A Lower East Side Staycation: The Ludlow Hotel

 

Not all that long ago, New York’s Lower East Side was mostly populated by skint artists, insalubrious rockers, the narcotically challenged and an ethnic mix of people to whom it was just, well, home. There were also only two real places to eat: Katz’s Deli and El Sombrero. You prepped for a four-band bill at the Mercury Lounge with cheap tacos and tequila shots—and attempted to stave off hangovers with a 4 am knish.

Now the neighborhood flaunts Michelin stars and international luxury hotel brands—grumbling about the past won’t change anything. But wildly successful hotelier Sean MacPherson was actually a central figure in the notorious heyday of Downtown NYC nightlife. And his first LES property, The Ludlow—opened in 2014—feels as perfectly Lower East Side as The Bowery Hotel feels East Village (and The Marlton feels West Village).

Admittedly, weekend late nights on the LES can now find one navigating what feels like a casting call for The Bachelorette. But plan right, and you can also enjoy a fabulous Saturday and Sunday here, without ever going north of Houston Street.

Here’s how to do it.

 


1431 Ludlow Hotel

Loft King Room at The Ludlow

Saturday

Noon: Arrive at The Ludlow, drop your bags, request an upper floor room with a sprawling city view. Take leisurely a stroll, arriving for lunch at Dudleys, a groovy all day affair where you can order everything from rice bowls to cheese toasties to schnitzel salads.
3 PM:  Check in, spend a lazy hour flopping around on the extremely comfy bed, while raiding the minibar and taking in the glorious New York panorama.
4 PM:  Pop out to contemporary galleries like Richard Taittinger, Rachel Uffner and Marianne Boesky, to get a vibe on the burgeoning LES art scene—which has been stealing the conversation away from Chelsea. Stop in for a naughty souvenir at Babeland.

 

Taittinger Gallery

Richard Taittinger Gallery

 

1495 Dirty French/The Ludlow

Dirty French at The Ludlow
7 PM:  Settle in one of the cushy Lobby Bar sofas, order up grilled oysters and a round of particularly stiff tipples, like the Ludlow Gimlet and the bourbon based Pigalle. Groove to your fave Prince, Talking Heads and Duran Duran classics, which make up the hotel’s retro cool soundtrack.
8 PM: Do early cocktails at the sceney Leadbelly, or catch the next indie darling at the Rockwood Music Hall.
10 PM: Late dinner at Dirty French, the hotel’s supremely buzzy restaurant, which serves up surprising takes on French classics like Provencal scallops, short rib Bordelaise and duck a l’orange. It’s a particularly electric scene after 9pm.
Midnight: Watch Scorcese’s Gangs of New York back in your room. It’s set in turn of the century LES.

 


Sunday

10 AM: Order up room service coffee.
11 AM: Take a walk around the Lower East Side when it’s actually quiet. If the weather isn’t cooperating, pop in to the Tenement Museum for an enlightening  bit of LES history.
Noon:  Have the hotel book ahead for brunch at the perpetually cool Freemans. Hard to imagine, but when Taavo Somer opened it in 2004, there was nothing else like it (old-timey style, plentiful taxidermy, classic Americana cuisine). Despite the scores of imitators since, it’s still the hippest and the best. Indulge in such hearty fare as baked skillet eggs shakshuka, buttermilk pancakes and stone-ground cheddar cheese grits.

 

Freeman's Restaurant NYC

Freemans

 

New Museum Bowery NYC

New Museum

 

2 PM: Check out the current exhibitions (which at the moment include Nicole Eisenman’s Al-ugh-ories and Andra Ursuta’s Alps) at the New Museum, one of NYC’s most forward-thinking art institutions.
3 PM: Take a caffeine break at Caffe Vita, which, despite the Italian moniker, is actually an export from Seattle, serving exquisitely realized, house roasted coffee.
4 PM: Undertake a uniquely LES shopping spree, including stops at the Odd and Assembly boutiques, and a retro vinyl pilgrimage to Deadly Dragon Sound.
7 PM: Believe the hype with dinner at Ivan Ramen. Start with furikake spare ribs, before moving on to the delectable main events, like chicken dan dan and spicy red chili ramen.
9 PM: Join the local cocktail disciples warming the seats Attaboy, a sophisticated spot lorded over by Milk & Honey alums  Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy. There’s no drinks menu…so consider it an adventure and an edification.

