Acidhead is the solo project of New York City producer + artist Patrick McGee, whose debut album comes out next Friday on Veriditas Recordings.  We got a chance to preview the album recently, titled Distrations, and its densely woven fabric of sonic soundscapes, built from patchwork pieces of samples, programmed tracks, live instrumentation, freeform jazz formations, crazy guitar solos, and layered atmospherics left us impressed and eager to know more about this heretofore unknown-to-us artist. We spoke with Patrick recently about inspirations, song-writing, and a bunch of synths and drum machines.

raven + crow: Thanks for taking the time to talk, Patrick, and congrats on the album. I know you’re a producer, but what drove you to make the leap to artist/performer?

Patrick McGee: I grew up playing music, so performance was natural. Improvisation is like meditation, which I try to bring back to my work in the studio. I am a musician first, so while producing these songs, I tried to keep all of the accidents and moments of energy that come with live performance.

Listening beginning to end, the album strikes me as pretty cohesive in terms of sound + theme—was this a conceptual album with a major motif that bound everything together or more of a series of songs you just wanted to get out there?

It’s less of a concept and more of an environment I was in—falling in love, troubled and distant, Harlem in the springtime, and the whole world burning down. The songs themselves were the distractions from my own head.

From a tech-y standpoint, what are you using here equipment-/instrument-wise? I hear what sounds like some vintage synths + drum machines, but you never know these days. And I’m loving the horns I’m hearing.

Most of the horns are sampled. On “Love Has Me Keep on Dying” I’m playing soprano saxophone. I do a lot of work on a Prophet synthesizer, sampled into an SP404, and there are basically 4 layers of ambiance throughout the whole record made of delays, reverbs, and different saturations. Had my friends come over to track guitars, bass, drums, and those became the materials for the sound design.

I’ve never played a Prophet but those things seem awesome. Side note—have you seen this virtual drum machine before? Seems up your alley.

Wow wild! I do a lot of drum programming on the Ableton Push, I like how this looks like a TR-808.

Totally. So, being someone who strikes me as such a DIY-er when it comes to music, what technical advice would you have to someone who’s musical and has songs in their head they want to get out but can’t bridge the gap in terms of recording or producing?

Try everything. There is nothing wrong with something sounding bad. When I record, I record every thought I have, and things take form. Let your mind wander, and try not to think of everything linearly. Two disjunct ideas may be making associations behind your back.

Good advice. Where does the name Acidhead come from?

Psychedelics.

Yeah, that does make sense. We’re always curious what other artists are listening to—can share who you’re liking lately, big- or small-time?

Bob Dylan Bootlegs – Live at Royal Albert Hall in 1966. I listen to my friends a lot, Jesse and Forever, Goodfight, Sweet Joseph. I love Oneohtrix Point Never. AKAI Solo.

Oh, I like Sweet Joseph—thanks. I know you’re doing some touring near NYC—what does your live set look like? Is it just you or are you building out a band?

Acidhead is my solo project. It’s me singing and triggering tracks from the record and playing various live instruments. Getting to voice the things alone that make me most afraid and vulnerable is therapeutic, it speaks into existence a lot of things I had trouble dealing with.

Public therapy through music—I like it. Any plans to hit the west coast at all?

Hopefully, I’m open to possibilities…hit me up!

Excellent. Well thanks again for taking the time and best of luck with everything.

Thanks for being in touch and sharing the album!

We take inspiration where we can find it. Yes, that goes for the creative + design work you’ll find on the rest this site’s pages, but it also goes for all things culinary.

A bit back, we were partaking in our usual weekly visit to the Hollywood Farmers Market (the Santa Monica one gets all the glory in Los Angeles, but  let’s get real, LA, Hollywood is where it’s at in this case) when we saw that one of our favorite vendors, vegan yogurt + cheese maker, Blöde Kuh, was offering up a seasonal special—vegan BierKäse, the plant-based take on a German beer cheese.

Which, obviously, sounded awesome.

But what would we eat it on‽ Sure, we could resort to measly crackers, but soft pretzels seemed so much more worthy of this find. Alas, we’d never made a single pretzel between the two of us, and bringing outside food to our favorite pub or vegan German beer garden seemed…wie salt man? geschmacklos!

Thus an immediate need to make soft pretzels at home. The result—somewhat surprisingly for a first try—was most excellent, so we thought we’d share it here. It’s largely based on a non-vegan recipe we’d found, which itself is based on a recipe from an old blog by a Zurich-based baker, but what we ended up with through in-process trial and error differed enough from the originals even beyond the vegan-ization to warrant a re-write.

For the pretzels:
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup lukewarm filtered water
2 packages active dry yeast
3 tbsp vegan butter, plus extra for brushing
Coarse salt for sprinkling

For the soda bath:
1/2 cup baking soda
2 quarts/8 cups filtered water

For starters, if you’re out of flour and need to buy some anyway, may we suggest King Arthur brand—this a totally unpaid, unprovoked endorsement, but they make a great product and are an employee-owned B corp., so all around great. On vegan butter, we really like Miyoko’s if you can get your hands on it.

Now that all the product endorsements are out of the way, with the butter, you want to set it out at room temperature so it softens but doesn’t totally melt. Set some extra aside—say a few more tablespoons—for brushing later; that can fully melt. Then start out by dissolving the two packets of yeast in the lukewarm water—if you’ve got a kitchen thermometer handy, we recommend between 100°-110°F; warm enough to activate the yeast, not so warm that it’ll kill it. Meanwhile, mix the flour + salt together in a large bowl and then form a well in the mixture. Add the sugar to the center of the well and then pour the yeast + water in. Let it rest for 15 minutes before mixing together. You should notice the mixture reacting and expanding over time.

Now add the softened butter to the bowl and mix everything together with either a dough hook on a low speed on your mixer or, if you’re more old-school/minimal, like us, mix with a wooden spoon until everything’s pretty well-incorporated. Then it’s time to get your hands dirty—knead together with your hands until you’ve got a smooth, consistent dough. In our experience, this takes both some muscle/persistence and a little extra water potentially to make sure the dough’s smooth enough and not too dry. Our hands were seriously tired by the time we got there. But we got there—persist! Let the dough (and your hands) rest for 30 minutes, covered with a napkin at room temperature (the dough, not yours hands).

