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Sitting at the Cool Kids’ Table with Body Language

Body Language with Tater / Photo by Nasa Hadizadeh
L to R: Tater (standing in for Ian Chang), Grant Wheeler, Matt Young, Angelica Bess / Photo by Nasa Hadizadeh

L to R: Tater (standing in for Ian Chang), Grant Wheeler, Matt Young, Angelica Bess / Photo by Nasa Hadizadeh

(Full disclosure: this feature actually took me much longer than planned to complete because I kept unintentionally taking 15-minute dance breaks every time I listened to a Body Language album. I challenge you to listen to any song off their current Grammar EP or Social Studies album and sit still! It can’t be done!)

One year at SXSW, while I was watching a friend’s band in some backyard, these irresistible grooves were bumping from a bar (or maybe another backyard?) next door, and I just HAD to find out who was making such infectious beats. I subtly left my friend’s show (sorry, dudes and dudettes!) and shimmied my way into the neighboring showcase – the best decision I made at SXSW that year.

Though I saw Body Language for the first time at some shady East Austin dive bar, I felt like their music was better suited for an intergalactic prom – as if someone shot a disco ball into a spaceship and it flooded the halls with the electro dance-pop band’s enticingly funky beats, soulful grooves, and rich harmonies. Young space travelers, aliens, and cyborgs would shift from awkward middle-school slow dancing during songs like “I’m a Mess” to wildly grinding up on each other during tracks like “Lose My Head” or “Falling Out.” Glitter and stardust would rain down on the space prom attendees as the spaceship sailed through the stars. All of these images came to mind during their electrifying set. By the time it ended, I decided was the most fun I’d had the whole week.

Upon returning to Brooklyn, I listened to all of their releases incessantly and found everything I could about their band. Between what I found online and interviewing them on a freezing cold January afternoon, my only conclusion is this – Body Language is the coolest band in Brooklyn right now.

L to R: Angelica Bess, Grant Wheeler, Matt Young / Photo by Nasa Hadizadeh

L to R: Angelica Bess, Grant Wheeler, Matt Young / Photo by Nasa Hadizadeh

Band members Grant Wheeler and Matt Young met in college in Hartford, Connecticut in 2001 where they were roommates. They started making music together on several different projects before meeting Angelica Bess in 2006. A local bar hosted a weekly DJ party the boys would drop some original tracks featuring Angelica on vocals and some remixes.

Soon after, they moved to Brooklyn and started collaborating with every awesome person in this borough, like their neighbor Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit. In fact, an opening gig for Passion Pit in 2009 lead to the recruitment of drummer Ian Chang. The addition of Ian was the final piece of the puzzle that evolved Body Language into what they are now.

Body Language with Tater / Photo by Nasa Hadizadeh

Body Language with Tater / Photo by Nasa Hadizadeh

Together, through friends, their awesome label, and neighbors like Travis Stewart (Machinedrum), the four party purveyors have collaborated with some of the most talented and innovative artists around – they’ve worked on tracks for Azealia Banks, became Theophilus London’s backing band, had Niki & the Dove one of their remix their songs, and had Starburns Industries, the geniuses who made Frankenhole and the claymation episode of Community, created a heartbreaking stop-motion music video for their song “Holiday,” which aired on Adult Swim.

Basically, Body Language are the cool kids who have worked with and know every awesome and talented person ever, and you can just sit in awe looking at their body of work. I felt like I was sitting at the cool kids’ table when I chatted with Grant, Angelica, and Matt in their Brooklyn studio about their influences, life* on the road, meeting Thom Yorke, and prairie oysters. Check out the full interview below.

*We mostly talked about food.

Body Language in the studio / Photo by Nasa Hadizadeh

Body Language in the studio / Photo by Nasa Hadizadeh

Where do you get your inspiration from, musically and visually? Whenever I see your visuals, I always think “Oh, these guys just GET it! Their imaging/branding is spot on!”

Grant: That’s so nice to hear! Usually we just throw our hands up in the air and are like “Does this make any sense?”