 


Monday

9 AM:  Have a lazy breakfast of smoked salmon scramble and crispy potato pancakes at Clinton Street Baking Company, before checking out and showing up late to the office.

 

1471 Ludlow Hotel

The Ludlow

Talking to Madame Mayhem About Her Cutting Room Show, Rock & Roll, And Making It

I may be the last person in the planet to not have visited the new Cutting Room. It’s all the rage, continuing its legacy of pushing the envelope in musical programming. Now, I have heard through the grapevine (how DID that expression get started?) that the folks in charge over there think Madame Mayhem is the realio dealio (again, how?) Anyway, I guess I’ll kill two birds with one stone (caveman expression?) and go check out her act and the venue next Friday or the Friday two weeks after. She has a bi-weekly residency and all the answers to all my questions below:

I’ve heard great things from the people over at The Cutting Room. Tell me about your residency there and the show next Friday.
The residency has been a blast! The band and I are having so much fun. Our next show is on Friday, March 22nd, and then we have another show at The Cutting Room on April 19th. It’s a high-energy show and you WON’T be disappointed if you come down to see me.

Tell me about the new Cutting Room.
It is a gorgeous venue with a classy and, most importantly, ROCK vibe. You have to really see it to understand how cool the place is. There’s a chandelier with guitars that I wish I could have and fit in my apartment. I feel so fortunate to be playing there!  It’s an upscale rock supper club that’s located at 44 E. 32nd Street.
Getting to play my music at a place that’s most recently hosted Billy Joel, Adam Levine, Ringo Starr, Julian Lennon, and is soon to have Guns N’ Roses’ Bumblefoot on the same night as me on April 19th kind of brings the whole WHITE NOISE album experience full circle.

The record features you guys plus plus plus…tell me about the collaborations.
My record “White Noise” was produced by Grammy winner Mark Hudson. He has worked with legends like Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne, and Ringo Starr.  Working with Mark is always a good and crazy time and I learn a lot just being around him. Everyone that worked on this record is incredible, but what’s really cool for me is that we were able to get some rockin’ guest artists that I have admired for years to play on the record. They did it because they believed in the music, which was inspiring. They include:

Earl Slick – David Bowie, John Lennon, New York Dolls
Elliot Easton- The Cars, Blondie
Jonh Moyer – Disturbed, Adrenaline Mob
Rudy Sarzo- Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot, Whitesnake, Dio

Working on this record with these legends was such an amazing learning experience and a humbling one at that!  You can download “White Noise” on iTunes.

What kind of music is on the album?
The genre is definitely rock. It’s orchestrated in terms of the way old-school rock ‘n’ roll was done 30 years ago, but is still so current in the way it relates to people today. It’s a musical listening experience that hard rock and even pop fans can enjoy.

What are your influences, your goals. Where are you in three or five years? Do I have a press pass to see you at the Garden.
INFLUENCES: I have a very eclectic taste in music so I try to incorporate different things into my music. I always joke that the reason I turned out the way I did, whether it be style, musical taste, anything really is my mom’s fault. Apparently, when I was baby, she would get sick of all the Rafi and Sesame Street tapes in the car and she would play what she loved: ’90s grunge. So yeah, Nirvana was my baby music, not to mention Aerosmith and Alice Cooper.
GOALS: My ultimate goal is to be able to do this for the rest of my life. Performing, being part of the industry. In terms of success, to me it’s being successful enough that I have the means necessary to be able to do this. I don’t think I’ll ever retire! More immediate goals are to be able to get on a tour with my band and just play EVERYWHERE! You know, spread the MAYHEM! WHEN I make it to the Garden you most certainly will get a press pass!

