I emailed Brian before they came to the Mountain Winery to play with the Barenaked Ladies. We already had tickets. I’m a life-long Violent Femmes fan, am in awe of Brian’s drumming, and my 11-year-old son’s also a drummer and really needed to see Brian play live. I was pleasantly surprised when Brian wrote back saying we could meet. We maneuvered our way through the maze of security who didn’t know where I should go or who I should talk to and eventually found our way to Brian. He was the sweetest and we sat in the venue to chat before the show began.
Chantrelle:I usually like to do this over a meal but that wasn’t going to happen this time so…
Brian: Well, I’ve got my coffee and danish!
Chantrelle: It’s your turn to cook dinner at home, what do you make?
Brian: That depends on the purpose of the dinner? Is it to woo somebody?
Chantrelle: You’ve already wooed!
Brian: True. For me, right now, specifically….When this has been posed to me before, maybe just a few years ago, when it was for my neighbors in the band Human Wine, I would cook a sort of thanksgiving dinner: roast a bird, make some mashed potoates, sauteed vegetables, asparagus. All that sort of stuff out on the table.
Cooking dinner for myself? I like to cook Italian. I have the Vigione family recipe for sauce. It has that special feeling of home to me.
If it’s simple with just the wife and I at home, we’ll do steamed fish, steamed vegetables, a beer or a glass of wine. Nothing extravagant but I’m all about making really delicious food in relatively short amounts of time.
Chantrelle: Which is not as hard as people think it is.
Brian: Yes! I love being able to cook for people and demonstrate that. Get something in a pan and several minutes later you have that add some salad, some of this, that.
Chantrelle: It’s all about good ingredients.
(Photo from Brian’s Facebook page!)
Brian: Yes, and being able to get inspiration. When we came back from our honeymoon in New Orleans we were doing this creole style open-faced fish sandwich. Sort of like a po’ boy. It was so good!! It was still relatively cold out, it was early March when we were making them and it was a satisfying, homey, sort of comfort food. With a little bit of hot sauce on it. Yum, just so satisfying.
I also just love to bake cookies and things like that. I guess I get most inspired in the months of October through March to cook. I think that’s when I do a lot of that. One of my favorite things to cook around the holidays is an old Neapolitan dessert called Struffoli. A lot of Italian families would be familiar with it. It’s a holiday thing. I guess it started when the nuns used to make it and bring it around to poor people. It’s basically little fried dough balls glazed in honey and then sprinkled with candy sprinkles, toasted almonds and candied cherries. It goes great with nearly every meal of the day. I eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Chantrelle: Sounds like fancy doughnut holes.
Brian: Yeah, it is. When it’s done right it’s very light. The honey keeps it respectfully sweet without being overbearing. Not an overly rich glaze.
Chantrelle: What’s your best childhood food memory?
Brian: Oh man…I have so many. I guess the most deep-in-my-heart ones would be when my dad would make some sort of pasta dishes. That just tasted like home. I remember clearly in my early 20s, when I’d moved out of the house, the first recipe I requested from my mom to get was that family sauce. Whenever I’d feel homesick or if I ever needed that little oomph emotionally sometimes. It just had that particular taste to it that I just absolutely loved.
Not a happy occasion but at my grandfather’s funeral. We’d all gone to dinner and it was the first time I’d had flounder. I was about 6 years old. My grandmother would say, (in old New York Italian grandma accent) “You LOVED that flounder when you had it” That made a big impression on me.
I’ve always loved food. Lately I’ve learned to love cooking even more. I guess my first foray into the kitchen was when I was 19 or 20. My best friend Chris who was the singer in the crust punk band I was in at the time was a vegan so after band practice we’d be hanging out and he’d want to cook up some rice and vegetables. We’d start getting creative in the kitchen. I think that’s when I started to learn to experiment and go with my intuition and pay attention to the timing of cooking things. Going by instinct a bit. When you have a very limited budget, you have very limited ingredients. That became a great creative challenge. How to stretch a limited budget for a week or two.
Chantrelle: Especially cooking vegan.
Brian: I wasn’t vegan but yeah. Cooking that way.
Chantrelle: Favorite comfort food? We’ve covered a lot of those but are there others?
