Industry Insiders: Donatella Arpaia, Sleek in Greek

Once upon a time, restaurateur Donatella Arpaia was a corporate lawyer. Nine restaurants, several TV show appearances (including guest judging on The Food Network’s Iron Chef America, and Bravo’s Top Chef), and one Michelin Star-honored eatery later, New York foodies are grateful for the legal system not being her cup of tea. Donatella recently made time out of her insanely busy schedule to talk with us about what it’s like being a powerful presence in the restaurant business, how she felt about her partner (and executive chef of Anthos, Kefi, Mia Dona, and the newly opened Eos in Miami as well as Gus and Gabriel in New York) Michael Psilakis cooking for President Obama, and why she’s excited about Cooking in Heels.

So, I hear you’re currently filming in California. Can you tell me what for? A show for The Food Network. I can’t really say the name of the show right now, but that’s what I’m doing.

You just began guest blogging with the women’s company, iVillage. What sort of advice will you be giving? I’m writing the blog as we speak. I had a couple conversations with the iVillage people, and at first they said, ‘We just want the life of a restaurateur,’ and I think that’s great, and that’s really a part of who I am, but it should also relate to women across America. Sometimes my life can seem so glamorous, and it’s so not. I’m going to talk about my restaurants and what it’s like, but also aspects of being a woman in business, because I always try to lay it out, and I think everything is relatable: how to deal with difficult people, how to manage recipes that I’m making in the cookbook, how I entertain when I don’t have time. I really want it to be my life, and all the aspects of it, and the restaurateur is part of it, but I don’t want it to be all that. Anything and everything about my life—that’s what I’m doing.

You are now the face of a significant lifestyle brand. Back when you were a lawyer, did you ever consider—or hope—that would happen? I remember when I left law for the restaurant business, and it was like I was in a candy store; I was so happy. If you’d asked me ten years ago if I knew I’d end up where I was, I don’t think so, but I’ve always known that I was, extremely driven from a young age. I would say in the past few years of doing this, people were constantly interested in how I lived my life—from how I dress, to my home, to how I cook, to how I manage people. I had so many women coming up to me every day, looking to me for advice, and I really like giving advice and I like mentoring, and apparently they were interested in what I had to say. I have a restaurant background, and I just happened to know a lot about food, and hosting, and how to throw a party—because I do it for my life—and how to do it when you’re very busy. And also, at the same time, remember that I am a woman, and I’m on display all the time, and I have to manage my weight, my look, my everything. My life became an example of how to deal, of how to live and how to advise people, so I kind of became a natural.

How did your relationship with Michael Psilakis come to be? Michael and I met about seven, eight years ago. A mutual friend told me about this guy who was cooking Italian food on Long Island. I grew up on Long Island, so I was like, it can’t be good, because I know what Long Island food is all about. But this foodie friend of mine was like, ‘No, this guy is amazing!’ So, I went out there, and he cooked this ten-course tasting for me, and it was just unbelievable. So we became friends. And he really was a self-taught—and when I say self-taught, I mean no culinary school, no other chefs. And so we were talking for a while, and I had just opened up David Burke & Donatella, to tremendous success, and I knew David and I were very successful there, but that’s where it was going to end. So, I said, ‘Michael, you’re Greek. There’s a gazillion Italian restaurants out there, but no one has taken Greek cuisine to another level. That’s what you should do.’ He went all Greek, finally, when we opened up Anthos, which is the only Greek Michelin Star restaurant in the country. Then we just started expanding—Kefi, Eos, we’re about to open Gus & Gabriel—and I think it’s the strength of the partnership, and partnerships are not always easy: restaurants fail you; people don’t always know what they’re doing; they just got into it because they think they have a perception of what it is; they’re either under-funded; they’re successful in the partnerships but the ego gets in the way. That’s something that we have to work on by communicating constantly, and we really are supportive of each other. The more press he gets, I’m happy; the more press I get, he’s happy, because it just comes back to that common goal. For most people, it’s a simple thing, in theory, but in reality, it’s very hard to facilitate.