When did you start singing?
As early as I could talk, well, scream really. Making music and performing has been my dream since forever. There really hasn’t ever been anything else. I started off in musical theatre. I was a working actress at nine. I am classically trained in singing, dancing, and acting but I always knew that rocking out was what I wanted to do most. Not to mention I have been told by the people close to me that I’ll have a much longer life expectancy when I am doing what I love, since when I’m not performing or working, I’m not so pleasant to be around.

Rock and roll sells out stadiums but gets less respect in clubs in NYC. Is that true in L.A.?
People like you, Steve, and BlackBook are respected, and when you get the word out to people who usually go out to lounges or dance clubs – you give them the idea to try something new. On March 8th, The Cutting Room had over 200 people who had never been there before and never knew it existed. They are exactly the crowd that would never have gone to a rock show had they never received an invitation to see something new. They had an invite to see Madame Mayhem and weren’t sure what to expect. We ended up with a packed room, standing-room only, with an eclectic crowd that are now turned onto a new sound. I think the respect comes from people who are open to trying new things and who spread the rediscovery of rock around to people who otherwise wouldn’t know where to find it.

I have been having an amazing time playing here in NYC, since its home to me. Being able to play venues like The Cutting Room, Mercury Lounge, and a last-minute guest performance with Adrenaline Mob last night at Webster Hall has been amazing.  But I do know that rock ‘n’ roll over the past few years hasn’t been the easiest genre to succeed in, but my goal is to bring rock back to where it belongs, to the masses!

In LA, you can’t go very far without bumping into rock ‘n’ rollers, which for me was really cool especially since I was out there making the record. The Sunset Strip may not be exactly what it used to be back in its glory days, but it’s still the place to go to see live music and especially ROCK! I got to perform on the strip at The Viper Room a few times and The Roxy while I was out there and I have to say the rock and music community there really feels like a dysfunctional crazy family that you would never trade!

How does a band make money these days when everything is downloaded?
I am learning quickly that the industry is not like it used to be. As technology evolves, the music industry and artists have to evolve with it. It’s a lot of trial and error.

You’re doing well. What advice do you have to a bunch of 18-year-old kids talking about forming a band?
All I can say is DO IT! Pursue your dream NO MATTER WHAT obstacles get in your way. It takes a lot of hard work, thick skin, but most importantly passion. If music is your life (like it is mine), than it’s what you have to do and ENJOY the ride!!

Follow Madame Mayhem on Twitter here

Why I Couldn’t Wake Up This Morning

I didn’t wake up early. I didn’t do anything I was supposed to do this morning. I let the alarm ring on and on until I smashed it. I didn’t bother with that snooze button. I think all publicists should have a schmooze button that I could push hard and they would shut the F*#& up. I didn’t go there, did I? I had Cheetos and Diet Sunkist for breakfast and didn’t feel like a champion. I didn’t win at Bingo last night. I didn’t cash that check I’ve been sitting on, damn. But at least I didn’t suck DJing at TOY last night, even though I think they thought I would. One lovely woman came up to the booth and told me "You’re killing it, they love you!" At my age I want beautiful women to lie to me. Well anyway, I played my rock and roll and it was a great party. There were beautiful people everywhere and everyone was dressed up and drinking and dancing. I’m going to come back and they don’t even have to pay me as long as they get beautiful tall things with perfectlocks and smiles to lie to me again. I didn’t want to leave but I didn’t want to disappoint elsewhere.

I didn’t go to Adam Ant’s concert this weekend. I had at least three good questions for him, but alas, they wouldn’t let me interview him, so I didn’t. I’ve interviewed some big stars and a guy on a comeback might have cooperated… but he didn’t. Geez, I interviewed Jamie Foxx last week and he’s almost as big a star as Mr. Ant, isn’t he? I didn’t go there…did I? They wouldn’t let my photog. Lela Edgar have access and I didn’t feel it. As far as I was concerned, Adam Ant is a photo op, period. I remember back in the day when he was the high-cheekboned wonder boy with smash hits and pirate costumes. He played some pier and came up the river in a pirate ship. What an entrance. But then he exited the good life, the music, the scene, and now he’s an aging pop star popping back up. Maybe I should have believed the hype or gone for nostalgic reasons, but I just didn’t. I don’t play any of his smash hits in my set. Maybe I should. I’m going to buy them on iTunes right after I return from the store with a new alarm clock. With that, I can tell what time it is while I consider what decade or era this is. I read the reviews of other Adam Ant shows in England and Florida and such and they were mixed, mostly discussing what he looked like and how he acted. I went to a dive bar, watched a game, and wondered who was on the Yankees when Adam last played. I could have looked it up on my very smartphone…but I didn’t.

