Baby It’s Cold Outside – My Interview with Olga Nunes

Three years ago, I was going to San Francisco to see Jason Webley perform. Olga Nunes was going too. A perfect opportunity to interview her! It was rainy and cold. A pretty big storm was coming through. We met at Sushi Groove South with some friends and had plate after plate of sushi. Olga had just done a Kickstarter project for LAMP, an album built around others’ love letters.

After the interview I went to transcribe it and I couldn’t tell who was saying what and I got really frustrated. I put the interview aside to do later. Olga and I are still friends and see each other when life allows and the interview file stayed on my computer. Today I thought about it and decided it was time to try it again with my new Bose headphones. It’s amazing the difference good headphones can make, I could distinguish voices!

So, three years later, here’s our talk about food, music, imagination and Santa.
J2304x3072-23051Olga: Sorry we’re late! I’ll explain in a bit. Let’s get sushi.

We had the waitress order for us. We were chatting too much to decide what to eat so we threw ourselves at her mercy. It was successful, the sushi we got was great!

We were talking about my son and got on the subject of Santa and the Easter Bunny. It turns out both Olga and I believed in them until an unreasonably old 4th grade.

Chantrelle: When I was a kid I had really vivid dreams, actually, I still do. But I had this dream that I got up and saw the Easter Bunny hiding eggs in my dining room. I was afraid he’d see me so I went back to bed really quickly. I was convinced this wasn’t a dream. I told my friends about it the next day and they made fun of me.

Olga: This makes me so happy!

Chantrelle: That we were both made fun of?

Olga: No…This may be what solidified my conviction, when I was five a flute magically appeared in the corner of my room. I thought, it’s July but Santa obviously brought this because he loves me. He’s trying to get me to make music, he’s like, have a flute! I went up to my mom and said, “Look mom! Santa brought me a flute!” And she said, “Hmm, maybe we should call your friend who came over yesterday and see if she left a flute behind.” I’m just like, “No, flute’s for me, from the Santa.” That’s how this works, I’m five, I know the drill. She calls my friend’s mom and she’s so glad we found the flute at our house and she comes over and gets the flute. What I say to myself is, “Huh, I guess Santa made her leave the flute so I could have it for a day and learn to play music.”

Chantrelle: That’s pretty awesome.

Olga: Santa works in mysterious ways. I think there were several several markers where I just must have convinced myself of his existence. I think around that age I also wrote Santa and similarly said, “What I want is a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer robot who talks to me.” And I was very elaborate in my description. I had lots of toys with voices, I actually wanted one that talked back. I wrote him, addressed to the North Pole, and I actually got a postcard back. I’m sure there were volunteers that wrote personalized postcards back. It said it would be hard to make the Rudolph toy because there are lots of kids but we’ll definitely get you something.

Chantrelle: My son still mailed his letter this year but it’s probably just in a bin somewhere. They shut down the USPS Santa program.

Olga: Awww! It’s hard because you want to encourage/perpetuate this connection to imagination but at the same time you know you are perpetuating this lie.

Chantrelle: I got over the lie thing really easily because it doesn’t last long and it’s only at that age that you can do something like that and truly believe…unless you’re religious…truly believe in this imaginary guy.

The waitress delivers sake, hamachi, maguro, albacore, hirame

Olga: When you found out Santa wasn’t real, did you have a moment of “Oh shit, I’m broken now”?

Chantrelle: I think I was too old to feel broken. I think I felt too stupid that I’d fallen for it for so long. At the same time though I thought, “Wow, I milked this for a long time.”

Olga: I was still playing with my toys until, maybe age 11 or 12, and I was still convinced that when I left my room they would move around.

Chantrelle: This is pre-Toy Story.
J2304x3072-23048Olga: You just know they have lives and personalities and they can’t let you see them move. When I’d come back in and they would be moved, I’m sure my mother or somebody moved them, but when I’d come back in I’d be like, “Oh, my rabbit moved, he forgot where he was sitting before I left so he couldn’t go back there.”

The waitress arrives with our next round of sushi, “Here are your rolls: Firecracker, One Night Stand and the G-Spot.”

Olga: And it’s called the g-spot because…

Waitress: I assume because it tastes really good.

Chantrelle: My husband works closely with a number of people who are either from Japan or who lived there for a number of years. He just went to Sawa in San Jose with some of them. It’s supposed to be the highest quality sushi in Silicon Valley. You don’t order, you just eat what he gives you. He said it was so mind-blowingly unbelievable.

