What’s grillwave, you ask? It’s a style of guerilla cooking invented by rockers on tour when folks throw the term chillwave around a little too casually. Yeah, Small Black is of the chillwave genre. They’re also indie pop, emo-rock, electronic and somehow simultaneously post-chillwave (cause nobody’s just chillwave anymore).
Did I say it enough times? Great. You’ll just need to have a listen to see what I mean — they released their latest album, The Limits Of Desire, in May. I hit the band’s live/work spot in Gowanus, Brooklyn last week, which quickly turned into a meat-eating performance at nearby Fletcher’s (complete with sauce analysis) and then devolved into a…well whatever, I got home just fine, no thanks to the band’s custom-brewed eponymous black saison. Jeff, Ryan, Juan and Josh don’t go hungry for any reason, tour or not, they just know too much about great food — especially DC native Juan, who was once hired personally by José Andrés. So he’s in an awesome band, makes Robuchon mashed potatoes with Heston Blumenthal’s dry-aged steak and worked for Jose Andrés. Now about that chillwave/grillwave thing.
Your new album cover is pretty cool. Ever eat alligator?
Josh: I had a bite of gator once. It was really good. I think it was a pretty drunken impulse.
Juan: Yeah, that doesn’t really sound like you.
Josh: It was actually really good. Just like they say, tastes like chicken.
I saw an Instagram of you guys grilling with Heavenly Beat. Where were you and what did you cook?
Juan: We were grilling all across the country. It was in Arizona somewhere, some city with an “h” and all these wigwams.
Josh: Basically we were trying to grill in the Petrified Forest when we realized you can’t grill there because it’s still a forest — there were all these signs.
Juan: So we just asked locals where was a good spot to grill and they pointed us to a park. We did portobellos, poblanos, butterflied chicken, steaks and skewered veggies. A big tip for bands on the road: use olive oil spray because you can spray it on the grill and the food and don’t have to be dripping olive oil everywhere. Grilling’s definitely a tour tradition.
You guys should give your grillouts a nickname, like Small Black…Charcoal…Grilltime. Wait, I can do better.
Ryan: It’s pretty obvious what it is. I mean, we keep getting called “chillwave,” so we should call it “grillwave.”
Well you’re not going to stop getting called “chillwave.”
Josh: Nope, now it’s “grillwave.”
Tell me about the Small Black beer collaboration.
Ryan: Jon, who works at our record label Jagjaguwar, has been friends with Brian [Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal Ales] for a while and talked about collaborating. Brian turned out to be a big fan, so we pretty much went out and got drunk with him, really got along and saw he’s very serious about his craft. It’s always interesting to go back and forth with someone who’s as passionate about something as you are.
Juan: It’s a really light black saison, like the lightest dark beer ever, not too heavy on alcohol — 5%. It’s got a yeasty fruitiness that you get from wild yeast. It’s dark beer but tastes incredibly light — I had a couple today. They were delicious.
Ryan: I had a couple, too.
What’s on your tour rider?
Josh: One bar of dark chocolate. That’s my personal request. I like 80%, the most cacao possible.
Juan: We definitely request either a bottle of bourbon or Scotch, we ask for veggies and ranch, some hummus and pita — we don’t get all this, but we always ask for it.
Ryan: Hummus, chips and salsa are tour staples.
Juan: And fruit. We keep it pretty simple, but in the future we’re thinking of going all out and asking for seltzer.
You should keep a SodaStream in the tour van.
Josh: I have one and Ryan has one.
I’ve gotten up still drunk in the middle of the night, totally parched, and been like “no, no water, I gotta have seltzer,” and I’m pumping the carbonating thing, falling over.
Josh: I’ve definitely had that exact same experience.
What’s on your dream tour rider?
Juan: Whoever the headline band’s caterer is, like Rolling Stones-level, has to make us a buffet of whatever’s local and fresh, half-veggie, half-meat because Ryan is a vegetarian. Maybe some smoothies.
Ryan: I just want salad. And juice.
Juan: A juice bar would be amazing, some Southern fried chicken with red-eye gravy.
Josh: I want shrimp cocktail. Whenever we play Brooklyn Bowl I get shrimp cocktail with that really good mustard sauce.
Okay, now you guys are just naming foods. Any travel tips for bands on the go?
Juan: I always request a Kosher meal because I trust some rabbi to make sure it’s not total crap. You have to have tricks like that.
What was the last meal you made at home?
Ryan: I made Eggs Benedict for the first time and I didn’t mess up the Hollandaise. It’s all about temperature; make sure you don’t destroy it. Keep it moderately temped out.
