Words and Photos: Reef Gaha | Camera Assistance: Suzi Chou | Maps to the Ornamental Vines’ Homes with Maddie and Bret of Bogan Via in LA
No, this is not the tale of a botanically inclined, Powell Peralta inspired remake of a Bones Brigade skate movie from the late 1980’s.
This is the story of two musicians from Phoenix who got together, found they got along pretty well and decided to make their way to LA in pursuit of their creative goals.
It’s also the story of how Bret and Maddie, two Arizonian Americans, having never set foot on the Great Southern Land (of Bogan) came to form an electro-pop band named Bogan Via. It’s a question that’s confounded ardent Australian concertgoers who happen upon our pair while visiting shows in LA (and other BV tour locations) for the last half decade. When Bret and Maddie play a show, they’re often approached by little Aussie battlers mistaking Bogan Via for a vernacular signifier of Terra Australis in the wilds of Southwestern USA (either side of the Sierra Nevada).
In actuality, the Bogan Via name is simply a contraction of Bougainvillea, a thorny angiosperm originating in West Africa and South America, popularised by British and French colonialists during the 18th and 19th century.
Today this floral vine is decoratively cultivated around the world in areas with warm climates (and aqueducts) so unsurprisingly it’s common to both LA and Phoenix.
It’s widely thought that the first European to observe these plants was a lass called Jeanne Baré, an expert in botany who disguised herself as a man because in 1789, she couldn’t join explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville’s maritime exexpedition as a woman. In masquerading thus, she became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.
But I digress.
‘Why is this article called The Search for Bougainvillea Chin?’ I hear you ask.
‘Are Bogan Via skateboarders?’
The Search for Animal Chin caused a sensation among the Thrasher readership in 1987 because at the time, it was one of the first skate films to have a plot, distinguishing itself from the gonzo skateboard stunt montages set to music that had previously informed the genre.
‘Skateboarders (Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill) known as the Bones Brigade show off their various talents during the search for their sport’s legendary founder.’
Why does this matter?
We’d planned to shoot photos with a deranged plot: Hollywood has Maps to the Star’s Homes. The Search for Animal Chin had ‘Maps to the Skater’s Homes’, but we weren’t looking for those. Instead we cased the streets and structures of Downtown LA …
… looking for sprigs of Bougainvillea.
The photo set which accompanies this interview is affectionately titled
The Search for Bougainvillea Chin.
Squint your eyes just right, and the truck says ‘Bougainvillea’.
On a warm October evening in 2016, I meet with Bogan Via at Zinc (an always hospitable vegan/vegetarian bar and café restaurant on the corner of Mateo and Willow in DTLA). We’d talk about music and the emerging national sentiment in the States (roughly ten days before Trump’s impending election to the presidency)
The sun sets auriferous over the streets west of Alameda as we shoot. We take time to discuss the band’s musical sensibilities, the contrast between LA and Phoenix as creative centres, and how the West was really won. We reconvene a few months later to recap.
How and when did you two get together, musically? Is there a Bogan Via ‘origin story?’
M: Bret and I met over 5 years ago. He saw a few of my YouTube videos and reached out to me on Facebook asking if I wanted to collaborate on some music. We didn’t know each other at all but it was crazy timing because I’d just put out an ad, hoping to start an all-girl folk band. This was definitely not that, though when we met up, we clicked instantly.
B: Yeah, we were friends on Facebook but had never met in real life. She frequently posted videos of herself with an acoustic guitar singing covers and originals and I was entranced by her voice. I messaged her about meeting up and she seemed excited about it. I later found out that she’d recently posted on Craigslist trying to start an all-girl band; good timing at its best. We met up in the practice rooms at Arizona State University and pretty much immediately hit it off.
How long did you wait before calling her back?
B: I think we ended up meeting the next day too, or very soon thereafter.
You came from Phoenix. What prompted you to make the move out to LA?
M: I dragged Bret out to LA so I could pursue acting. I’ve always been an actor, long before I was a musician. I just figured we could be Bogan Via anywhere, but Los Angeles is where I need to be to really push myself as an actor. It’s a tough city though and I miss Phoenix constantly. So, who knows, maybe we’ll move back!
B: Yeah, Maddie said she needed to be in LA to pursue her acting so we made the jump. I’m always on board with a little adventure.
Artistically, what was it like leaving the familiarity of the Phoenix community and scene for LA?
B: I’m not sure if it’s because we were in the thick of the scene in Phoenix or had grown up there, but I feel like there was a very tangible music scene there. You knew the hot spots; you knew the up and coming bands. There was definitely a lot of camaraderie between bands. In LA, I haven’t really discovered a scene. There’s the music business here and I feel like that almost trumps the scene a bit. There are so many venues and secret house shows and private showcases that it feels more like a jungle than an incubator for talent. People wanna ‘collaborate’ in LA. In Phoenix we just got together to jam. There’s just more pressure and expectation on everything.