How did you feel when Michael was asked to cook for Obama? I was upset that I wasn’t going with him! It was just this spectacular moment. I remember that we were sitting down, and he’d just read the review for Kefi, and he wasn’t happy with it—even though the restaurant is a tremendous success—and then he gets a call from the secret service. We thought it was a joke, almost. They were like, ‘We want you to cook for Obama in two days.’ It was just the biggest whirlwind. I said, ‘Mike, this will never be the day where you got a bad review in the New York Times, it will be the day you got a call to cook for Obama! It’s awesome!’ And he said it was the most thrilling experience. He met Obama and he said, ‘He’s very tall, much taller than I’d thought, and he was just so nice. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.’

Do you get to veto menu items, or do you leave that entirely up to Michael? We both have our defining roles in our restaurants, where I’m more front, and he’s more back. But that being said, if he sees a problem with service, he’s going to say something; if I see a problem with food, I’m going to say something. And when we do taste things in the beginning, we’re so much a part of everything. Especially, for example, the Italian cuisine at Mia Dona, because that really is my background and it’s reflecting my heritage and my food—I had a lot more to say in that area. But I’ve never vetoed anything; it’s not like that. I would never say, ‘Take that off the menu,’ because we don’t have that kind of relationship. Everything is talked about, and he asks my opinion, and we have a very open relationship in that way, which is great. But, he’s so talented that we don’t really run into that at all.

At this point, is opening a new restaurant always a new experience, or does it start to feel ordinary? No, it never feels ordinary. I think it’s because we’re not opening a chain restaurant, we’re always expanding into new cuisines and new concepts. When we first opened Dona and Anthos, I was known for the glamour, the high-end, and he was known for the cerebral foodie-chef. Next, we opened Mia Dona, which was casual, rustic Italian, and people had problems with that, because people like to define you in the press. But in the end, it’s worked to our advantage, because it gives us a lot more breadth. And then we opened up Kefi, and now we’ve opened Eos, which for the first time is a small plate concept, and it has Spanish influence, and Latin influence, and that’s really a result of being in Miami and understanding that market, so that’s exciting to Michael, too. And then we come back here, and we’ve got Gus & Gabriel’s, which is an American gastro-pub. Every opening is always exciting, and always hard. I don’t know if it gets easier. I mean, I think we know more. It was a little less intense this time, but it’s still exciting to me.

Do you think that the recession will prove to be the end of fine dining, or do you think restaurants will just have to reinvent this concept? No, I don’t think that fine dining is going to die. I think it’s going to go through a very difficult time right now, and I think it’s because there was a lot of excess going on, and there was a lot of mediocrity out there that was doomed, no matter what. People want comfort; they don’t want to pay $10 for a glass of water. But, ultimately, and eventually, I think that it will come back. It’s kind of like when you look at fashion: the need for couture, as opposed to the need for ready-wear—that’s the comfort. I’m not afraid to say it—we’re in a bad economy, and ours is the one that got hit the most. I like to be realistic about things and then deal with it, and we struggle because we don’t want to compromise our brand, change it, or dumb it down. You can’t.

Have you altered your restaurants in any way to make them a bit more recession-proof? At Anthos, we decided to take the banquet room, which we used for corporate parties, and we turned it into Anthos Upstairs, which is tapas-style, small plates, where people can eat Anthos food, but a different version of it. It’s a little more accessible. So, that’s helping us right now, because that’s become very busy. And I think Anthos is still doing relatively well, compared to other restaurants that are completely dead. Even though it’s a high-end restaurant, it was never exaggerated—the price for what we offer—and I think we will survive these times. Like anything else, the strong will survive.

What advice can you give to those restaurants that are struggling? I’ve always stressed hospitality, service, and personal attention. Instead of going out to a fancy restaurant three times a week, or once every two weeks, somebody is going to go back to the place where you cared about them—whether times are good or bad. And I think that’s something that I’ve always stressed, and that’s a big part of what I bring to the front of the house. I’m obsessed with service, in terms of technique and hospitality. You can’t fake it—it’s like a relationship.

