In January 2020, Body Farm appeared primed for a breakout. At the time, the power violence quartet – that addressed still-relevant subjects ranging from abortion rights to the growing threat of totalitarian rule – and was finalizing plans for an extensive spring tour. Indeed, it appeared the only thing that could potentially slow the crew was a broken wrist sustained by singer/tornado Ocean-Breeze Kudla, who appeared in promotional photos taken at the time wearing a brace to guard against further injury.
Then six weeks later, the coronavirus landed stateside.
“And then everything hit at once, and we had an entire tour shut down,” said Ocean-Breeze, who joined bandmate and partner Erek Kudla for a late November phone interview. (Steven Bujdoso and Alex Emert round out the band’s current lineup.)
“We had 28 shows booked that were canceled. And then we had a new LP that we were in the process of writing, and we canceled it,” Erek said. “It was one of those things like, ‘Fuck it. Everything’s over.’ And we just gave up.”
This initial desperation quickly dissolved, though, with the band continuing to record (Body Farm released a split seven-inch just a month into the pandemic) and then returning to live performance via a series of online streams, which Ocean-Breeze described as a way to help ease the malaise that threatened to overtake absent the ability to play shows to a packed, sweaty house.
“If I hadn’t had that [livestream] outlet, I don’t know if I would have made it through everything, to be perfectly honest,” said Ocean-Breeze, who also credited a turn in therapy with helping them navigate the early stretch of the pandemic. “I don’t have a religion but going to shows is something that feels like that. It feels spiritual when you’re in that space, fully in the moment, surrounded by people.”
Buoyed by these sporadic livestreams, the bandmates continued to gather, writing and recording songs that made up Living Hell, released in March 2022. In contrast to pandemic life, with its slow pace and muted colors, the songs on Living Hell are dense, propulsive and unapologetically vibrant – a tumbling, rowdy dust cloud of limbs and riffs and drums and bile. “Close your eyes and embrace the oblivion,” Ocean-Breeze offers on 70-second woodchipper “Death on Two Wheels,” sounding fully at home amid the attendant chaos.
A return to the road followed the EP release, with Erek noting that Body Farm resumed touring “at 150 miles an hour,” eager to make up for lost time but also infused with the reality that the ability to play for audiences is something that musicians could no longer take for granted.
“You start playing as many shows as you can because you don’t know if you’re going to lose this again,” continued Erek, who was recently transferred for his job. As a result of the transfer, Erek and Ocean-Breeze will relocate to Braddock, Pa., following a series of goodbye shows this weekend, including a concert (Friday, Dec. 2) and at Used Kids (early) and Cafe Bourbon St. (late). Both Erek and Ocean-Breeze said the move will not impact the future of Body Farm, though the members changing their Twitter handle, currently @BodyFarmOhio, to reflect the reality that its members will now stretch across two states.
For Body Farm, the ongoing pandemic, along with the reinvigorated Black lives matter movement that rose up in the wake of George Floyd's murder by Minneapolis police, further calcified the band’s leftist political and social beliefs – elements which have long been inseparable from its music.
“I think the things we were talking about and fighting for, they were turned up to 11 for everybody,” Erek said.
“I feel like it further radicalized me,” said Ocean-Breeze, who was laid off from their job early in the pandemic. “I literally just finished the last campaign season with . And I made it a point to phone bank every chance I could, especially when it came to abortion rights.”
These on-the-ground realities have continued to shape the new songs the musicians are currently writing, which Ocean-Breeze said further blur the line between the personal and the political. “The songs I’m writing now are about social situations I’ve experienced, gender politics and fighting against bigotry,” they said.
There are also more caustic elements that have crept in, particularly as many of these social justice fights have shifted online amid COVID-19. “The internet, as far as I’m concerned, can feel like a void,” Ocean-Breeze said. “If you’re someone who’s participating in social media, and you have any sort of platform, there can be moments when you feel like you have this community. And then other times you realize you just have a bunch of strangers following you. … And so, you start to ask, ‘Is this actually leading to any sort of change? Or am I just shouting into this endless nothing?’”
To avoid this dilemma, Body Farm has actively cultivated community – both inside of music and out – finding sustenance and motivation by working alongside like-minded residents who stand against bigotry and in support of human rights.
“So, the gerrymandering here is very obvious. And when you look at a map every voting year and it’s just a sea of red, it’s always like, ‘Wait, what’s really in that part of Ohio? Or is it just land?’” Ocean-Breeze said. “But the thing that keeps me going is that community of people who have fought so hard and continue to fight, like the reproductive justice movement, which is strong here in Ohio, and Ohio Women’s Alliance. … You have to build community where you’re at to sustain that kind of energy."