Leftovers: Talking Food with Cat’s Eyes

One of the more unexpected treats of 2011 is Cat’s Eyes, the collaboration between Horrors frontman Faris Badwan and classically-trained soprano/multi-instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira. Their debut hangs in an ethereal limbo between the Shangri-Las and Ennio Morricone. Not a bad place to be.

MP3: Cat’s Eyes – Bandit (buy it!)

I interviewed the duo for BrooklynVegan recently and managed to sneak in a few cullinary questions at the end.

SOUND BITES: Did any food fuel the making of the Cat’s Eyes album?

Rachel Zeffira: Snacks.

SB: Such as?

RZ: Classic things with rediculous names. In England they don’t have candy corn so I made them eat that. That was disasterous.

Faris Badwan: It’s deadly, candy corn. If you have ten kernals or whatever, you’re ill.

RZ: Mostly it was healthy stuff. Spelt stuff. Steve Osbourne likes spelt. Dried mango. It was healthy stuff that was eaten in an unhealthy way. I wasn’t allowed any sugar. I get really hyper. It affected the recordings.

SB: Do you cook?

FB: Rachel cooks and I let her cook for me.

RZ: I was vegan for a long time so I still use tons of vegan recipes. I’ve got two vegan cookbooks that I love.

What was the gateway back into meat?

RZ: Moving to Italy. The word “vegan” doesn’t even exist there. No translation. Then I was just vegetarian, and they served me veal because it was grass-fed! Like something out of a movie. Because it ate grass, they thought that was the same thing. I swear. And then I ate the veal…and I liked it. I don’t think I ever liked meat before moving to Italy. All the food is good in Italy.

Where did you live?

RZ: I was in Verona for three years. I love Italian food.

BP: And that’s what you cook?

RZ: Yeah. The different regions are so different. That’s what I love. It’s not just pizza and pasta. Sicilian food versus the Northern, more Austrian stuff.

Do you have a signature dish?

FB: She does — gnocchi.

RZ: I make good homemade gnocchi. I really like sugary stuff, baking. Nanaimo bars…which are only found on the West Coast of Canada.

FB: Whoopie pies.

RZ: But then everyone started making those so I stopped.

Do you have a favorite city when touring or otherwise for the food?

RZ: Sicily. I would fly to Stromboli for this one restaurant, Il Canneto. It’s unbelievable. I would fly there just to have a meal and fly back. Well worth it. What about you, Faris?

FB: There’s been loads of places in the States, actually. There’s a vegan cafe in San Francisco I really love. I’ve always liked touring the States for that reason. The food’s a lot better than in England.

When you knew you were coming to New York to do press, did you have a food agenda?

RZ: I have a list! Have you noticed my eyes getting wild while we’re talking? I wanna go to Katz’s deli for matzo ball soup. And that place Babycakes as I don’t eat much sugar, I wanna see if it’s as good as people tell me it is.

FB: What’s Moby’s place called? Teany. That’s pretty good, I went there once.

RZ: I really like American breakfasts. In England, pancakes are like crepes and the French toast is flat. In New York it’s made with challah bread, which is so much better.

On the flip side of that, is there a food you wanna eat when you get home from touring?

RZ: Usually healthy food.

FB: Not really for me. I feel like I get to eat more of what I like when I’m away from home.

Are there any foods you just don’t don’t like?

RZ: Prawns. I have a shellfish phobia.

FB: I eat pretty much anything but I don’t like raw onions or peppers

Sound Bites Interview: Austin McCutchen


There's not a lot of serious country music in New York these days. There's gimmicky bands, and loads of singer songwriter type stuff but, for the most part, artists doing dusty honky tonk died out with No Depression. Artist doing the same in the bluegrass style are even fewer and far between. Austin McCutchen does both, staying busy with three musical endeavors. He's got a '70s style electric band, and a traditional bluegrass quartet, also making time to be part of the sprawling bro-verload that is Neckbeard Telecaster. 

MP3: Austin McCutchen – Honey Don't Be Sad (MP3)

The Austin McCutchen Quartet will bring the single-mike-style bluegrass to the Sound Bites Lunchtime Series this Wednesday (6/9) on the Pier 17 stage at South Street Seaport. As the show is in conjunction with the Fulton Stall Markets, I'm asking all the bands playing to answer some food related questions. 

You're playing opposite the Fulton Stall Markets. WHat's your favorite vegetable?

Quite possibly – the potato is my favorite vegetable.  There's nothing better than a plate of mashed potatoes and gravy.  Also you can use it to compliment dishes or use it as the basis for the meal.

Did you have a garden growing up?

My grandparents did. They lived on about five acres of land, so they grew summer squash, picked and canned things, all that kind of stuff.

Do you cook much here in NYC?

I don't. I'm spoiled. I have two roommates and we don't share anything. When I do cook, it's not very good. I'll go through periods where I decide I'm going to learn to cook something and then if it turns out bad I get turned off to the idea. Plus there's waste issues when you cook for yourself. It's hard to eat the same thing three days in a row.