Brian: Yes. For a while I had a comfort food ritual. When I’d come back from tour, the deli around from my house made a phenomenal roast beef sandwich on ciabatta bread. I’d get it with lettuce, tomato, provolone and horseradish sauce, toasted so that the outside was crunchy and the cheese was a little bit melted. I would sit down with a pint of Hoegaarden and watch the Big Lebowski with a bag of the New york kettle chips: cheddar flavor. That was my post tour [ritual]: sit down with Lebowski, just relax and let it all hang out.
Chantrelle: You can only eat food from one region for the rest of your life: Breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and drinks. What do you choose?
Brian: Like forever? Ok…if the question was for, like, a month? I’d say New Orleans. If it was eternity, I’d probably have to say California. I love the Mexican influence. I love the fresh ingredients. It’s got a little spice. I think I could do that.
Chantrelle: If you did New Orleans for more than a month you’d probably die of a heart attack.
Brian: Exactly. Middle of the country is a little bland for me. Northeast is nice especially in the fall with the apples, the fresh seafood, chowder and all that. I’m also starting to eat a lot less meat. I don’t have a problem with that.
Chantrelle: I go in waves. I didn’t eat meat besides seafood for 15 years and then one day I really wanted a steak.
Brian: Sometimes you just have to go for it. I’m so put off by the articles about how fucking abhorrent the factory farming is. The torture that those animals live in. It just makes me enraged. I’ve just been feeling better eating less meat and just less disgusted by the chickens pooping on each other and the bacteria everywhere.
But that aside, dietary and flavorwise, I still balance things out with a little meat, being more careful about where I get it. When I see where the food is coming from that also affects my decisions.
Chantrelle: What’s your last meal?
Brian: What a sad question!
Chantrelle: Someone I interviewed twisted it around and said it was their last meal because they were about to be shot into space so it’s the last meal on Earth.
Brian: How much can I eat? Can I extend the meal over the course of 12 hours?
Brian: Great! I’d have all my favorite dishes from all my favorites: Mexican, Japanese, Italian, French kinds of cooking. Line them all up in a row and just procrastinate and savor every single bite. It would be too hard to narrow it down to just one.
Chantrelle: This is usually the hardest question for everybody.
Brian: I’d have to finish off with a nice black coffee with a little amaretto in it just to sweeten the deal.
Chantrelle: The last question…the epitome of food porn questions: What is the sexiest food?
Brian: Well, aside from oysters. Figs. The fig is a very erotic fruit in my opinion. The texture. The subtle taste. They way they can explode in your mouth. I find them absolutely sexy. Figs are great.
I’m also a big oyster fan. I definitely get that aphrodisiac effect. Olya and I have a plan to go out right when I get back from tour and fill up on oysters. Do you get that feeling when eating oysters…that glowing feeling? I get that. I get the oyster glow. A little wild eyed.
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Chantrelle: Do you eat well on tour?
Brian: Yes, they’ve been really strict on the bus actually. No sugar. Close to no alcohol and very little salty snacks. I started realizing how much less sugar I’ve had in my diet in the last 2 months and now going back to it it’s almost too much. One or two bites is enough. I used to be like Cookie Monster at the house. Love ‘em, snack on ‘em throughout the day. But now one or two bites of a cookie is plenty.
Chantrelle: I’m kind of like that because I’m a supertaster so everything is super sweet.
Brian: The Femmes have been great. The Dresden Dolls were super health conscious. Amanda was pretty much vegetarian so the backstage rider had fruit, juice, whole grain. Pretty healthy eating on the road. You have to. If you load up on heavy stuff your energy level plummets. You’re already getting run down from performances every night. Being on tour actually makes me live a healthier life rather than the cliche of it all being drugs and alcohol. It has the opposite effect.
We ran out of time to talk as they introduced Colin Hay who then came on to play his set. If you’ve never seen Brian on stage with Dresden Dolls or the Violent Femmes, you MUST. He is, I believe, one of the best drummers out there…ever. I was mesmerized. He doesn’t just sit back and bang things with sticks, it is a full-body experience. It’s not just drumming, it’s performance art.
Maybe next time we can chat over a meal!