Desiree Tuttle, the pastry sous chef at Reynard in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has a tattoo of a croissant under her left ear. “Croissants are my jam, I love croissants,” she explained the other morning as she sliced one in half. “Most people don’t do this, they just bite right into the side or something. But you can see all these laminations—each one is a layer we put in there by hand.” Indeed, there’s an incredible geometry to it, like the rings on a sequoia. “It’s actually really hard to do, because we use this organic butter that’ll shingle if it doesn’t laminate properly. Then you won’t get those distinct croissant qualities, like the flaky layers.”
I thought I might do this while taking a bubble bath,” says Leslie Feist after inviting me into her room at the Lafayette House, a gas light-era hotel in New York’s East Village. Dressed in a cream-colored skirt and sweater with a braided belt dangling from her hip, the petite musician has apparently changed her mind, instead sitting on a couch next to a set of French doors opening onto a garden. Like her music, Feist appears both crafted and casual. Her pale blue eyes shift mercurially and are capable of registering stillness, shyness, and robust laughter within seconds. “Have you been to Maryam Nassir Zadeh?” she asks of the New York boutique. “She carries crazy, beautiful sweaters that I live in. Getting on a long flight with one of her sweaters is the best.”
Finding comfort in unlikely places is one of Feist’s regular preoccupations; her itinerant lifestyle has seen the 35-year-old Canadian singer move between locales with the kind of frequency usually reserved for dry, wind-borne plants. While she’s finally put down stakes in the Toronto area with “a place in the woods” and “several little apartments in the city” (the response to her call in “Mushaboom” for an idyllic home), she’s about to begin yet another tour in support of her new album, Metals. Her need for “very few things” serves her well. As she avers in the single “How Come You Never Go There,” physical objects don’t enrich her internal life. “The room’s full but hearts are empty,” she sings, “Like the letters never sent me.”
It’s been four years since Feist put out her last studio album, The Reminder, an outstanding effort for which she picked up four Grammy nominations, an iPod commercial, and an appearance on Sesame Street in which she teaches kids to count to four. It took time to quell the urge to respond to The Reminder, especially given its success. “It would have been like bouncing from one trampoline to the next,” says Feist, who started her first band, a punk outfit, at the age of 15. “I took the time off I needed.” After a year and a half, following her last tour, she felt a “healthy void” and a “familiar silence” that let her shed all remaining traces of that album’s success. “It was truly a new chapter.”
Metals bears Feist’s hallmark talent for arrangements, as well as her emotional, ambiguous lyrics. Yet it’s a dark and melancholic departure from The Reminder, the pop hooks of which rendered that album a favorite for remixes by the likes of the Postal Service, Bon Iver, and Chromeo. Luckily for Feist, her longtime collaborators, musicians Chilly Gonzales and Mocky, understood that she’s no one-trick pony, that The Reminder was just a taste of her musical potential.
“I brought them some new songs that had nothing to do with anything I’d done previously,” she says. Perhaps it was all those long winter evenings sitting in on sessions of shape note singing by local choirs, a tradition Feist says was brought over by Mayflower-era pilgrims. “It’s a bit fire and brimstone,” she says, smiling. Because of their long-standing “musical brotherhood,” Gonzales and Mocky were able to work with Feist’s needs, which, in this case, called for arranging the music beside a wood stove in a cabin, then jetting to the cliffs of Big Sur, where they holed up on a 350-acre heritage farm with the other members of the band, including keyboardist Brian LeBarton and percussionist Dean Stone. The “calm-pound,” as she describes it, also included a friend who worked at Brooklyn diner Marlow & Sons, and who prepared them meals and confections like fresh goat milk and lavender ice cream.
While The Reminder had a lot of “clean lines” and “stacks of vocals” interlaced above its rhythms like a “sonic loom,” in Metals, rhythm acts as a central core around which the melodies spin. “Boom, kaboom boom, kaboom, boom,” Feist interjects, lifting her hand and moving it rhythmically in a characteristically colorful audio and visual demonstration. “That’s the pulse that yanks the melodies down into it. It’s a lot more like a dust storm.” Another unexpected quality that came from recording the album live was catching the odd sounds produced in the room, which Feist was reluctant to clean up. “I loved hearing this sonic pressure,” she says. “It needed to happen. Cleaning up these songs would have been like giving them the wrong haircut.”
In a 2007 article, Gonzales told The New York Times, “I had 100 percent in my mind the idea that we should have as much material as possible that could be played on the radio or resonate with a huge bunch of people.” In retrospect, Feist says it’s funny to hear his comments about The Reminder given its subsequent success, since there was no way they could have planned for what happened.