I didn’t want to write today but they have given me this new button so I’m easy to find again and I didn’t want to disappoint. If I ever do, it’s perfectly OK for you to lie to me. I didn’t want to say no to a pitch to write about this charity event from Wall Street Rocks. It’s the 9th Annual Hedge Fund Roctoberfest this Thursday, October 11th from 7pm to 11pm at 583 Park Ave. It benefits ALTSO, A Leg To Stand On. That’s a children’s charity that supports children with limb disabilities. Special guest musician and Wall Street Rocks Ambassador David Hudson, who is Katy Perry’s brother, will perform live on stage at the benefit concert. These same Wall Street Rock folks are hosting a Wall Street Rocks Battle of The Bands Round 3 on Tuesday, October 30th at venerable Mercury Lounge, 6pm. Proceeds from this bash will benefit the Wounded Warrior Project and ReserveAid. The release states: "Wall Street Rocks is a non-profit organization comprised of members of the finance, technology, and entertainment communities that have banded together to honor and assist our nation’s war heroes."

When I Lived In Hotel Chelsea’s Penthouse & My Birthday On Saturday

OMG! FYI, EVR – pronounced ever which is soooo clever or is it clvr – is wonderful. It’s that lounge on 39th street between 5th and 6th Ave. I DJd there last night for the early-evening sexy time. It was well-dressed adults mixing with the wonderful staff as I mixed my rock into disco and soul and funk and other fun genres. Everything is new and clean and state-of-the-art. It looks great. There are bold design decisions keeping the travel areas and service areas raw while the rest of the  place is completely done up. There is cool art everywhere – or is it evrywhr? Lots of my pals came and will again as they’re having me back. I hung out with industry stalwart Mikey Lights who showed me what all the bells and whistles do on the mixing board and CD players I use. OMG! I have a whole lot of new knobs to play with. After the gig, me and mine went to see Zero Dark Thirty in not-too-far-away Times Square. I think it should be renamed "Zero Dark Three," as the movie – except for the wonderful, obviously no-surprise ending – was a colossal bore. 

Everybody wants to know where I’m going to watch the Super Bowl and well…I’m not. I have never seen an entire football game and I’m not going to start now. I hear the major sports bars are sold out. I’m going to do something a little more my speed, like catch Joey Arias, the performer, diva… the legend at Joe’s Pub. This is week two of three, so get your act together and catch this act. Joey ruled at the now-shuttered Bar d’O for a decade. He performed with Bowie. He cavorted with Klaus Nomi. This week, he will be joined by Flotilla DeBarge. If all this doesn’t make any sense to you, then by all means pop some brews and watch the game.

Just wanted to mention the 130th birthday of the Hotel Chelsea. I spent my social Wonder Bread years at the old hotel. At one time I lived in the big penthouse, which was actually a house sitting on top of the hotel with a magnificent giant garden around it. I was told that Arthur C. Clark wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey in my joint, and that John Garfield and John Wayne and a hundred others passed through. I don’t have enough space to mention the celebrities and bright lights that called it home. Friends lived and died there. For me, it was like a town that I could leave but was always welcome back to. Now, it’s all tangled up in real estate legalities and it isn’t the same and we…all New Yorkers, are a lot poorer and less fabulous for it.

Saturday is my 100th birthday or something like that. I will be celebrating…or something like that at the Mercury Lounge, where I will be amazed and amused and maybe even aroused by Guns N’ Hoses – which I am told is an all-female G N’ R tribute band. Afterward, I will paint the town red or just head straight to bed, after all, I’m old—er, or something like that.