Where do you like to eat here in the neighborhood?

I like Walter Foods, I go there maybe every other week. I eat at Robertas a lot, it's right around the corner from my house. There's not a lot else out there, unless I go out to the Jefferson stop for tacos. Taco Chulo is good too. Egg, the normal places.

You work at Oslo coffee. Do you have a signature drink?

I make a really good cortado. I, however don't have a crazy name for any drink that i've ever invented.

What's your hangover food?

I never get hungover. (Laughs) With my job, I don't really get the chance to get hangover food. But Robertas has amazing ricotta pancakes with apples and cinamon butter on top.

Any foods you dislike?

I pretty much like everything. I came upon liking more foods in the last four years — I used to be a picky eater but am trying to open myself up to everything. Raw tomatoes I dont' really like. Cooked are fine.

Has food ever influenced your songwriting?

I have a song that i wrote off the idea of melting sugar down into a liquid form…does that count?

Sound Bites Interview: Air Waves

Air Waves remind me of Terrence Malick movies. Beautiful, contemplative, full of magic hour sunlight. Less is more. Also, like Malick, there's a lot of time between releases. Or it seems that way to me. 2008 saw an EP on Catbird, and this year and Air Waves contributed "Knockout" to the 1928 Recordings' Gold Hour 7" box set that you can also check out right here:

MP3: Air Waves – Knockout

However, the band are putting the finishing touches on their new album which will be released by Underwater Peoples in September. They play the Sound Bites Lunchtime Series at the Seaport this Wednesday (6/2).  I DJ at noon and then Air Waves are on at 1PM. Nicole Schneit answers some food questions for me to tide everyone over till then.

You spend a lot of time in Austin. What Austin cuisine do you miss the most?

My girlfriend lives in Austin, I'm not from there. I lived my whole life before the age of eighteen in the same house in West Nyack, NY. Breakfast tacos in Austin are the best and, for the most part, the produce tastes fresher than in NY. 

Why can't NYC figure out how to make migas? Should they even try to at all?

Ha, I don't know! They are really easy. When people from Austin come visit me we make them at my house. NY has so much great cuisine, it's okay if they fail at migas. Then more the reason to visit Austin!

You'll be playing across from the Fulton Stall markets. What's your favorite vegetable? And why.

Beets! Besides making your urine purple, they taste amazing. In salads, sandwiches, with cheese… And they look really neat AND you can eat the green parts. 

What's your least favorite and why?

Collard greens, I've tried to get into them because I love Southern food but for some reason the taste and texture gross me out. 

Has food ever influenced your songwriting?

I'm sure it has affected my mood, which affects my songwriting, so yes! For instance, I don't react too well from sugar so my sugar high moments don't produce the best songwriting. 

Any good food-related band anecdotes?

Ha, well someone on tour with us a few years ago had a bad reaction to eating fried frog legs. Let's just say it took us much longer to get home because of it. Lesson, never eat an exotic food from a dive roadside restaurant.

NYers, as a rule, don't cook much. What about you?

I go through phases where I cook everyday. And then there will be weeks where I don't cook at all. It is really easy in NY to be lazy about cooking. Especially because I walk everywhere and live so far from the train its hard to resist buying restaurant food. I love both though, cooking and eating out.

I want to get much better at cooking, I got a gift certificate for cooking classes for my birthday. So hopefully after I take some classes I'll be a pro. 

Where do you eat in Brooklyn?

Carmines, Sel de Mer, Peter Pan Donuts, Lomzynianka, The Bagel Store, Kyoto Sushi, I took my mom and dad to this Argentinan restaurant for mothers day called El Almacen

What's your cheap eats go-to joint? What about when you're willing to splurge a little?

Oasis falafel off the Bedford stop, Carmines pizza, Chelsea Square Diner. Sel De Mar when I have some cash. 

What's your go-to hangover food?

Eggs, sausage, potatoes. 

What food would you imagine your music being paired with?

Iced tea. Everybody loves a nice glass of ice tea and it's the perfect summer drink. Hopefully people feel that way about our music.

Sound Bites Interview: North Highlands

As you may know, I'm curating a series of daytime shows at the Seaport, which kick off this Sunday (5/30) with Brooklyn quintet North Highlands. Having just celebrated their first birthday, the band are currently working on their debut album. Until that's done, you can pick up their Sugar Lips EP and here's an MP3 appetizer:

MP3: North Highlands – Sugar Lips
If you live in NYC you can also catch North Highlands tonight at Cameo Gallery where they play with Montreal's loud No Joy. But you should definitely come on Sunday for the big kickoff event. As these Seaport shows are helping to promote the Fulton Stall Market, I asked the band a bunch of food questions. The band (who have a song called "Fresca") were clearly up to the challenge.

You'll be playing across from the Fulton Stall markets. What's your favorite vegetable?

Daniel Stewart (mandolin, violin): I'm fond of the cabbage relatives like kale, brussels, and brenda was over while i was making kimchi last night, but i'm definitely a beet fanatic. 
Mike Barron (guitar, vocals): Definitely onions. I have no idea why, but I've always loved them. It started when I was about 2 years old, and my parents thought I was super fucking weird because all I wanted was onions on everything.