This time around, if Feist played editor of Metals, Gonzales provided the rigor and drive that structured her creative flowerings. “Gonzo wears an Anthony Robbins set of glasses,” she says, referring to the famed life-coach guru. “He triangulates everything in the world as it relates to ambition. He has a real fascination with human motivation. He speaks of these things in Rocky-like terms.”
Feist fans expect a lot. While her first two albums were well-received, it was The Reminder that had crowds breaking into impromptu chants of “I Feel It All” at a concert in Mexico City, where she played with Broken Social Scene, a band of which she’s a sometime member. Says Gonzales, “On this album, Feist was emboldened by The Reminder’s big reach to jump even further. It’s a less conventional sound, so I admire her for using her bully pulpit to take even bigger musical risks.”
Our coffee arrives and Feist opens a cylindrical pack of sugar and sprinkles it gingerly a few times over her cup. “This is absurd,” she says, “but I like 20 grains of sugar. It just takes that tiny acrid edge off.” She tastes it, judging its edginess, and says, “That might be more like 30 grains.”
FEIST LIKES ABC Carpet & Home
Photography by Mary Rozzi
Williamsburg foodie destination Marlow & Sons is promoting an ethical approach to fashion. The restaurant, which butchers all of the animals it serves, is now introducing a line of leather goods. While it may sound bizarre for the eatery to be launching a namesake accessories line, the move is actually an extension of the restaurant’s commitment to sustainability. The bags are made from leather sourced from the pigs and cows that have been butchered in-house. What’s brewing in LA tonight?
On the other side of the U.S., “sixty-two artists have come together in Glendale to showcase art created with materials salvaged from Deukmejian Wilderness Park,” says Refinery 29 of a soon-to-open installation in Los Angeles. Among them: LA-based designer Corinne Grassini of Society For Rational Dress, who crafted a long white silk dress with an oversized black neck-piece for the occasion. Proceeds from the exhibition will go to benefit the Glendale Parks & Open Spaces Foundation. The opening party is tomorrow night, Saturday June 19, from 5-9 pm, and the show will stay up through July 24.
1. Naomi Campbell @ Interview magazine’s 40th anniversary party: I don’t know. I don’t really live here so much anymore. In London? I don’t live in London. I live in Russia. Favorite restaurant in Russia? Pushkin’s. 2. Chloe Sevigny @ Interview‘s 40th anniversary party: Depends on what I’m in the mood for. I like Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar in the East Village. I like Balthazar for oysters. I love Raoul’s. 3. Peter Brant @ Interview‘s 40th anniversary party: I would probably say the Four Seasons. I like that restaurant, but I have a lot of favorites. That’s, usually, a favorite of mine. There’s a lot of great things to eat there.
4. Linda Nyvltova @ Interview‘s 40th anniversary party: It’s going to be more restaurants. The pizza place, Vezzo, on 31st and Lexington. I love it. We go there all the time.
5. Brian Ermanski @ Interview‘s 40th anniversary party: Rose Bar. And I don’t really go out that much anymore. I love sitting outside Balthazar. And I don’t drink, so I don’t really like going out to drink a lot. I work a lot.
6. Sam Shipley @ Interview‘s 40th anniversary part: I really like Nancy Whiskey. That’s on the corner of 6th Avenue and Walker. We also love Lucky Strike. We also love Frank’s on 2nd Avenue and E. 6th Street.
7. Genevieve Jones @ Interview‘s 40th anniversary party: I like Café Select. I, usually, go anywhere I can walk downtown, so, like, Balthazar and coffee at Saturday Surf. I like N after work. What else? La Esquina.
8. Jessica Stam @ Interview‘s 40th anniversary party: Really, I just hang out at restaurants close to my house. I like to go to the new restaurant at the Jane Hotel [Café Gitane]. That’s really pretty because it overlooks the ocean. I like to go to Tompkins Square Park. The park itself? Yes.
9. Edward Droste @ Interview‘s 40th anniversary party: My apartment! I love Marlow & Sons. It’s a restaurant in Brooklyn. It’s one of my favorite places. I have friends that work there. I eat there all the time. And I love Mary’s Fish Camp restaurant in the West Village for seafood. But I don’t know anything about clubs, so … I’m good at food.
10. Mary-Kate Olsen @ Interview‘s 40th anniversary party: I’m not doing interviews tonight.
11. Pastor Joel Osteen @ Hezekiah Walker Presents: A Night of Hope and Prayer for Haiti: I ate at Rockefeller Center today, [near] the ice skating rink. In Houston, Texas, there’s a little Italian place that I love to eat at, not too far from my house. I don’t even know the official name of it. I like all kinds of different food.
