A few weeks back, the Food Republic team was huddled in its Brooklyn Test Kitchen working on homemade burger and fries recipes when assistant editor Jess Kapadia played Yellow Ostrich‘s The Mistress off her iPod. Everybody was into it. Then we found out that Yellow Ostrich has a new record, Strange Land (out on Barsuk), so we got it and haven’t stopped listening since; it may even inspire us to make it the soundtrack to our next Test Kitchen (which probably will not involve cooking ostrich). We shot singer/guitarist Alex Schaaf an email and chatted with him about growing up as the son of a butcher, whether or not the excellent single “Marathon Runner” is a true story and what he’s cooking at home in Brooklyn when he’s not on tour.
Okay, the most obvious question given your band name and our website: Have you ever eaten ostrich?
I haven’t, no. I don’t think I ever will. Until I do.
Growing up in Wisconsin, how did you eat as a kid—was it on the healthy side, or did you even pay attention?
I ate pretty healthily. My mom is very smart with nutrition and health. She works with those things as one aspect of her job, so I always got vegetables and fruit along with every meal. I didn’t pay too much attention, but thankfully someone else was doing it for me.
Your songs depend on your dynamic voice—do you have a routine to take care of your voice pre-show or pre-recording, and if so, what is it?
I don’t have a routine; I should probably come up with one. The closest I came to losing my voice recently was during the CMJ festival in New York last year. We played about 6 shows in 3.5 days, and my voice was pretty shot by the end. But other than that I always seem to recover in time for the next night’s show. I’ll start gargling salt water or something. I’ll gargle honey while dipping fingers in salt water as someone pours hot tea on my head. That should do it.
You’ll be spending a lot of the spring on tour: Do you concentrate on what you eat while on tour, or do you just wing it?
We try to eat as healthy as we can on tour. That includes ignoring chain restaurants and fast food and only going to nice local restaurants. We use Yelp a lot to find good places.
Any cities/restaurants that you look forward to hitting while on tour?
I’m looking forward to the BBQ down in Austin, TX.
I understand you worked in your father’s butcher shop one summer. What was that experience like?
It was great. I like it there because it’s such an old-fashioned, kind of simple place. It’s in a town of 200 people, mostly farmers, where the only businesses are the post office, my dad’s meat locker and two bars. I like the butcher shop also because it’s a really pure way of producing food. Its a tiny shop with only a couple of workers. A farmer brings in his cows, and a couple of weeks later he picks up the meat and goes to feed it to his family. You get to see every step, and appreciate this kind of food production compared to the terrible factory farm way of mass-producing crappy food.
How did having your father in the butcher business affect you while growing up?
I ate a lot of steak, probably much more than most people on average. I learned to appreciate that once I moved away from home and realized that good steak is actually pretty expensive.
So we wanted to feature you because we were listening to your first record while cooking in our Test Kitchen. Would you recommend listening to Strange Land while cooking, hosting a dinner party or to play in a restaurant? If so, why?
I think some of it is too aggressive to play in a restaurant. I wouldn’t want people to choke on their food. My number one all-time greatest fear is that I’ll be eating a meal with one other person, and they’ll start to choke, and I won’t know what to do, or I’ll do a crappy Heimlich maneuver, and then they die. I almost fear that more than choking myself. Except that one episode of Six Feet Under where the woman is eating alone in her house and she chokes and dies; that’s one of the most terrifying things ever.
One of my favorite songs on the album is “Marathon Runner.” Are you a runner? If so, how do you eat before/after a long run?
I’ve been running a lot more lately, but certainly wouldn’t call myself a runner yet. I like to drink a bottle of wine, run 3.4 miles, then walk an extra mile while smoking a cigar in order to cool off.
Thanks Alex, and congrats on the new album. One last question: Do you cook, and if so, what’s the last or next thing you’ll cook?
I don’t cook too much, certainly wouldn’t call myself a chef. But when I get home from tour I’ll probably just whip up a quick dish of braised rabbit with sautéed olives and peach oil, served in a homemade sourdough bread bowl. Or something like that.
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