Cut the dough into six equal parts, then roll each piece on a clean, un-floured surface to about 20 inches long. If you make the lengths of dough much shorter than 20 inches, they’ll be tough to form into their pretzel shapes, so keep carefully rolling out by hand, both on the table and in the air, letting gravity help you lengthen gently while avoiding tears or breaks.

To make the actual pretzel shape, place the dough lengths down on a parchment paper lined baking sheet in the form of a ‘U’. Then take each end and cross them over each other once, and the once more so you have a twist. Then just fold the twist down and press into what was the bottom of the ‘U’. We’ve found that using a little water before pressing them down will help bind the dough together. Place the tray(s) of pretzels in the fridge uncovered and let sit for about an hour, building up a skin that’ll help absorb the dipping solution when boiled and make for a more distinct crust.

Preheat the oven to 400°F and bring 2 quarts/8 cups of filtered water to a boil in a large stock pot. Carefully + slowly add the baking soda to the water—there will be a reaction that causes it to bubble up, so the slower the better and watch for any splashing. Once it’s calmed, you’re ready to boil—using a slotted spoon, carefully drop a pretzel in and submerge, boiling for only 10 second for so. Carefully remove, place on a lined baking sheet, and repeat with each of the pretzels.

With a sharp knife, score the lengths of the pretzel arms a bit to avoid crazy bubbles or bustin’. Brush with the reserve melted butter (or olive oil if you want) and sprinkle with coarse salt—if you can find it, they actually make pretzel salt that works great. Failing that, coarse sea salt should do the trick. If you want to get crazy, try a fancy smoked salt or that everything bagel mix from Trader Joe’s. Now bake for 20 minutes or so, until golden-brown and tough-to-the-touch. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, and brush with a little more butter or olive oil before serving.

Now grab a beer and your favorite spicy mustard or vegan cheese spread and enjoy! Prost!

As is often the case with many of our favorite dishes, we can thank war + colonialism for Japanese curry, or karē raisu.

If you’ve ever had Japanese curry, you may have noticed it’s very similar to an Indian curry. And that’s certainly where its origins lie for this curry—a cross-cultural catch-all term for a spice-rich dish with a thick sauce or gravy derived from a Portuguese mispronunciation of the word for ‘spices’ that, like the dish, was adopted and made widespread by the British. Specifically, the British Navy, who made curries a staple of many ships’ meals in mess halls, though the British version was a bit of a bastardization of the Indian curry, adding meat + butter, thickening with wheat flour, and working from a tin of spice mix.

Seeking to address the proliferation of beriberi, a fatal vitamin deficiency that was sweeping Japan in the 19th century and a huge risk for those serving in the military, the Japanese Navy looked to their British counterparts, hoping the thiamine in the meat + wheat of these adapted curries would remedy the deadly situation. The dish quickly became a popular one amongst service members and, even after its post-WWII dissolution, the navy’s spiritual descendant, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, continued the tradition, taking the culinary fascination even further with curry Fridays to help sailors mark the passage of time at sea. Individual JMSDF ships even customized their recipes making each mess hall’s curry unique (and some, according to this Atlas Obscura article by Anne Ewbank, skewed to the bizarre with their ingredients—”the curry served on the Hachijo patrol ship, for example, includes ketchup, coffee, and two kinds of cheese”).

Two kinds of cheese aside, the taste for curry followed sailors home after their service was over and eventually curries entered the culinary mainstream of Japan, being served at school cafeterias, restaurants, and making its way onto home dinner tables primarily through those boxed curry mixes that still proliferate today at specialty markets + grocery stores.

But when looking to make an authentic Japanese curry at home, we wanted to avoid the box mixes, most of which are extremely sodium-rich and prominently feature amongst their ingredients orangutan- and environmentally unfriendly palm oil.

So we took to the internet to research, finding that 9.75/10 of the recipes online also simply used box mixes for the dish. One though, by Daniel Gritzer, specified a handmade curry spice mix, so we decided to work from that recipe, veganizing, adding kabocha (because, yay, kabocha), and swapping a canned vegan duck that we like as the protein.

We’re writing the result up on these pages, partly so we can easily find it in the future, partly for anyone who might want to give it a try some time.

For the curry spice mix:
2 tablespoons (7g) whole coriander seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
1 tablespoon (6g) whole cumin seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
1 tablespoon (6g) whole fenugreek seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
2 1/2 teaspoons (6g) cardamom seeds, removed from pods + toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
2 teaspoons (5g) whole black peppercorns, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
1/2 teaspoon (2g) fennel seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
1 (2-inch) piece cinnamon (3g)
3 cloves
1/2 of a star anise pod
1 or 2 strips (1g) dehydrated lemon or orange peel (optional)
2 tablespoons (16g) ground turmeric
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon (1 to 2g) chili powder, depending on the intensity of your chili powder and how spicy you want the curry
Pinch grated fresh nutmeg

For the stew:
1 10 oz. can mock duck (available at asian supermarkets) or preferred vegan protein, cut into 1-inch chunks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons (30ml) sesame oil, plus more as needed
1 kabocha squash, split, seeded, and cut into large, 2-inch chunks (see notes below)
1 large yellow onion (1 pound; 450g), diced
8 ounces carrots (225g; about 3 medium), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 quart (950ml) homemade vegetable broth or store-bought low-sodium
1 quart (950ml) homemade vegan dashi
8 ounces (225g) Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
Half of 1 (6-ounce) apple, peeled, cored, and finely grated, minced, or puréed
1/2 cup vegan butter (4 ounces; 110g; we like Miyoko’s)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (2 ounces; 55g)
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, finely grated
3 tablespoons (25g) curry spice blend
Warm short-grain rice, for serving
Pickled ginger, for serving (see note below)
Scallion, diced + coated with seas salt or rakkyo (pickled Japanese scallion), for serving (see note below)

I know—it seems like a lot. But know that the spice mixture yields a ton, so you can make it much more easily down the road, and same with the dashi, which is technically optional but kind of the thing that makes this curry more Japanese than British or Indian. And, in a pinch, you can boil dried shiitakes + a sheet or two of nori if you don’t have kombu.