12. Al Sharpton @ A Night of Hope and Prayer for Haiti: I have several favorite restaurants. I love, of course, Sylvia’s, but I also like to come downtown sometimes to Nello’s. I’m a salad eater now. I don’t eat meat anymore, so just salad and maybe good fish.
13. Congressman Eliot Engel @ AIPAC Northeast Regional Dinner: In the Bronx, when I was growing up, there were many, many, old, wonderful kosher delis, and they really all have disappeared, except for one in Riverdale, called Liebman’s, on W. 235th Street and Johnson Avenue. It’s an old-time New York kosher deli, and no matter where I’ve been around the United States – in Cleveland, in Pittsburgh, in Indianapolis, in Detroit – people say to me, ‘ Oh, you gotta go to this deli. It’s a real, authentic, Jewish-style deli.’ And I go there, and I always think, ‘Oh, my God, it’s so inferior to what we have in New York.!’ So that’s where I like to go.
14. Senator Chuck Schumer @ AIPAC Northeast Regional Dinner: My favorite places are in Brooklyn, and you’ll think this is funny, but Nathan’s is still one of my favorite restaurants for hot dogs and french fries. And go to the original Nathan’s in Coney Island — they taste better! But if you go to Fifth Avenue, and you go to Smith Street, you will have great, great restaurants. And we eat at a lot of them. Al Di La, we love very much. How do I pick my favorite? Best slice of pizza in Brooklyn is Roma Pizza on Seventh Avenue; I’ll tell you that. Here’s what I recommend: Po on Smith Street. It is just great!
15. Chris Blackwell @ Strawberry Hill, Jamaica: As I spend most of my time in Jamaica, when I go to New York, I love to check out wherever anybody is saying is a new place or is a great place. So, I’m not really a creature of habit, in going back to one restaurant, all the time. And in Jamaica? If you like the mountains, here is the best place, Strawberry Hill. If you like the sea and the beaches, there are three or four different places that are really good. There’s Port Antonio; and there’s a place called Frenchmen’s Cove, which is just stunningly beautiful. You can’t stay there; you can just visit and swim there. I have a property called Goldeneye, which is in Oracabessa. And then there’s a really nice hotel in Ocho Rios called Jamaica Inn. And Montego Bay is the other main area, and they have a couple of great hotels. One is Half Moon, and the other is Round Hill. And then there’s the South Coast, which has got a whole different feel. It’s, like as if you’ve gone to a different country. There’s a great place there called Jake’s. And Jake’s is, actually, a very casual type hotel, in a whole village area.
16. Daljit Dhaliwal @ History Makers conference: Right now I haven’t been doing an awful lot of entertaining, going out and being sociable. I just bought a new apartment and I’m learning how to use tools. I know how to use a screwdriver and I’m contemplating the electric drill. [There’s] some spackling, sanding and painting. I like to hang out in my neighborhood. Cafe Julienne, a bistro, serves wonderful French fare, nice hamburgers, great pate, nice cheeses, and good wine. In London, I love Notting Hill, Portabella Market — a fabulous place to hang out Saturday or any day of the week. Westborne Park, Grove and Road: West End. London is great for shopping.
● Le P’tit Paris Bistro (Windsor Terrace) – Windsor Terrace gets down with L.P.P. ● The Union Square Lounge (Union Square) – Relaunch of the lounge under Coffee Shop. Good for young’uns not yet out of the habit of partying in basements. ● Roman’s (Fort Greene) – Marlow and Diner peeps bring the white tile and marble to Ft. Greene.
David Macklovitch makes up half of the Montreal-bred, synth pop duo Chromeo, with his counterpart, P-Thugg (a.k.a. Patrick Gemayel). In the music world, he’s known as Dave 1: A dude who’s simultaneously studying for his PhD at Columbia, and getting read to drop an album next summer as a follow-up to 2007’s majorly-hyped album Fancy Footwork. Chromeo is playing one show this fall on October 16th at Irving Plaza to promote the mix they put together for the !K7 Records’ DJ-KiCKS series. And fortunate for Chromeo fanatics who simply cannot wait around until next summer, eager for some new tunes, the single “Night By Night” will be release through Green Label Sound on Wednesday, September 23rd for free download. We caught up with Dave 1 during mandatory study hours while he took a quick break from the books to talk about chicks and muzak (smooth rock, if you will).
What are you up to today? I’m at Columbia University, studying at the library. I’m working on my dissertation for a PhD in French Literature.
When are you delivering your dissertation? Hopefully in December, but at the latest in May.
How are you enjoying it? Good, good, it’s sort of stressful. Anybody who writes a dissertation goes a little crazy so, I think I’m there. I’m feeling a little bit of that but I gotta do it.