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An Interview With Dream-Pop Lovebirds Pure Bathing Culture

In life, you occasionally come across someone who appears to have it all figured out. Even more rare is the couple that appears likewise. Especially endangered, though, is the artist about which one can say this. So an artistic couple working together with such seamless confidence—as Pure Bathing Culture does, delivering a stellar set at Mercury Lounge two weeks ago—is not a discovery to take lightly. The duo’s chiming, beautiful, full-length debut, Moon Tides, arrives in late August, but they’re already touring the country, and we had a chance to ask some questions about their travel soundtrack, among other topics. Check out their answers and listen to first single, “Pendulum,” below.

Looks like your tour is about to take you across the U.S., with plenty of stops. Which are you most looking forward to?
We’re really looking forward to all of it, but we’re especially excited to play our first headlining show in New York City. 
 
You’re musical collaborators, but you’re also a couple—how does that change the process?
We’ve been a couple for the entire time we’ve been collaborating, so it’s hard to say what it would be like if we weren’t. 
 
What is the effect you’d like your forthcoming album, Moon Tides, to have on a listener?
We just hope that people will take the time to listen to the music and if they do, that they have their own personal experience with it. 
 
Which bands or records are you listening to as you travel?
Prefab Sprout, Kendrick Lamar, JJ Cale, Ray Lynch: Deep Breakfast, Ralph Towner, Peter Gabriel, James Blake, Keith Jarrett. 
 
Finally, are there any existing lyrics you sometimes wish you had written?
“Star Spangled Banner” and the chorus of “Back Seat Freestyle.”
 

This Week’s NY Happenings: Downtown Music Festival, SakaMai, KTCHN

FRIDAY: Rock & LoHo At Downtown Music Festival
The Lower East Side’s music cup runneth over as Downtown Records brings a second year of the Downtown Music Festival. The venues are a greatest-hits package of below-Houston spots. Mercury Lounge hosts Teengirl Fantasy, Cake Shop has Beach Fossils and Trash Talk, and nine different acts will take the stage at Tammany Hall. Even swank event space Capitale is in on the groove, hosting L.A.’s Black Hippy. The spaces are all intimate, so get your tickets quick.

The Downtown Music Festival runs Friday, May 10th and Saturday, May 11th, at venues like Cake Shop (152 Ludlow St., Lower East Side). To learn more about the bars, click on the listings in bold above.

NOW: Shuck It
The Lower East Side is your oyster tonight, as SakaMai lays on a “Shell & Sake” tasting. Take a guided tour through six sakes, expertly paired with a dozen bicoastal bivalves.

Shell and Sake starts at 6:30pm, tonight, May 6th, at SakaMai (157 Ludlow St., Lower East Side). Tickets are $75. To learn more about the sake bar, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

WEDNESDAY: Killer Instinct
The Out NYC’s house restaurant KTCHN kicks off a monthly dinner-and-a-movie series with a screening of Basic Instinct. They’re injecting some Rocky Horror, too—when Sharon Stone deploys her ice pick, you’ll find a Jack & Coke in front of you.  

Basic Instinct at KTCHN (510 W. 42nd St., Midtown West) starts at 7pm on Wednesday, May 8th. Prix fixe dinner is $49; wine pairings are an additional $25. To learn more about the restaurant, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

Know every inch of this city by checking out BlackBook’s NY City Guides

BlackBook Exclusive: Firehorse’s Bubbly ‘Good’

In Firehorse, singer-songwriter Leah Siegel has a tight indie band that is refreshingly adventurous in its offbeat arrangements. With their debut, And So They Ran Faster, garnering accolades from NPR, the Los Angeles Times and others, we can set our expectations for sophomore effort Pills From Strangers (due out June 25) pretty high—especially if “Good,” the effervescent single streaming here for the first time, is at all representative. 

Launching with seasick electronics and Siegel’s immediately arresting voice, “Good” moves onto an punchy organ backdrop that’s like a groove from Stereolab. But this too, is a bit of a deception. “Never was a good girl,” Siegel keeps reiterating as the instruments begin to squall and pound—and just like that, the track becomes a danceable rave-up worthy of Le Tigre. (In fairness, they also sound a whole lot like themselves.)
 