Of all your restaurants, which has your favorite menu, or your favorite selections? I always get that question, and it’s like asking which child I like the best. I think that Anthos is truly something special, because I don’t think that you can get that food anywhere—in the country, or the world. I’m so impressed, constantly, with the quality of the food we put out on such a consistent basis. It’s so inventive, and so different, and yet it still takes you home. When I go to Mia Dona, I love the Zeppole; they’re not oily or doughy. And I would say the Gnudi—it’s the signature dish, and I love it to death.

In terms of the décor, do you aim to conceive restaurants that reflect your personality, or do you think your restaurants take on individual personas of their own? That’s a good question. This is something that Michael and I focus on more and more with each restaurant. We make our mistakes and we learn, [but] everything has to come back to the same message. Like Kefi is a rustic Greek restaurant, so everything should be in your face that says rustic Greek. Maybe that’s not my style, but I appreciate it, and I think that it’s the right type of décor for that restaurant. I think there are other restaurants that have reflected my style, like davidburke & donatella, and Dona, which I really had a lot of say in. I love the idea of getting dressed up to go out—I think that it’s a lost art in New York—and I like to create restaurants where you feel good in, and you feel pretty. So, it depends. I mean, Mia Dona was really casual. We had to do a casual restaurant, and it was a difficult space: it’s a long, railroad space, so I came up with the idea of doing different rooms—a lounge, a living room and a library. And I have a say in everything, and if I don’t like something it’s not going to be in there, no matter what. But you have to cater it to what the identity of the restaurant is, and then, ultimately, the restaurant decides what it wants to be.

When you’re not eating at one of your restaurants, where do you like grab a bite? For pizza there’s a new café that I’m just adoring—it’s called Keste—on Bleecker Street. For sushi, I love [Sushi] Yasuda. For traditional Italian food I go to Fiorini—they have the best eggplant parmesan, and the fact that it’s my Dad’s restaurant has nothing to do with it, I swear! For Indian, I love Dawat; the tandoori chicken with rice is just incredible. Jean-Georges is still an icon to me, and I love going to his restaurant for a special occasion.

You’ve got an entertainment guide and cookbook coming out, no? Cooking in Heels. I think it really talks to the girl that I want to talk to—the 25-to-40, urban girl; [she’s] very bright, very stylish, very busy, and very used to doing things well, but when it comes to cooking, she was never taught and doesn’t have a clue. I think there’s really not a voice out there talking to that girl. The menu items are largely Mediterranean, and there’s cooking, but there’s also the presentation that’s involved. That comes out in Spring 2010.

Cazals: Ready for Success & Global Annihilation

“Two liters of vodka a day? That’s complete madness!” says Daniel Gallagher, lead guitarist for Cazals, conjuring 80s burnouts Guns N’ Roses as he considers the prospect of a two-year tour in support of the UK buzz band’s debut album What of Our Future. The band’s early reputation exploded with Cazalaid, its legendary — and illegal — all-night warehouse parties thrown in London’s Whitechapel (an attempt to generate proceeds for new instruments after all of their equipment was stolen). More recently, however, the five-piece — Gallagher and Luca C. are on guitars, Martin Dubka plays bass, Phil Bush is the lead singer, and Warren Stubbs beats on drums — has garnered attention for their music.

Tracks like “Life is Boring” and “New Boy in Town” have drawn apt comparisons to the Killers, while “Somebody Somewhere,” the video for which features illustrations from renowned French graffiti artist Monsieur André, got a shout-out from some blogger named Kanye West. They recently toured with Babyshambles and count Pete Doherty among their close friends, and although none of the band members likes to discuss this aspect of their social circle, they swear Doherty is a great guy.

Since the March release of What of Our Future, they have been promoting the album coast-to-coast, playing sold-out shows in New York and LA. They’re due back stateside in June to play 12 more dates at “all the places you’re supposed to play,” according to Gallagher, who also moonlights as band manager. And on the subject of their ominous album title, the forward-thinking band explains that they wrote the album when they were unsure of their direction: “We didn’t know what the future would hold, so the title was literal for us,” says Gallagher. What of Our Future also proves a touch ironic, they explain, as the calendar creeps towards 2012. With this in mind, we wonder, what’s the point of success and fame? “Well,” says Gallagher smiling, “We might as well go out on top.”