How have you been balancing working on your PhD and your music career? It’s been hard over the last couple of years, but by now I’m used to it and I’ve always done music stuff on the side. It’s gotten a bit harder but I just do one or the other and that’s pretty much it. Now, I’m working on the new Chromeo record and we have the !K7 Records’ DJ-KICKS series release and I’m going to do a lot of touring over the weekend so it’s always both.
Are you going to give some previews of your new material during the October 16th DJ-KICKS show at Irving Plaza? I think we’re going to do that the Eagles’ “(I Can’t Tell You Why”) cover that we did on the DJ-KICKS album. And then we’re going to do another song, which is on our next record, and it’s probably going to be the first song that we’re leaking or releasing for free in the fall. I guess it’s like a preview of what our next records going to sound like, I mean, it’s not too far off of the last one. Our influences haven’t been changed dramatically. The new stuff we’ve been working on is maybe a little more like late ‘70s than of just ‘80s. There’s a bit of a ‘70s flavor and maybe a classic rock element here and there but it’s still our recognizable sound. It’s hard to talk about it because we haven’t finished but for us it’s mostly about trying new things.
And what about the subjects of your songs? It’s always chicks. That doesn’t change much.
What should we be expecting in terms of sound? This album is a little more like, Kenny Loggins, with the Kenny Loggins Michael Mcdonald thing. We’ve been listening to a lot of rock bands when they had to do the mandatory disco record, you know. Like when the Rolling Stones did Miss You and when KISS did, I Was Made For Loving You. There’s a hidden clumsiness to those records. They’re just classic rock groups that wanted to get funky because they were being pressured to, and the results were often very endearing. I think that has influenced the new stuff we’ve been working on a little bit.
Have you been pressured to get funkier? No. When we started working on this album, P was really into a smooth rock phase. But really into it. He was going beyond Ken Loggins. His stuff was sounding like, Air Supply or something. It got a little out of control and I was like, “Don’t forget that for most people we’re a dance band so we’ve got to put that element into it.” It’s about balancing it all out.
Have you incorporated any new gadgets? We ended up buying a new keyboard. We’re always kind of refurbishing our synths collection because everything we do is with analog synthesizers and analog drum machines and all this vintage gear so we’re always buying new pieces of equipment that get incorporated into our songs right away.
Stories about songwriting for this album? An interesting thing about this new record is that we load it all, or most of it just on piano or on vocals and then we transform the song into your typical Chromeo song but we’ve been writing them a lot just on the piano. I think that’s a new thing for us.
Are you sick of playing any of the songs from Fancy Footwork? No
You still love all of them? I like them. Every time I play them it just reminds me of how proud I am of what we accomplished on the last record. It’s a modest accomplishment because we didn’t sell that many records but considering where we came from before and how things changed for us, I’m very proud of it. Where do you hang out in New York? I don’t go out that much, but my little brother across the street in Williamsburg, so we hang out in little restaurants in our neighborhood.
Now, I’m going to give you subjects for songs and you have to give them titles. Okay, that’s easy.
The first scenario is that you accidentally buy your girlfriend a vacuum for her birthday and she finds it offensive how you view her role in the household. That song would be called “Suck It Up”.
The second one is you fall in love within the first two miles of a cab ride with the female driver. That would be called “Love and Cab Fare”.
The third one is you buy a pair of jeans, you think they’re amazing, you walk around the store and all the sales people are telling you how great you ass looks but when you bring them home you realize you bought girls jeans. Yeah, that’s tough. That song would be called “In-jean-ue”.
Tommy Saleh, creative director for New York’s Soho Grand and Tribeca Grand hotels, is the mellow curator of coolness who’s been keeping both downtown institutions grand since they opened in 1996 and 2000, respectively. With a keen eye for talent, the soft-spoken, Egyptian-born Saleh consistently hosts the most groundbreaking musicians, artists, and scene-making cultural figures at his twin lairs. If you run into Saleh at a party in New York or LA or Istanbul or Marrakesh or London — you know you’re in the right place.
What do you need to know to do your job? Many accomplished people don’t know what they want. They’re too busy to know. It’s being their entertainment consultant, not just supplying what they ask for but letting them know what they want. It’s knowing that when they ask for a Japanese restaurant recommendation that you send them to Hasaki and not Nobu because Nobu is Asian fusion. It’s knowing what that particular person really wants.
How have these hotels remained successful? It’s not just about the people who come at stay at the hotel for us. It’s about the people who live around us.
How’d you start in the business? I have been working in hotels since my college years. I lived in Santa Barbara and Honolulu. I loved being a concierge and using the seven languages that I speak. I’m not a promoter but I always like a good party and feel there’s a lack of good parties. Back then there were good parties. People weren’t just looking to capitalize or cash in. There weren’t the situations where this guy would never come in but he is willing to buy this many bottles. So they’d let him in and act like his friend. There are people who stuck to their ideas like Nur Khan. I didn’t sell out. After 9/11, everyone was doing bottle service, and I wanted to give people value for their money, so we started doing shows.
