Brooklyn-based indie rockers POP ETC dispense some catchy tunes, indeed, when they’re not slurping noodles in between video takes. They’ve got a new album, Souvenir, hurtling to a digital marketplace near you this Friday (actual physical albums also available for your tactile pleasure) and kick off an East Coast tour today!
I caught up with Chris Chu, longtime Food Republic correspondent and reliable supplier of food porn, to see what’s delicious in Japan, the boroughs and the recording studio. Hint: It’s carbonated, which I previously thought was bad for studio time, you know, burps-wise. Oh, it’s in the headline. All right, it’s coconut seltzer.
Many people’s first exposure to your music was in a Reese’s peanut butter cup commercial. How did that come to be?
I really love Reese’s. It’s probably my favorite candy, and peanut butter and chocolate is one of my favorite combinations. They reached out to us [then known as the Morning Benders] because they liked the song [“Excuses.”] It was pretty serendipitous. I wouldn’t necessarily say yes to just any commercial use, but when Reese’s came along I said yes because I wanted a lifetime supply…which they never gave me. I actually didn’t see any Reese’s that whole time. But, you know, it was still good to do.
Besides peanut butter and chocolate, what’s your peanut butter and chocolate?
I love Vietnamese and Thai food, and one thing I love about it is all the fresh herbs you get. I love Thai basil on top of coconut.
Let’s talk about the video for “Bad Break,” then I have a follow-up question.
We spend a good amount of time in Japan; I produce for Japanese artists, and I love the country and the culture. One thing I always do over there is go to karaoke with my friends. One of the things that inspired the video for “Bad Break” is that karaoke videos are just thrown together for hundreds of thousands of songs; they’re just arbitrarily matched. It’s so strange. You’ll have videos of a couple walking down the beach smiling for a Nirvana song, and it doesn’t match up with the images at all. We had an idea to play with that concept, so it starts as one of those mismatched karaoke videos, just us being filmed like stock video, and at a certain point we realize we’re being filmed and try to escape the karaoke film crew.
Follow-up question: With the money you saved on production (provided you didn’t get busted jumping the turnstile), where’s somewhere you’d blow a whole ton of money to eat like a king?
Actually, we had to pay in advance and talk to the MTA person there, which is amazing because I thought they were going to just kick us out for filming.
In Japan I’ll always do a few meals of really nice sushi or tempura. Really high-priced tempura places are just exquisite and amazing. Matsui in midtown is really cool because you get an assortment of all different kinds of fish and vegetable tempura, not just shrimp, a couple of sweet potatoes and a carrot.
When was the last time you blew a whole bunch of money to eat like a king?
I had an amazing meal at Eleven Madison Park. Of the bougie American French high-priced places (that’s a technical term), that one stood out to me.
I stalked you on Instagram: Let’s talk about coconut seltzer.
That’s funny you should point that out; that’s my go-to studio break “snack.” I don’t know why Le Croix has had this resurgence; I was hearing good stuff about the grapefruit flavor, but it doesn’t taste much different than other grapefruit seltzers. The coconut one is so unique, and I love coconut. I don’t think anyone else makes it.
There’s also a photo of you guys at a Chinese spot with a ton of food.
You’ll have to be more specific. It might have been in Flushing, because my dad grew up in Flushing and he has a huge family, so we often go out there and have big banquet-style dinners. Our new favorite place is in Chinatown in Sunset Park. There’s an amazing place called Yunnan Flavor Garden (formerly Flavor Snack, which I think is an amazing name). I hadn’t really had that much from Yunnan [Province], and it’s really special. They have these cold rice noodles with ground pork and some kind of preserved cabbage and a sugary, salty vinegar soy sauce and cilantro. That is delicious. It’s one of my top dishes in New York.
Which music festival has the best food?
It’s gotta be in Japan. Their food is bonkers. The bar is so high there. The culture cares so much about food; even in a 7-11 you can find good food. It’s all relative, obviously, but it’s still amazing what it has to offer. We played Summersonic, and they had this huge spread with soba, tempura, different bentos and miso soup, constantly changed so it was all fresh. It was amazing.
Who’s the best cook in the band?
I think Jon and I would probably fight over that. I’m the older brother, so I’m going to say I’m the best.
Name three things in your fridge right now.
There’s a cucumber soda I’ve been getting called Dry that’s really good. And I have a bunch of fresh cilantro and oyster sauce — critical ingredient.
What’s your current favorite Brooklyn restaurant?
There’s a Yemeni place I really like on Atlantic around Brooklyn Heights called Yemen Cafe. I didn’t really know the cuisine, so I started going, and it’s really special. There’s a dish they do called salta, served in a cast-iron skillet with fenugreek. It’s got a kind of cheese topper, like French onion soup with really good lamb shank.
What’s a band you’ve worked with or toured with that’s also super-into food?
There’s a Japanese band we toured with called Galileo Galilei, and they took it upon themselves to show us some undiscovered gems. We were all recently in Nagoya, where we had a dish called hitsumabushi, “eel three ways.” It’s an unagi-style grilled eel with sweet glaze you eat in different steps: a third with just salt, a third with different sauces, then you put the rest over rice, pour broth over it and make a soup (ochazuke).
What’s the most important thing on your tour rider?
It’s hard to get stuff in general. You send one rider to everyone, so you need to pick stuff that’s available. A lot of people are down on Whole Foods for a variety of reasons, but at the same time it is kind of amazing having so many Whole Foods. We’ll say “Go to Whole Foods and get salmon avocado sushi” or even a roast chicken with corn tortillas and salsa. I don’t eat a ton of cereal at home, but it’s great on the road. We use almond milk cause you don’t need to fridge it as much.
If you could bring any chef in the world on tour with you, who would it be?
One of my favorite restaurants in the world is Chez Panisse, so Alice Waters.
You just invented a sandwich called “The Souvenir.” What’s in it?
It’s hard to try to invent a sandwich these days — there are so many sandwiches. I like the simplest things, so I could do a turkey sandwich that’s crossed with a banh mi and throw on some pickled carrots, daikon and fresh basil. And tomato, onion and lettuce.
POP ETC’s new album, Souvenir, will be released on iTunes and Amazon on January 29.