‘Is this one gonna be a hit?’ If not “don’t waste my time” says LA.
M: There’s amazing stuff in LA too but because there’s so much to dig through, it’s harder to find. We’ve been here over 3 years and met some beautiful people who’ve become great friends; it feels like we’re finally breaking into something, getting comfortable. But honestly, every day is different.
It’s just so saturated out here in LA. There’s a million people everywhere and most of them are artists. It’s chaotic and alienating – It’s easy to feel like you’re not good enough. Phoenix has an amazing community that’s just starting to really sprout. There’s a lot of cool stuff happening in Phoenix and a lot of great music.
Around the time we met, the election was impending and we spoke about Trump. He’s since taken power. How is the sentiment on the ground in LA and around places you’ve travelled?
M: People are scared, people are angry. They feel betrayed and I think a lot of them feel helpless. It’s basically a f*cking nightmare. People are pissed off. They’re protesting, they’re sharing information, they’re talking to each other. I have a lot of problems with the entire political system. I think the whole thing needs to be turned on its head. Trump is obviously a f*cking joke. He is hateful, he is uninformed, he’s an abuser, egotistical and misogynistic. It’s too easy to hate on Trump because he’s such a f*cking idiot. I’ve got little to no faith in the system, but I have some hope in people. It reassures me that people are asking questions, scrutinizing every little thing. I think that’s great. We need to keep doing that, we need to stay angry and suspicious, we need to keep exposing the corruption because it has existed long before Donald f*cking Trump.
B: Life continues it seems. As involved or heartbroken as people seem to be I don’t know if the disenfranchised will make anything of it. Obviously, we’ve seen the continual scathing he receives on Facebook as many become aware of how crazy his actions are, but I’m not sure anything’s going to change. If the media starts talking about something else, people will start feeling something else… Life goes on. Gotta get that money.
Who are your musical heroes? Are there any artists you’d love to channel?
M: Some of my musical heroes are Ben Folds, Radiohead and First Aid Kit. That music inspired me at an early age. It got me through some rough patches so it’ll always hold a dear place in my heart. Artists that influence my work in Bogan Via would be Austra and Banks, definitely. I would kill to collaborate with Lana Del Rey one day; I just f*cking love everything she does. There’s also a band from Phoenix I adore called ROAR. They put out an album last year that seriously changed my life. I really just love music that makes you feel a little sad.
B: Yeah, I get really inspired by albums. My favorite artists don’t necessarily make music that I love all the time but at some point, they’ve made an album that changed my life. I remember listening to Radiohead when I was younger too, and thinking that it was all this jumbled up noise and mess. When I revisited Kid A later, I had something of an epiphany. I could see the story and understand its artistry. Funeral by Arcade Fire hit me instantly; such powerful emotion and great song writing, and it only gets better the more you listen to it. These two definitely set the bar in my world and hopefully continue to inspire me to get closer.
Day to day, how different is LA life to Phoenix life?
M: Phoenix is just so easy. Our families are there, most of our oldest friends are there. There’s no traffic in comparison. It’s definitely more comfortable there, but we go back to play shows and visit with family all the time. It’s a quick trip from LA so it’s okay! LA has a lot to offer, that’s why everyone wants to be here. It’s just different. It’s an incredibly expensive city so we live in a small one bedroom in Hollywood. I love our apartment but it’s always loud outside and the streets are dirty. There’s a huge wealth gap in LA. There are homeless people everywhere and there doesn’t seem to be much outreach for them. Seeing the disparity wears on you.
B: I don’t think we’ve swallowed the red pill quite yet. I’d say we still prefer Arizona to Los Angeles. People are nicer in Phoenix by a huge gap. LA is a crazy city where everybody’s gunning for something and it turns people a little vicious. Neither Maddie or I have the cutthroat mentality so it can be pretty depressing here sometimes.
What balances out those negatives about LA – what do you love about it?
B: The trees and the green and the humidity. Now that we’ve lived here three years we’ve made some friends that we cherish a lot. Vegan options are on overload which is encouraging. There are a lot of movers and shakers here who are trying to make the world a better place. Young people working ridiculously hard to follow their passions and not planning their retirements any time soon.
M: I feel like I’m hating hard on Los Angeles but it’s not that bad. There are lots of creative people here, there’s always something to do. I can be quite shy, so it’s just a lot for me to take in. I get overstimulated easily; if I wasn’t an actor I don’t think I would live here, but most people love it!
Has anything weird taken place since Trump was sworn in?