What kind of shows? Bands like Bloc Party, Soulwax, Mud, Milo, Hot Chip, Peaches, and Miss Kitten. We wanted to give people entertainment, and we had them before people ever heard of them. We did events with Visionaire and Chanel and did it downtown style.
What are some of the special events that you handle for the hotels? We have a movie theater and have film events that support the local community. There’s the gallery where we do four proper art installations a year, and we have bands play in the Sanctum regularly. We have 15 fashion shows during Fashion Week. Then I also oversee the magazine that has a quarter million subscribers. We also do an event called “New York, New York” every six months in Paris. We do it with Derek Blasberg from Style.com. All New York-originated companies get involved, and we fly everyone involved over.
What was your first New York job? My first job was as a concierge at the Soho Grand. It was the year the hotel opened, 1996. Being a concierge is all about connections, getting tickets for every sports event, every music concert — sold out or not — getting a plane at a moments notice to fly to an island. I had those connections and still do. I can make things happen.
Your favorite thing about New York style? New York has become like Sex and the City with everyone walking around in Jimmy Choo shoes thinking they’re so cool. These people have no taste. They just go to the Chole store and buy a whole outfit. This has been going on in New York for the past ten years, but it’s also been going on in London, Paris, and Spain. I like it when it is a Chanel dress with YSL shoes and vintage accessories. That is what true New Yorkers do. People can have no money but get creative.
Which city has it right? In London they’re so passionate about music and fashion. Berlin is full of either rave-type places or more Sex and the City places. The music is mostly techno and soulless. Barcelona is kind of dorky. I still like the music that comes from New York, and Stockholm produces great music. Cities who produce good music seem to get it.
Your favorite city? No matter how bad New York gets there is still such variety and accessibility. You can still go to five or six places until you find what you’re in the mood for that night, because of New Yorkers themselves. New Yorkers talk about the little designer whose dresses they love. They talk about an indie band they heard in Brooklyn. They talk about the tiny Italian restaurant that has the best manicotti.
What is on your radar music-wise? New Rock infused with electronica. Kitsune, Friendly Fires, Phoenix.
Who are your favorite artists? Kenzo Minami, Nisian Hughes, Poppy De Villeneuve.
What are you doing tonight? Going to John DeLucie’s restaurant on Charles Street.
Something people don’t know about you? I haven’t even cooked toast.
The French are better than we simple Americans at many things (staying thin, being fashionable, appearing cultured), but most importantly, the French know their food. Alexandre Cammas took his inherent French penchant for dining to new heights when he founded the gastronomic movement, Le Fooding, in Paris almost a decade ago. On September 25th and 26th, Le Fooding invades New York for their first stateside appearance. Le Fooding d’Amour Paris-New York is centered upon 6 renowned chefs from New York and 6 from Paris cooking for charity (Action Against Hunger) at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center. Tickets are inexpensive, the idea behind the event is monumental and with the talent in the cooking arena — Yves Camdeborde (Le Comptoir de la Relais), Inaki Aizpitarte (Le Chateaubriand), William Ledeuil (Ze Kitchen Galerie), Alberto Herraiz (Fogón), Stephane Jego (L’Ami Jean) and Christophe Pelé (La Bigarrade), plus David Chang (Momofuku), Julie Farias (General Greene), Daniel Boulud with Olivier Muller (db Bistro), Wylie Dufresne (wd-50), Sean Rembold (Marlow & Sons) Riad Nasr (Minetta Tavern) — it’s physically impossible for the food to be anything less than superb. Alex and his event coordinator, Zoé Reyners, give BlackBook a sneak peek.
What is Le Fooding, the movement? Zoé Reyners: It started 9 years ago in Paris while Alex was a food writer. He used the term fooding in an article to rhyme with fueling. It was unintentionally expressing what he felt about gastronomy at the time in France. Back then, it was a very regulated, very serious matter. Alex was fed up with this and wanted to inject some feeling into it. That’s why he ran with fooding. The idea was well-liked by the press and people started talking about that word. With a bunch of his food writer friends — who had the same feelings about food at the time — Alex decided to use this word “fooding” as a banner for what they were thinking. They held the first event with friends. It was a casual thing to do with new chefs, but the media attention surrounding the first event showed that this was something necessary, and something that people agreed with. Events were organized more often. The website was founded, a phone line, and an office were set up. Step by step it became a real company. There is now a team of 50 writers working for the annually distributed Le Fooding guide. The first completely independent issue was put out last year. Before that, it was as a supplement for larger magazines.