OMG, It’s Ida Maria!

Scandinavian punk princess Ida Maria (pronounced eeh-dah) has a message for all you men out there: She likes you so much better when you’re naked, so get ready to drop trou. Hailing from Nesna, Norway (and subsequently managing her own record label of the same name), this 24-year old blue-eyed beauty just finished rocking SXSW and will soon to be shredding up at Coachella to promote her new album Fortress Round My Heart. You may recognize her hit single “Oh My God” from Gossip Girl promos. I sat down with Ida to discuss what a nice guy Perez Hilton is, what it’s like to be diagnosed with synesthesia (a neurological condition that allows her to “hear colors” and “see music”), and the number of guys she would like to see naked (pretty much all of them).

What was your SXSW experience like? Because of all these new rules and stuff, we had some trouble to get in to the country because we didn’t have all the papers ready. So I unfortunately had to cancel two shows. It was pretty stupid. I came the last day, on Saturday, so I had like, 16 interviews in one day, and then no sleep for 3 days. It was just crazy. And then we went on stage at 3 o’clock in the morning. Kanye West came up and stole my spot. I was so ready, and they pushed it, and they pushed it. It was a drag, it was like, three hours late. And I didn’t even get to watch Kanye behind the curtains, so I was very depressed that night.

Did you get to the Perez Hilton party? Yeah, that was the place that I played after Kanye, but I was very tired. Perez was very nice as a person. He’s a bit like me — revenge of the nerds.

Was it fun to meet all the celebrities there? You know what? I’m terrified of celebrities. I met Kate Moss today, and I just blushed and ran to the elevator. I’ve met her boyfriend, though, and he’s nice. I just enjoy to hang out with farmers and fishermen, and people who know how to kill a cod.

You have a song called “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked” — did you write that about someone specifically? Yea, it’s the single here right now, isn’t it? Well, what can I say about it? It’s just because I have seen a couple of naked men in my life, and I really enjoy it. And I have to add that I like guys with a bit of a belly and hair on their chest, I like guys with no hair on their chest, I like guys with muscles, or with really thin, skinny arms. I like guys with curly hair, blond hair, brown hair. Boys in general — get your clothes off.

Can you talk to me about your synesthesia? It’s like sensory dyslexia. Instead of getting a sound, I get a color of the sound. And it took me a long time in my life to come to terms with it. I think I was 19, so I had a big confusion in my life. It was actually acknowledged as a psychological condition in 1999. My mum’s got exactly the same thing, so she was kind of telling me when I grew up, you know, there’s nothing with you, you’re just a bit overloaded.

You have a very rambunctious stage persona. Are you like that in your everyday life? It’s just very hard to talk about it. I just play the music, and whatever happens, happens. I enjoy it very much and I feel very much from it, because it’s definitely something I love to do. But, I guess when we played in Boston I was very shy, I just wanted to hide behind the amps all the time, and I think the audience noticed. I think the shows we do are very different. Sometimes they are absolutely crazy, and wacky, and people walk like, 10 meters back from the stage, and other times, I don’t know. It’s like life, you know? It’s never the same, it changes all the time.

Are you looking forward to playing at Coachella? That’s huge. Yeah, I heard, everybody just says that it’s big. I’m looking forward to it.

Are you looking forward to seeing anyone in particular when you’re there? Oh, there’s so many good bands playing there. There’s a lot of cool girls. I heard Maya — M.I.A — just confirmed that she’s going to play, and you know, she’s been pregnant. She’s like, my biggest hero. And who else? Lyyke Li, from Sweden, she’s also very good. God bless her, I hope she doesn’t drink too much. I know I’ve got like, really pale skin and stuff, but I’ve got like, 50 sunscreen. I really do. As you can see, I’ve never got any sun on my body, really. I need the sun.