What's your least favorite vegetable and why? 

Brenda Malvani (vocals, keyboards): I just found out that me and Mike both hate mushrooms, right on. 
Daniel: The bastard child of the cabbage family is cauliflower. Its fine but i can't think of a blander color next to beets. [Might I recommend orange or purple cauliflower? -Ed.]
Jasper Berg (percussion, vocals): I have never been a fan of brussle sprouts. They look like the balls of nature.

Has food ever influenced your songwriting? 

Mike: If it weren't for food, I wouldn't be alive to write songs.

Any good food-related band anecdotes? 

Brenda: I always get scolded when I mention adding ketchup to anything. Also, we shot part of our music video in a fitness club from 7pm-4am and had quite the pizza party.

Does North Highlands ever eat together as a band? 

Brenda: Yeah, it's pretty important to me that when we are working on projects (recording, etc.) that we start the day off together. Feels like family, grabbing bagels and coffee before noon.

Ever cook together? 

Brenda: We mostly BBQ. I love loitering around Daniel's kitchen. His fridge is generally full of beer and pickled foods. He also taught us the right way to dress a hot dog — with Friendship sour cream and jalepenos and mustard?

Where do you eat in Brooklyn? 
Brenda: I usually go to Egg for breakfast, they have great home made jam. 
Mike: The vietnamese sandwiches at
Hanco's are pretty bangin. 
Jasper: Top three bangin' food joints: City Subs (Park Slope), Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream (Greenpoint),
Pies n Thighs (Williamsburg).

What's your cheap eats go-to joint? What about when you're willing to splurge a little? 
Daniel: Greenpoint's God Bless Deli (Hallowed be thy name) is my bodega of choice by proximity.
Jasper:  Arby's on Fulton. The most hilarious restaurant in the world. Whenever there's the desire to splurge a bit, it's generally a toss-up between Diner, Dressler, and Madiba.
AndyKasperbaur (bass, vocals): I don't splurge too often due to this economical fiscal climate, but when I do I always enjoy going to M Shanghai in Williamsburg. Steamed juicy pork or vegetable buns that are to die for!  Mae the owner is awesome and I think she just opened a noodle shop on Metropolitan as well.

What's your hangover food of choice?

Andy:  I stick to fruits like apples and bananas. But some days I will hit up Tom's Diner and get some Lemon Ricotta Pancakes and their Cherry Lime Ricky drinks are exquisite!  
Mike: Bloody Mary + anything that I can put hot sauce on. 
Jasper: The Lumberjack at Manhattan Inn has recently taken over the standard bacon egg and cheese bagel as my personal favorite.The Inn's hashbrown ball is perfection. 

What food would you imagine your music being paired with? 
Brenda: Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Ala Mode. 
Andy: Disco Fries? 
Daniel: elote or toast. 
Mike: Ceviche with mango. 
Jasper: Perhaps one of those badass Korean hot dogs that are so hot right now.  I had one at the LCD show (on the roof cuz I'm a pimp), and it had a chicken dog, mango, onion, bok choi, and this hot ketchup that made me go, 'damn'. 

Sound Bites Interview: The Fresh & Onlys

That's Shayde there on bass.

The San Francisco area has no shortage of amazing garage/psych/pop bands.
The Fresh & Onlys are one of the latest, having only been together for about a year but have quickly become ones to watch with an onslaught of releases on a variety of labels like Chuffed (Kelley Stoltz's new label), John Dwyer's Castle Face, and Seattle's Dirty Knobby, as well as upcoming platters on HoZac and Woodsist. (They stay busy.) Founders Tim Cohen and Shayde Sartin are no strangers to bands, though, having spent time in Black Fiction and the Skygreen Leopards, respectively… among many others. I caught The Fresh & Onlys at SXSW (where I took these pictures) and have become one of my favorite new groups of 2009. Sartin, the band's bassist who knows his music and food, was kind enough to answer a bunch of questions.

So the basics: How did The Fresh & Onlys come about?

We started recording in March or April of last year. Tim and I have been pretty tight for about six years. We bought a tape machine about four years ago with the intention of starting a band. Kelley Stoltz suggested we get a Tascam 388 because they're so easy to use and he'd be able to lend some guidance. I became really busy with other projects but Tim became really familiar with the machine in that time. About a year ago, after doing things that were never totally fulfilling, Tim gave me a couple of new tunes he'd been working on and they were amazing. Stuff that I could totally get inside of. I think he'd been listening to a lot of 13th Floor Elevators. I listened to those songs over and over again. "The Mind is Happy" was sort of the Big Bang of The Fresh & Onlys. It was on that tape. I immediately dropped every other project I was in for the most part and went over to his studio and that was the day we tracked "Come Dance With Me" from the Chuffed single. It was such an adrenalin boost!