When you got started, what was the reaction of your target audience? Alexandre Cammas: The young French people responded very well and quickly to what we were doing, but it was more difficult to get attention from the old-school chefs and old-school food writers because Le Fooding was different and new. We weren’t just food writers … we started to be involved in concrete things. Normally food writers don’t take risks and straight criticize what’s good and not good. For the first time, we took some risks, and we organized events.
How do you decide on restaurants to review for the publication? Alex: The criteria to select a restaurant in our guide, or for our events, is after we have dinner, we ask ourselves if we want to come back to a restaurant. If so, that’s a good restaurant. You can explore this question, not only with three-star Michelin-guide restaurants, but you can ask the same question for pizza parlors, for bistros, for cafés.
Who are the people who explore this question? Alex: Naturally, it’s the people who are curious, who are open-minded to the taste of the time and to tastes of the time. If you’re straight-minded, if you just like one sort of cuisine, Le Fooding doesn’t much care for your type. We make the guides and the website for people who are curious, like we are.
Why did you choose to introduce this concept to New York? Zoé: The question people usually ask us is, “What’s new for New Yorkers because this spirit already exists here?” I think the event is actually very different from the kind of events organized in New York.
Alex: A guide is a guide, but we’re pairing our guide with the charity event. It’s quite different from TimeOut or from BlackBook.
Is advertising in the guide created in-house? Zoé: We don’t create the advertising, but we have graphic designers handling much of the advertising so that it’s not completely different from our illustrations, the text, or the spirit.
Alex: There’s definitely a spirit. The guide is funny, and you can just read it for pleasure. You aren’t supposed to just want to look in it for an address of a restaurant. For the events, it’s the same. We started in Paris with events. Therefore, we decided to come to New York and start with events too.
What do we need to know about the event? Alex: The event we produce in New York City will be very different from the events that you know surrounding food. It’ll be at P.S.1. We usually do our events in art centers. The spirit is linked to the idea that food is not only food. It can be about the atmosphere and the culture that surrounds it. Also, it’s not only star chefs that you have to pay lots to eat their food. We don’t come with the most famous chefs of France, but we come with the ones who are alive in Paris.
Zoé: I think people know them, but they aren’t the mythical chefs. They’re active, innovative, creative chefs.
Tell me about the graphic design aspect. Alex: We’ll create a collector’s menu. Each chef will be represented by one graphic designer. The chefs of Paris will be represented the best graphic designers of Paris; and the New York chefs will be represented by designers from New York. Some of the designers are: Ich & Kar, Change is Good, Gianpaolo Pagni, Helène Builly, Vanessa Verillon, Nicholas Blechman, Tim Tomkinson, Jan Wilker, Paul Sahre, Jeanne Verdoux, Christoph Niemann, Andre and So Me.
Will the chefs contribute any ideas to the design of the menu, or is it completely up to the designer? Zoé: The designers meet the chefs. They’ll taste their food. They try to understand their spirit, their way of being, their humor, and then they are inspired to create a design in which they are completely free to do whatever they want.
When will people start buying tickets? Alex: The other thing that is different is the price. It’s a price accessible for all the people who like food and who like this sort of party spirit, and not necessarily for the people who have a lot of money. They’re $30, alcohol not included.
And once inside? Zoé: Guests have the choice to go to 6 different chefs each night, and taste amazing food. It’s a huge meal for $30 and it’s a distinguished chef’s meal. From 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., the venue will be open only to VIPs on the guest list and for around 200 people that will have $60 VIP tickets, with Veuve Clicquot champagne included. The VIP space will be open from 6 p.m. to 11:30, whereas the rest of the venue will be closed at 10 p.m. Besides approximately 100 tickets each night, all the tickets will be available on the 15th of September on the Le Fooding website. Before that day, some tickets will be available if you have a secret code. Alex: We’ll also have DJ’s spinning in the VIP area and in the general admission area, including Paul Sevigny and Kolkhoze from Le Baron in Paris.
It’s a cold, soggy June afternoon in Williamsburg. After getting drenched in curtains of rain, I run into Marlow & Sons and eventually sit down with a cup of coffee and a brownie the size of a cinder block. A few minutes later, Martha Wainwright joins me with a coffee and a slab of strawberry almond pound cake. We both take turns lamenting the awful weather, but find it makes for the perfect ambiance when getting down to business, discussing Édith Piaf and her staging of the legendary singer’s more obscure songs at Dixon Place, along with the accompanying live record, due out this fall.
