Brian Bonz is only 24, but in those years, he’s seen the entire country and many parts of the world. Still, no matter where he travels, home is truly where the heart is for this Brooklyn native, which is why he has created a musical scrapbook of his life entitled The Triborough Odyssey. But make no mistake – although each song on the album was inspired by specific events and places that bind New Yorkers, all of the emotions on the record are universal.
Like Bonz’s debut album, From Sumi to Japan, The Triborough Odyssey is a refreshing compilation of experimental sounds with even more luscious arrangements. However, it was the likes of the Notorious B.I.G. and Nas who had the biggest influence on Bonz’s goal for the new album. “It’s sort of inspiring when you hear rappers drop the names of neighborhoods or sing about different places and you know what they’re talking about,” he says. “I wanted to apply that upbringing, that surrounding, and write-what-you-know-about aspect to this record.”
Although the album pays homage to New York, Bonz and his band, The Major Crimes, actually flew out to Chicago to record with John McEntire (Tortoise, The Sea and Cake) at his legendary Soma Electronic Music Studios. Accustomed to recording in his hometown and fine-tuning the sound in friends’ basements, working with McEntire proved to be nothing short of enlightening.
“It was a great experience to work with John and be put up to the challenge of recording with someone you don’t have any back story with, and who has a history of records you enjoy,” Bonz explains. “Listening to and hearing stuff back in that control room and being in the same studio that Wilco recorded some of their records, you sort of sit there and say, ‘Oh, this is why we’re working with this guy – because he makes Stereolab sound like Stereolab.’”
Lyrically, Bonz was inspired by the 2003 Blackout, 9/11, Manhattan real estate and more, but each track also touches upon his ever-changing relationships. “The Honey Bee,” the album’s dreamy, doo-wop-inspired first single, is something that Bonz doesn’t usually dabble with – a love song. “I’m not really into writing about girls or taking that personal aspect of my life and applying it to a song, but it’s about dating someone that didn’t grow up in New York and moved here,” he reveals. “I feel like it’s always interesting to get asked questions from people that are just discovering the city and re-situating their lives.”
Another unique offering on the record is the acoustic “My Corduroy Eye,” which is about Bonz’s friend who dealt with sex addiction, and is sung entirely in Spanish. “A Harlem Hand, A Harlem Heart” is one of the most noticeable gems on the album, rooted in smooth jazz and focused on “the projects and the people who live there, and how that’s slowly being stripped away because of real estate.”
But the true benchmark of the new record is Bonz’s most personal song, “Triborough,” which features an extended instrumental introduction before allowing the cerebral singer’s vocals to come in. “It’s about any relationship you have, whether it be something involving love, friendship or a family member, and what happens when you get so comfortable with the dynamic that you let your guard down,” he muses.
Those wondering about the Dot Hongs can rest assured – the name has been buried, but nearly all of the players remain the same. “It was just a joke that turned into a laughing kind of thing when we would bring it up to people that didn’t even know what we sounded like, so we changed our name to Brian Bonz and The Major Crimes, which is inspired by the HBO show The Wire,” he explains. “I’m a Wire freak, but I’m not going to get deep into the meaning behind ‘Major Crimes.’ People can Wikipedia that.”
In the last two years, Bonz has grown tremendously, and like many of the best writers do, he’s channeling all of his (still-mounting) life experiences into his music – only this time around, he’s doing it New York style. “You write about what you know and what you learned from some of the people that you may have trusted when things are good or bad,” he says. “From that point on, I think it’s important to retrace whatever the issue is and make sure you take a step back and get a good perspective about it all.” Case closed.