One pre-recipe note: If you’d like to homemade pickled ginger as a topper, it’s super-easy to do a quick, mild one—just thinly slice some fresh ginger or green/young ginger (which is in-season right now at farmers markets) and submerge in a small bowl with rice vinegar (or white vinegar if you want a more aggressive acidity). If you’re using young ginger, you can also slice up some of the green leaves thinly and do the same. And for the scallion, all you need to do is slice it up into tiny pieces, scatter across a shallow dish, and salt heavily before you start cooking—by the time your done, you’ll have a nice, bright (tasting) topper for the curry that’ll contrast the rich curry nicely (rinse the salt if you like; leave if you don’t mind and want a brighter taste).

For the spice blend, use a spice grinder (or coffee bean grinder if you don’t have one) and combine coriander, cumin, fenugreek, cardamom, black peppercorns, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, and orange/lemon peel (if using) and grind to a fine powder. Empty into a small bowl and combine with turmeric, chili powder, and nutmeg, then set aside.

For the stew, brown the chunks of mock duck in a tablespoon or so of oil in a heavy skillet, really crisping up some sides but leaving the majority supple. If you can’t find the duck or don’t want to use it, just use a good sub. for chunked beef, basically (we get it; canned meat, but it really is good). Transfer to a plate or bowl and set aside.

As with most winter squashes, the kabocha can bee a bit of a pain to get prepped. We’ve found that it’s best to (carefully) slice the top stem area off with a big knife, then (carefully) slice down the middle and split open. Then use a spoon or scooper (or grapefruit spoons work great) to scoop out the seeds and squash guts. You can totally set the seeds aside and roast with a little soy sauce for a snack later if you like. Then we tend not to cut the rind off of kabocha—it’s absorbed into the meat of the squash as it cooks—but you can if you like. Either way, then carefully slice the kabocha halves into long 1 inch thick wide segments, then square off chunks and set aside.

Warm a big, heavy stock pot (we use a cast iron Dutch oven) on medium flame, then add a tablespoon of oil to the pot once it’s warmed; wait a half minute or so for the oil to warm, then carefully add your kabocha chunks, stir, and cover tightly. Assuming your lid’s tight, you shouldn’t need to add any water or stock to cook the squash, but you may need to if it’s not. Regardless, cook until tender to a fork poke—usually 30 or so minutes. Once done, empty the squash pieces into a bowl and—without cleaning out the pot—add your other tablespoon of oil and then your chopped onion pieces, stirring uncovered until they begin to caramelize and become fragrant + translucent (about 10 or 15 minutes).

Now add your carrot + potatoes and cook covered until tender (another 15 or so). Your cooked kabocha can now make a return to the stock pot, along with your grated or puréed apple, broth, dashi, and protein. Simmer on medium-low covered while you prep the curry roux—in a medium saucepan, melt your butter (which replaces the rich-yet-terrible palm oil in this recipe) on low heat. Once melted, add your flour, continually stirring and raising the heat to medium, cooking until you’ve got a thick roux or gravy that begins to brown a bit. Now stir in your spice mix + grated ginger and cook for another minute before carefully scraping the whole thing into the main stock pot or Dutch oven.

Simmer for a bit covered to allow all the taste to mingle, then uncover, stir, and taste a cooled spoonful, adding salt and/or pepper to taste and then cooking until thickened nicely. Once done, serve over warmed rice and top with ginger slices + scallion/pickles and serve.

Itadakimasu!

Matt Pond has graced these pages a number of times now in one way or another. We’re longtime fans of his music and he’s generally just a really nice, interesting dude who’s been around long enough in the creative realm to see it shift dramatically in myriad ways.

So our interest was understandably piqued when Matt announced a new collaboration last fall between he, his longtime musical partner, Chris Hansen, and Atlanta-based visual artist Eva Magill-Oliver.

The project, titled An Orchestrated Impulse, comprises twelve paintings and twelve instrumental compositions across twelve keys. As they describe the piece on their website: “The artists have responded to each other’s work over time and across wireless miles in the languages they speak most fluently, adding to the collection as a reaction to what they’ve seen and heard from each other. In its completed state, An Orchestrated Impulse is intended to be interactively experienced in a way that allows the observer to choose what they see and hear most intensely.”

We got a chance to talk with Matt to find out a little bit more about the whole thing—which debuts next month at Kingston, NY’s O+ Festival—and see what else he’s up to these days. Feel free to stream the audio to An Orchestrated Impulse below; you can also pre-order the audio via their bandcamp page and/or donate directly through their site to support the project. If you’re in the Kingston area the weekend of October 11, definitely check out the O+ Festival; and visit the O+ site to find out more about the non-profit behind the festival that works to works to support the health of underinsured artists + musicians.

raven + crow: So, first I heard about this project was when you announced it last fall—can you catch us up? Who is Eva Magill-Oliver? How do you all know each other and how did An Orchestrated Impulse come to be?

Matt Pond: Last fall, we were brewing the thoughts. Now the thoughts have hatched and will appear fully-feathered at the O+ Festival in Kingston.

Eva-Magill Oliver is a mindblowing artist I met electronically. I think we quietly knew each other, as mutual admirers over the internet.

I wanted to tell her that I appreciated her in work in a meaningful way. But these days, words and intentions are hard to trust. So I thought — why not try to create a dialog with what we do, with what we make? (A part of me believes that this is the greatest angle of our existence — conversational collaboration.)

Is the project collaborative between both the visual side and the aural? Like, do you discuss approach with Eva before she’s put brush to canvas or does she show you the work and you react musically? Describe the process, if you could.

This is medium-crossing exquisite corpse. We’re actually in the process right now.

Everything so far is skeletal and unfinished. We have outlines, we have some frames to be able to see and share what we’re doing.

We’re waiting for the next piece. We’ll write and build off of what Eva creates and what we hear. This, until we hit the finish line.

