Welcome to Sound Bites, where CityEats meets rock stars on the crossroads between food and music.
Recipe for Success: 1 cup emo, 1 cup dry wit; ½ cup indie rock; pinch of hip-hop, soul, Maryland crab meat, a few bottles of D.C.-brewed IPA. Blend into frothy shake.
Despite their Dexter-like name, Washington, D.C.’s Dismemberment Plan is about as normal a group of rock stars as you’ll find. For example, when on hiatus, lead singer/guitarist Travis Morrison was a computer programmer at the Washington Post and the Huffington Post; while bassist Eric Axelson — who also co-founded the band Maritime — worked as an AP English teacher.
Indie/emo rock staples since 1995, the the D-Plan (as their diehard fans call them) put out a string of critically acclaimed albums through 2003 before initially parting ways; they then reunited in 2011 to tour and record a live album. On Oct. 15, the band will release “Uncanney Valley,” its first studio album since 2001, and we can attest that it’s great.
CityEats talked at length with Axelson about his love of beer; his favorite tour food; and his opinion on the state of school lunches.
So where are you right now?
I’m in Richmond, VA. I lived in D.C. for about 15 years, and I was looking for something a little bit slower and quieter, because I have some family down here. So far it’s great.
Interesting. Two of our Sound Bites have been Richmondites.
Who were they?
One was David Lowery of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven. And the other one I can’t quite remember.
The Head and the Heart? [Us: Yes! The drummer.] It’s a different vibe than living in D.C., but it’s a good place to be.
So your publicist described you as a “beer nerd” and a “public school teacher.” Those two things seem to be mutually exclusive. Have you ever sent a student to the principal’s office for coming to school drunk?
No, but when I first started teaching, I remember I kept smelling vodka in my classroom. And I was like, ‘Which kid is drinking in my room?’ It was the hand-sanitizer on my desk.
We’re going to test your AP Beer knowledge with a few pretty difficult questions that we recently vetted with our former school teacher/beer geek friend.
(1) What was your first craft beer?
It was probably Tuppers’ Hop Pocket Ale. Before that, I’d had Anchor Steam. There was a time in the early ’90s when brewers like those were still smaller. So technically I had Anchor Steam and Anchor Porter before I had Tuppers’.
(2) Washington, D.C.’s had a fairly nascent beer scene up until now. What are the best Beltway breweries, in your opinion?
As far as D.C. proper, DC Brau makes some nice beers. And then right across the river in Alexandria, Virginia, is a brewer called Port City, and they’ve been doing this IPA called Monumental [IPA] and a porter as well. I actually went to a wedding at the brewery, and it was a nice place to just sample beers and be at a wedding. On the Maryland side, Flying Dog, which is in Frederick is good; or in Baltimore, which is sort of far from the Beltway, there’s Brewer’s Art.
(3) If we were to use the term “session IPA” and ask if you know of a good one that musicians can drink multiple bottles of during a music session, what would your answer be? [Writer’s note: “session” means lower alcohol content]
All Day IPA by Founders. It has a station wagon on it. The Hardywood in Richmond makes a nice pale ale that’s hoppy enough so that you can put it on the IPA side of things called the Trail Pale Ale that comes in cans, which is like 4.2 percent, too.
OK, now we’re going to make this even harder on you. Pair your new favorite Dismemberment Plan song from Uncanny Valley with a good stout — in time for the fall.
I’m going to go with the Founders Breakfast Stout and pair that with the song “Lookin’.” It’s the opening song on the second side of the record; it’s a pretty, sparkling song and it’s the kind of thing you’d play on a Sunday morning while you’re making breakfast. You’d put it on that mix.
You guys played Riot Fest in Chicago recently. What one restaurant defines the Chicago food scene for you?
I’ve always liked the Chicago Diner, because I’m mainly vegetarian — I eat fish and meat sometimes if I’m curious. But the Chicago Diner has really good veg options.
The band was founded in Washington, D.C. Argue to our audience why D.C. is the best place to go out on romantic dates based on your knowledge of D.C.’s best restaurants and bars.
You’d start the evening off with a cocktail, and you’d either go to the Gibson or the Columbia Room; they make really nice cocktails — stuff I’ve never heard of before, but it’s really well balanced. And from there, you’d go to dinner at Jaleo, even though it’s kind of a standard for D.C. food. Jaleo’s owned by José Andrés. But I think if you were looking for a more romantic dinner, you’d go to minibar, which he also owns. It’s a fixed price, and it’s a 25-course menu where they bring out [dishes like] deconstructed glasses of wine. I mean, if you were doing minibar and getting cocktails beforehand, you’d probably skip the music venue. But you’d probably have someone else drive you — because you’d be drunk from all the cocktails — down to the mall and look at all the monuments lit up at night. It’s a pretty place to walk around at night.
The Dismemberment Plan has toured with bands as diverse as Pearl Jam, Cymbals Eat Guitars, John Vanderslice, and Death Cab for Cutie over the years. Any memorable food-related touring stories you can recount for our audience?
From those bands, Pearl Jam had a chef on tour with them, and we got to eat the food they made for their crew, and it was awesome. It was like nice-restaurant food every night. You’d have salmon and garlic-glazed potatoes and white asparagus and chocolate truffles for dessert. It was awesome! We looked forward to getting off stage so we could go eat after we were done, because the food was so damned good.
This doesn’t have to include the school systems you’ve worked in, but do you agree with British chef Jamie Oliver’s crusade against unhealthy school meals, and do you believe they need to be revamped? Or are you the type of guy that looks forward to Friday pizza day?
[laughs] As a kid, I looked forward to pizza day and double-burrito day, but as an adult, I agree with him. I think the food should and could be a lot better. They’ve researched school systems where they make the food better, and they have less disciplinary problems, there are better scores. It makes a difference if kids actually have decent food to eat; they sense that the school cares, and they’re also learning how to eat well. It’s not just math and English.