In Good Food, Rocks, we track down a band member serious about their grub — and who has held a job in the food industry too. Next up, Stephen McBean.
One listen to The Pink Mountaintops’ melodic yet ragged garage-rock opus Get Back, and you might assume that frontman Stephen McBean and his supporting cast went through a case or two of Jack Daniel’s during the recording. And you may be right. But that doesn’t mean McBean is unsophisticated of palate. In fact, the man behind Black Mountain and this engaging offshoot turns out to have Jonathan Gold–esque recommendations for dining options in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles. Here, McBean tells us where he likes to eat in LA, discusses his preference for European-style dining, and recalls how he developed his culinary bent while growing up in Vancouver and Victoria, BC.
I read that while were recording Get Back, you and the various musicians you called on to play on the album were eating a lot at an old school Italian joint? Can you tell us about that?
Oh yeah, Pinocchio’s in Burbank. It’s like a cafeteria-style Italian restaurant. They have a supermarket and they have gelato and desserts, but yeah, it’s kind of like a mess hall. They have a cafeteria, you go and get chicken parmesan, lasagna, meatballs. You get a b, it’s great. It’s got that old school Burbank – signed black and white pictures on the wall of Baretta and apparently Jay Leno pops in there once in a while to get some stuff to go. It’s a place where maybe it doesn’t have the best food, but it still feels good to be there and eat.
What’s it like on the road with Black Mountain or Pink Mountaintops? Do you have bandmates that make it challenging to eat because they’re vegan or a gluten-free or anything?
I think in this band it’s pretty easy. Black Mountain was always really fun because Josh [Wells], the drummer, is obsessed with Mexican food, which is weird because he was born vegetarian. He kind of has a photogenic memory. He’ll email us all the best burrito places all over North America. And he’s vegetarian but he knows he’ll be eating lard and stuff so he doesn’t worry about that.
So the Pink Mountaintops are about to head out on a world tour [see all the dates here]. Do you look forward what you’re going to eat along the way?
Yes. We’re playing this club in Ravenna, Italy, on the Adriatic Sea. And basically you’re playing and you’re looking at the beach. And there’s this place in the hills of Tuscany that we always go to for lunch. It’s insane. Every order of pasta is made right when you order it. They cut it and everything. And Pink Mountaintops went to Portugal a year and a half ago. That was the first time I had ever been there, in Porto and Lisbon. I guess those two cities have a food war going on. So Porto has this sandwich called the Francesca, and it’s kind of like a Monte Cristo sandwich, where they batter the bread in egg and fry it, and then they basically put layers of ham, sausage, cheese – just layers of amazing salty stuff. And then they put more cheese on top and then a sort of tomato beer gravy, and then a fried egg on top of that. That’s their pride and joy in Porto. And it’s such a good hangover cure.
I’ve been listening to Black Mountain for years, and this also applies to the Pink Mountaintops: It all sounds pretty bourbon-powered. Is that true, and if so, what do you drink?My main choices are either Maker’s Mark, or Bushmills. I used to go for Jameson’s, but I switched over to Bushmills. I usually stick to those, and if things get a little dark, I’ll go to vodka or tequila. But I don’t know. Something about music and whiskey – it’s all pretty good. And it helps coat the throat too.
How did you get into food? Did you grow up in a family where it was an important thing?
My mom was always a really good cook. So we would always have different [ethnic food] nights. And in the ‘80s, when the New York cheesecake fad hit North America, she used to bake them from our home and sell them to restaurants. She actually makes really good vegan desserts. She’s not a vegan, but she can’t have dairy because she has a million allergies.
Have you ever worked in the food industry?
I worked in a restaurant a bit. First I was a dishwasher, then I was a prep cook, then I was a back line cook. Mostly breakfast stuff.
Was that in Vancouver that you did that?
That was in Vancouver and in Victoria, yeah.
Do you cook at home now, and if so, how are your skills?
Yeah. You know when you totally fail? When you don’t have any ingredients and you’re like oh, okay, I’ve got some kimchi and I’ve got this and that, and I’m gonna make kimchi tomato spaghetti and it’s gonna be the best — and then you’re like oh my God, I’ve totally failed. I’ve gotten better at spices and stuff. I just think that food’s really amazing, and most people just eat crap. When you go on tour in Europe, dinnertime is written into the schedule. Okay, now we stop and we sit down and feast. As opposed to you eating a bag of pita dipped in hummus while you stand in sound check and that’s your dinner.
What’s on your tour rider?
I recently tried to update our rider. My mom gave me this book called Foods That Heal. It covers everything like depression, sleeping well. When you go on tour, especially North America, your choices are — well, a lot of burgers. And it’s kind of depressing. So if you can at least get an apple a day in you, little things like that, it helps. Apple, orange, some vegetables. I don’t know about baby carrots though, because I’ve heard they’re all bathed in formaldehyde.
Now what about in LA? Are there some places that you’ve found that you really like and go back to again and again?
Well the first one is called Tacos Villa Corona. It’s a little burrito and taco stand. They’re only open ‘til 1 or 2. They serve breakfast burritos and they’re the best. I’ll usually get one and then ride my bike to Griffith Park and eat it. They fry up tortillas and put it in with the burrito, so it’s kind of like a chilaquiles burrito. It’s really good. It’s got a crunch to it.
Are you excited about the new record?
I’m excited about it. Whenever you make records, it’s always really exciting and you work on them for a long time. And you get nervous and then finally they’re out. Then you have to figure out how to play it live. Usually the instrumentation is – you have to cut some of the bells and whistles of what’s on the record. But it’s fun. When you play it live and it’s going good, that’s the best feeling.
Stephen McBean’s Los Angeles food recommendations:
- Ttu Rak (Korean), 125 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90004, 323-960-0037
- Tacos Villa Corona (Mexican), 3185 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90039, 323-661-3458
- Monte Carlo Deli and Pinocchio’s (Italian), 3103 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank 91505, 818-845-3517
- Tam O’Shanter (Scottish), 2980 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90039, 323-664-0228
[We’ve interviewed lots of great bands, from Little Dragon to Chromeo, in our Good Food, Rocks series. Check ’em all out here.]