It isn’t perfect or absolute. It’s human and often clunky. Which is why I love it — it’s real.

I’ve been playing music for years but don’t have a background in music theory at all—that said, I’ve been reading about the circle of fifths and it makes some intuitive sense to me. But it also kind of strikes me as musical witch craft in a way—do you feel like music theory, or even this project, are more summoning tools for something bigger than us and ever-present or is this all just essentially another human-made language or sorts?

On the musical side, I am the simpleton and Chris is the theorist. He went to music school, he likes to shred in his free time.

While I can knock myself on a variety of topics, I believe in my simplicity. I hum and speak in shapes and color. But Chris makes sure we’re adhering to the technical requirements.

In fact, Chris has begun to intermittently hum and speak in shapes in color, just like me. Whereas theory will sometimes create a finite series of possibilities.

I’m free to skip through the melodic wilderness, willfully clueless, unaware of the electric fences, the quicksand and the collective, critical bear.

Totally starting a new band called Critical Bear.

Have you ever been to or are you at all familiar with the Integratron out near the Yucca Valley in the California desert? This progressive tonal interpretation and even some of the sounds remind me of their playing these giant quartz bowls and thoughts on how tones affect us.

I’ve never heard of this. It looks amazing.

I think tones have an impact. At this point, it may be neither scientifically or spiritually quantifiable.

Birdsong, whale noises, howling dogs. Even the day-to-day music in footsteps and conversation. Or my favorite — silence. There’s a wooly, comforting tone to silence.

So, stepping from the ether to the more corporeal for a bit, instrumentally, what’s going on in the music? From the little bit I’ve heard, I can pull out piano, ambient droning keys, maybe some guitar?

Pedals, effects, feedback. We’re not precious, we are not beholden to one way.

Sometimes the instrument is there to fulfill the need for frequency, sometimes for melody. There’s something freeing about being open to anything on the floor, anything in the box.

There are those with strict aesthetics — and I get it — some people are particular about their paintbrush, their whiskey, their posture when they put pen to paper.

For us, there are no rules except to make something we love.

There was a time, long ago when almost every song required a cello and guitar solos were forbidden. I believe some people appreciated our strict lines in the sand.

Whereas I’m at my best when I dive into the surf without thinking.

On the music side, is it just you and Chris or do you have any guest musicians on these instrumentals?

It’s just me and Chris. This music is difficult to explain. In some ways it’s completely complex, in other ways it’s like finger-painting, even in the same gulp of air.

Like asking, “Count to a hundred. Without breathing.”

So this is something that, from the beginning, was meant to exist in the real world—maybe as an exhibit that you can walk around and interact with visually and aurally—and as something virtual. Do you have more clarity yet on either of those two existences? A gallery that will be hosting or a traveling exhibition as with the fest? An interactive site or—better yet—virtual reality experience? I feel like the latter could be really lovely, just picturing walking around your living room and seeing this virtual gallery that you can explore.

We want to make this VR! It would be amazing! But that might be out of our price range and probably isn’t a simple favor we could call in from a friend.

I’m hoping for the best when we premiere it at the O+ Festival. With that, we can prove it’s not merely voodoo. With that, we can have video and photographic proof of our efforts.

We’d love to continue to promote and build these types of collaborations for other people — it’s a thrilling way to truly listen to someone else — what they’re saying through what they create.

No, it sounds really awesome. We’d originally thought we were going to be in the area around the time of the festival but since changed up some plans, so we’re sadly going to miss it.

But how are your other projects going? Can you talk briefly about the In Dreams podcast you two do, how it was born, and how it’s going so many episodes later?

We’re working on An Orchestrated Impulse, a book, and a new band.

As far as radio, In Dreams was a frenetic blast. It took too much work and too much time to make it feasible. Now, we’re going to simplify the concept into a dreamy interpretation of life in Kingston, NY. Like a metaphysical news updates with music in between.

In some ways, all these ideas are winding roots that lead back to the crux. Which is this:

I don’t trust my mind, my mouth, or my words in a finite moment. Instead, I’ve relied on music to explain myself, to linger on an unsolved mystery and try to connect with other human beings.

I like it. And you’re doing something new with a cartoonist or illustrator, yeah?

Yes! That’s the book. Doug Salati, a brilliant illustrator, an amazing person. 

The book is both exciting and a test of my patience — all these projects need advocacy. Yet all these projects fall outside the realm of normalcy or immediate acceptance.

It’s all a constant queue. A line-up on aisle seven that leads all the way back to the produce.

Grocery store analogies are my favorite kinds of analogies.

So what’s the story with this new band? Will it be called “Matt Pond something something”?

Yes! A new band! I have seen enough of my own name for a million lifetimes. Still, I don’t want to spill all the beans just yet.

With all these projects, I want to be more egalitarian. To be political in my personal actions, rather than in my rants. I prefer to keep my rants limited to bad drivers and cold winters.

I remember those. The cold winters—Los Angeles has plenty of bad drivers.

Well, thanks for keeping this continuing conversation alive, Matt. And let us know next time you’re in Los Angeles.

Thank you!

We’re starting a new series on these pages where we ask friends, colleagues, random strangers—all of them experts in their field—a single question on a single subject. We begin with what seems to be our current cultural obsession: Keanu Reeves. But why Keanu?

To get to the heart of the matter, we reach out to longtime friend Hemal Jhaveri, who spends her work days writing about sports but, far more importantly, hosts the most excellent Culture Time podcast, a show dedicated to deep dives into pop culture obsessions. This most recent second season brings on other longtime friend Brian Minter as co-host and is dedicated to the man, the legend, Keanu. And if you’re wondering, this Keanu-dedicated series started way back in November of 2018, so Jhaveri + Minter (pictured below, in front of what looks to be a gigantic Trapper Keeper at their live Culture Time Q+A at the Smithsonian last month) are way ahead of the curve on this one.

But on to our question: Simply—Why Keanu?

Keanuologist Hemal Jhaveri: Authenticity is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, in the sense that everyone seems to be obsessed with it.

People want authentic food! Authentic experiences! Authentic connections with other people! Authentic connections with themselves!