MP3: The Fresh & Onlys – Fog Machine

Shayde on bass, with help from plastic bag What with Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall and Sic Alps, to name three, San Francisco is currently a hotbed of great garage-y/psych pop bands. Why do you think that is? And where do Fresh & Onlys fit in…and what sets you apart?

I would like to think we all inspire and influence each other. Mike Donovan of Sic Alps was one of the first people I played our music for. Him and E. Xavier of Teenage Panzerkorps. I feel like it's unavoidable to not share ideas and methods if you're in a city like this. The music and art community here is very warm. We have our curmudgeons, but who doesn't?

As far as what sets us apart, it's always hard to say but I do believe Tim's strange approach to singing is one of the more immediate things sonically. To me it's very open and honest. He's somewhere between Father Yod, Michael Yonkers and Calvin Johnson! It's also very contradictory to his personality. But most of all I believe it's our melodies. We are most concerned with melody. That's not to say that Ty, Sic Alps or Thee Ohsees don't have incredibly infectious melodies. I just think ours are their own little species. To me there is such a thing as a Fresh & Onlys song. The same way there is a Ty Segall song or an Ohsees song.  

In my opinion, San Francisco is flush with awesome bands. And people come out to shows here. Being able to see The Nodzzz, Brilliant Colors and Hospitals in one night is pretty mind-blowing to me! Not to mention bands that shuffle under the radar like Grass Widow or The Sandwitches. There's always that one chance a year you get to see The Husbands. Hank IV is always good for beating your brains out. Personal and the Pizzas will melt your face like shredded mozzarella! Mayyors! So many… 

The cool thing here also is that we have Oakland right over the bridge. And they run deep as well. Shannon and the Clams, Photobooth, Bare Wires or any of Tina Lucchesi's projects. I could go on and on really.

Fresh & Onlys debut on Castle Face You guys have a lot of records out and more to come. Can you give a rundown?

The Castle Face LP was officially released on April 6th 2009. The first pressing is gone but the second pressing is already available through Amoeba Music, Aquarius Records and I believe Academy Annex in Brooklyn. (And via Insound.) It will also be available through our website fairly soon.

The Chuffed EP Imaginary Friends is available again. This time on pink vinyl. You can email chuffed for a copy.

The Dirty Knobby 7", "I'll Tell You Everything" is sold-out from Dirty Knobby but is available through Revolver and will soon be available directly through us. (Ed: Academy Annex in Brooklyn had it as of 4/22.) 

Chuffed 7" The Medicine Island Cassette on our own No-Foot Boogie Tapes is all gone except for the few copies we have for live shows. 

Our LP for Woodsist is titled Grey-Eyed Girls and is currently being pressed. It's due for release in the early Fall. The album differs quite a bit from the one on Castle Face in that it's a much moodier record with more of a focus on concise pop songs. It's 12 songs in 32 minutes. We had also become a bit more familiar with the way we work and had a system more in place for writing, recording and mixing. There's still a lot of the same muscularity but there's definitely more indulgence in our melodies.

We're also currently working on a single for HoZacWe write and record every day pretty much.

MP3: The Fresh & Onlys – Love and Kindness

action shot! So did you just record a whole mess of songs and then figure out “these songs would make one good album, and these would make another” or was it more “let’s record these songs for the Castle Face album, and let’s do these songs for the Woodsist one.”?

There's a pretty natural way for songs to find their herd. You want to make an album dynamic but you don't want to put a black sheep in there. At least that's our logic. It's pretty organic. We go through phases that are either informed by what we're listening to or some piece of gear breaks and we have adapt. We spill beer on our machine so we have to use a 4 track. The point is to keep moving. Dylan once said that songs just pass through the air. You just have to be there when they come. We don't sit down and labor over how to make the song better or make it weird. We let it take it's own shape given any number of circumstances. 

Tim seems to have an endless amount of melodies inside of him. I can show up with the simplest chord progression with a tiny hook in it and Tim is able to take it somewhere completely foreign to me. Sometimes I'll hear what he's done with a track and be completely appalled. Then two days later it'll sink in and I'll be completely blown away. Making music is based on trust. You have to trust that what someone is trying to express is true and beautiful. Expression is everything in music. Even if you're John Cooper Clarke or Johnny Clarke.

You and Tim both work at Amoeba Records, and know your stuff. Does that help or hinder the creative/songwriting process? Do you find yourself thinking “this sounds just like __________”? Or is borrowing ok?

We never shy away from anything that's the product of osmosis. We invite it. I even search for it when we finish songs. It's one of the more beautiful things about pop music. Everything has been done! There's so much freedom in that. To hear The Plugz and Country Joe and the Fish sharing rhythms and melodies inside of a song is a truly awesome thing. Especially when it was never intentional. I live for those moments when you just want to crawl inside of the speaker.

Do still both work at Amoeba? If so, are you worried between the job and the band, it’s too much time together?

One would think. Tim and I have that rare gift of being able to fight with each other but move on pretty quickly. We recognize eachother's frustrations and know when to drop an issue. We are also pretty opposite types of people. To say the least. 