If you’re an early bird type, consider picking up some tickets to the CD release concert for Pills From Strangers on June 28 at Mercury Lounge. It’ll be hot and sweaty and a good chance to rub up on strangers with fine taste in music. 
 
 
[Photo credit: Jon Morris]

Downtown NYC Festival Adds New Acts

With just under a month to go till the Downtown NYC Festival kicks off on May 10, two-day passes are already sold out, but $75 one-day tickets are still on sale. The event spans great venues including Mercury Lounge, Bowery Ballroom, Angel Orensanz, Pianos, Cake Shop, Tammany Hall, Element, Capitale, and Rockwood Music Hall—and features some of the hottest emerging bands.

New additions include Andrew Wyatt (of Miike Snow) and hipster-fried R&B pioneer Autre Ne Veut, as well as Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire, who is likely worth seeing for the name alone. They will join such performers as Purity Ring, Earl Sweatshirt, d’Eon, Sky Ferreira, Ducktails, Beach Fossils, and the endlessly funky Teengirl Fantasy.

The festival will be hitting some other cities with modified lineups, but you know they won’t be as good. Though who knows? Some magnificent crooner might come aboard in the Vegas leg of the tour.

The Virgins’ Donald Cumming on the Band’s Comeback, His New Sound, and Being a Life-Long New Yorker

Donald Cumming has led and continues to lead quite a life. From the trials and tribulations of his youth to those that accompanied signing with a major label, the 31-year-old born-and-bred New Yorker has no shortage of stories illustrating his hustle, his hang-ups and his regrets.

Cumming’s cult band The Virgins—which loosely formed in 2006, was signed to Atlantic in 2007, experienced a meteoric rise in 2008, and continuously toured the world after that—has kept somewhat mum for a few years, but returns today with their sophomore album, Strike Gently, out now via Julian Casablancas’s indie imprint Cult Records.

In the interim since his debut, Cumming has overhauled his sound—essentially morphing from shiny pop to folk rock—and begun playing with three entirely new “dudes,” as he is wont to collectively identify his bandmates. Max Kamins (bass), Xan Aird (guitar), and John Eatherly (drums) round out the updated ensemble, which last month played an intimate set at Soho House and tomorrow plays SXSW. The remainder of March and early April the foursome will tour the US, and they can next be enjoyed in NYC at Bowery Ballroom on April 1.

Connecting with Cumming, who I’d feel more comfortable calling Donald, was particularly special for me, as The Virgins was the first band I ever interviewed. Last time, we crouched together at Highline Ballroom in the designated “VIP” section. Five years later we could be found at his studio space in the East Village—walls lined with blankets in an attempt to muffle their rehearsals—sitting on his beat up sofa beside an open window while he basically chain smoked. “It’s, like, my shame,” he told me, explaining that in part his shame stems from the fact that cigarettes are tested on animals and for the past few years he’s been vegetarian-turned-vegan.

He seemed to me to be in a better place, and said so. Married for two years to Canadian visual artist Aurel Schmidt, Donald, the only child who dropped out of high school, ran away, and did odd (and undisclosed) jobs to make ends meet, seems to have found his footing again. He was gracious and humble and open to talk. We caught up for an hour and a half, and what follows is the most meaningful, entertaining, and informative aspects of our conversation. Donald discussed a number of things, including his take on The Virgins’ audible departure, what he’d do if he didn’t have his music career, and how, despite a challenging childhood and professional woes, he feels ever so fortunate.

Tell me a bit about this switch. New members, new sound…
It’s been a minute. The dudes [and I] wanted to do different things. I love those dudes, those guys are like family to me, [but] we were ready to move on. We changed a lot. These guys, I’ve known them a while. We played together in a country cover band. When I was writing new songs, I started playing with these guys, and it felt really good. It just made sense that, since we were friends—we’d been hanging, playing music—they would be the dudes I worked with. It was a cool vibe; when we started writing new stuff, the songs grew naturally. It worked right away. I love these dudes and the way they play. We don’t have to tell each other much. Everybody does their thing.

