Nancy Whang Plays with Her Food
Published September 15, 2011
When LCD Soundsystem announced its impending disbandment on its website in February, all the cool kids wept: for a moment in time, the electronic indie-rock outfit, with its seven-minute exegeses on love, city life, and disappointment (and, you know, dancing), had defined a generation. (Who among us hasn’t joined with all his friends to loudly, drunkenly sing “All My Friends” at the end of the party?)
But all good things must come to an end, and the former members of LCD Soundsystem are doing just fine—better than fine, actually. They’re filling their time with interesting projects, DJ sets, and the comforts of home. And two of them—James Murphy and Nancy Whang, also of The Juan Maclean—are involved in this weekend’s intriguing Le Grand Fooding Campfire Session, an event thrown by the Paris-based Grand Fooding movement. The Campfire Session combines music, food, and drinks in Soho’s Elizabeth Street Garden, and all those involved are just as cool as Murphy and Whang: Wylie Dufresne is providing a course, Milk & Honey’s Sasha Petraske created a Jameson’s cocktail, and Sondre Lerche will be performing.
It’s also an unexpected occasion for memorial. Along with Whang, DJ Mehdi was scheduled to do a set at the event; he died Tuesday when a roof collapsed at a party. The event is now being held in his memory, with a tribute scheduled and Whang due to do a performance in his name. We talked to Whang earlier this week about food and music, before finding out about Mehdi’s passing.
ALEXANDRIA SYMONDS: What’s your life been like for the last six months—what have you been up to since the end of LCD? How’ve things been with The Juan Maclean? NANCY WHANG: Very quiet and stationary. I’ve been DJing a lot. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Just over the summer, I’ve been home getting reacquainted with home. And it’s nice being back in New York for the first time in several years. Just been doing a lot of DJing, and Juan and I are about to start working on a new record, but that’s pretty much it. SYMONDS: Have you guys already written all the songs and everything?
WHANG: No, no; we’re in the process of writing. SYMONDS: Well that’s really exciting; it’s been a while since the last one. Are you tight with a lot of the other DFA artists as well, or is that more of an incidental thing? WHANG: No, all of us are all pretty close, and we all play on each other’s records. SYMONDS: It’s strange. It seems like it’s such a family, but it’s also a pretty big roster—I mean, it’s not like Hardly Art. [laughs] You’ve got a significant number of labelmates. WHANG: For the most part. I mean, the label’s definitely grown a lot in the last few years. But especially for the artists who have been on the label since the beginning, we all ended up together because of our friendships with each other. So, you know, it’s a very collaborative, very familial kind of collective. SYMONDS: So can you tell me how you got involved with Le Fooding? WHANG: Well they did their first big event at P.S. 1 a few years ago, and James and Pat DJed that event. That came through our friend Sean Rembold, who’s the chef at Marlow & Sons. Marlow is in our neighborhood. So, we would go there all the time. We got to be really close with the staff, with the owners, with the chefs, with everybody who worked there, because we spent so much time there; it was sort of like our canteen. Sean was one of the chefs at Le Fooding’s [first New York] event, and he recommended James and Pat to DJ the event, just because he’s a fan and he knows we’re fans of his. So that’s how I first met all the Le Fooding people. I wasn’t in town for the last couple, but for this, they just asked me if I wanted to, and I did because I like what they do, and they’re friends now, and I thought it would be fun. SYMONDS: Yeah—it’s going to be a really great event. Do you have any sort of seminal food memories? WHANG: A lot, I suppose. Especially when you’re on tour, food becomes the central theme or just sort of anchor of your day, when you’re on the road all the time, living on the bus or flying everywhere. Going out to eat or having a really nice meal with your friends and your bandmates, it’s kind of like the only thing from which you can derive joy. SYMONDS: Oh, my gosh. [laughs] WHANG: [laughs] Being in a band playing music, it’s a great job for sure. But like anything, it gets taxing and repetitive. Being away from home for a long time, food is a really easy and really satisfying way to have some sense of comfort and home and togetherness or whatever. Definitely, eating ruled our days—outside of the routine of going to the city and setting up for the show and sound checking and playing the show—beyond that, our days often revolved around, “Where are we gonna eat? What are we gonna eat?” I often remember meals more vividly than actual shows that we’ve played. I’m tying to remember anything that stands out. I could list so many places.