The Fresh & Onlys backing Rodriguez for a West Coast tour. How did that come about and maybe you could tell a little about him for those of us who are less informed.

Rodriguez Rodriguez's story is extremely fascinating. He basically recorded two very beautiful records in the late '60s/early 70s. The first being Cold Fact which bridges psychedelia and soul in such a subtle, beautiful way. Pretty much the opposite of Funkadelic. It's not "in your face" at all. I get the feeling his performances back then really put a wall between him and his succes
s. If you listen to Cold Fact, there's at least four tunes that could have been solid radio hits but the entire album is a masterpiece. And I don't throw that word around lightly. 

MP3: Rodriguez – Sugarman (buy it)

As to how we came to play with him, this guy Britt Govea who puts on shows on the west coast saw us in Big Sur. We played a festival there. He was helping Matt from Light In the Attic, the label that re-issued Rodriguez's catalog, book a tour for Rodriguez last year and thought we'd be a good fit. We were pretty stoked. The record was a real challenge but incredibly fun. It's Dennis Coffey and the Funk Brothers on the record! Being a bass player I was really sweatin' but it came together really well. Rodriguez is incredibly cool and really just wants the band to be having fun playing his songs. It was the best compliment we could receive having him ask us back for a tour.

Obviously, The Fresh & Onlys have a lot on their plate but is there anything else we should know about? Tour? Any plans to hit the East Coast?

We plan to keep recording! Yeah, we want to tour as much as possible. Do as much as we can until the fire dies down. That seems pretty far for us now. We still have songs coming. Our new drummer, Kyle Gibson, really helped complete the core. After the Woodsist LP comes out we want to do a full US tour. It should be out in August or September. Maybe tour in October. I look forward to being in NY with everybody.

Bass malfunction! When I saw you play at SXSW you had a strap malfunction and you played a lot of the set on the ground. You’ve fixed it since I hope.

That is really weird! I had a dream last night that we were playing the show that we're playing tonight and the tape unraveled and my bass fell and broke. But… No. I have yet to fix it. 

And now the food portion of our interview. Did any food in particular fuel the making of the album (s)?

Spaghetti sandwiches. Tim's specialty. 

Who’s the best cook in the band?

That would be me for sure. Sorry guys. You know it's true. 

Who’s the most finicky eater?

Wymond would want me to say that he is just so his wife doesn't know how much garbage he eats on the road. Sorry dude.  

What’s your favorite restaurant in San Francisco? Where do you eat most often?

San Francisco is full of great Mexican food. My favorite little spot that I sort of keep to myself is a family style Mexican place on 24th and Mission called El Trebol. It's the best fried chicken in San Francisco. They serve it with this amazing warm salsa and melted onions with homemade black beans.  It's been there for about thirty years. You order from the wife and the husband cooks the food. 

Do you eat before a show?

Always try to. I tend to drink a six pack on stage so by the time I get off, if I have an empty stomach, there's hell to pay.

Any food you strongly dislike?

Absolutely not. 

What’s the best hangover meal?

Really depends on what you been drinking. The standard greasy spoon thing never really flies with me. I go for a mango and poached eggs with a side of rye toast and a beer. Works every time.


The Fresh & Onlys – "Fog Machine" live at Ms Beas, Austin TX 4.21.2009

Sound Bites Interview: Gerard Cosloy

Gerard Cosloy is Co-President of Matador Records, and ran Homestead Records before that. (My cassette of Homestead’s seminal 1988 compilation Human Music still gets play when I visit the parents.) When he’s not busy doing those things, he blogs about baseball. I pulled him aside after the Blog Factor panel at SXSW to talk, ever so briefly, about food. I was a little nervous, as the last time I’d spoken to Cosloy (on the phone as a college radio MD trying to get Matador to send us the Teenage Fanclub record; our station was more mainstream than a lot of college stations) he yelled at me. But it made his Top 10 Highlights of SXSW So Far, apparently, so maybe now would be a good time to hit him up again for A Catholic Education.

Sound Bites: The Matablog seems to be turning into a food blog.

Gerard Cosloy: Yeah, well we get hungry. Patrick [Amory, Matador GM] is a wiz in the kitchen. I do think if you look throughout the years, most people who were degenerate record collectors – as they move on in their lives, the only thing left for them is food. I look forward to the day when we move exclusively to food coverage and can stop putting out records altogether. That’s our five year goal.

SB: I know you posted endorsing Torchy’s Tacos as the place many may eat every meal during SXSW. Have you managed to eat elsewhere?

GC: I have, as a matter of fact.

SB: So what’s the best thing you’ve eaten this week?

GC: I’d rather not say — Austin restaurants are overrun this week as it is.

SB: This won’t go up till after SXSW.

GC: Well, in that case, Jonathan from Shearwater to me to a Vietnamese place on East Oltorf called Hai Ky which, for better or worse, is probably my favorite place in town these days. Very cheap, the food’s awesome, the people who work there are great. Sadly they’re closed Sundays, but what can you do?

MP3: The Young Fresh Fellows – Taco Wagon

Photo courtesy Mr. Cosloy; credit, according to him, "Dick Avedon." Ahem.

