Faking It With the Bougies
Looking back on the Casio keyboard and the electronic drum kit that their mother gave them for Christmas several years ago — the type of instruments that are popular for young kids — brother and sister Jordan and Kelly Bongolan admit they thought the gifts were a little silly.
“We’re adults, we’re not 5,” Kelly recalls with a laugh.
But they played around with the gifts anyway.
Eventually that led them to starting indie pop band The Bougies, despite the fact that neither of them even knew how to play their instruments — Jordan on guitar and Kelly on drums — at the time.
While that was all several years ago and the band has grown — they’ve since enlisted Joy Furushima (who also didn’t know how to play initially) on bass and Josh Gonzalez on lead guitar (Gonzalez is now based in California; Evan Suhayda fills in as lead guitarist for local gigs) — it’s that unusual origin that perhaps has defined the way the band views itself.
As Jordan, who’s also lead vocalist, explains of their work: “We just fake everything and keep smiling. That is all we do — is just fake it the whole time, and it works.”
“You know, fake it till you make it,” Kelly adds.
That’s an adage that the two employ a lot when talking about the efforts of their band.
But while the “fake it” part may have held a degree of pertinence in the early days of The Bougies, given their successes since then, it’s clear they’ve entered the “make it” portion. The band now has two EPs under its belt, along with a string of gigs around town, including as the opening act for Echosmith at The Republik last year. And in August, they went on their first tour, playing at venues up and down the West Coast.
With all of those accomplishments, it seems the band now sits at something of a turning point. What started as a just-for-fun hobby, they’ve realized, could maybe be something more. As Furushima explains it: “We never took it seriously until recently. We are trying to be more serious as a band, and be more proactive.”
The Bougies have garnered comparisons to the likes of The Strokes and The Pixies, with some songs leaning more toward catchy pop beats, and others grittier and grungier.
When it comes to their creative process, though, they are quick to invoke luck.
“It’s all just random, it’s just lucky,” Jordan says of song-writing. “All the songs that we have written, it is like, how did I do that?”
“We actually just kind of wing it, we don’t really force it,” Kelly agrees. “When we force it, it’s a turnoff, it sounds like something else, or it sounds really cheesy or really corny.”
They are, instead, more inclined to wait to be inspired. And what inspires them most is matters of the heart.
“(Our lyrics) are always about people that we have loved, or wanted to love, or been hurt by,” Jordan says.
That type of fodder makes for emotionally charged, honest songs. Their first EP, The Bougies, is mainly about Kelly’s love life, where she documents breakups and budding romances alike. Fan favorite Fancy B, for instance, details a summer fling she’d had. Talk To You, the second EP that was released in August, centers mostly on Jordan’s breakup with his girlfriend of five years.
“I don’t know why I always gravitate toward writing about heartbreak and love,” Kelly says. “I guess that is what affects me most in my life — I have had crazy relationships and ups and downs. And it is relatable, too.
“I have so much feeling and emotion … and I just need to let it out,” she continues. “I am not much of a vocal person — that is my one downfall in relationships — so I think instead of being vocal, I tend to write.”
It’s nearly midnight when The Bougies take the stage at a recent show at Down-beat Lounge. There were a few bands before them, and the crowd was looking sparse during the set change. But as soon as they went on, people weaved their way up to the front, dancing — and singing along.
The fact that people know their lyrics is something that still surprises Jordan — maybe partly because for a front man, he is unusually reserved, inhabiting the kind of shy self-deprecation typically characteristic of the bassist or guitarist.
“I am like, what, how do you even know that,” Jordan says.
But that surprise maybe also comes in part because since the beginning, The Bougies have done little to promote themselves. The steady following that they have amassed happened simply, they say, through word of mouth, and they admit that they have often been nonchalant about outreach.
“We don’t focus on our Instagram, we don’t take care of our social media as much as we should … we are all about (being) in the moment and having fun as a band,” Jordan says.
But as they have built up their fanbase, they have had people tell them how much they love a certain song, or how great a performance was. The band has come to realize that people truly love their music.
“We have had people say, ‘Oh, hey, you are actually kind of good at what you do, why don’t you try to actually do this?'” Furushima says. “And we are like, ah, no, whatever.”
“Sometimes after shows, people come up and they say, ‘Hey, you got something going, you should keep going at it,'” Jordan says. “And I am like, oh crap, I haven’t been doing anything with it.”
The enthusiastic feedback and a loyal fanbase has prompted a change in their decidedly laissez-faire attitude.
Recently, they have begun to up their efforts in promoting themselves (this article, for instance, is the direct result from an email that Kelly sent Metro a few months ago) and trying to make connections. They’ve been investing money in merchandise, and getting their songs on Spotify. Starting Oct. 21, they will begin hosting a once-a-month show at The Studio at Hawaiian Brian’s, where they will play alongside a couple of rotating openers.
While they still don’t necessarily see the band as a career — they have other ventures: Jordan and Kelly both are students at University of Hawaii; Furushima is a hairstylist; and Gonzalez is pursuing a career in audio engineering — there is a future for The Bougies.
“I feel like we could still grow as a band,” Kelly says. “I see potential in us and we could do more.”
A CLEAN SLATE
Looking ahead, The Bougies are starting to ramp up for another EP, or perhaps an album.
“We just want to keep making more music,” Kelly says. “After this second EP, we are fresh out of music, so we are starting from a clean slate.”
And while she is specifically talking about songs, the idea of a clean slate also has significance for the band as a whole. Given their newfound intensified focus, things are kind of taking a new start. Perhaps the biggest step in their new direction was their tour in August — which was something of a gauntlet: They did nine shows in only two weeks at venues from San Diego to Seattle.
They didn’t have any industry contacts up there, but still they managed to land gigs. It was, they joke, just another example of them faking it: When she was reaching out to promoters, Kelly would sometimes use a fake name to make it seem like the band had an actual manager — and not the drummer-slash-manager that she is.
“We did it from scratch,” Kelly says. “It was like, we are just going to do it.”
And maybe that is the real takeaway of the band’s off-the-cuff origins: It’s not that they’ve been faking it this whole time — it’s more that their origin story is indicative of the type of DIY effort that is embedded into the ethos of the band. If they don’t know how to do something, they’ll figure it out and they’ll find a way to make it happen.
Maybe it’s Jordan and Kelly’s mom, Grace Schonhardt, the one who inadvertently started the trajectory of the band, who says it best: “So many people, even for me, have dreams, but they don’t think they can do it, so they don’t. So I really give (the band) credit — they just continue to persevere.”
For more information, visit thebougies.com. The band also is currently participating in vote-based contest NextNext Hawaii; to find out more and how to vote, visit nextnext.com.