Where do you like to go out in New York, or any other cities? Pianos — it’s in the Lower East Side. I like Patsy’s, the Italian place, because you can see these old mafia guys. And this really good Mexican place in Brooklyn, but I forgot the name. And, if you ever go to Manchester, Big Hands — it’s this tiny, tiny little pub, and it’s really narrow, and they play the best music, and you have the best nights.

Industry Insiders: Danny Abrams, Average Diner

We’ve all got recession fever, but no other business is feeling the heat quite like the service industry. While most restaurateurs are agonizing at empty tables and fleeting sales, Danny Abrams — co-owner of Smith’s and head honcho at The Mermaid Inn — has been enjoying the perks of a flourishing eatery with a new executive chef (Doug Psaltis, formerly of Country, The French Laundry, and Mix) and a creative menu with comfort-foodie fare. Abrams tells us how he started out in the business, the ways in which the landscape of New York restaurants is changing, and why being a nice guy and an “average diner” have put him at the top of his game.

Smith’s is now in its second year; you recently installed Doug Psaltis as executive chef. What’s that been like? I’ve never had this kind of radical change. Bringing in somebody who has pedigree and has experience is something new for me. I just like working with a professional chef. Sometimes, you know, finding a good chef, or finding a good partner, is like finding a girlfriend — you’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs. Sometimes you go through a few people, and you meet a bunch of people, and they all speak well, they speak a good game, but when it comes down to producing a great product and running a professional kitchen … it’s rare.

Doug’s only been there for a few short weeks. How’s it going? It’s a process. We’ve definitely seen progress on our end. Our regulars have enjoyed the changes that we’ve made. Bringing Doug certainly has gotten some interest for Smith’s. We’ve made a lot of progress and some great strides in a short amount of time, and I just expect it to get better and better.

What are some of your favorite things off the new menu? I love the beef tartare. A lot of the times you get beef tartare and it’s a little bit mushy, and I think the way Doug cuts it, it’s a little bit chewy and chunky, which I like. I love the chicken and grits.

You’ve done really well with serving comfort food classics in New York. Starting out as a restaurateur, was this the kind of food you wanted to serve? Well, I will say that I try and build restaurants, and I try to work with food that I like to eat, and I’m a pretty average diner. So if I like it, other people will like it. I don’t really like to reinvent the wheel.

And how did you get started wanting to be a restaurateur and working in the service industry? I was a bartender for years, and I opened my first bar in 1991, and that did well. Then, I opened a dance club, and that did well. Then, we opened a place called Prohibition on the Upper West Side; I opened a restaurant called Citrus, and luckily, that did well. So, I went from bars and clubs and kind of jazz lounge environments to wanting to be in the restaurant business. The first real restaurant that I opened was the Red Cat, on 10th Avenue. I got a taste for being able to provide an environment that people enjoyed and a product that people enjoyed.

When you started out with that first bartending gig, did you know you wanted to be in the service industry? No, I just wanted to make some money and have enough to go out and have fun.

It seems like a lot of people who end up in a career in the service industry, besides chefs and restaurateurs, don’t always start out with that goal in mind. What about this line of work’s so appealing to so many people? That’s a great observation because a lot of people that wound up in the restaurant business didn’t really plan on it. They didn’t go to college for it, they didn’t think when they were a kid, “I can’t wait to grow up and be a restaurateur,” or, you know, run a hotel or something like that. There’s something about the romantic aspect of it, where you’re kind of the host of the party every night, and there’s something really interesting about providing an environment where, at the end of a long, stressful day in one of the most difficult cities on the planet, people can come and let their hair down and enjoy what you’re providing.

You’ve worked in the service industry since 1986. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen, especially in the New York restaurant landscape? The biggest change is peoples’ expectations, which have been heightened, and there’s so much more competition for your dollar. In the past, if you provided one or two of those elements, they could still kind of have a good experience.

And now? Right now, everything has to gel: The service has to be great, the environment has to be great, the product has to be great.