Olga: That is my favorite thing. I know that, even if it’s subconcious, I will order things that are safe. But if it’s just given to me, I know there will be a happy adventure in my mouth. The G-Spot is my favorite.

Chantrelle: How did you become Neil’s Web Elf?

Olga: That came after being friends with him. I was working on something called the Dream Project in 2002. I am obsessed with dreams. At the time I got this idea idea to gather real people’s dreams and either illustrate them or make videos or animations about them.

Chantrelle: You’re a gatherer. Just like your love letters.

Olga: I like to involve people. I hadn’t quite started it and I went to Spain where I picked up American Gods. I didn’t know who this guy was. It looked interesting and was one of the only books in English. I read it and then read it again…I read really fast.

I read less these days though. I think I’ve become distracted by the things I’m making. The more I write music, the less I can listen to music. Before I was creating I was devouring books and music constantly but now if I listen to music it will be one song for two days. I can’t take it in.

So, I bought this book and I read it again and I’m the type of person who is like, “Oh, this person seems interesting. Let’s see if I can find them and meet them, I’d like to have a conversation with this person.”

Chantrelle: That’s how I am. That’s the Celebrity section of FoodPorn.

Olga: Exactly, you’re interesting, I’d like to talk to you.

Chantrelle: And of course you’d like to talk to me because I’m interested in you.

Olga: Of course, that’s a given. He was going to be in London the one day I was there. There was a book signing for Coraline, I bought it and read about half of it in line while we were waiting. We got to the front and told him we were here for a day and then heading to LA tomorrow morning. He said, “Oh, you should come to the Boyle’s bookfest.” So I went to Boyle’s book event. That was twice in one day.

Then we get home and he’s doing an event at my friend’s bookshop down the street from my house. My friend is a lovely woman but wasn’t good at marketing the event. It’s a children’s bookshop. Approximately 15 people showed up at the event and about half of them were children. So I was one of about 5 adults. I wandered up and said, “I just saw you about two weeks ago. I’m doing this thing called the Dream Project. Do you think maybe dreams would be your thing?” Because…I didn’t know! “Does that seem fun?”

So he said to email him and he’d email me some dreams. That was the first thing that I did.

Chantrelle: It’s so validating when someone agrees. It makes you feel that you’re idea isn’t completely insane.

Olga: So, earlier I said I would explain why I was late. So, I know LAMP will be a 6-7-8-month-year-long project so of course I came up with another project to distract myself. I decided I’d do a Christmas cover song. I roped in my friend Allan Amato who is a celebrity photographer. He sings but he only sings drunk when he thinks no one is listening but he can sing! So I got him to come up here to take photos for LAMP and then we recorded Baby, It’s Cold Outside.

Chantrelle: Oh, I love that song!

Olga: It’s my favorite Christmas song, the Ray Charles version. Then I thought, I can’t just do that, there should be a video….with sock puppets and props.

There’s a girl named Laurie Pink who I know who did a comic strip of Dr. Who. Do you watch Dr. Who at all?

Chantrelle: It’s one of those shameful admissions…I can’t get into Dr. Who. I think I need to sit down with someone who loves it and watch with them.

Olga: You need to watch the Stephen Moffat episodes. It’s beautiful, romantic writing, just really good storytelling. I’ll make you a list of episodes to watch.

But Laurie pink did a cartoon of them singing the themesong. So I contacted her and said, “You do cartoons, tell me if this is a bad idea or an amazing idea because it basically needs to happen in the next three weeks.” So the idea is to record Baby It’s Cold Outside, have sock puppets, then each line have different characters singing to each other. So first it’s Santa Claus and Mrs Claus, then it’s Rapunzel and the prince, then Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman from Casablanca, and then Michael Jackson from Thriller with zombies. Then it becomes Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dr. Horrible…more and more inside references…Monty Python. LAMP is a more grandiose, romantic, windswept project and this one is “No No no! SOCK PUPPETS!” I didn’t think it was going to happen but she did most of the drawings in the last three days and we spent all of today with four other people. Our house looks like an art wreck. One of the people had put all the sock puppet costumes on sticks…You create the characters. There are 34 piles in a line around my room. 107 pages of costumes. At the end Laurie’s wrist was hurting.

So, there were 6 left to do and we left to come to dinner, we’ll finish it in the morning.
J2304x3072-23052The waitress brings us green mussels topped with quail eggs. We’re instructed to make sure the mussels are loose with chopsticks then slurp. I pass.

