Bodega Bay opens their show by announcing that their set aims to "celebrate and critique rock and pop tropes"; later they refer to the "rock and roll apparatus" as something to be explored or bought into, an attitude which permeates their presence as an outfit. The group's forthcoming debut is titled Our Brand Could Be Your Life — a spoof on Michael Azerrad’s book on the 1980s punk and indie scenes. And it’s a double LP, something so wonderfully indulgent and rare in rock history that it's become deeply mythologized. Bodega Bay's dramatic live shows, meanwhile, flip the traditional notion of rock performance as authentic self-representation completely on its head. The members are fully costumed, in garb ranging from a Shakespeare-era shirt to a metallic nylon speedo (and everything in between: Elton sunglasses, feather boas, face paint).
But the group's act surpasses mere parody or knee-jerk reactionism; instead, it occupies that uneasy realm between post- and metamodernism where qualified self-awareness reigns supreme, and ironic and sincere expression co-mingle under the cover of fog. It's hard to tell what’s serious and what’s joking, what’s genuine and what's simply tossed off-the-cuff.
The Brooklyn-based band is certainly critical of their local scene, but their feelings towards it are nuanced rather than partisan. At one point in the WBAR-B-Q set, guitarist Ben Hozie sings into the mic: "Captured Tracks makes my dick soft" before making a dig at the label’s indie darling Mac DeMarco. Later on in our interview, Hozie will follow up with the assertion that DeMarco is “the Dave Matthews of the 2010s." Still, Bodega Bay’s members confess that their strongest influences are local bands, and that they see the Williamsburg scene as being very much alive and well.
Certainly Brooklyn act ONWE would be counted among these influences. Both "projects'" — though this is a label Hozie would despise; he tells me that such language is destructively “corporate” — both projects’ perspectives come from that same uneasy realm of transitionary postmodernism, and use it to irreverently take on modern youth problems: unpaid internships, the Tumblrized style of aesthetic self-branding, business networking skills.
Sonically Bodega Bay bears a huge debt to the Velvet Underground (drummer Aiko Masubuchi plays on the toms with giant mallets while standing up, and the spoken-sung delivery of Joe Wakeman and Hozie is very much in the tradition of Reed and Richman). To counter these prominent influences, the band attempts to update the style with more modern trappings. One of the pieces performed at the show discusses the intricacies of getting money out of an ATM, featuring vocal samples of spoken ATM messages. To me, the performance seems theatrical in the best possible way. But two of the band members, who daylight in the film world, object to this suggestion, seeing their art as more cinematic than theatrical. “In a play, it’d be hard to make a mundane cash withdrawal dramatic,” Wakeman tells me. “There’d be nothing to look at. But in a movie, you could do an insert shot and it could become a very poignant moment.”
We spoke to Bodega Bay after the show about pop music, politics, and culture in the information age.
Rare Candy: Your music interacts with modern digital and pop culture in a major way. How much time do you spend on the internet?
Nikki Belfiglio [vocals, sampler]: I have a smartphone, so I feel like I’m always tied to it. It follows me wherever I go.
Joe Wakeman [vocals]: For that reason I don’t have a smartphone, and try to avoid that eventuality.
Belfiglio: It’s gotten me out of some big jams, figuring out where a show is.
Ben Hozie [guitar, vocals]: You don’t have to defend your smartphone usage. I spend way too much time on the internet. A lot of my entertainment is on the internet. A lot of my work is on the internet. Porn. The endless scroll on Facebook. Music forums.
RC: You mention music websites — do you feel like the internet, through Bandcamp, Soundcloud, forums, the like — is dissolving boundaries between local scenes?
Hozie: I’d honestly say I take my biggest influences from Brooklyn still. The local scene is thriving and I go to three or four shows a week. I still actually believe that rock music isn’t a pop cultural thing anymore. I feel like it's the equivalent of guys with ponytails getting together to play jazz. So the people who do it become part of a close-knit community for better or for worse. But the corollary to that is I could easily get into Nigerian shoegaze or something, which I couldn’t so much a few decades ago.
Wakeman: Though we’re not going to Nigeria to see a shoegaze show any time soon.
Aiko Masubuchi [drums]: We’re not opposed to it if someone wants to fly us out there.
Hozie: I feel like internet can also helps solidify the canon though as well. I try to avoid it but it’s so easy to see the Wikipedia discography, or read reviews of every record, and say “I’ve got to catch up on every seminal record by every seminal band.” And then it starts feeling like doing homework. I think that’s part of the disease of the cultural consumer.
Thomas Miller [bass]: One of the first things I’ll search when I discover a new band is what their best or most critically acclaimed record is, which is a bit of a cancer on listening habits.
Masubuchi: Listening to music on the internet can be a limited experience though. We try and transcend that in live shows, with images or text, so it’s a more active consumption than the passivity of the internet.
Hozie: Maybe even more so than changing music, I feel like the internet is changing music writing habits. There are no “band-bands” anymore, like your classic Who or REM or more recently Animal Collective, where every member is an integral part of the whole. Now you get publications referring to everything as a “project,” a term with a lot of corporate overtones, and centering around the idea that a band is a hierarchical business model. You have a frontman with a vision and then everyone else in the group might as well be an automated MIDI instrument.
RC: Let’s talk “ATM.” Your music has the tendency to take unromantic or mundane things and attempt to make them romantic, theatrical, or highly entertaining. How do you feel about balancing realism with theater, or about, as earlier discussed, subverting the idea about music as authentic self-representation?
Belfiglio: I think Ben has his finger on a lot of more poetic issues, and uses things like an ATM machine and theater to tap into these issues.
Hozie: You know how Godard had his big political phase in the sixties? Only looking back at that in retrospect is it clear to see that he did a lot of that for personal reasons — he’d recently divorced his wife and was emotionally lost — and I can think of a lot of personal friends who turned to politically oriented aesthetics to mask basic “rock and roll” crises like love and girls. And then there’s the difference between UK and US bands — Bowie being a clear example of the former — where there’s more artifice and stage-awareness with the former group, and sometimes you can be more true to the essence of something when you fake it or are theatrical. Or even, you can get away with something you normally couldn’t get away with — people are more open to what you have to say when you present something as theater than if you did so in a more straight-forward way. That said, our music is definitely still angry, and comes from a very strong, genuine emotional center.
RC: You’ve been identifying as rock music while we’ve been talking, which often gets set up as the antithesis to “pop” in talking about music. What is pop music to you?
Wakeman: My definition is far too verbose to articulate. It’s popular and fun.
Belfiglio: Pop music is a party of nothing.
Aiko Masubuchi [drums]: It’s probably popular for a reason, and it could be didactic or subliminal.
Miller: Pop music is three minutes of what you wouldn’t listen to for six minutes.
Hozie: Pop music is the sound of a culture at that very moment. If you threw a rock off a building, the sound it makes when it hits the ground and reverberates — that’s pop music.
Bodega Bay's debut album Our Brand Could Be Your Life is out July 30 on Capitalist Records. Listen to more of Bodega Bay's music at their Bandcamp.