There are a lot of very smart cultural critics out there who addressed the Keanu phenomenon better than I can, but I think a large part of it, certainly, boils down to his authenticity.

We all want to live an “authentic life,” whatever the hell that means, and I think a deep undercurrent of our cultural fascination with Keanu Reeves has to do with the fact that he seems to be someone who is super fucking authentic.

Take, for example, this video, from about a decade ago, of Keanu giving up his subway seat for a woman carrying a large bag. Keanu clearly doesn’t know he’s being filmed when he gets up and performs a gesture of such basic human decency that it goes viral.

Here he is! A big movie star! Giving up his seat! On the subway! Like an actual person!

There are, of course, a ton of other “Keanu Is a Nice Guy” stories and we, as a nation, can not seem to get enough of them. There’s the time he caravanned with a group of stranded airline passengers all the way to Bakersfield, the time he helped Octavia Spencer, then an unknown actress, when her car broke down, the time he bought an ice cream bar at a movie theater just so he could sign his autograph on the back of the receipt for the box office attendant.

We love those stories, not just because they soothe something broken in us, but because they’ve all happened out of the glare of the spotlight, because they seem to be authentic, genuine gestures of his kindness.

Take away the acts of kindness and there’s still the Sad Keanu meme, the countless images of him just chilling, staring into space and eating a sandwich on benches across LA. He looks, in a world where everything we see is so coordinated and produced, completely unguarded and disturbingly human.

In many ways, it’s hard to separate Keanu the man from Keanu the actor, and we carry all this baggage with us when we watch his movies. How can you not root for a guy who will hunt down the assholes that killed his dog and will also go out of his way to make a stranger’s day better? The iconic roles he’s played, from Ted to Neo to John Wick, all hold a special space in our cultural hearts, and it makes sense the man who plays them should too.

We may have come around to Keanu again because of how good he is at making movies, but we’ve sunk our teeth into him again, culturally, because of his affable kindness, his accessibility, his authenticity.

He is one of us and yet, not one of us, and that makes us love him more. You get the feeling that, under the right circumstances, not only could you enjoy a beer with the guy, but maybe be his friend. He’s rich and famous, but still sad and weird.

We’re engaged in a kind of collective myth making right now around Keanu, making him out to be greater than the sum of his parts maybe, but it’s certainly what we need. We need reminders that good people exist, that it’s possible to be rich and also not a dick. That, in our age of oversharing it’s OK to want to keep things to yourself, that you don’t have to totally bankrupt your interior life for the sake of success. That there is a way to live in this world with kindness while being true to yourself.

It’s a lot to heap on anyone, much less the dude known for saying “Whoa” in the Bill and Ted movies, but, for better or worse, this where we’ve landed.

I certainly don’t expect Keanu to save us, but he’s a bright spot in a bleak and dismal cultural landscape. It’s nice knowing Keanu is out there, like a third-tier superhero, just waiting to make your day better.

If you’d like to read even more about the man—nay, the force of nature that is Keanu Reeves—Culture Time co-host Brian Minter wrote a thoroughly researched and scientifically tested piece on the subject last month titled “America Loves Keanu Reeves: A Scientific Analysis” and it will indeed answer all of your questions.

Photo: Marybel Le Pape

Meatballs come in myriad sizes and styles, being significant staples in many a culture’s cuisine. But when most of us in the States think of meatballs, we go straight to the prototypical example of Italian spaghetti + meatballs, which, I think it’s fair to say, is commonly and easily vegan-ized, as it were.

The giant meatball + spaghetti, however, not so much.

When we heard that Beyond Meat had created Beyond Beef—a soy-free, gluten-free vegan ground beef with 20 grams of protein per serving and pea protein as its base—our minds went straight to polpettone (Italian for large meatballs, as opposed to the regular polpette). For anyone already familiar with the Beyond Burger, the Beef is basically a more neutral version of that that’s bought in a block, allowing for more versatility in cooking + recipes.

We gave a recipe a try and it turned out great paired with a good quality spaghetti and Katie’s father’s family marinara recipe (their last name’s Frichtel, but the family’s very much Italian-American), so we thought we’d share it here.

Here’s what you need for the meatball(s):
• 1 lb/package Beyond Beef
• 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
• 1 Follow Your Heart Vegan Egg (betting a flax egg would work too)
• 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (we used rye, for extra flavor)
• olive oil for sautéing

For the Frichtel Marinara:
• 1 large yellow onion, peeled + finely chopped
• 4 large carrots, left un-peeled + finely chopped
• 3 celery stalks with leaves, all finely chopped
• 9 cloves of garlic, smashed, peeled + finely chopped
• 1 large green bell pepper, cored + finely chopped
• 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (we like fire-roasted)
• 2 6 oz. cans of tomato paste
• 2 tsp. of crushed pepper
• large handful of fresh Italian basil, finely sliced (or 2 tbsp. dried Basil)
• small handful of fresh parsley, finely sliced (or 1 tbsp. dried parsley)
• a few leaves of fresh sage, finely sliced (.5 tbsp. dried sage)
• 1.5 tbsp. dried oregano (or equivalent fresh if you’ve got it)
• .5 tbsp. dried thyme (or equivalent fresh if you’ve got it)
• pinch of ground cinnamon
• pinch of ground or shaved nutmeg
• 3 bay leaves
• good quality olive oil
• salt, to taste
• red wine (optional, I guess)

For garnish, we used some sliced fresh basil and thinly sliced Violife Just Like Parmesan (it’s essentially a block of flavored potato starch, so not much nutritional value, but the taste is pretty accurate and it slices and grates really well).

For the pasta, we wanted that classic spaghetti, so we went with a nice Italian one we found at our local grocery store which just listed semolina as the only ingredient. If you want to make fresh pasta, though, it’s really not hard and super-good (also super-impressive if you’re looking to wow someone)—we wrote up a recipe for fresh vegan pasta a few years back. But if you’re going with packaged, you’ve most likely made pasta before; if not…that’s super-exciting! Good luck! Follow the package instructions either way, but that’s pretty much your last step; let’s rewind:

First, the sauce.

