There's no shortage of bands in Brooklyn, but few are as fluent in soulful synths as Body Language. Their sophomore album Grammar, which came out this September, is a testament to this — put your headphones on wherever you, turn the volume up, and try to avoid chair-dancing (it's impossible). So as Matthew Young, Angelica Bess, and Grant Wheeler began trickling into SoHo's Dune Studios for our interview and photo shoot, I was pleasantly surprised. They were so...nice.
I had no reason to expect otherwise; it's just that you can't listen to Body Language without getting caught in a crossfire of cool. And as we know, cool and nice don't always go together. If your parents allowed you to hang out with it when you were thirteen, it probably wasn't cool (or the alternative: it was a good liar). Body Language is neither, yet their unique twist on soul, funk, and disco will impress even the most judgmental boomer.
That's because their music lives on the edge of pretty much every genre with a name (and probably a few others). Bass, blues, juke, jungle, and jazz. "We listen to everything. I think that's why our music sounds the way it does. But we've been getting more and more focused. If you listen to our earlier records, every song is a completely different genre, so we reeled it in and tightened it up," Matt says. "For this album, we kinda cut the indie rock and bubblegum pop and went a bit darker." Angelica agrees, describing Grammar as more mature. "Social Studies was based on this juvenile lifestyle, and Grammar is more grown-up — a little sexier, with disco tracks and slow down-tempo sounds. Social Studies was more...tropical and happy and…'kids!'"
Angelica and Matt are responsible for vocals and writing top-line material, but the production process usually begins with an instrumental, courtesy of Matt or Grant. Matt says his litmus test for a good song is based on movement: "If I'm writing a beat or messing around on the keyboard and I wanna dance — like, get up instead of sit down and write — that's a good thing. Standing up. You get up and dance, then you sit back down and do a little bit more work and you're like 'Yeah!'"
Once he and Angelica have worked out the melody and lyrics, the band takes their newly formed song to the stage with "permanent floater" and drummer, Ian Chang — who I graced with that nickname because he was on the road with another band at the time of this interview. Grant assured me, though, that Ian is instrumental to Body Language. "He's our best friend; and the drums actually guide a lot of the feel. We usually have a chance to play our songs live before we finish recording them, and that's when Ian comes in and shows us the dynamics we can reach by adding drums."
Disparate influences distilled through live performance creates Body Language's sound. And they have many, which is why they're already working on another album (or two). "We've recorded a million different things that are all over the place, and we're learning how to put them in the right buckets. We have a bucket of some future R&B stuff that's got influences from jungle to disco. But meanwhile, we have all these disco cuts that we're just streaming together that sound like they belong on a mixtape," Grant says.
With all the music Body Language has been churning out, I had to ask if they ever seek outside feedback during the process, to put a stopgap on things. The short answer? No. "There's this theory I have that, whether you're in the honeymoon phases of writing a song or dating someone or whatever, everything's magical. And it's the best thing you've ever done! I just don't think you should show [a song] to anyone until you've sat with it and come to realize its quirks, and you know, lived with it, basically," Matt says.
Angelica agreed, but admits it's difficult. "If you start working on a song and you're in a good place, you have to keep it to yourself until you're sure — but it takes a lot of patience. I definitely struggle with that… [the guys] will send me instrumentals and I'll write a hook and send it to them immediately after I write it, because I think it's the greatest thing I've ever written. And they'll be like, "Oh, it's good..." or, "Yeahhhh..." and I'm like, 'That was the greatest thing I ever did!' But of course it's not," she laughs. "It's really just something you need to sit on."
So how do they know a song has reached its peak awesomeness? They all have their own rubrics — Matt says good sound provokes a physical reaction, like chills on his back; Grant thinks it's when you can't stay in your seat; and Angelica laughs, "You just… cry." But when it comes to what inspires good sound, they've reached a consensus. "Personal relationships are super crucial to developing outside of this core of the three of us," Grant says. Matt agrees: "You learn the most from your friends." And as Angelica succinctly puts it, "No one can really do anything alone. You need help, you need inspiration, and that usually requires someone else, you know? Just think about it — there's not one thing you can create without another person." I tried to think of an example to counter this sentiment, but couldn't. And that wasn't a bad thing.
Stephanie Georgopulos is the Entertainment Content Producer at Gawker Media.
All photos by Michael Williams.