Angelica: Matt has a general vision of colors and images, and I think it just goes so well with everything.

Grant: As for our [musical] influences, we’re synth and electronic guys, so we listen to a lot of dance music and disco, so that obviously plays a large role in the music we write. I like Todd Terje.

Matt: We really listen to a lot of stuff. There will be a lot of days where I completely junk out on electronic music and not listen to anything else. And then there will be days where all I want to listen to is Sam Cooke.

Grant: Mayor Hawthorne…

Matt: I had a big Nina Simone phase that I was going through.

Angelica: …Were you sad?

Matt: No! It’s just…

Angelica: It goes in waves. Some of [Nina Simone’s] essential collections are like sad song after sad song after sad song, and there’s one happy song. There really is no bad genre of music. I’m going through a Chopin’s “Nocturne” phase right now.

Grant: You listen to the crap out of Triptides.

Angelica: Oh yeah! There’s this band from Indiana that I’m absolutely obsessed with and I’m trying to get them to play in New York. They’re like new surf rock…if the Beach Boys were stripped down to three and were a bit more punk. But yeah, we listen to everything. Whatever mood we are in.

Matt: As far as art stuff goes, there are a couple blogs I always check out, But Does It Float? is a really awesome place that I always draw inspiration from, it’s a whole slew of really amazing art. I’ll always just open it up and be blown away. They have links to a lot of other stuff too. As far as the Body Language artwork goes, I look there [for inspiration].

So do you all your own graphic design for your albums and artwork? That’s awesome!

 

What do you think draws people into your music and your live shows?

Grant: The live shows are a little bit like a circus where there are four distinct personalities on stage at once, so that there’s a lot to look at and a lot to hear too, obviously. It’s high energy and a lot of fun.

Matt: I think people really appreciate the fact that we look like we’re a Brooklyn band because we are so diverse, and people appreciate that because maybe everyone can identify with someone in the band? I don’t know. I’m not exactly sure, but that’s not something that we planned. We just kind of…

Grant: We weren’t like “Okay, now we just need an Asian, and we’re all set!”

Matt: I think people kinda appreciate that because there’s just something for everyone when they go to a live show.

Angelica: As different as we all are, we do have a similar traits.

Your album titles have a grade school theme to them – Speaks, Social Studies, Grammar. Where did that inspiration come from?  

Grant: The way that these were written, they overlap with each other time-wise, and how they’ve been performed the last year or so. They’ve all been learning experiences for us.

Matt: The initial intent seemed pretty obvious. We’re Body Language–it’s a language, so as a band, we’re making noise, and that was the first step, so Speaks was the first [EP]. And then the second one, Social Studies, which is actually the name of a track on the album, and we called it that because it made so much sense with the last record so that was more of a study, and then Grammar

Grant: We were putting the words together. It’s still a learning process but the vernacular is starting to make more sense. Social Studies you get the idea we’re sort of a patchwork thing, and Grammar is more put together, but we’re still learning process. As we move forward, perhaps we arrive somewhere, but we don’t know. That’s to be revealed.

Angelica: I think ultimately, these past few records generally represent youth. Some of the songs we’ve written have been about experiences – hooking up, being really happy, “I’m a complete wreck without you in my life” – these are all youthful dilemmas that get us through our 20s and 30s, you know?

Matt: After this record though, we’ll play to that a lot less.

Grant: At this point, we’ve done our learning, and we’re still writing, even past Grammar. We know we’re approaching something that’s very focused…

Angelica: Very mature, very direct, and we’re not testing the water. It’s very much “This is what we’re doing right now.”

Matt: I think the hardest thing for us for the longest time was making a cohesive album where every song has the same vibe, the same instrumentation, and not make it seem like we are just copying songs. Some artists will do that – they’ll get a style, and they’ll get a song that gets big and then basically look at that song as an archetype and try to just repeat it. Personally, none of us have ever been able to do that and make it feel real. So now it’s at a point where we can sit down and do something that feels so real because it comes from a place of genuine feeling. But there’s no “this needs to be this!” you know? We just do it.

