Ben Hozie and Nikki Belfiglio talk Kate Crudgington through the songs that inspire them.
Bodega’s lead songwriting duo Ben Hozie and Nikki Belfiglio are influenced by completely different things.
Whereas Belfiglio takes inspiration from a visual perspective, Hozie is drawn to the ideology behind songwriting. However, there’s a common thread that unites the songs that inspire them both, which is an admiration for artists who have advanced the musical conversation in some way.
Hozie cites My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything - rather than Loveless, for many the holy grail of post-rock - as a “signpost for where rock music could go in the future”, whilst Belfiglio is fascinated by the way Yoko Ono uses “less words to convey a whole bigger concept”. It’s this combination of classic songwriting, minimalism and pop iconography that combines in Bodega’s songwriting and makes their music so infectious.
Since the release of the five-piece’s debut album Endless Scroll in June 2018 Hozie and Belfiglio, alongside their bandmates Madison Velding-Vandam, Heather Elle and Montana Simone have toured relentlessly across America and Europe, selling out shows and delivering their powerful post-punk sounds to a growing fanbase. When I speak to Hozie and Belfiglio they’re back on the road again, this time in Switzerland. I tell them I couldn’t get into their show at The Great Escape Festival last year, as the queue was longer than the equator two hours ahead of their scheduled set time, to which Belfiglio says “That’s insane for us to hear. We heard that story from a lot of people!”
Whilst the rest of Bodega’s fans know their live shows are not to be missed, it’s clear I’m still at the back of the queue. Hozie and Belfiglio’s pivotal songs give an insight of the stimulating sources from which they create music with their bandmates as Bodega, hopefully I’ll catch them live one day, but for now I’ll settle for listening to the artists that inspire their work together.
Ben: "The record The Who Sell Out was a huge epiphany for me. I found a version of my songwriting voice whilst listening to that record over and over again for the last 10 years.
“This particular song ‘Odorono’ is a masterpiece of Pete Townshend’s songwriting and musically it has the two guitar parts, which is kind of similar to how myself and Madison play in Bodega. The left guitar has a lilting arpeggio and the right one is a very stabbing, angular guitar sound. The melody has a really yearning, lilting quality that I love.
“It’s a character study about a woman who’s not only trying to audition for this part, but she also has a crush on the guy who’s auditioning her. It’s a savage character portrait and at the very end of the song you find out she should have been wearing Odorono, which is a brand of deodorant, so the song kind of tells you that all of modern life is just an advertisement. It’s that perfect combination of being a very earnest narrative piece, but also a work of satire."
Ben: “If an alien came down on a UFO and said “Ben, explain to me what ‘Rock and Roll’ is, I don’t understand it”, I’d play them ‘No Particular Place To Go’ by Chuck Berry.
“To me this song is all about freedom, but it’s a false freedom. It’s a very teenage feeling of getting in a car, driving around, having your crush next to you, having music blasting on the radio and feeling like anything is possible. In almost that Bruce Springsteen sense - that 'Born To Run' feeling of “We can do anything!” when the music's playing - but at the end of the day there is no particular place to go. There’s something so poetic about that.
“This song gives me the biggest smile every time I hear it. It’s a big song for our band too, because when we play ‘Truth Is Not Punishment’ live, seventy-five percent of the time we sneak 'No Particular Place To Go' into the bridge. To me, this song is rock and roll."
Ben: “I had a hard time trying to choose just one of The Fall’s songs, because Mark. E. Smith is my favourite songwriter ever.
“I decided to choose 'Free Range' because I think it’s really underrated. I’m not entirely sure what Mark’s going on about here, even though I’ve studied this song for a while. It evokes this historical moment and the way he talked about it, the song is about the falling of the Berlin wall, the end of the Cold War and what’s going to happen after that, but it’s not black and white. He doesn’t have a thesis for the song - it’s just a feeling of history in the present - and that’s an example of lyric writing that makes my hair stand up every time I hear it.
“Our next batch of songs that we’ve been working as Bodega are kind of in that theme, of history coming alive in the present, so this is a track I’ve been going back to a lot recently. I think people who casually know The Fall, or who just know them as this totally wired band, would be shocked to hear this song because even though it came out in 1992, it has such a rock sound that sounds super-modern."
Ben: "I should say that even though this is a Jerry Garcia song, the version that I think is essential is the one he plays in The Grateful Dead. They re-worked it and played it in their sets. Particularly, most Dead-heads would think of the Cornell ’77 version, but if you’re not a Dead-head you’re probably rolling your eyes!
“What I love about this song is that it’s about a loser who is a gambling addict. I love that side of the Dead and all their gambling songs. I’m a gambler myself and I think that gambling is a great subject for art because it’s a perfect metaphor for what life is - it’s a gamble. The wheel of chance goes around and the people who find success are really just the ones who put their chips on the table, but who are also lucky.