What inspired you to dive into Édith Piaf’s back catalog? When did you realize you wanted to stage this tribute? It’s not that I never really wanted to — that’s not right. My producer Hal Willner is this innovative guy and had approached me a few years ago. And he said, “You know you should do a record of Édith Piaf songs.” And I said, “Oh it’s kind of been done.” She’s quite poplar, obviously. The film had just come out or was about to come out. Since then there’s been a musical. I was like, I don’t know that it’s quite right. He thought of me because I speak French because of the way I sing. I was the only person in his mind who he thought I could approach this material. Not trying to emulate her completely — but bring something new to it as well. So he sent me 300 songs. And I started listening. I realized there were so many songs I hadn’t heard. I thought I knew Piaf quite well. She was a huge influence on me as a singer — since I was a young girl, growing up in Montréal. I listened to her since the age of 8, 9, 10 years old. The first time I went to Père Lachaise, I only went to her grave.
I was definitely totally influenced by her, but felt she was too large a figure to do a show of. Then, in listening to the material and sort of seeing these lesser known and rare songs and listening to these incredible arrangements, I put together a band of musicians who are a little sort of off-center, a little quirky. Like a downtown New York sound. And I said, “Let’s do some shows and see what comes out.” We picked 12-13 songs. As I did our shows — I did two shows over about a year period — I realized that it was really working and A. it was working and B. there was something brilliant about the fact that it glued together in a concise way, being Piaf stuff.
How did you determine what was quirky or left-field? I like to sing standards and old songs. But I’ve always been afraid of sounding too much like Adult Contemporary. Doing it straight, like Rod Stewart or something. I felt that Piaf’s arrangements were already crazy, because they have such a European twist. It’s really different from American standards from that time. Stuff with crazy flute sounds and horns doing really off-kilter things. So I went to my friend Doug Wieselman — of Yuka Honda and the downtown scene. He can play straight up music, but also can play experimental music. I trusted him to lead us to something that was beautiful or melodic and representative of the song. And if there was a “noise” element, we let that happen. And not be totally afraid of that. It was a more downtown feel. I think it suits well where we’ve done the shows.
Do you feel pressured because in choosing Piaf’s rarer work, you may be overlooking the more iconic music that people want to hear? I don’t want to say that no one has sung Piaf’s songs already. But I don’t want to act as Édith Piaf. I don’t want to go up there with the looking sad, pretending to be drunk, with the dark wig on. It’s about the material and the brilliance of the material. She is the glue of it all. What’s so interesting about Édith Piaf is that she asked people to write songs for her. Some of whom didn’t write songs, some of whom were poets, or writers, or friends of hers. So the material is very, very poetic. Of course there are one or two people will recognize. There are some really great songs and they’re great for a damn reason. I’m not going to do songs like “La vie en rose.” They’re too iconic to Édith. For me, they’re almost untouchable. Not say someone else couldn’t do a great job. A song like I’m going to be doing, like “La Foule” — people will recognize, so it’s not a complete, “What’s this?” at every turn.
And why a live record? In doing the shows, I felt the cohesiveness of the Piaf thing really worked. In doing the shows, I realized the record should be live. I think there was an energy that happened. And a tension and an energy in the music that really worked. Me trying, fumbling through these words, reading the words, trying to get through the material. It’s so fast and it’s in French, which isn’t my first language. It’s quite stressful. That sort of created an urgency. A few months ago, when I said to Hal, “Let’s make this record and let’s make it live,” this to me, this is the best way to do this material. I will make a French record down the road.
So, have you always had a desire to record French music, but found yourself at odds, because you’ve been recording what’s classified as “alternative music”? How do you reconcile that? When Hal came to me to ask me to do the Piaf songs, my first instinct was “No.” And second was, “I should do a record of French songs.” French songs ranging from the last 100 years, French songs from 10 years ago, and French songs from 150 years ago. I like to sing covers. And I like to sing covers from different eras. From before the 1930s, from before the 1920s, coming up into the 1980s and 1990s. That might be in some ways a more interesting record. ‘Cause, yes, Martha Wainwright is a songwriter of distinct types of songs. As a singer, it’s fun to get out from behind the guitar.
Will you incorporate any visual cues inspired by Piaf on stage? There are two strikes against me in doing this. A live record which separates people — because people don’t necessarily love live records all the time. There’s a distance that’s created because the sound quality can be sort of further away. And then, it’s in French. Already, two things for an American or British audience that’s a separator. I thought it was really important to have visual elements to accompany this. We’re going to be filming. I’ll call it a DVD, but I like to call it a film, because in my mind it’s a film. I hired a guy called Jamie Catto who is in the band Faithless, who in their heyday, had a lot of projections. And he started making films about ten years ago. He made a film that was nominated for an Academy Award called One Giant Leap, where he traveled around the world recording musicians.