What was the process of bringing the album together?
We’d been writing songs, started playing around the city. Because we had an opportunity to do a one-off, we had a single. We had, like, half this record written and started recording. We didn’t know who was going to put it out. We probably thought we’d end up putting it out ourselves. Through a mutual friend we found out Julian [Casablancas was] interested. We played him songs, talked about what [we] wanted to do, and he [told] us about the label. It felt really cool. The vibe was good right away.

Sounds pretty painless.
It was. This experience has been amazing. A lot of painful shit happened with the last album, with the label we were on.

What compelled you to maintain the name while transitioning the style?
The first thing I ever made was a demo in my room. I started giving [it] out and put “The Virgins”—I thought it would be cool to be in a band. Then, when I got a deal really quickly, I didn’t have a band, so I put the band together [and] made the EP. Things were progressing logically, except we had [signed with] a major label. When we went to make the record, a lot of stuff didn’t fit for me. It changed our direction, without us having control. We started having to deal with the business model and projected earnings and all the things that come with being on a big label.

It’s the name of my band. It was my name before the label, before the record and, after, it’s still the name of my band. When we started making this record, it was like going back to when things flowed naturally. We made what we felt like making. It didn’t feel like a change of direction. It felt like getting back on track. Personally, [“The Virgins”] doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s a name. I don’t have any attachment to it, emotionally or aesthetically. It just seemed like it would be more trouble changing it than leaving it alone.

Why the aesthetic shift?
For me, the music isn’t different. It’s just songs I believe in. I was deciding whether or not I even wanted to make music anymore, the conclusion I came to was, I’m not interested in doing anything I don’t believe in. It wasn’t a decision to change the style. I had to make what I wanted to make. I couldn’t have done anything else. If it throws somebody off, there’s not anything I can do. There might be fans that are like, “Oh, this sounds different.”And I understand. It definitely does. But, it just sounds like the way we play. We’re just doing it, and it sounds different. It’s not an ideology where we have to present a new thing. We didn’t say, “Let’s do it differently.”

Can you share a bit about your uncertainty surrounding continuing to make music?
Making the record with Atlantic was kind of crazy. I don’t want to go into it, but we all felt [that] wasn’t what we were trying to do. It affected all of us. Then we toured extensively. It was a strange experience. It wore away at me. I couldn’t identify with the music [anymore]. It got to the point where I was like, “I hate this. I hate this whole thing and I don’t know how to fix it.” So, I guess I had a bit of a spiritual crisis. [Laughs]

That was 2008?
’08 through ’10. Maybe ’11. It went on and on because we just kept touring.

Did you do anything else between then and now?
A ton of shit, but I needed to get my brain together. Besides getting married, finding out what means most to me, follow[ing] goals to their logical conclusions. There’s always somebody with an opinion, a reason you shouldn’t do what you want. Most times in my life, when I haven’t done what I wanted, I’ve ended up regretting it.

When I saw you perform last month, I kept thinking about Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. Have you gotten that before?
No. It’s great to hear. Everybody has their own take. So far it’s been stuff I like. It’s cool with me.

So, where do you like to play?
I love Mercury Lounge. I’ve enjoyed every show we’ve played there. It’s my favorite spot in the city. It sounds good. It feels connected. You’re sharing an experience with a room full of people. Obviously it’s cool when we play bigger venues, but the bigger the place the less personal things feel.

Do you become homesick pretty easily?
No. I really like traveling. It’s one of my favorite things about being in a band. Making records is amazing—it’s its own special thing—but the fact that you get to travel is quite cool.

And you grew up in Manhattan.
I grew up a few places, but I lived on Canal and Greenwich when I was a kid and, when my parents split, I [divided] my time between [there] and Astoria, with my mom. I’ve probably moved 10 or 11 times.

You have a favorite neighborhood?
I love Chinatown. I don’t live there anymore, but it’s peaceful and I like that. It’s gentrified, but doesn’t look like a mall. It’s heartbreaking to walk around the city and see how fucked it is. But, I love New York.

You’re a lifer.
Oh yeah, for sure.

Me too. So, of course this city influences your music.
Of course. All my memories are here and all my friends are here. Every place reminds me of somebody or something. It has an affect on me.