“There’s one line in ‘Loser’ - “I can tell The Queen of Diamonds by the way she shines” - that even for people that don’t gamble, it’s about sensing that something’s about to come your way and change everything. But, like the Chuck Berry song, there’s nowhere in particular to go and you know you’re going lose in the end anyway. It has this fatalism to it and I find that kind of moving.”
Ben: "This track symbolises rock futurism to me, which I think is the goal of any band. I don’t think anyone would want to start a rock band without the intent of wanting to update or progress the rock and roll vocabulary.
“Even though My Bloody Valentine’s album Isn’t Anything is thirty years old, it still feels like a signpost for where rock music could go in the future, it still sounds futuristic to me every time I hear it. I like Isn’t Anything way more than Loveless because it feels weirder. Loveless is too easily understood, with those big fuzzy warm guitars and the backwards reverb, it’s been copied so many times and it doesn’t leave much room for the imagination, whereas Isn’t Anything is stranger and more skeletal.
“I go back to that record every few years and I’m always blown away by it. I’m like, “How did they do this?” ‘Cupid Come’ in particular has this gooey feeling that makes you feel like you’re back in the womb. It has a kind of post-punk bass driving through it and the clean guitars doing the wammy thing, but it’s not as big as Loveless. It’s a signpost track for me.”
Ben: “There’s something so special about the melody of ‘Eros Entropic Tundra’. I guess it’s doing a ‘60s kind of thing but one quality I really value in a song, and it’s something we certainly try to do in Bodega, is to bring a yearning quality to the music, where there are melodies and tempos that feel like they’re reaching for something more. To me that’s very emotional.
“The subject of this song is like a cliché, it’s a sad lovelorn tale about this guy who sees love all around him but he can’t achieve it himself. It’s kind of a Beatles-like ‘Eleanor Rigby’ type feeling but when it gets to the middle eight section and the lyrics “I was walking with my parents through St. Peter's Park”, it’s just such a Paul McCartney-esque shift in melody. where all of a sudden it just leaps out. It’s almost like the song jumps up an octave.
“I’ve been obsessed with this song since I was about 16 years old and it’s still thrilling every single time I hear it. Whether I’m lovelorn or not at the time I listen to it, I totally feel it every time.”
Nikki: “My approach is very different to Ben’s. He goes for the ideology when listening to songs and I feel like I’m a visual, fine art person, so I tend to gravitate towards the image first.
"‘Groove Is In The Heart’ has two things for me. It has that bassline that’s undeniable and super-groovy and that caught my attention, but when I saw Lady Miss Kier she had this real throwback ‘60s retro look and that really hooked me.
“I looked into her fashion and what she was wearing at the time in the ‘90s and I found a shoe that was called Fluevogs, that I incorporated in to my own wear because they’re actually really comfortable to wear. They look like art, they’re these incredible platform, non-symmetrical heels that give the illusion that you’re standing eight inches higher but in reality you’re wearing no heel at all. I love sculptures, and I love when artists are kind of like sculptures themselves, so they become icons. All of my song choices kind of have that icon look behind them.
“Lady Miss Kier and her band members in Deee-Lite were all a big part of the ‘90s New York dance-life scene and to me it looked like a giant candy-land party when I was growing up. I found it really inspiring.”
Nikki: “I think Yoko Ono’s approach to creativity is one of the most inspirational ways of expressing music. ‘Why?’ is a performance piece, and I’m really attracted to performance and sculpture. Her language and her words are in some ways more poignant than John Lennon’s. She tended to use less words to convey a whole bigger concept, which Lennon took into his own art and created some really interesting things. ‘Imagine’ was actually co-written by Yoko but he didn’t admit it at the time. It was many years into their relationship before he changed the co-writing credit.
“When he first met her in London at an art gallery for her show called Imagine, he climbed this ladder to look into this telescope and all it said was “Yes”, so I’m really fascinated by the way that she uses a single word to convey a whole breadth of emotion. It’s not even words sometimes, she uses sound therapy and vocal tones and that really attracts me.”
Nikki: “In her early years Madonna had my vocal tone, she sings high-pitched and from the throat, and hearing her do that gave me the inspiration to sing. I really appreciate Madonna and her use of sexuality as a weapon to destabilise and she’s still doing it today.
“She’s also talking about ageism in the States, which is something I’ve noticed too. Once you hit a certain age for men and women it feels like you’re not allowed in society anymore, which is different to the UK and around Europe at the moment. I’ve seen a lot of older people in the crowd whilst we’ve been touring Europe recently and I feel like in America there’s this guilt if you’re older and at a show, there’s something wrong.
"Madonna’s still fighting to be seen and that’s something that’s really prevalent in my work, the need to be seen.”