The aforementioned Frichtel marinara is a cherished staple in our house and marinara day, when you need fresh sauce for a meal or you’re replenishing your frozen supply, is a lovely, fragrant, homey day we always enjoy. Yes, you can totally use store-bought sauce, and, yes, I’m sure there a lot of great ones out there these days, but I’m betting this one’s better, so give it a go.

The recipe itself isn’t complicated or tough, it’s just time-consuming. Actively, your time up front is a ton of chopping—again, not difficult, just a bit arduous. Then it’s a lot of waiting around, occasional stirring, and doing whatever you want while you allow flavors to combine and liquid to reduce off.

Basically, though, once you’re done with all that dicing and finely chopping, add all of your vegetables to a large pot with 2 tablespoons or so of warmed olive oil, tossing to coat. Then throw in your crushed pepper and about a half-teaspoon of salt and simmer covered for about five minutes. Now add your crushed tomatoes and your tomato paste. Fill the tomato paste cans with water or broth, adding a total of 6 of those cans worth of liquid to the pot (we like broth—more flavor; interested in making your own, more nutritious + less sodium-heavy broth— give this a look). Whatever liquid you add to the cans, the idea is both giving more room for boiling off in the spot and getting every little bit of that concentrated, flavorful paste out of the can, so scrape, shake covered, whatever it takes. Then bring the heat up to medium, add all of the spices + herbs, and stir. If you want, here’s where you’d add a cup or half-cup of red wine to mix at this point, to give the sauce more depth of flavor (pretty sure the alcohol would cook off with this much heat and time, for anyone concerned). Cook everything covered on medium-low to low heat, avoiding too much bubbling as it thickens. Stir and check the taste after an hour, at which point you can add more spices or herbs as needed. Cook for another three or so hours covered, stirring from time to time to make sure the bottom’s not sticking too much. Store whatever you don’t use frozen.

Now the meatball(s). Pre-heat your oven to 350°F. Then, essentially, put all your meatball the ingredients in a big bowl, mix with a spoon or fork. Then, once it’s well mixed, get your hands in there and really integrate things into a cohesive mass that should want to stick together pretty well—too crumbly, add some liquid; too runny, get some more breadcrumbs in there. Once it feels good and stable, form your meatballs. For us, this made four, very large meatballs, but you do you—maybe you want some smaller ones; maybe you want one gigantic one, Regarding Henry style (anyone?). Coat an already warm skillet with olive oil, allow that to warm, and add meatballs, not crowding too much and allowing room to turn each to brown all sides (does a ball have sides?). Once thoroughly browned, set the meatballs on a baking tray or dish and place uncovered in the oven for 30 or so minutes too cook through (if you’re going the single monster meatball route, likely a little longer…but also, whatever—this isn’t dead animal, so sanitarily, you’re good, you just don’t want a cold-middle meatball, ammiright).

Now cook your pasta, plate, and Mangia! Mangia!

For anyone flying into or out of John F. Kennedy International Airport, we highly recommend taking some time to check out the new, beautifully done TWA Hotel, adjoining Terminal Five (Jet Blue’s terminal). Its center is housed in the old Trans World Flight Center, originally designed + built in 1962 by Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen, and flawlessly renovated by New York’s own Beyer Blinder Belle.

Walking into the common space of the new hotel feels like stepping back in time to 1960s New York, complete with a sunken main bar, hidden away little lounges, a red-carpeted arching tunnel connecting the terminal to the new space, and fully immersed staff, many wearing the original Stan Herman TWA uniforms (that’s a 1975 one below being modeled by our new friend, Donna).

Everything we saw was impeccably + thoughtfully designed, and—this being a quick stop in on our way into the city for a long-overdue visit—there’s a lot we didn’t see too, like the Connie Cocktail Lounge inside of a 1958 Lockheed Constellation airplane parked on the tarmac, a pool bar, and a rooftop deck.

We’re guessing pretty nice hotel rooms too.

The hotel was easily the most thoughtfully designed space we’ve seen of late.

Read more about the space and book your stay at TWA Hotel’s site.

Not to get all Dos Equis guy on you, but, we don’t do band interviews often; when we do, we like to feature bands that are newer on the scene that we think are making music that’s somehow distinct + awesome. The debut full-length from Brooklyn-based Erin Hoagg (AKA Rare DM), Vanta Black, definitely hits those marks. Brooding with layered vintage synths but made more human with Hoagg’s personal lyrics, the album is a perfect aesthetic marriage of the digital and the organic for us.

We took a little time to talk with Hoagg about her album, her approach to writing, terrible boyfriends, and the mysterious namesake of the album, which you can listen to in full below; buy it via iTunes or your favorite independent record store.

Photo + album cover by Lissy Elle Laricchia.

raven + crow: First off, thanks for talking with us—we really dig your album. This being your first, I’m assuming it’s been a long time coming. Have you been writing/recording + performing as Rare DM for long?

Erin Hoagg: Thanks so much for asking me to do this interview!! I am excited to talk with you. Very happy you like Vanta Black.

I used to call my project Errmine, which is what I named my soundcloud in high school, and about 3 years ago but it didn’t feel like it properly described my project—I had grown so much musically since then, and my sound has really evolved. I changed it to Rare DM when I released my first single off the album (Almost a Year) and really feel like I’ve done the right move there. I have been playing shows for about 4 years now and writing music for this project for about 5 years, though I have been making up songs since elementary school.

Yeah, totally makes sense to rebrand yourself in that since when you’re moving into a whole new set of audiences. So, I don’t like to play the comparison game with bands or pigeonhole music too too much, but how do you describe Rare DM when people ask?

I usually start by saying I make music with analog gear and play live with all hardware. Then the question gets more tedious if they wanna know “who” I think I sound like. I’m not trying to sound like anyone so it’s a funny question. It’s much easier when people are familiar with electronic music. I got asked that question recently and the convo went a little like: “Well do you know The Knife?” “No.” “Early Grimes?” “No.” “…Ladytron?” “No.” “Molly Nilsson?” “Geneva Jacuzzi?” “No.” “Ok…Kraftwerk?” “Kind of.” I just kinda hit dead ends on all the electronic references I thought they might know and then just said “Ok, well I make music with drum machines and vintage synths and I’m told I sing like a crooner.”

