Between Beauty and Disgust

Mac Pogue

Photo by Matthew Kadi.

San Francisco’s Void Boys make harsh music for sensitive ears. They pile fizzling chords, whip-crack drums and lurching stop-start meter changes atop languid, serene melodies. Centered by Shannon Bodrogi’s soaring voice, their freeform squall mines territory similar to Bay Area contemporaries Never Young, Try the Pie and Joyride.

Void Boys make grand music played out on a grand scale. “Cosmos,” a web-only B-Side to their Starfish 10” EP, unfolds in Cinemascope widescreen, the opening riff building upon itself until its power multiplies exponentially. The push-pull of their Fulltone’d waltz lurches forward until Shannon’s voice breaks through the guitar latticework, finding its perch right in the middle of the fray. Rarely is rock so crystalline yet dense, surprising yet reassuring.

I met the Void Boys maybe this time last year at a show at Portland’s dearly-departed Laughing Horse Books and remember talking about how hard it is to find a practice space in San Francisco (and now, as fate would have it, they don’t even have one of their own). It seems like each member of the band finds their own way to stay active outside of the band as well, whether it’s Shannon’s beautiful embroidered (embroidered!) show posters or Gio’s interviews with both punk record producers and celebrated B-boys.

Glamorpus, Void Boys new full-length due on August 11 (the release show is at Rickshaw Stop with Screaming Females and Vacation) furthers their New Horizons mission into the outer boundaries of pop. I caught up with the Shannon, Giovan Alonzi and Jian Giannini (missing only Joe Putnam) a few days after their set at this year’s Think and Die Thinking festival and we discussed their experience with the fest, the effect of San Francisco’s changing economics on the music scene, and the actual pus at the center of Glamorpus.

What separates Think and Die Thinking from other festivals for you?

Gio: Well, the emphasis on identity is really heavy there. You know, a lot about queer community, people of color, LGBT. It makes it a point of conversation, and more than that, a point of focus. It makes it something that a lot of spaces in punk don’t emphasize now. Not, like, purposely, necessarily, but that’s also the point.

Shannon: That’s its main goal, to be all-inclusive, to make everyone feel as safe as possible, with themselves and around others.

Jian: I thought it was especially empowering just to also see a lot of young faces be there, because it was an all ages show. Because, growing up, going to punk shows I definitely felt isolated in the sense that me and the majority of my friends — or like now me, in contrast to the majority of my friends — being somebody of color, it definitely made me realize “damn, I wish I had that when I was 15.”

Going to a show, and feeling like, “hell yeah, I see a bunch of people, not just the people attending the show but the people that were headlining the show.” I remember just going to a bunch of—not equating this at all—but going to a bunch of punk shows and being like “oh, look at all of those guys, they’re like England!” They’re like, these punks, and trying to emulate that, and to me that’s like shitty and embarrassing now. Like “wow, I was comparing myself a lot to these people that were my role models a lot.” Seeing a bunch of young people and thinking like “oh, damn, this is a relevant and culturally appropriate place.”

S: Also, one of my favorite parts of it was my friend Carolina’s workshop, the zine workshop. She’s just a beautiful person and the art she makes is really great, and it was emphasizing personal biography and documenting your own mental health through zines. It was just such a helpful thing, because I had a lot of anxiety at the show, and her having a similar experience and then having this outlet to—not ‘fix’ it, exactly—but at least, having an outlet like that was really, really helpful and it made me have the best time. There were just so many good tablers — tablers sounds like a really weird word [laughs].

Shannon, can we talk about your needlepoint work for show posters

S: Yeah! Embroidery. I do really like, with the show posters, and doing the embroidery, how it takes it a little outside of just Void Boys. I really like the idea of taking the time to write out bands’ names in embroidery—because it does, it takes a while—but, I think, I don’t know, it’s pretty cool to see your name and know that somebody’s taken the time to stitch it. I just think it’s a really beautiful-looking font/style, and I like combining print and painting. You can kind of embroider onto most things, and you can print or paint onto most, you can either do it onto paper or fabric, so I like the fluidity there. They’re just so fun and I want to do more of them really, just throwing that out there — any bands that want their name embroidered, I’m super down. I love it, I love taking the time to do that.

Void boys flyer

How did you begin working on Glamorpus?

G: There was stuff that was very new, and there was stuff we’d been playing since the first day we played music. So, there was a pretty interesting, even within the album, growth. I think we’ve ideally coalesced them all to sound pretty — that they have continuity. [There’s] definitely a vast experience expressed through the songs, as far as different places for us. All [are] mostly about having moved up here, being in the Bay Area.

S: All of them have been written here.

G: There’s kind of a breath, there’s kind of a vibe, for sure. There’s a song that we finished less than a week before we went into the studio, and there’s a song on there that’s grown with us, changed a little bit every time we’ve practiced it. A few on there like that.

