Like any good chef, One Ring Zero partners well-honed technique with unconventional inspiration. The brainchild of Michael Hearst and Joshua Camp, the band entered the cultural consciousness in 2004 with As Smart As We Are, an album featuring lyrics written by the likes of Margaret Atwood, Rick Moody, Neil Gaiman, and Paul Auster. Hearst next turned his attentions to the Mister Softee truck — or, specifically, to its sanity-fraying jingle — with his Songs for Ice Cream Trucks, a 2007 collection of alternative tunes with titles like “Where Do Ice Cream Trucks Go in the Winter.”
Now, Hearst’s following dessert with dinner: ORZ’s new album, tentatively titled The Recipe Project, sets recipes to music. So far, they include Chris Cosentino’s Brains and Eggs, Mario Batali’s Spaghetti with Sweet 100 Tomatoes, and Michael Symon’s Octopus Salad with Black-Eyed Peas. And if that’s not enough to chew on, the band’s also got a food blog, Go Eat Some Food. Hearst chatted with Fork in the Road over e-mail about rocking out to octopus salad, the curious e-mailing habits of chefs, and the link between Marty Robbins and sweet potato fries.
How did the idea to collaborate with chefs for your new album come about?
One Ring Zero is a group that has always loved to collaborate on projects… The idea for working with chefs for our forthcoming album was sort of another situation resulting from being in a certain place at a certain time. My sister, Tatiana, and her husband, Chef Chris Cosentino, have both been very involved in the food world for as long
as I’ve been a professional musician. In large part because of them, I’ve followed the culinary world fairly closely. Actually, even before Chris was doing anything with the Food Network, both Joshua and I were rather fascinated with shows like the original Iron Chef, and Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour… The idea of working with chefs and recipes had been churning in my head for some time. However, it wasn’t really until I met Mario Batali’s assistant, Pam Lewy, that I got the ball rolling. It occurred to me that if I could get Batali on board, and certainly my brother-in-law, then we’d have a decent chance at this.
How does the songwriting process work with a chef? Is it much different than working with authors?
It’s extremely challenging. As far as I can tell, there’s not a whole lot of lyrical elements in a recipe. With authors, at least we were getting phrases that were somewhat poetic, sometimes even rhymes. With recipes, you may as well just be taking a paragraph from any old book and trying to turn it into music. In fact, it might be harder than that, considering that most recipes start with just a list of ingredients, and then a series of directions.
What have reactions among chefs been when you approach them about your project?
Because One Ring Zero works in so many mediums, we sort of get to take peeks into the inner belly of various industries. I would say in the music world, if I send a fellow musician or music industry person a request, at least half the time I get a response. In the literary world, probably 90 percent of the time I get something back. With chefs, I’ve been lucky if one out of every ten of my emails gets a response. Perhaps that’s because chefs are not at their computers nearly as much? Not really sure. Regardless, when I have gotten a chef to participate, they’ve all been super happy with the results. I mean, it’s really no skin off their back, and it’s essentially free promotion. Just fun!
What are some of the unique challenges of setting food/recipes to music? Can one rock out to an octopus salad?
Sure, we did! You might need a slight sense of humor. But why not? Michael Symon loves metal music. So we gave him a metal song. It might actually be one of the most “rockin” songs One Ring Zero has ever written. I completely blew my voice out singing that song. Rock!
Aside from Cosentino, Symon, and Batali, which chefs are you collaborating with, or hoping to collaborate with?
We also have recipes from Andrea Reusing, who is the chef at the Lantern in Chapel Hill, Jenny Morris, who is a celebrity chef in South Africa, a drink recipe from David Wondrich, and even a recipe from author Mark Kurlansky, on how to eat a raw peach.
Do any of them have musical ability, a la Tom Colicchio?
I’m sure many of them do; however, we haven’t really gone down that road… just yet. Though, I have no doubt that we will.
Do their own musical tastes influence the kind of songs they want to write?
Yep. In fact, we ask them what type of music they listen to, and what style they would like to hear their song. Michael Symon likes metal, so we gave him a metal song. Chris really likes electronica and Beastie Boys, so we did a sort of white-boy hip hop thing for him. David Wondrich heard his drink recipe set to ragtime, so we wrote him a ragtime-ish piece.
Have you cooked any of the recipes featured in the songs?
You mean have I made myself Brains and Eggs? Not yet. I’ve made the Batali dish. And we had the honor of performing at a David Wondrich event where he made us (and the entire audience) Mint Juleps.
When do you expect the album to be completed and available to the public?
Hopefully sometime in the next six months. Though we do have a few samples up on the website.
Do you think certain foods or dishes go better with certain music?
On so many levels. Not that there should be any hard, fast rules. I mean, to each his/her own, but it certainly drives me crazy when I go to a Thai restaurant and they’re playing Top Forty radio. I think perhaps there’s a difference between the music one might listen to while cooking, versus the music you want to hear while eating, or play while others are eating your food. For cooking, it’s totally the chef’s call. Whatever floats your boat and inspires you. But it might behoove the chef to consider the music he is playing while serving his dish. It’s no different than the decor or smell of the restaurant.
Do you have any madeleine-like food and music memories that make you associate particular foods with particular songs?
Aside from ice cream truck music? I think I’ll forever associate Marty Robbins with sweet potato fries. For a year or so I worked the lunch shift at a restaurant in Richmond, Virginia, called Ipanema. There was a Marty Robbins CD that played at least once a day, usually during the
lunch rush. Just about every sandwich at Ipanema comes with sweet potato fries. So now the song “El Paso” and sweet potato fries are forever intertwined.
On a slightly different note, when Songs for Ice Cream Trucks came out, you bemoaned the kind of ice cream being sold from trucks. Given the arrival of trucks like Van Leeuwen’s on the scene, has your opinion changed at all? And is the Mister Softee song still driving you nuts?
Ha ha. Yes, I’ve been thrilled to see the Van Leeuwen truck out there. So great! Unfortunately, mediocre ice cream still dominates the streets of New York. But the better-quality food truck scene has definitely picked up. Unfortunately (or fortunately), most of them don’t play music. I guess no music is better than bad music.