Juan: I dry-aged my own steak for 3 days. Heston Blumenthal has this style, literally put it on a rack in the fridge because fridges are dry naturally. After 3 days you almost get a pastrami look on it with the crust. Then I seared it up for 15 seconds on ultra-high heat and cooked it on each side for 2-3 minutes. Served it with a side of Robuchon mashed potatoes: hand-grate the cooked potatoes and whisk in like, the same amount of butter. So good.
Tell me more.
Juan: We’ve just been doing a ton of grilling. I love the smell. I was using my jacket to block the wind grilling on tour and it ended up smelling like mesquite for weeks.
Josh: Yeah, we smelled like barbecue forever.
Ryan: We were forced to hit the laundromat. You generally wait on that as long as possible.
Juan: I’m not a big marinade guy but I’m into marinades right now. We did some chicken with beer, lime, chili, cilantro. And we got this amazing keister rub at a truck stop in Montana.
You got a what now?
Ryan: Yeah, it was a bougie truck stop.
Oh, a dry rub! There’s a bougie truck stop in Montana that has amazing dry rub?
Juan: Yeah, it was amazing, it’s called Redneck Sauce Company’s Keister Rub. There’s a picture of a cowboy with his pants down, ass in the air. We saved the bottle so we can order more.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Juan: Ant eggs in Mexico — on a tortilla with guacamole. It was delicious. These giant ants make these giant eggs. It was a little mealy but pretty delicious the way it was prepared. I also had cow brains, which isn’t that weird. I don’t get anybody not eating something, cause it’s not about what it is, it’s about how it’s prepared. Show me some goat entrails, they could be really delicious.
So what keeps you fueled in the studio when you’re in there for a long time?
Ryan: Tito’s vodka; we’re huge fans. We got obsessed while we were recording our last record. Pretty much the best vodka, ever.
Juan: I’ll put a twist of lemon and some ice in there, that’s about it. Vodka gets us through it, but sometimes we go cheap with a big bottle of Evan Williams. Volume for recording, you know?
Ah, volume. I get it. Okay, Juan, food guy, have you ever cooked for a girl on a date?
Juan: Yeah, once in college to try to impress a girl I made duck breast in the dorm kitchen. Trying to get a nice sear with those electric coils is not easy. It’s hard to render the fat, but you’ll still get laid.
Ryan: I was trying to cook for this vegetarian girl and I didn’t know anything, so I made vegetable tempura and it was pretty mid-level.
Juan: There’s nothing people screw up more on food competition shows than deep-fried stuff. I watch every cooking show pretty much, and fried stuff and ice cream are nightmares. I yell at the TV sometimes: “Oh, well the ice cream didn’t harden, so I’m going to make a custard…soup, with a raspberry coulis!” Stop it.
Have you ever met a celebrity chef?
Juan: I was doing high school community service at DC Central Kitchen where you cook giant meals for the homeless. They have guest chefs come in, and one was José Andrés and at the end I’m like, “Dude, you gotta get me a job at one of your restaurants!” And he’s like, “No problem, just come to my restaurant, Cafe Atlantico, tomorrow morning.” So I went, he remembered me and gave me a job right away at his tapas place.
Wow, so you’re an Andrés-caliber chef?
Juan: Ha, no. But I also worked at a New American place with a husband-wife team and they were both incredible cooks — some of the best food I’ve ever had. I had to cut all the faces off these softshell crabs for a while, literally cut the face off. They’re wiggling around and you just snip with scissors and the whole face area comes off.
Any bands you guys have played with who are into food, too?
Juan: Raz and Christian from Heavenly Beat are pretty good cooks. Raz’s family is from India and when we stayed at their house they made us the most incredible Indian feast, lamb and vegetables and stuff. Oh my god, Raz’s dad is an amazing cook.
Josh: I had food poisoning from a knockoff Subway sandwich and couldn’t eat and Raz’s dad made me this elixir: ginger, turmeric, carrots and oranges. It was kind of spicy and made me feel better. Every day on tour you have two great joys: playing the show and eating. Otherwise we’re just cramped in a van. We have to have something to look forward to.
You guys just invented a sandwich called The Limits of Desire. What’s in it?
Juan: Well we have to keep it veggie so Ryan can have it. Or he can just have a veg side.
Ryan: Our eating habits are kind of dynamically opposed.
Juan: I’m thinking like, crispy deep-fried foie gras with a duck egg on top, sunny side-up, runny, a little bit of salady stuff in there, like a slaw, between two pieces of toast with maybe some Gruyère. I don’t know, I’m starting to get disgusting.
If I ordered a sandwich called The Limits Of Desire, I HOPE there’d be deep-fried foie in there.
Ryan: How do you make that vegetarian?
Juan: Basically just replace the foie with breaded eggplant, like a nice eggplant steak. With the duck egg which breaks and the yolks just flows. The “No Limits Of Desire.”
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