A few years ago, we were on tour in Europe, and we had a day off, and we were stopped in Toulouse. We were outside of the city, basically in the suburbs of town, staying in these apartment-style hotels and just trying to save money. And we had a night and day off, and rather than staying in the city, we stayed in these apartments. But we got in late and we all wanted to eat. None of us new anything about Toulouse. So we just decided to call a bunch of taxis, meet in the center of town, and see where we went from there. So, the first taxi arrived and it was in the central square, the capital square. And there was a brasserie in the corner. So they went there to have a drink while they waited for the rest of us to show up. As the rest of us were coming in, they just decided to stay, like, “We’re here. They have food. It’s a nice space. Let’s just stay here.”
And it ended up being one of the best meals I’ve ever had. They served a steak ruffini, which is a little filet mignon with a layer of foie gras on top, and a piece of toast to catch all the blood underneath. It was the best steak I’ve ever eaten in my life, to this day. I remember it so vividly. All of us together on tour. We were a pretty big band, plus our crew, and we were also touring with Planningtorock, whom we had just met on this tour a couple weeks ago but had become fast friends. It was 20 of us at this dinner; there was no one else at this restaurant, and our server was this really funny guy from the south of France. He was dry and sarcastic and funny, and he took really good care of us. So, it was a really great night, and we ended up wandering the streets of Toulouse and found some bar and had some after-dinner drinks. Just the togetherness of stumbling upon someplace and all of us being together and having this really fun adventure, and also being one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten. Everyone ordered starters and mains, and we all had dessert. And the people who had ordered the steaks were just raving about it so much that when it came time for dessert we just ordered another steak. [laughs] SYMONDS: Would you guys research where you were gonna eat when you got to different cities before you got there? WHANG: Especially more recently. As our crew got really big, because our production got really big, they really made it so that the rest of us didn’t have to do anything. We got to be really lazy, because they were so good at doing their jobs. We ended up with a lot of free time. Generally, we would do some research. Everyone in the band was interested in food, and we had all been traveling so much that we’d go to places that we already knew about that became favorite spots. Or if sometimes we were in a new place, James would tweet, “Where should we eat today? Where should we eat in this town?” And just the Internet and asking the Internet, Yelp or whatever food blog reviews to give us an idea of where we should go. SYMONDS: Yeah it must have been harder to get into food before the Internet existed. WHANG: When you go to a new town, you can kind of get a sense of what’s the best place to go in a city. Harder to find are secret gems and the hole-in-the-wall places that sometimes you find just by luck. I guess we just ate a lot worse before, ate a lot shittier food. SYMONDS: When you would get home from being on the road, what’s the first place you would go when you were in back Williamsburg? WHANG: Marlow. Yeah. Definitely. There were a lot of times when I would go straight from the airport, with my bags, to Marlow. SYMONDS: Do you cook yourself, as well? WHANG: I don’t. [laughs] I could. I have. Yeah, it’s hard to do that. Because I live by myself, eating—aside from just wanting to have good food—is how I socialize with my friends and how I see them. So when I’m cooking at home, it’s not really that conducive to see going out and seeing people. SYMONDS: So you’re DJing what is essentially a dinner party. Do you think the two activities of DJing and throwing a dinner party have anything in common? WHANG: Yeah, I think music and eating, or at least eating out, are really related. I generally find that restaurants that I like because of the food often play music that I like. I think it kind of expresses a certain common sensibility. And when you’re throwing a dinner party, you’re always thinking about what kind of music you’re going to play to set the mood for the guests and for the atmosphere. Having a dinner party with no music, even if there’s lots of people and it’s jovial, I think there’ll be something missing if there’s no music.