You didn’t finish high school, did you?
No.

And no college.
Yeah.

You’re self-taught. How many instruments do you play?
I attempt to play the guitar and the piano. That’s it. I’m not that guy who masters instruments. I get by. Shit’s not sounding so crisp anymore, you know what I mean? It doesn’t have that pop. I’m not the world’s tightest rhythm guitarist. Any little addition to my repertoire feels like a big achievement. [Laughs]

What’s been the biggest challenge?
Getting back to a place where I [can] express myself and feel like [I’m] making music for reasons valid to me. I didn’t know if that would happen again and was prepared for that not to happen. I feel grateful to have had the experience [of] making this record and excited to make more and play with these guys. I just feel really fortunate.

Do you do anything else apart from this?
I mean, I’m not really qualified to do anything else.

If you couldn’t make music, what would you do?
Honestly, without wanting to be overly romantic, washing dishes. That was [a] job I had that felt pretty all right. But you can’t support yourself doing that. Well, obviously people do. I don’t want to sound flippant. I’m lucky to make music for a living. But, when I washed dishes, I had some good friends and some good times. That’s a job I look back on without frustration or anger. A lot of things I’ve done for money in my life I really regret.

Regret?
[Deciding] to do something because I needed money, as opposed to believed in or wanted to, that stuff stayed with me. I’m not resolved. I needed money, so it was good to alleviate whatever problem I was having. But, I don’t have that money now. And those things are indelible. So, is it worth it? I don’t know. When I was younger, I avoided all work all the time. I was always broke. Beyond broke. No money whatsoever. I would paint myself into corners. If an opportunity came up to [make] money, I had no choice. I feel like it was cosmic punishment for not working. Like, you do shit for money you don’t want to do. I’ve got hang-ups about this obviously. [Laughs] I’m grateful to be a professional musician, to support myself with music. But washing dishes was a job I don’t have bad feelings about. I just got into tight situations. You do what you gotta do.

Did you receive monetary support from your family at all? Were you “privileged,” as they say?
No, not at all. My dad had a liquor store, my mom worked in an office. My dad was an alcoholic and basically went bankrupt. Closed the store. Moved in with his boyfriend. He was a committed alcoholic and died when he was 41, 42. I was maybe 11 or 12. My mom worked in Jersey, I went to school in Manhattan and we were living in Queens. She would take me, then get on a bus and go to work. It was tiring for her. When I was, like, 14, she met this guy from Florida and moved there. I went with, but didn’t get into it. My life was here. So, I ran away. I left home and moved back when I was almost 16. I had a little bit of money from social security—from my dad dying—and I started renting a bedroom from my friend’s mom. I got a job working at a coffee shop and was trying to go to high school. But I stopped going to school. I stopped working. That led to figuring it out. I wouldn’t trade it or change anything.

Wow. So, no regrets?
Only petty stuff that fucks with my ego and shit. I regret not going to school. I regret not going to college. I’ve always had to do shit on my own. It might have been cool to have a professor and be with other students, finish an assignment, and get feedback. I would have been down. But, I was way more focused on the opposite of that. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Switching gears, you’ve got a certain look. Can you comment on your personal style?
I only buy used clothes. I don’t believe in manufacturing clothes. It’s a drain of resources, putting all that shit into the world. I believe in secondhand. I’m vegan. I don’t wear animal products that are new. There’s definitely enough clothing on the planet, not only to clothe everyone, but [also] to stop fucking with animals, stop polluting the world, stop using plastic, stop exploiting people—all that shit. Like, I’m just not down. I could go on and on.

Didn’t see that coming! What prompted the veganism?
I bought The Animal Rights Handbook: Everyday Ways to Save Animal Lives by Linda Fraser at a secondhand store, because I liked the cover. I was already vegetarian and it was on my mind. I felt super guilty eating cheese and was like, “Fuck, I know I shouldn’t be doing this.” I didn’t know what was going to be “the thing,” but I knew it was coming. I started reading this book and that was it. I have never thought about going back. It’s not difficult at all. It makes perfect sense. It’s quite strange how willing people are to not give a fuck.