Is this kind of economically and fiscally conservative dining continuing as a trend? We’re going to get through this. I think that it’s cyclical, and I think that the first quarter of ’09 is going to be the most difficult quarter for the recession. It’ll shake out some of the operators that got in for the wrong reasons, or thought they could get by without providing the service that people were expecting.

What’s exciting that’s going on in food right now, to you, in New York? The big trend I see is the fruition of very small, chef-driven restaurants. The days of opening a $5 million, 200-seat extravaganza have certainly fallen by the wayside. If you see the success of restaurants like Perilla and Market Table, and places like that — Franny’s, in Brooklyn — there’s been a lot of owner-operated, chef-operated restaurants, as opposed to restaurateur-operated restaurants, and that’s really cool.

Examples? You get a chef like Joey Campanaro from The Little Owl, who is at that restaurant all the time trying to make it better, and coming up with great food and great ideas, and Mikey Price from Market Table, who’s putting in 16 hours a day, really watching over his business, and that’s great; that’s getting back to the spirit of opening a restaurant.

When you’re not at your restaurants, where do you like to grab a bite? You know, I’m lucky — between my girlfriend and I, we have four restaurants, and we often go to the restaurants that we own. I do like Market Table, Mikey does a great job. I like Little Owl, I love Perilla.

And again, I had such an amazing meal at Smith’s, I can’t even tell you. Everything was on point, just proficient on all levels. I’m really glad you enjoyed it, you know, that makes me feel great, and it just reaffirms that working with Doug has been the right choice. That’s great, I appreciate that, really. Be sure to tell all your friends.

French Electroclasher Sebastien Tellier Brings Sexy Back, Just in Time

There are some performers who shy away from discussing sexuality, and then there are those who just thrust themselves into it. Parisian singer and sex-enthusiast Sébastien Tellier is definitely the latter. A true chameleon of his craft, this Frenchman changes his persona and his point of interest with each new album—most notably, from Politics in 2005, to Sexuality in 2008—allowing a sky’s-the-limit approach for his future work. Though thoroughly in the midst of preparing for his upcoming 13-date North American tour (which kicks off tomorrow night at Greenwich Village’s own Le Poisson Rouge), Tellier took some time to answer some of our most burning questions.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? A musician. In fact, the dream of my father and my mother was that I become a musician, and that was my dream, too. So, from the beginning of my life, the dream of my life was to be a musician. And maybe, I had another dream too, and it was to be a TV-show producer. Like, Who’s the Boss?, Melrose Place—all these kinds of TV shows. It’s so wonderful because it’s show business; it’s a show and it’s a story, but it’s comfortable because you go everyday to the same office.

So, you knew that you always wanted to be in show business? Yes. But, I’m not good in business, so for me, it’s better to be a musician.

Are you superstitious? Not really. Just a little. But, when I see a black cat I can say to myself, “Bad luck today,” but in fact, it’s never true. For example, in a hotel, I don’t want to have a certain room.

On the 13th floor? Yes, but I forget very quickly. If I see a black cat, for 1 or 2 seconds I say, “Oh, bad luck,” but just as quickly, I forget about it.

What’s the first album you ever bought? It was an album of the Jackson 5. It was not an album; it was a compilation of tracks of the Jackson 5. I was very young, and I wanted to have an album of Michael Jackson, and I was really disappointed that it was not just Michael Jackson, and I did not know the songs. I remember I was crying.

If you could have any superpower, what would you choose? Maybe to eat, but not become fat.

That’s a good one. It’s a big dream for me, full of banana splits and ice cream.

What’s your favorite food? I love food for children.

Like candy? Candy, chocolate, ice cream. That sort of thing.

What is your guilty pleasure? Maybe eating cake in front of the TV. You know, because I really lose my time when I do that. I have no time to watch TV, but sometimes it’s so good to do nothing and just to be a vegetable in front of the world. Yes, eating cake in front of TV.

Have you ever been arrested? Yes, in the South of France, but for nothing very bad. I was in a school for children, and I went into the school to steal plates in the kitchen of the school to play Frisbee.