Sound Bites Interview: The Duke Spirit

02_thedukespiritI’m resurrecting this dormant feature where I interview bands about food. About time. Dan Higgins plays guitar for Brit rock band The Duke Spirit whose new album, Neptune, was recorded in Joshua Tree, CA and is miles better than anything the band has released to date — where the music is really worthy of powerhouse vocalist Liela Moss. They’ll be playing Mercury Lounge on Wednesday (sold out) and Union Hall on Thursday (still tickets).

Bill P: I know Liela is a staunch vegetarian. Where does the rest of the band fall on that subject?

Dan Higgins: Well, we care what we put into our bodies, really. It’s gotta be good. We’re all pretty healthy people. I’m not a vegetarian, and none of the others apart from Leila are either, but we all try to eat well. I try to eat organic as much as possible. I don’t’ like to be hypocritical. Some people say "I’m not going to eat meat because of how badly animals are treated," and then they go and snort a load of drugs. Somebody suffered down the line for that, you know? So I do eat meat but I try to buy from farms or whatever that treat the animals in the best possible way.

BP: How hard is it to eat well when you’re on the road –- in Middle America for example?

DH: It is, but it was never as hard as I thought it would be. In most cities you go to you can always find something or somewhere that’s fairly decent. Surprising, but maybe my expectations were too low. In a way, everywhere you go you get the lowest common denominator in food. I can’t tell if it’s better or worse in America. But it was never too hard. When you’re living in a van, you just have to remember take lots of fruit with you to see you through. It’s a funny thing to worry about.

BP: Was there a particular food that fueled the making of your new album, Neptune?

DH: I think it might have been Dave Catching’s cooking. He plays in Eagles of Death Metal and Queens of the Stone age and owns the studio we recorded the new album. He used to be a chef and he’s a master at the barbeque. So I think it would have to be barbecue. Barbecued corn and hot sauce.

BP: Now the new album is starting to make a little more sense.

DH: (Laughs) Well, maybe but we wrote the record in England so it could be a product of the food we ate there as well. The Bagel Bake in East London or the English Breakfasts. All the cabbage in the fields, the traditional English roast dinner. It’s the sum of all those things maybe.

BP: I know you spent a lot of time here in America touring. What was the first thing you wanted to eat when you went back to England?

DH: Hmmm… fish? I come from the countryside of England, down by the sea. So maybe just a good sea bream or something. Or something homey, like a good roast beef.

BP: Is there a city you look forward to playing, partly for the food?

DH: What I really love is Southern food and Cajun food. So in the South – Tennessee, Louisiana… oh and Mexican food! Texas, L.A. and all of California. The Mexican food is just fantastic. You can eat so well, you know? New York City is great too, but the Southern and Mexican food is just amazing.  Because you can’t get that in England. For there to be a great taco stand in London would be a dream, but it just doesn’t exist. So I always look forward to Los Angeles because you know you’re going to get the best tacos, tamales or quesadillas…[makes the Homer Simpson drooling sound]… I just love that food.

BP: You realize I’m going to have to write "Dan makes Homer Simpson noise" don’t you?

DH: Well it’s true – I’m almost drooling myself! The other thing that’s really great in American cities, that you don’t get to the same degree in England, are the macrobiotic restaurants. Or good vegan restaurants. Because, sure, sometimes when you’re on tour you may want a steak. But sometimes you want something that is more, um, nourishing. Where you’re doing yourself such a favor by making sure you eat this great food. I like that democracy in food. I hate people who say, "Ooh I don’t like Spanish food or Indian food. I don’t like that, I don’t eat that." It’s all life’s rich platter, isn’t it?

BP: Especially in places like New York where you can get just about anything.

DH: Absolutely.

BP: Except maybe good curry.

DH: I don’t know. I’ve seen a few places that I like the looks of. There’s a place in the East Village called Tastes of Pakistan or something.

BP: Do you eat before a show?

DH: No I can’t because I tend to get really nervous. Plus, I want to get all G’d up, you know, feel a bit of power before I go on. If you eat too much you feel like you’re in some sort of chubby ’70s pub rock band, standing there looking bored. No energy. I like to feel a bit of Holy Magic Power before I go on stage. Usually that comes from booze. I eat afterwards.

BP: And are there any foods you dislike, just don’t like the taste of?

DH: Marmite. It’s like vegemite. I just can’t get with it, though I wish I could. I really want to like it, it’s so quintessentially English. But I can’t. Maybe that will change one day.

BP: It’s still popular?

DH: Oh yeah. That’ll never die.

BP: Literally. It never goes bad.

DH: (laughs) I don’t even know what marmite is made from — malt or something. It’s an arcane process to make it, I think. But yeah, marmite and the cockroaches — someday that’ll be all that’s left.

The Duke Spirit’s new album, Neptune, is out now as a download. The CD will be out April 8.

