Credit: Emma Viola Lilja (taken from NME.com)

In 2018 BBC Radio 6 Music introduced the UK to New York City art rock band BODEGA with their blatant despairing anthem ‘How Did This Happen’ getting heavy air-play due to it speaking in a voice many could relate to whilst it’s catchy lines kept it’s values and melody in our heads. With every single released ahead of the album we became more and more desperate for the full length and were not disappointed when it arrived on June 1st. With it rightfully landing on many best of lists at the end of 2018 we could not wait till the group landed back in Europe in February so we reached out to Ben who gave us a whole host of exciting updates from the BODEGA camp! 

Hi, thanks for chatting to us, how are you today? Where are we talking to you from and what are your plans with the day?

Greetings, I am feeling very excited today. We are currently in Mannheim, Germany – I’m in a green room at a rock club having a pint; We are playing a show in an hour and by the look(and sound) of it it’ll be a memorable one.

BODEGA is a Spanish term for a small grocery shop or alcohol shop, if we were in America with you right now what American treat (that we can’t get in the UK) would you buy for us?   I would get you a NYC bagel, best in the world.    You’ve just releaseed your live album Witness Scroll, what would you like to tell our readers about the new tracks on the album and the release in general? 

‘WITNESS SCROLL is a document of the band in a frenzied state…its like our version of Husker Du’s ‘Land Speed Record’ or The Fall’s ‘Totale’s Turns’’

All of the tracks are live recordings from May 2018 (half are from the Poetry Club in Glasgow and half are from the Lexington in London). The two non-ENDLESS SCROLL tracks are both live (a studio version of ’No Vanguard Revival’ will be on our next release and ‘Stain Glaze’ is a re-worked version from me and Nikki’s old band BODEGA BAY). WITNESS SCROLL is a document of the band in a frenzied state of mind caught in the middle of our first European tour – you can hear my voice blowing out in real time as the band plays the songs in hyper speed (its like our version of Husker Du’s ‘Land Speed Record’ or The Fall’s ‘Totale’s Turns’) – less a piece of music and more a punk rock field recording. My favorite track from the disc is the extended ‘Can’t Knock the Hustle’ – Madison’s feed-back improvisation over our endless repetition is very tasty.

It would appear that the minimalistic drums are a stylistic choice, how did this come about and can you tell us more about your reasoning for this set up?

‘In small clubs I am usually annoyed by how much standard rock drumming gets in the way of songs.’

  Before even thinking of the Velvets, I got the idea going to a lot of Beets gigs (a great defunct Queens band that was fronted by Juan Wauters), they played with a stand-up drummer which allowed their tunes to shine live, without washy cymbals there were more frequencies available for the guitars and vocals to live in. In small clubs I am usually annoyed by how much standard rock drumming gets in the way of songs.

Your new drummer Tai was formerly from the percussive performance theatre group STOMP, what influence has this brought to the BODEGA sound?

‘Most of Tai’s recent influence has been non-musical…t feels like we have just formed the band for the first time.’

Tai’s playing is very primal, he hits very hard and steady which allows the trance-like quality of our minimalism to shine even more. Most of Tai’s recent influence has been non-musical, their wellspring of enthusiasm makes it feels like we have just formed the band for the first time.

You’ve described BODEGA as a project and have spoken in multiple interviews of ‘rules’, what were some of those rules or things you wanted to bring from previous projects into BODEGA? And will or have any of the rules changed as the band has evolved?

‘We don’t even speak about ‘rules’ anymore because the five of us have internalized them so deeply.’

The stand-up drums, for example, was something me and Nikki carried over from our last band BODEGA BAY. Much of our approach to songwriting came from that band too (extremely short songs that function like little open ended mini-essays). Our initial BODEGA rules were designed to highlight the best aspects of that old band while streamlining our sound and designing something that was more direct and exciting. We don’t even speak about ‘rules’ anymore because the five of us have internalized them so deeply. Our bodies know them now.

You term yourselves as Art Rock, what does this mean to you and will we be seeing any releases that step further than the ‘normal’ song/single/album route?

All rock and roll is ‘art rock’ really (all bands have some unifying ‘concept’) but I really appreciate the term and it is almost always applied to bands I admire: from Pink Floyd to the Residents or Wire. [Art ock] is vague enough to encompass many musical styles but also strongly suggests the conceptual (and visual) nature of our band. I despise the terms ‘post punk’ or ‘indie rock’ as they seem to hint at a certain kind of revivalist state-of-mind. Of course we draw on the past but we aim to combine concepts/ideas in order to update the rock vocabulary. We may experiment with release formats in the future but for now I still create with the LP in mind. I prefer the emotional and intellectual experience of complete simple works (a film, novel, or LP) than more episodic things.

You comment that BODEGA have new material recorded and suggested that it will be debuted on your upcoming tour, is this the continuation of the ‘Endless Scroll’ or is this a new chapter for BODEGA? If it is a new chapter what is its theme?

‘We have been circling around the theme of ‘history’; history ignored in the present, history as inspiration, history as endless repetition.’

  Some of our new songs are re-worked concepts from the ENDLESS SCROLL days but 90 percent of it is new. We have been circling around the theme of ‘history’; history ignored in the present, history as inspiration, history as endless repetition, etc. We have six or seven new ones that we have been cycling through our set on this month’s tour (and many more that we are currently workshopping) including ‘No Vanguard Revival’ from WITNESS SCROLL.

We’re always excited to hear what the bands we speak to are listening to, can you tell us about the upcoming acts BODEGA are really enjoying?

We just played a few dates with Black Midi from London – some of their tracks are quite inspiring. I’m looking forward to hearing their first LP on Rough Trade. Our friends in Public Practice (Brooklyn) are currently on their first UK tour – everybody should go check them out. Our guitar player Madison also has a great new outfit called The Wants that should be releasing their first tracks sometime this year.

You were given a lot of exposure by BBC Radio 6 Music, are there any sessions planned with 6 Music or any other European radio/TV stations you will be making appearances on?

I believe we are doing another session at Maida Vale in March. We are planning something special for that one.

Thanks for speaking with us, what else do we need to know about BODEGA’s plans for 2019?

We will be doing a lot of touring and there will be another studio release later in the year (form to be decided). We are constantly evolving.

Questions by James Wadsworth

Photos used with kind thanks to Emma Viola Lilja and NME.com, these images are not owned by Underscore Part 3. 

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