When you get good news, who’s the first person you tell? Oh, my girlfriend.

Oh, you do have a girlfriend? Yes, I have a girlfriend. And when I’m in love, in fact, my girlfriend becomes everything for me. And usually, you know, my real world—it’s between me and my girlfriend. When I’m alone and single, I’m very, very sad, and I become depressed and everything, but it’s the opposite when I’m in love with my girlfriend—it’s complete happiness on earth, so it’s wonderful. So, yes, if I have good news I call my girlfriend, but if I have bad news, I call my girlfriend, too.

Is your girlfriend with you for your upcoming tour? Not really, because it’s a hard life to be on tour. But, at the beginning of the U.S. tour this time, she comes with me, between New York and Boston. But usually, it’s hard to take a shower because there is no shower on the tour bus. So it’s very hard to wash your hair and everything. It’s not very comfortable for a woman. Just one woman in front of a lot of guys—it’s not very comfortable for them. But, sometimes she comes for a party or for a special gig, or a special venue, but not on the tour.

So, what made you sway from singing about politics to singing about sex? It’s because it’s a kind of quest through my career, through my music. I’m looking for who is the ‘Master of Puppets’, you know? And the Master of Puppets, for me, at the very beginning it was family, and after that it was politics, and after that it was sex. And now, I don’t know what is more important than sex. It’s really hard to find a new master.

How many times a day do you think about sex? Almost all along the day. I talk about sexuality all day long with the musicians, to explain the music. And, with interviews, with journalists, I talk about sex a lot because they have a lot of questions about sex. And, from the fans, from the audience, I get asked a lot of questions about sex, or maybe some women now think that I’m a specialist? But, I’m the opposite of a specialist. I’m the opposite because for sexuality, I play a role. Like, they think I’m a great seducer, or something like that, but I’m not at all like that, you know, I’m in love with my girlfriend. I’m very straight in love and with my relationship, but I talk about sex all day long, and sexuality, and for me it’s a pleasure because I don’t like to talk anymore about what I saw on TV, or politics—I don’t care about anything, now, but sex.

What’s the first job that you ever had? It was in a kind of house for an old person. I would read books for the old persons, and it was just before they died. It was a really hard job with very few money. It was terrible, it was really terrible. And after that I was a worker on buildings. I worked on the Stade de France [national stadium of France], just to try to make the ground very flat. That was my job, and it was terrible, as well. It was a full job and I was so tired every night. I’m so happy now to play music, and I can make money with music.

Do you have any tattoos? No, tattoos. I can’t have tattoos, because year after year, I’m not the same guy—I try to be different. For each year, for each album, I try to be a different person, so I try to change my taste, I change my apartment, I change my car, I change my clothing. I try to change everything to become somebody else. And so, if I have a tattoo, it’s impossible to forget a tattoo, so for me, it’s not good because I change my mind too often.

Out of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, which could you not live without? I think sex, because sex is full of life. With sex it’s wonderful, because it’s like pleasure plus babies. Life is a story full of sex. You know, you have music, but music is not really important. And drugs are not important, too. When I was a teenager, I was full of drugs—it was a kind of pleasure to me, to take some LSD—but now I am bored by drugs. I don’t care about drugs. Sometimes, of course, I smoke weed, but I don’t really like drugs.

What is the craziest place you’ve ever had sex? It’s not so crazy, but usually, when I have some days to go on holiday, I go in the North of Italy. I go on a wonderful lake—le Lac de Garde, it’s a wonderful lake in the North of Italy—and I rent a little boat and I go in the middle of the lake with my girlfriend, and we make love in the middle of the lake under the sun. It’s really wonderful. Not so crazy, just a great pleasure. But usually, you know, in the toilets of discothèques. But, nothing special, you know; I’m not a beast, I don’t need to fuck everywhere. For me, the lake, a boat, and the sun, is heaven.

Do you have any sex advice to give? If you want to reach the real pleasure, the eye-level of pleasure, you have to be a gentle person. That’s the secret of good sex—you have to be gentle.

