The artistic fallout from the coronavirus crisis seems to genuinely be upon us right now, as we’ve recently debuted new tracks/videos that have to do with isolation (Golden Aquarians’ “High Enough”) and PPE (iDKHOW’s “Leave Me Alone”). But the video for Papi Shiitake‘s “Enjoy the View”—which BlackBook also premieres here—confronts an even more serious aspect of the crisis.
The new project by Best Behavior frontman Alex Gruenburg (along with co-writer/musical-conspirator Ryan Sieloff), Papi Shiitake’s new single is cool, alt-surf-rock, with artful, tremolo’d guitars, and a languid, hip-hop beat. But the accompanying clip shows Young Tuxx—who is actually Gruenberg, in alter ego mode—and his muppet pal Lil Tuxx (everyone should have a muppet pal during quarantine), dealing with scaring up enough money to pay the rent—though it’s all handled with a sly sense of humor. To wit, a fake newspaper headline blares, Happiness For All! Global Warming Reversed. Hunger Eliminated.
It shines a light on the plight so many are facing right now, as potential eviction numbers mount, due to the high joblessness rate. No one, from the states to the federal government, seems to have a workable plan to deal with it.
Gruenburg himself has been isolated in Brooklyn since the lockdown went into effect in March, but has also been busy playing chef and running Toki Toki, a vegan Korean barbecue stand at Bushwick’s beloved Tradesman bar. And regarding more serious matters, the Papi Shiitake track “Born As Lovers” appeared on a recent Rough Trade Black Lives Matter benefit compilation.
He gave us the lowdown on the lead up to “Enjoy The View.”
Where have you been and what have you been doing during quarantine?
I’ve been in my Brooklyn apartment for most of quarantine, I started living alone right before the pandemic hit. In a strange way the isolation has been extremely liberating, and that’s where most of the content for our upcoming EP Quarantine Dream comes from.
Is there a significance to the name Papi Shiitake?
I was actually on a trip to Colombia, staying with a family that grew shiitake mushrooms in the mountains outside of Bogota. The name Papi Shiitake came to me and it seemed perfect for this project. People love to say it.
Is it a long term project? Will there be a full album?
Most definitely. The project kind of came out of nowhere, but we’ve already recorded multiple records’ worth of material. We’re hoping to put out our first full length early next year.
Why did you create the alter ego Young Tuxx? What part of you does he represent?
Young Tuxx was born in the ice bath. I did a session with Wim Hof, who can withstand incredibly cold temperatures with the aid of a breathing technique. He had us submerge in these ice pools and when I emerged I felt a new spirit within myself. My heart became a diamond formed under pressure and I became Young Tuxx.
What is Lil Tuxx like?
Lil Tuxx is honestly one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. People love to see him on the street and hang out with him. We both like to have a good time, which is probably why we get along so well. After the shoot I really missed him. Hope he comes back for a live show.
The video is about trying to come up with the money to make the rent. Do you think we’re not talking enough about how many people face eviction as a result of the pandemic?
Absolutely. People were barely making rent before the pandemic in NYC. Not everybody has the luxury of leaving the city for the suburbs. If we want to save New York City we need to start with the people of New York City. The same applies to the rest of the country.
What is your assessment of the way this country has handled the coronavirus crisis?
It’s a huge bummer, isn’t it? Really thought the US would band together more to fight this. Look how Europe and Asia are handling it. They will definitely be having live shows before us. I’m jealous.
Give us a quick encapsulation of Toki Toki.
I love to cook and I absolutely love Korean BBQ. I’m not vegan, but I realized that I’ve never had any good vegan Korean BBQ. So I came up with a recipe for vegan bulgogi and people started to really love it. Toki Toki is being served at Tradesman, one of my favorite bars in Brooklyn. Stop by and have some onigiri!