What would be your dream collaboration?

Grant: We have this awesome tour coming up with our really good buddies Vacationer, and it’s kind of a dream lineup because we get to do some superband stuff.

Matt: Kenny [of Vacationer] is going to bass for us on a few tracks, and a couple of the guys want to come out to do alt percussion and dance…maybe a two-step!

Angelica: And Matt also is playing with [Vacationer] as well.

Matt: Ian wants to play [drums] for them as well, so we’ll really be a super group.

That’s going to a be fun tour!

Angelica: It’s so important to have your friends around when you’re traveling. When you don’t really connect with someone when you’re touring, it really ends up not being fun, so this is definitely something we’re really looking forward to.

What’s the craziest thing to happen to you on tour?

Matt: We almost didn’t make it from Boston to Philly one time.

Grant: So the car didn’t start while we were in Boston. It took basically three hours of turning the ignition, and the tow company is coming up the driveway and then all of a sudden, the car starts! And we’re like “FUCK! Put all the gear in the car now – we’re driving to Philly!” And drove down there in like a record four hours. We drove right into the back, threw our stuff on stage, plugged in, and soundchecked, and it was the most miraculous thing because if we got stuck in Boston – and this was our first real tour with Zero 7 in 2009  – and missed that Philly show, we would’ve been in such bad shape that we wouldn’t make the rest of the tour. It was the beginning of that tour, and it was so vital for us. If we had screwed that up, […] it would’ve been bad, so it was a bit of miraculous situation.

Angelica: What about the bloody shank?

WHAT?

Grant: That’s a terrible story! We stayed at a Motel 6, and there was a bloody shank under the mattress.

Matt: This was in Tallahassee, which is kind of a weird place.

Grant: I was going to say the other crazy thing wasn’t on tour, but we played in New York at a private party and Thom Yorke showed up. This was for forty people, and Thom Yorke was there.

Angelica: He was the only vegan!

Grant: There were a few vegans!

Matt: He was the only true vegan!

Grant: It was a dinner party so they were serving food, and we were playing a show, and we were so excited. “We’re gonna play for Thom Yorke! He’s gonna be right there! We’re gonna play for him!” And at the first song, PEEWWW! The PA just shuts down and goes out completely, and we’re like “okay….very good….”

Angelica: But we got to sit in the back and hear him play piano.

Grant: Yeah, he was playing Radiohead songs in a back room.

Angelica: I loved that he just kind of closed himself off from everyone. There were only about 10 people there, and some people had their phones and were recording or whatever, and he just didn’t even care. He just kept playing, and we were like “Oh my god, it’s fuckin’ Thom Yorke! He’s in the zone right now, and what do I do? What do I say?” Nothing.

Matt: I got to talk to him for a bit. I had just seen him play at Bonnaroo (I was down there DJing), and I had gone to see Radiohead play, and it was just one of the coolest sets I’ve seen in a while. Yeah, he was a really nice dude! I talked to him about festivals, about electronic music, where things were at right now, and he was very friendly, incredibly friendly.

Angelica: We’d collab with him!

Matt: Yeah, he’d be a dream collabo, especially right now since he’s expanding so much. He’s making friendships with all these young electronic musicians. I feel like he’s always got his ear to the ground.

So Thom Yorke, and anyone else? Dream collaborations in the studio maybe?

Matt: I think it’d be fun to work with Danger Mouse. He’s a really great producer.

Angelica: The Dream.

Body Language in the studio / Photo by Nasa Hadizadeh

Body Language in the studio / Photo by Nasa Hadizadeh

What is your biggest musician pet peeve about life on the road?

Matt; I think road food is just so foul! Sometimes you’re like, “Oh, all I really want is a salad,” and when you get a salad, it tastes like metal.

Grant: You mean like at a gas station?

Matt: At gas stations or even at McDonalds. When you’re on the road and you try to get something that’s just greens, it’s just disgusting.

Angelica: There’s no way to try and be healthy when you’re on the road because middle America is…not. It’s so hard!