I’d say that works. Since you brought it up (and I was already curious) what are using in terms of synths and other hardware for the songs on the album? It has a very distinct sound.

Why thank you!! Distinct is a fine word.

Synth wise you are hearing a lot of Juno 60—whenever there is an ARP, it’s my Juno. When you hear that dusty sounding vibraphone or a ‘human voice’ that’s my Casio CZ 5000, which I found on the street in SoHo. Drum-wise I am using a Elektron Machinedrum and some rare little vintage drum machines. Think Quiet has some toy keyboard on it—I wrote that song on a Yamaha I bought for $5 in a junk store. I used Logic to record the album (I’ve switched to Ableton since—much better), though it was mixed in Ableton by Patrick Canaday. It’s annoying if you don’t use the same DAW ( digital audio workstation) as your engineer because you can’t just give them the project file, you have to bounce everything separate and make sure you line it up perfect. Super happy to be using Ableton now, for a variety of reasons and definitely to not deal with that anymore.

Oh, man, thanks of the detailed break-down—I’ve been thinking about getting a Korg MS-20 for a bit now and I feel like this has given me a lot more to think on. Also, I totally miss the great, random things you can find just being thrown out on the streets of NYC. You get NONE of that here in LA.

I read that you one-take improvised some of the lyrics on the album—true?

Sometimes I write lyrics beforehand, though a lot of the time I’ll make a synthline/bassline and/or drum beat etc and loop it and sing on top of it. If I’m feeling really fucked up or inspired I either hit something special or maybe it’s complete chaos and I throw it away or frankenstein it. The song “Softboy” for example was made that way—looped synth line, two takes of Machinedrum, then I riffed the whole song and never changed it; that’s why it’s a little meandering at times. I didn’t change any of the pacing or put multiple takes together. That is one vocal take I didn’t touch. Same for “Best”, and most of “Wholehearted”. I think my lyrics are very raw and sad in all of the songs and I was thinking about my romantic situation and disappointments. The changes in pace of the improvised Machinedrum take(s) affected the riffed vocals because I played off of them, same goes for whatever synth is involved. I try to give variety in my vocal takes and really dig into my pain, sometimes it ends up being a good song without me changing anything, or it feels like I shouldn’t because I wouldn’t want to make it less “real” and “honest”.

I honestly never would have know if I hadn’t read that—impressive. As you alluded to, I know many of the songs that make up the album were sparked by a pretty big break-up—do you feel like there really is a significant connection between experiencing pain or misfortune and the creative spirit, the whole tortured artist trope? Or maybe it’s more about experiencing significant moments, positive or negative?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently—when I was happy in that relationship I was in a way singing less / writing fewer lyrics, though having so much fun composing/jamming/writing more industrial and techno things. It sucks to think I have to be miserable to write good lyrics. If that were true I would have to be perpetually unhappy to write anything good, which isn’t ideal. I have written a lot of things while very sad, within a relationship or not, and this might be silly but I have definitely had my own sad songs make me feel better. If I’m really sad and I wanna feel less alone, I guess listening to my own take on my sadness can help me think. To further answer your question though, passionate moments positive or negative definitely make for great music. Much more so than boredom or apathy I think. I wrote a song recently that I would actually call “happy” which is something pretty much none of Vanta Black is. I play it live and I have a lot of friends saying it’s my best song, which makes me feel good. I am interested in writing songs that aren’t all sad or angry. I love darkness, dissonance, and somber sounding things though I like the contrast of writing lyrics with a dark instrumental that can still be happy. I haven’t done as many of them but I’ve got a few. Working on more.

Cool to hear. I feel like some of my favorite music is some combination of somewhat sad or melancholy music or lyrics with totally upbeat lyrics or music, respectively.

Not to get too personal, but reading your essay on “Jade” my main takeaway was ’This guy sounds like such a jerk’. But then without that relationship, maybe a lot of the record wouldn’t exist; or at least, wouldn’t exist as it does. Are y’all still in touch at all?

First, thank you for reading!! I tried to be light-hearted with the essay but I guess it’s mostly just sad. My friend made me laugh because he texted me “you lose your phone, get locked out of your house, and fall off your bike independently of him being a doof” and that made me smile. Thought I should share that.

To answer your question, no. He was wildly important and I am too heartbroken. I loved him so much. I had more fun with him than anyone else, he made me laugh more than anyone, he liked all the same music as me, we had amazing chemistry. He wasn’t good at making me feel safe though, and he was inconsistent. Absolutely atrocious at communicating in general; especially when he was far away.

If you want me to get personal—we broke up and I wrote all these songs, then he came back, ‘ready to be serious’ or something after the “Jade” time period. We were back and phenomenal for about a year and a half. Then, guess what—he got a temporary job in Amsterdam with that friend of his. FML right?? He literally met my entire extended family in July RIGHT before he left for that job and everyone loved him, we were better then ever, then he goes to Amsterdam AGAIN and disappears. He gets back and starts being all flighty and weird. He moved in with me when he got back from Europe and then lost his shit out of absolutely nowhere after about 2.5 months saying he “loves me but needs to be alone” so I’m kinda in that FOOL ME ONCE SHAME ON YOU, FOOL ME TWICE SHAME ON ME zone. He can’t bounce back from that again. Besides my friends would kill me. Also I have no interest in being friends with someone who has hurt me so bad.

Eesh. Yeah, sound uno good. On to better things. Speaking of, I love that you titled your album Vanta Blackthat stuff fascinates me. Why do you feel like this darkest stuff on earth is a good analog for your debut?

Thank you!! I love it too. The darkest manmade pigment seemed appropriate for my darkest hours. I haven’t been as mad and/or sad before as I was when recording this album. Maybe it seems melodramatic,  though most of my music does come from dark times, and most music I listen to isn’t happy-sounding either. I don’t really like Major keys. I definitely don’t write with them often. Vanta Black is neat both as a tangible thing (the pictures of the pigment are really really cool) and as a word visually. It is a beautiful combination of words. I like everything about it and, to be honest, when I was changing my project name I was considering calling myself Vanta Black. Rare DM ended up being more fitting, though Vanta Black still had a place in my heart, and I knew it would be something. Also when Lissy and I took the photo that ended up being the album cover, it really solidified my decision. That was definitely the mood of the album.