Sound Bites Interview: Sloan’s Andrew Scott

Sloan1This is a continuing series of interviews in which musicians talk about food, and chefs talk about music. One of Canada’s national treasures, Sloan are now in their 15th year as a band and have just released their eighth album, the 30-track Never Hear the End of It. Through hits, misses, appearances in various Don McKellar projects, and the kind of record company woes that would kill most groups, Sloan have maintained the same lineup throughout, and all four members share writing and singing duties. Andrew Scott spends most of his time behind the drums, but also knows his way around the guitar and Fender Rhodes. He is also an accomplished painter and, as you’ll soon read, quite the epicurean.

Sound Bites: Did any food in particular fuel the making of Never Hear the End of It?

Andrew Scott: Nothing great – mainly bad coffees and Portuguese “club sandwiches” from this place called Nova Era Bakery down the road from our space. The surliest service in town.

SB: Who is the best cook in the band?

AS: I’m going to have to nominate myself although I’ve never tasted the others cooking.

SB: Who is the most finicky eater?

AS: Jay.

SB: According to Wikipedia, Jay’s favorite food is shrimp. [This has since been removed from Jay’s entry – Ed] Can you confirm? What is yours?

AS: I doubt Jay has ever had a shrimp. As far as I know his favorite food is French Fries or steak – “well done.” Mine would be cassoulet soup, made with my own goose stock and real goose meat and really good cured sausage; not to mention beans that do not come from a can, dry white wine, tons of fresh thyme, shallots and, the most important thing of all, butter. Pretty yummy in the winter.

SB: Is there a city you look forward to playing… for the food?

AS: Any city in Japan because it is all so good – or Spain for the same reasons, but add the coffee. Japan has some work to do in that department. Then again, Spain has no sushi infrastructure as yet…should i go on?

SB: Any good food-related band anecdotes?

AS: Not really – our band has generally treated food and eating as a way to go off on one’s own for a while. Until recently. We’ve started to venture to a good restaurant now and then as a group and it sits better when someone, inevitably me, will look to Mike (Nelson, Sloan’s manager) and suggest we “band it.” We’ve had many a fine bottle of wine on the Sloan tab.

SB: Which city has better bagels: NYC or Montreal?

AS: Montreal.

SB: What is your hangover food of choice?

AS: Bacon and eggs.

SB: You’re a dad now. What do your kids refuse to eat?

AS: Quite a bit but, to their credit, they have both expanded their horizons somewhat. For the longest time anything green – naturally – is shunned, however every new meal is just that. They are pretty easy to feed these days. They just eat whatever we eat. A lot of salmon or pastas with pancetta. Lots of lollipops, cookies and popsicles.

SB: You’ve been living in Toronto for some time now. Are there any advantages, culinarily, to living there as opposed to Halifax?

AS: I never had a relationship with food when I lived there last but the benefits of living in Toronto are so many. Really fresh ingredients are everywhere – organic markets, butchers, dairies, produce and fish…etc. Halifax, one would think, has great seafood but, really, all the best fish is shipped here and to other big cities. They get left with a pretty unfortunate selection. You have to get out to the country to get the best fish I think.

SB: You were in a rap band in college called Oreos in Reverse. What’s your favorite cookie?

AS: My wife Fiona makes this one which is like a folk art chocolate chip cookie with demerara molasses sugar…mmmmmmm…

Sound Bites Interview: Hot Chip

This is a continuing series of interviews in which musicians talk about food, and chefs talk about music. London-based electronic act Hot Chip have previously sung about crap Kraft dinners and other foods. Even though it features no gastronomic references whatsoever, their new album, The Warning, is Hot Chip’s tastiest yet. Frequently shirtless member Al Doyle was kind enough to let me grill him briefly.

SoundBites: Are you into food, apart from sustenance?

Al Doyle:  Sure. I like eating as much as the next man, and the next man is Joe [Goddard, Hot Chip’s co-leader].

SB: Did any particular food fuel the making of The Warning?

Al:  There aren’t any songs that directly reference food on the new album, like there were on Coming on Strong or the singles. Joe and Alexis have differing tastes. Alexis is definitely on the dirtier, fast food side of the equation. What he likes better than anything is KFC, so he’ll always be ducking out for that. Joe, however, is much more of a foodie. When he was living at his dad’s place, he had a very well equipped kitchen with a lovely smoothie maker, a nice set of really sharp chef’s knives, and a chart on the wall with every chili pepper in the world and their varying strengths. We all enjoyed going there to record because he’d whip up a nice dish for us to snack on late in the day.

SB: What about you?

Al: I tend to eat a lot of vegetarian food because my girlfriend is a vegetarian, and a lot of my friends are but I do go for some meat now and again. One of the revelations when we went to America was discovering Whole Foods. That was such a good thing for us. We went to the flagship store in Austin during SXSW. It’s mind-blowing. So huge, with all these little micro-restaurants within it. It’s at least twice the size of the one in Union Square. There’s bbq, a fish restaurant where they cook the fish right in front of you, and all the standard stuff like sushi, and soups. I think I walked around in there for 20 minutes before I even bought anything. That was real Extreme America for us.