He was really into this idea. He approached me. I didn’t want a straight-up DVD where I’m in the theatre and there’s one thing and the next song and it fades into the next song. They can be really boring. We wanted to incorporate the visual element built-in. So I’ll be singing in front of projections. Each projection’s been chosen for each song, but we’re bringing it to New York rather than having the projections be in Paris. For instance, Piaf was a street singer. So one obvious thing — we have a projection on two walls in which I’m in the corner — is to put me in a street scene. Everything will be black and white and grainy and evocative of a different time. Other projections are in reference to some of the lyrics in the song. Or just something simple that’s very slow moving. And perhaps we’ll do shots where your focus is on my hands or on another musician. We want to edit it as a visual accompaniment to the music.
Have you found any similarities between Piaf’s work and your own work? I hope. I hope there are similarities. One of the things I find in learning this material. And singing covers. And singing other people’s material is that I learn a lot. I’m not someone who reads a lot of biographies or autobiographies. I’m not a very good fan of people. I don’t know a lot about different musicians’ lives. I have a blank canvas of where I’ve come from musically. So delving into someone like Piaf, hopefully I’m absorbing as much as I can. And it’ll later come out in my own music and I can draw parallels in my own work. Because it’s so beautiful.
What specifics? There are certain things about her that have always influenced me when I listened to her. The emotive sensibility of her voice. She’s an incredibly emotional singer and I’ve always been an incredibly emotional singer and pained singer. I like to sing about unrequited love, which she has many songs written about. It’s the loneliness and the darkness. It’s something you have to parallel between her and me in that way. A dramatic sensibility. Sort of a willingness to go to the edge and let people see you at your most vulnerable. Which sometimes, in pop music, people have a lot of façade. There’s a lot of make up and a lot of smiles. I think with Piaf, and with myself too, there’s a lot of falling apart that hopefully people can appreciate as being a part of life. It’s not that I think you want people to feel sorry for you or you want to be a victim. It’s a willingness to go to express those lonelier and sadder things.
What things apart from Piaf — cultural or historical — do you think has inspired you on this project? The most obvious connection is of course is the language. Because everything about French culture has to do with language. It’s what they’re obsessed with. It’s really the thing that defines them. They’re very proud about it. So the fact that I grew up speaking French at school, went to school in French, but I’m not French-Canadian. Instead of being completely in the French-Canadian cultural scenes, with an understanding of the language, I’m sort of able to have an international sense with the language.
I think that in French, their heyday, culturally, was with Édith Piaf at least in music. So hopefully I’m attaching myself onto that incredible era of French culture. Once again, doing it without wearing a beret and trying to. I don’t want to obviate it. I don’t want to set up Dixon Place like a fucking cabaret with coffee tables and a smoky vibe and have some absinthe. We’re going to do it like a performance show. It’s not about trying to create a cabaret feeling. It’s about trying to sing these songs ‘cause they’re really fucking hard to sing.
So, if you could be any Édith Piaf song, which one would you be? I’m thinking about the ones we’re doing, obviously. There’s a beautiful one, I find the melody is transfixing, the movement of it is transfixing. There’s one where you become the song. “La Foule” — it’s about a woman who gets caught up in the crowd, like a Mardi Gras scene. All of a sudden, she finds herself in the arms of a man and they’re dancing. And it’s incredibly romantic. This is the man of her dreams. She’s being completely transported by the crowd. All of a sudden, the crowd pushes the guy away and she loses him forever and she never finds him again. It’s about this moment that’s perfection. I identify with the longing — that it’s at your fingertips and then the loss of it. The air of the song and the movement of it — it’s in and out of time into a waltz. It slows down and speeds up. The arrangement and the production really brings you into the crowd feeling.
So why do you think there’s such a general heightened interest in her suddenly? Other people were tired of talking about Nina Simone. So they needed someone else to talk about. I love Nina Simone. We love our tragic women who basically die because of loneliness and whatever else. It was Piaf’s time. I think it’s important for people in this country to understand. No one, barring Frank Sinatra or Michael Jackson, was ever as loved as Piaf. Piaf was the pride of her country. When she died, traffic stopped in Paris. That’s never happened before. And internationally so. The young generation is discovering and because it’s a different language, they feel like it’s more of a discovery than it perhaps is. She’s perhaps the most famous French singer. I couldn’t think of anybody else who would be as famous, even a man — maybe [Serge] Gainsbourg, but that’s later. And not as famous.
So, I think people are realizing that she was a big deal that she was a part of the Resistance — and she represented the psyche of the nation. In a big way. And her story is so amazing. All the lovers and all the weird relationships — all the psychotic stuff — I wouldn’t want to deal with all that stuff. That’s why for me, it’s about tipping my hat to the material, to her. In a small way.