Olga: That was interesting. I’m not sure if I liked it, but it was interesting. It started out with, like, three or four tastes that I couldn’t figure out…boom boom boom…then it was one taste. And the one taste it settled on wasn’t bad…it…it wasn’t my thing.

Chantrelle: That sums up mussels for me

Jason: Do you like oysters?

Chantrelle: I love oysters

Jason: If there are oysters on the planet, what’s the point of mussels?

Chantrelle: We’re going in February in Tomales Bay for my Dad’s 70th birthday so we can eat Hog Island oysters for 3 days straight. If you’ve never made the trek to Hog Island in Tomales Bay, you have to go. Buy as many as you want, get a glove and a knife, shuck and eat.

From here we just talked and talked about living in LA: Olga “had a love-hate relationship with LA…without the love”, weather and the lack of it in LA (Olga: “even the weather feels plastic”), and never having ever been to Santa Cruz. Olga’s been to San Jose once and it was to see the Dalai Lama. He was just human. Some people were crying, they have a connection that not everyone has. We all agreed that the only connections we have that are nearly religious like that are with music. Olga: “I bawl for the music though, not the person.” Discussions of Tori, Josh Ritter, Leonard Cohen…

Chantrelle: It’s almost time to go to they show and I haven’t asked you the FoodPorn questions yet! What’s your favorite comfort food?

Olga: Sushi. It used to be macaroni and cheese until I discovered sushi. Because I grew up basically in the south. It was north Florida which is basically south Georgia and it was pasta a lot. Then I discovered sushi. Sushi I can eat endlessly and it makes me happy.

Chantrelle: What’s your best childhood food memory?

Olga: That’s hard. My mother is absolutely wonderful, she’s Spanish. And she’s cooked paella about 101 times more than I would have eaten it. I don’t know….If I’m trying to think of moments where I’m sitting around enjoying eating food, it’s not romantic in any way, shape or form. It involves me being 11 sitting under my bed with my Speak and Spell and Little Debbie cream pies. The bed was tall enough that I could get under there and pretend I had my own room inside my room. The bed skirt came down and I had a little pile of oatmeal cream pies in one corner and my little Speak and Spell and I’d play games and eat oatmeal cream pies. That was my happy comfort food at the time. I would just spell words for hours.

I feel like Speak and Spell only happened for a blip then vanished. I hear things and recognize it as the Speak and Spell voice.

Chantrelle: If you could only eat food from one country or region of a country for the rest of your life: breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and alcohol. Where would you choose?

Olga: Sushi. Japan. That’s not even a question. I don’t like chocolate that much. People get that dopamine reaction to chocolate and I think I’m missing those receptors. That thing that people have, that happy, sexy, romantic feeling from chocolate, I get that from sushi.
I will only eat good chocolate and it’s good but it’s not my thing. I think cheap chocolate, like M&Ms, just tastes like rancid oil.

I heard this story and I don’t know if it’s true but in WWII Mars or Hershey started shipping tons of chocolate overseas and they had to use the supplies they had which included rancid milk. So when the people came back from overseas they thought the chocolate tasted wrong and so they intentionally started using rancid milk in their chocolate.

Chantrelle: What do you want your last meal to be?

Olga: Sushi…I’m super easy when it comes to sushi. I’m super happy if it’s just a pile of salmon sashimi.
But maybe really, really, good, super-alcoholic tiramisu. I use to make tiramisu and I was trying to figure out how to make it into a shot of tiramisu.
This is hard though because the meals I have that are really wonderful aren’t ones I come back to. I was staying in Scotland for a while and there was a restaurant in Skye that was one of the 50 best restaurant in the world. They brought us really weird, amazing food that was magical. I can’t remember the specifics but it was one of the most amazing meals. But if you ask me about my last meal I go to something that is simple that makes me happy which would be a pile of salmon.

Chantrelle: If it’s your turn to cook dinner, what’s your favorite thing to cook for people?

Olga: Rice and beans. It sounds simple but it’s really easy to screw it up and make it bland. I learned to cook Cuban beans and rice from my mother. A lot of olive oil, peppers and tomatoes and spices. When I was vegetarian is was with seitan, when I’m not vegetarian it’s with pork. I’ll tell people I’m making rice and beans and they’re not excited then I make them the rice and beans and they’re like, “Can I have fourths?” If I was trying to impress someone, I’d make them rice and beans.

Chantrelle: What is the sexiest food?

Olga: Sushi! G-spot sushi?! I’m too easy. Can I have sushi as my answer to 4 out of 5?

Chantrelle: It was Neil’s answer to almost everything too.