J: I feel like before we recorded the full length, we had this cycle of revision we did every time we got together where there would be songs that we’d been playing for so long but they kept kind of changing, because I don’t know if we were necessarily experimenting with them but we were just trying to figure out what we’re doing — trying to figure out a sound. I felt like the process of recording kind of solidified that, where it was like “okay this is it, this is what it’s gonna sound like, let’s leave it alone.” You know? Let the songs be what they’re gonna be and then, you know, have a good time playing them, but before, there were times where … the song would change very dramatically, but I think for the best. I think all of the songs glue really well.

S: We didn’t really have any idea of how we were going to put it out, necessarily, like, there were possibilities, but not until Billy came to us from Too Far Gone Records and offered to put it out on tape that it was really “okay, it’s gonna actually come out now.” Like, “cool!” When did we record that? It was like last summer, it was a year ago. It’s been kind of weird sitting on them, and just wanting them to be out but also wanting to put them out in the right way.

How do you see the music scene changing in San Francisco given the massive socioeconomic changes in the last decade?

J: Space is very different in San Francisco. It feels different, the people who populate San Francisco, I feel have at least been very different, certain places you would go for shows just don’t really hold the values that they do anymore because of the property, the property is being shifted really easily in San Francisco. Big housing units are being built all over the place, replacing establishments you maybe would have gone to, maybe a venue, maybe a bar, maybe a youth program or something like that. Just, stuff like that — everything is being easily replaced.

I think the, this is my interpretation, my personal interpretation, is that the physical bodies of people that have the ability to voice out against these things have been feeling that physical pressure to leave. You cannot physically stay in San Francisco if you cannot afford to live in San Francisco. If you’re not there, the kind of weight of your resistance or the weight of your commentary or the space that you occupy is not necessarily there. So, there’s a lot of people that do fight for that stuff, but I do feel like it’s very, very difficult. Especially if you’re young and if you’re—well especially if you’re old, I’m not saying that age—age is not really relevant.

G: If you’re not white and do tech stuff and are from the midwest…

J: Yeah, exactly, you’re in opposition to that. It’s interesting because you’ll still see things linger in San Francisco and you’ll go there and they’re kind of like, you know, there’s the zine archive on Valencia street where you can kind of go in there but no one goes in there—it’s kind of hidden behind all of the lush glamours of gentrification, and it’s really a bummer.

G: It doesn’t take long to walk through San Francisco and feel like there’s a really bad makeup job. The whole city is being turned into a giant Chipotle.

G:  Everything just feels fake. If you look around, it feels like San Francisco is turning into a giant mall.  That just reminded of what Jian was saying where there’s something authentic being hidden by a bunch of bullshit, which is what San Francisco feels like.

J: You know, what I’m really hoping for is subversion [that] comes from that. Kids that feel even more disconnected from their own neighborhoods develop something that’s far tighter and—shit that I won’t know in five years, because my generation or whatever—that stuff I would hope for, that would be really cool.

You cannot physically stay in San Francisco if you cannot afford to live in San Francisco. If you’re not there, the kind of weight of your resistance or the weight of your commentary or the space that you occupy is not necessarily there.

M: What is behind the title of the album, Glamorpus

G: We prepared. We prepared for that one.

S: So first off, Gio wrote a, did you say a short story?

G: I’d say it’s a short monologue, it’s kind of —

J: It’s a rock opera.

G: It’s a rock opera. No, it’s a fictional monologue that I titled “Glamorpus” that’s—actually, on the track “Glamorpus” I read it, or say it, or whatever, over the music, and it’s just kind of a— what is literally happening in the monologue is a dude who seems kind of crazy, schizoid, ostensibly [in] downtown San Francisco, pontificating about this goop that secretes out of his body, and what that means to him, because this goop, he kind of reveres but … also is symbolic of his own grotesque qualities and his own self-glamorizing.

We wrote down something in the car: “imagine something screaming and spitting and vomiting authentic beauty in your face, is that authentic beauty still beautiful?” I’m thinking of like, if you’ve ever been to Hollywood, the glittering sidewalk with all of the stars names is a disgusting street [laughs]. It’s gross.

J: But it looks pristine because it glitters in the sun.

S: Like Palm Springs, where there’s all this underlying — it looks really beautiful and manicured, but there’s extreme amounts of waste and, just—

G: Watering your stupid lawn.

S: You just kind of say the word, “glamorpus.” it’s just like, disgustifying. Like, glamorous?

G: It’s both. It’s definitely a lot of that. Definitely open-ended but specifically as it relates to beauty and art. You can definitely reduce a lot of art-making down to how beautiful it is, which is equally how grotesque it is. I guess it’s meditations on that, how there can be this paradox of beauty and disgust.

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