So, you are playing the Coachella Festival this year? Yes, for me it is a dream to play this festival, as a French guy. It’s a dream because it’s like, a very famous festival, but for the French it’s very hard to go because it’s very far, unfortunately. I’m very proud as a French musician to play there, because usually, French musicians don’t play outside France—maybe Belgium, or Switzerland, but that’s nothing special. So, yes, I’m very proud to play, and for me, that will be the point on the tour for me. It will be like a wonderful gift at the end.

Green Day Takes ‘American Idiot’ to the Stage

Green Day will soon be joining the ranks of big-ticket acts to make the jump from CD to stage, when their new musical American Idiot debuts this fall at the Berkeley Repertory Theater in California. Adapted from their Grammy-winning album of the same title, American Idiot is slated to open the theater’s 2009-2010 season, running from September 4th to October 11th. According to Green Day’s website, “the musical is a collaboration between Green Day — the Bay Area rock trio consisting of Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool — and Michael Mayer, the Tony Award-winning director of Spring Awakening.

When their American Idiot album released in 2004, the boys of Green Day enjoyed critical acclaim to the likes of being compared with their rock idols, The Who (whose rock-opera Tommy became a Broadway hit when it opened in 1993). Though a Broadway run for Idiot has yet to be announced, Mayer believes that the show will go on to play elsewhere, beyond its scheduled dates at the Berkeley Rep. Says Armstrong of the upcoming performance: “It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s what I love about it. When people see it, it’s going to be my wildest dream.”

Australian Sensation Gabriella Cilmi Comes to America

If we have Avril Lavigne, then Australia has Gabriella Cilmi. With six ARIAs (Australian Recording Industry Association Awards) in her pouch and a fresh nomination at the BRIT awards for the 2009 International Female Solo Artist, the 17-year-old Australian pop star is poised to take the US by storm. Kicking off 2009 as one of VH1’s first You Oughta Know selections has put her in the national spotlight, but that’s just another day for a girl whose debut album, Lessons to be Learned, has already soared to the top ten in several countries around the world. Confident and passionate, Gabriella made some time to speak with me about her hit single — “Sweet On Me” — her love for Led Zeppelin, and those inevitable comparisons to Amy Winehouse.

Are you enjoying New York? New York is just amazing. It doesn’t matter where you are. You just look up, and there’s the Empire State Building. You’re like, okay. You’re in a movie, or something.

And how old were you when you began singing? I used to sing around the house and just annoy everyone, like, as loud as I could. In the shower, in the bathroom, downstairs in the house, when I was shopping. Music was always something that was with me all the time.

Now you’re 17, and you were just featured as a VH1 “You Oughta Know” artist. How does that feel? It’s amazing. VH1 is something we get on cable TV, that you have to pay for. So really fun.

Have you noticed any change in your career since your single “Sweet On Me” released in the US? It’s just kind of starting out here, but at least I get to come. I’ve released it in the UK, and in Australia. And it’s nice to start somewhere new, so I’m really excited about this year.

And you’ve been just been nominated for a BRIT award? Yea, it’s pretty mental. I think I’m up against Pink and like, Beyoncé. How do you keep yourself sane, going against Beyoncé and Katy Perry?

Your album is called Lessons to be Learned. What lessons have you learned in this industry? A lot of people aren’t what they seem. A lot of things aren’t what they seem, but I’ve learned that this is what I really want to do, and you can learn more from traveling than you do in a classroom. And to speak up and say how you feel, because if you don’t tell people how you feel, they’re never going to know.

It’s impossible reading about you and not coming across a comparison to Amy Winehouse. How do you like that? I think it’s okay. The thing about Amy Winehouse is that she’s drawn attention to a lot of good female vocalists. Maybe people wouldn’t have spotted me if it wasn’t for her … she didn’t really inspire my album. I wrote it before I knew she existed.

So who did inspire you? A lot of different types of music. I love old blues recordings, like Blind Lemon Jefferson. And Robert Plant’s my idol, so I love Led Zeppelin. Houses of the Holy is my favorite album.