Matt: You have to live there, but like everything on the road, everything people eat on the road in America is disgusting. There’s definitely a difference when you’re eating on the highway than when you actually live in a town. All the stuff you see on the highway is just…ugh.

Angelica: We always just try to find Mexican, ‘cause that’s usually the closest, the healthiest fast food. Or maybe Japanese if we can find it.

Matt: The unfortunate thing is that is comes down to time. It’s like “do we have time to drive the two extra blocks to a nicer place?” or “do we have an extra $5 to spend on a nice meal?”

Angelica: One of the dudes in a friend band was like “So what’s your deal? Do you guys eat bad on the road?” And we’re like “Ehhhh, we try really hard not to. Me and Ian, who is our Yelp guru, finds all the best places. What about you?” And he’s like, “We don’t care. We eat McDonalds all the time.”

That’s…gross.

Angelica: Your body is NOT prepared to digest that stuff.

Grant: You will get by so much better if you take a couple extra bucks and take a couple extra minutes to eat a little bit better.

Matt: You feel so much better! I honestly think that if you try to eat salads and stuff on the highway, it’s no better. It can’t be good for you.

Angelica: Where was that place we went to in Wyoming…?

Matt: Where he offered us prairie oysters? [laughs]

Angelica: Yeah, and I had no idea what they were…

Wait, what? Oysters in Wyoming?

Matt: They’re called prairie oysters because they’re cow testicles.

[LAUGHS]

Angelica: And I didn’t know what they were, and I was like “Prairie oysters? That’s interesting…you guys get oysters out here?” And [the server’s] like “Yeah, I don’t really know why, but the ladies love it. I don’t know what it is.” And I’m like “Yeah cool.” And when I told [the boys], they were like [chuckles], “You have no idea…”

Matt: Yeah, prairie oysters. I know about the shit – I’m from Oklahoma! Not a lot of people eat that, so that’s why I was so surprised to see it on a fast food menu. [The server] said the same thing. “Prairie oysters? Who gets that from a fast food place or a cafe rest stop? But ladies love ‘em!”

Have you eaten anywhere, anything particularly awesome on your travels?

Grant: Pho in Seattle.

Angelica: We were recently in Vegas and had AMAZING Korean barbeque.

Grant: Oh that was at Honey Pig in Las Vegas.

Matt: What was the name of that Mexican spot in El Paso?

Grant: Next to the graveyard?

Angelica: Ooooooh, it was this serious hole in the wall in this really dodgy area that was straight up mom-and-pop with photos of celebrities that had been there.

Grant: We got treated to a lot of Stubbs barbeque when we played there.

Oh that’s not the best barbeque in Austin!

Grant: Yeah, but when it’s free and it’s a buffet…

Matt: Trudy’s in Austin! They have deep-fried stuffed avocados–OH MY GOD! They get an avocado, and they stuff it with meat and cheese, close it up, bread it, and fry it. It’s SO amazing! It might have just been cheese, but it’s SO good! But so bad!

Angelica: I’ve never been to a gourmet buffet place besides the ones in hotels and stuff, but [Trudy’s] was some of the best stuff I’ve ever eaten!

Besides the new album and tour, what else do you guys have coming up?

Grant: We’re prepping some live videos the blog Wild Honey Pie. We’re going to do two songs off of Grammar. We’re probably going to do five music videos – two live videos for Grammar and two additional live videos that we’ve already done through this place called Dreambear, which is a blog – they did the “You Can” video.


Oh that was a really great video!

Grant: Yeah, they did two more of them, so those are on Grammar as well. The free EP is out [now] and the full length record is coming out [this summer].

Matt: We’re also working on the next Vacationer record…

Angelica: Getting pregnant…

Grant: I’m getting pregnant too. [chuckles]

With food babies?

Angelica: YES.

Grant and Matt: Somebody goin’ to get pregnant!

 

Download their free five-song EP Grammar on Body Language’s official website and see them with they hit the road with Vacationer this month!

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Story by Rebecca An
Photos by Nasa Hadizadeh
Editing by Max Schneller

 



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