lives in Baltimore and finds the best way to translate our demo ideas into meaty live arrangements.

VII. We curated a repertoire of 20 of our favorite songs from our pool and began working with Dan, sometimes over email and sometimes in person, to flesh out his guitar parts. In the fall of 2020, we went into the studio to start tracking.

AS: What connects the 12 songs of broken equipment together?

BH: I think about broken equipment as a kind of conceptual recording. Me and Nikki started this song cycle by questioning our own identities. We realized that to write about who we currently are, we would need to write about external things that have been “thrown” at us. For me, this involved topics such as the history of NYC, particularly its relationship between business and the arts, my relationship with Nikki and my exes, the language of self-help and publicity, trailers for films and my relationship with my mother. “Doers” explores our overloaded brain and how it can actually be counterproductive, or bitter, harder, fatter, stressed (which it is). The pandemic and everything that was going on (still) has definitely made us think more deeply about how we spend (or waste) time, the people in our lives…

AS: You talk about our existence on social networks, our religion and much more. Do any of the other songs make even more sense (in terms of meaning) now than they did when you first wrote them? Did working in the midst of the pandemic, what impact has that had on the songs or their meaning?

BH: Many lyrics were written before the pandemic, even the passage in “Thrown” where I state “right now and always, I wear a mask”. I was thinking Macbeth more than KN95, but I guess most will now hear this as a pandemic documentary.

On a practical level, 2020 was the first time I really fleshed out and finished lyrics for songs “in the box”. The arrangements for “Doers” (and its digital-only B-side “Top Hat No Rabbit”), “CIRP” and “No Blade of Grass” are the result of writing and editing lyrics while working directly with the timeline in Logic, which I think is pretty common practice for musicians these days. Before, I had always just written with my guitar in hand, but the extra time indoors with a computer and no friends meant I had to learn to work in a more modern post-hip hop way. Working this way certainly has its advantages (your sketch can often look like or even be the final “product”, meaning your final piece may be closer to the initial spark of inspiration), but it also has its downsides. . Sometimes you don’t want to think “inside the box”.

LIKE: broken equipment: What is the meaning of the title of the album?

BH: Broken things come to light. I can forget I have a toe until I stub it. Art works in a similar way; artists tend to be broken people making aesthetic gestures that reveal something new about the everyday. We want to remind listeners that they have toes and emphasize the essence of the toe. On a larger scale, the power systems in our world are very broken. Maybe they always were, but it’s become glaringly obvious to everyone in recent years. People are developing a new awareness because they can’t ignore that toe.

AS: Now that the album is out and done, is there a sense of detachment with the songs, or do you feel like they resonate with you now?

BH: I don’t think a recorded song is the only definitive platonic ideal of that song. The songs are always evolving and changing. The records are beautiful and interesting because they capture the energy and spirit of a band at any given time. As a band we are already thinking about future albums but these songs are still very much alive for us.

AS: Tell me how New York still has an impact on Bodega and the songs.

BH: It impacts us because we consciously let it in. NYC is as much a state of mind as it is a real place. That’s why there are bands in Canada that sound like they’re from New York.

AS: What kinds of songs (lyrically) do you think you’re heading towards now for Bodega?

BH: I’m always drawn in several directions at once but lately I’ve been working hard to bring more melody to the band. broken equipment has a lot more melody than our first record. Even the raps worked in their design. Deep down, I’m as interested in a surprising chord change as I am in a revealing pun or a powerful groove.

AS: Writing can evolve over time. Do you feel like the songs still come to you the same way they did when you started, or even since Endless Scroll?

BH: They always come but you have to invite them with the right contribution. I keep my antenna open and am always reading books and watching movies in search of images, words or gestures that inspire me. More importantly, I learned to trust my seemingly silly ideas when they arise spontaneously. I almost rejected both “Jack in Titanic” [Endless Scroll] and “Doers” for getting too close to the edge of novelty songs, but I’m very glad I didn’t. I have come to believe in the depth of stupidity.

Photos: Pooneh Ghana

About Joan J. Hernandez

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