M: Anything weird? Everything has pretty much been weird. I mean, I haven’t seen anyone light themselves on fire but people are really paying attention now! They’re getting more involved than I’ve seen before. That’s not weird though, it’s great!
B: Hmm. Lots of rain here in LA. I joked with Maddie that they f*cked with the weather to keep people from protesting the inauguration and now they just don’t know how to make the rain stop.
Bogan Via become lured by the promise of pink neon. No Bougainvillea here folks.
If anyone’s headed to Phoenix, what are a few musical acts and venues they should check out?
B: The scene in Phoenix is very much growing. More festivals and venues are popping up and it seems like people are starting to really take an interest. Some of our favourite spots to go are Crescent Ballroom and Valley Bar. Both venues bring more hip, weird music that maybe Phoenix wouldn’t normally have been exposed to in the past. This has given rise to more local artists pursuing less traditional music and it’s been very exciting to see what’s churning out. Some of our favourites are MRCH, Emby Alexander, Harrison Fjord, and Snake Snake Snakes.
Emby Alexander at Tribal Cafe, W Temple St, Echo Park
M: There is so much good music coming out of Phoenix. I mentioned before, I’m obsessed with a band called ROAR, their music moves me, I can’t even describe it. There’re a lot of amazing women I admire so much. Luna Aura (now LA based), Sareena Dominguez, Steff Koeppen (& the Articles), Taylor Upsahl. I love their music. The Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix is top notch as far as venues go. The hospitality, the quality, you can’t beat it. They take chances on artists; they let newcomers take the stage. They supported us so much, especially when we first started. Valley Bar and Rebel Lounge, they’re fantastic too! They just take care of you, it’s f*cking wonderful! I feel like there is just so much great art coming up, and downtown PHX is an exploration of that. The bars, the venues and independent shops, they all contribute. They all share this push for local love!
The search intensifies…
Maps to the Star’s Homes… Having grown up outside LA, I feel like sometimes there’s a gulf between the expectation and reality of the place; there’s Tinseltown and the perceived glamour, then there’s something altogether more circumspect and down-to-earth about the city.
How do you feel about the Hollywood cliché versus the reality of LA as an American metropolis?
B: I feel like I didn’t have many preconceived notions of tinsel town, aside from it being a very competitive place to try and make it. I think there’s probably something here for everyone. I remember meeting people who weren’t aspiring to make it early on when I was just getting my grip on the town and I would ask ‘why do you live here then?’
LA is a tough, tough town and I certainly had a hard time understanding why people would choose to live in a dirty, expensive, overpopulated town if it wasn’t where they necessarily needed to be for their career, but obviously there’s a million ways to slice it.
The LA that’s portrayed in movies exists for sure, it’s here. And that’s the big allure I guess, because when your ship comes in, there’s a lot of fun ways to spend the cash and you truly can live in that fictitious/not fictitious world if you so choose.
M: Well, that’s a hard question. I never really had expectations of LA. I just knew as an actor, I needed to try it out because the opportunity was here. I didn’t think it would be glamorous; I actually expected to be poor and feel rejected, but I didn’t think it would be as hard to connect with people. Some of those clichés are true; the egos, this kinda’ persona people take on. 3 years in, I‘ve made some really extraordinary friends but at first felt like I met some bullshit people and sat through a lot of bullshit conversations. As far as the reality of the city, I’m not sure what that would be. I mean, there’s a lot of money here and there is sparkle but there’s so much poverty too and you see it everywhere. You see it more. It seems so wrong.
As dawn breaks over DTLA, Bogan Via unearth their botanical namesake, Bougainvillea. Hallelujah.
Lastly, what’s next for Bogan Via? What can we expect in 2017?
B: We just recorded a new single set to release in a couple of months. We are heading to Treefort Music fest later this month and then Neon Desert a couple months later. We’re hoping to get a full-length vinyl out this year and tour as much as possible.
M: We’re recording new music all the time.
We’re psyched about our next single that’s being mixed right now. We plan to make another album and press it to Vinyl and then tour! I love touring, it’s my absolute favorite, so I’m hoping we’ll hit the road again soon – I’d love to go on tour for months.
Beyond Bogan Via, I just wanna’ cause change in the world. Bret and I are both huge advocates for animal rights. I volunteer with Mercy for Animals so we foster cats and dogs through an organisation in LA. Some days I want to quit everything and spread veganism across the planet in hope of saving it, you know? Human connection is everything. I really want to help the people and animals that need it. So, hopefully in 2017 we can expect a lot of both!
You definitely won’t find Bogan Via sharing a charred snag at Bunnings on a Sunday morning. You can however watch and listen to their compelling musical works
by visiting the following:
Bret and Maddie expect to release a new full-length album later this year.
Meanwhile, let’s delve deeply into their back catalogue for a classic BV video:
Directed by Freddie Paul, 2013