Have you ever seen the namesake in real life? I haven’t but I feel like the images you can see online can’t possible do it justice, right?

I have not had the pleasure of seeing any of Anish Kapoor’s works with the pigment in person (his studio has the exclusive license for it’s artistic use) though I have seen lots of imitation pigments that aren’t quite as insanely dark. They are still very cool though, and I look forward to seeing Vantablack S-VIS (the paint) in person someday.

I know you’re based in our old home of Brooklyn—what’s the indie electronic scene there like these days?

It’s definitely very active, especially the DJ scene—it’s easier to find great electronic shows that are CDJ-based at places like Bossa Nova Civic Club or Mood Ring, although live electronic acts do play there too. It’s really cool when that happens, and I’ve been to many other great live shows at house parties and places like The Glove. I have some great friends that are synth nerds and super tech-y and it’s really fun to have people come over, or go to their studios and jam. I love talking gear. Secret Project Robot is about to shut down, though there are a lot of great electronic musicians that play there. In a way NYC seems pretty indie rock heavy, though you can find your electronic peers if you know where to look and go to the right shows. Also buying gear is a great way to meet other electronic musicians—especially at Control or on craigslist!!

Any favorite venues to play? I fear most of the ones we loved before we left in 2014 have since shut down.

Yes—RIP 285 and Glasslands and DBA!!

Pouring out a 40 as we speak.

As for places I have played; Elsewhere has an amazing sound-system/lighting and they are very professional. Same for Mercury Lounge and Rough Trade. I haven’t had the pleasure of playing Market Hotel or Baby’s All Right yet, though everyone who works there is great and I’m looking forward to it someday. The Glove is a favorite, and Trevorshaus, where I am playing on May 11th is a great DIY venue. You’ll have to ask me the address outside of this interview if you want to go though. 😉

Noted. I also read that play your shows fully live, right?

Yes!! I play with Octotrack, Machinedrum, drum triggers and noise synth. Along with my vocals.

That’s awesome. Any time I see a largely electronic band that’s doing something more than singing to pre-recorded track, I’m into it. So is that just you or are you building out a band for shows? And what’s technically involved in doing everything without so much pre-recorded? Sounds excitingly overwhelming.

Just me!! Not currently building a band. Some day it would be cool to have a live drummer or something, though I want my project to stay a solo project. You just have to be good at midi syncing your gear and uploading your samples correctly. It’s not that hard once you get the hang of it. There is a learning curve to the Octotrack, though you totally fall in love with it after you get past the initial headache.

Can you tell us about any little-know local bands we should keep an eye on?

Look out for Hot.throb, Hara Kiri, Longer, Ray Rose.

Thanks and will do. Do you have any fun album release plans of next month?

Yes I am playing May 11th at Trevorshaus with Umru (PC music), my best friend from Montreal, Margo, Gooddroid, and Stress. It’s going to be very fun.

Think you’ll hit the West Coast to support it?

Yes definitely!! I want to play Part Time Punks in LA ASAP, and want to play San Fransisco soon!! I am working on it.

We’ll definitely keep a look out. Thanks again of taking the time to talk and congratulations on an excellent debut.

Thank you!! Great talking to you raven + crow.

We just got turned on to a fun new food happening here in LA (like, literally this morning)—Zoë’s Food Party, which is pretty much what it sounds like.

The Zoë in question is Zoë Komarin, Jersey native, artist, and former chef at Tel Aviv’s Cafe Xoho who now, with her husband Udi, happily calls Los Angeles home, where she orchestrates food parties with spontaneity and craveability at their core.

We caught her at her weekly Wednesday morning pop-up in the back yard of Highland Park’s Collage Coffee (who, by the way, makes THE ((full stop)). BEST ((full stop)). Almond milk lattes in town ((regular full stop because grammar, I guess? But at this point…)).)

Granted, this was our first encounter, but from what we can gather, these weekly hump day pop-ups center around egg or vegan turmeric-chia-chickpea patty breakfast sammies with nearly everything—the puffy freshly steamed pita bread, the vegan patties, the tehina, the variant toppers—made from scratch by Zoë. And it’s all awesome and packed with popping flavor.

Our sandwiches featured the aforementioned savory vegan patties (seen frying on the spot below) and a broccoli salad in Zoë’s super-soft, super-fresh pita bread with her homemade sesame tahina sauce and topped with marinated pine nuts, a sweet tomato jam, fresh herbs, and edible flowers foraged by hand.

But the bread and butter (hah) of Zoë’s business model are these food parties, gatherings in homes, parks, or anywhere centered around Zoë’s cooking—as she puts it “I am your witchy food wizard entertainment clown bouncy castle.”

So clearly there’s a lot more to experience.

Explore Zoë’s site if you either want to find out more about these food parties or you want to see what is now our favorite site of the week. Or both.

In this day and age of utter overwhelmment (not a word) at every turn, we sometimes need to hear things twice to have them break through to our collective, social-media-soaked consciousness.

So, to reiterate what we shared last month, our mixtape series that we’ve been sharing on a monthly basis since 2015 has now grown into a partnership with our friends at Whalebone. Like them, we don’t really dig the term ‘lifestyle brand’, but, in their words—”Whalebone is an authentic, positive lifestyle brand that feels like a friend. One who was born and raised on the East End and who seeks out good things and the good in things everywhere.”

The yearly, massive SXSW Music Festival is now in the rear view, but our SXSW mix is evergreen and should live, roughly, for as long as the internet does—check it out over Whalebone and look for next month’s soon; we’ve got something special planned.

And again, if you’re worried about missing upcoming mixes, especially ones not posted here in the future, be sure to sign up for Whalebone’s newsletter. You can also follow us directly on our Mixcloud page and on Instagram, where we’ll be sure keep announcing these.