SB: When you were in Austin for SXSW did you also indulge in BBQ?

Al: Oh yeah, absolutely. I had my ribs and brisket. This was fine by me but Owen (Clarke) and Felix (Martin) are staunch vegetarians and they had to subsist on potato salad and cold beans. It’s the only thing you can get at those barbeque places. It is quite strange doing SXSW because you get a lot of people from the cities coming in expecting their nice vegetarian food. So the few places that do serve something besides Mexican or barbeque are so swamped with people it’s nearly impossible to get a table.

SB: Is there a food that you all agree on?

Al: We’re all big fans of Japanese food and sushi. That’s one of the easy things you can get on tour that’s fairly healthy. Some nice miso soup and some sushi is really great for us, as a band. Otherwise it’s cold salads — anything that doesn’t make you feel bad or robs you of the will to live before you have to go onstage and play.

SB: Is there a city you look forward to playing — for the food?

Al: We had some really good seafood in Seattle when we were there. The biggest scallops I’ve ever seen — the size of your fist. They were all there in these little aquariums. You could go there and not eat anything, just look at the fish. France is also great. Good bread and cheese. I’m a big pastry aficionado. Kouignamanndone
There’s a very nice regional pastry that they do in Brittany called Kouign-Aman. It’s a wonderous, doughy thing that has this amazing caramelized coating. You can tap in on the table and it seems hard, but as soon as you bite into it, it gives way to a light, doughy inside. There’s also a faint apple-y taste to it. It’s amazing and you can really only get it there. When I found that out I was just eating as many as possible. We’re still waiting to go to Japan and really pig out. I think it will happen this year.

SB: Are there any foods that you won’t eat?

Al: Not really. I went to a city farm the other day and I saw some baby lambs. They had been bottle-fed so they come up to you and eat out of your hand. Very cuddly. So I promised myself — really, sincerely — that I wouldn’t eat lamb after that. But just today (laughs) we went to a Turkish restaurant and they had these really nice lamb kebabs with yogurt and tahini sauce. I gave in pretty much straight away. Other than that, I personally don’t like sweet corn that much. I also don’t care for Licorice flavors, so no fennel for me, though absinthe is another story.

SB: If you were performing on a breakfast chat show and the producers asked you to change the lyrics of "The Warning" from "Hot Chip will break your legs" to "Hot Chip will make some eggs" would you do it?

Al: (Laughs) Yes. We’re willing to do it — but keep it under your hat.

Look for The Warning in store May 22 in the UK and June 13 in America. Please buy it.

Sound Bites Interview: Elbow

This is a continuing series of interviews in which musicians talk about food, and chefs talk about music. Elbow, a most excellent rock band from Manchester, England, are not named after the macaroni. The whole band probably would’ve talked for an hour about food but, sadly, there were other questions (not found here) on the agenda as well.  Singer Guy Garvey (left) and bassist Pete Turner (right) did most of the talking, as guitarist Mark Potter (middle) was too engrossed in his Eggs Benedict to contribute to this interview. Can’t blame him. 

SoundBites: Are you all into food, beyond sustenance?

Guy Garvey
: I would say I’m less into food than the rest of the band, even though I probably eat the most. We talk about it a hell of a lot, though. When we recorded Leaders of the Free World we got these guys, The Soup Collective to film us writing and recording it and Mark, the guy who was editing the outtake footage, said he could three hours out of us alone discussing food.

: Do you have special food requirements on your tour rider?

: We tend not to. I don’t eat meat and chicken, and Pete can’t eat Brazil nuts or anything Brazil Nut-related, or he could die.

Pete Turner
: The rider is mainly booze. We ask for snacks and stuff, but you want to spend the majority of it on booze. Our crew are greedy as fuck! They drink as much as we do, so we have to order lots of alcohol.

: As far as food goes, I could tell you what most of the band would order off a menu. After ten years as a band, we know each other’s orders quite well.

SB: OK, let’s hear it.

: Pete likes his food very simple and traditional. He likes meat and two vegetables. A good piece of meat and some good fresh vegetables. He likes prawns.

: Well, at the moment I’m very into scallops. It was mussels before that.

: Didn’t you overdo it with lobster once?

: Well, lobster can be a bit sweet, a bit rich. It’s easy to overdo.

: My favorite food is probably pasta. I eat far too much of it. Very good at cooking it, if I do say so.

: I used to live with Guy about five years ago and it wasn’t that he couldn’t do it, he just wouldn’t try cooking anything. I knew that he could, because late at night he’d cook things up but if I was around he wouldn’t do it. I think it’s living by yourself, but he’s become quite a good cook.

: I live in the city center, so it’s very easy to eat out all the time. So I got into cooking to combat that.

: Do you actually go as far as to make your own pasta?

:  I’m not that adventurous. My friend Andy does, though, and he sometimes drops some off — he’s got a pasta maker. But maybe someday.

Elbow’s third album, Leaders of the Free World, is in stores now. The import was my pick for Best Album of 2005.

Check out more food-related Q&As in the Soundbites Interview Archive.