Matt Blais, Amy Thiessen and Lorrie Matheson on the food they eat on the road and in the studio
Musicians tend to get a bad rap when it comes to food. Rock ‘n’ roll is typically more associated with cheep beer and greasy pizza than pricey wine and fine dining, but as the rest of our culture wises up to the pleasure that comes with a properly cooked meal made with fresh and delicious ingredients, the people who make the music that we like to enjoy while we eat our dinners are just as likely as anyone else to be interested in checking out the hot new chef in town or trying their hand at making their own boeuf bourguignon at home (or sushi, in Matt Blais’ case).
When you think about it, a lot of connections can be made between music and food: if executed properly, both offer very a sensual experience and we all have very personal preferences when it comes to both. But how do musicians themselves fuel their creativity with what they put on their plates? We talked to three very different local musicians to find out:
The Road Warrior
Matt Blais is an alternative blues rock player who spent about half of 2013 on the road, playing bars, coffee shops, theatres, and other venues all over Canada. A relatively young and fit guy, Blais says that he does often turn to pizza, wings, and other bar food simply because that’s what the venues he plays tend to feed touring bands. Still, the quest to find something healthy and delicious is almost always on his mind when he’s on tour.
“Our contract often says ‘no pizza’ because every venue you play with will just give you pizza,” Blais says. “You really start to look forward to a home-cooked meal, even if it’s just a tuna casserole or spaghetti and meat balls.”
Blais is an energetic performer with a big voice, which means that he also has to be aware of how food affects his ability to perform. He tries to avoid eating anything too heavy before jumping on stage, and has a secret weapon that gets him through his shows, which can be up to three hours long.
“Orange juice is my magic cure,” Blais says. “I’ll usually have an orange juice, or sometimes a vodka and orange juice before the show. As for things I avoid, it’s not so much to do with the voice, but my stomach and how I feel and my general comfort level. If you’re sweating out curry, you’re not going to be that comfortable.”
The Healthy Singer-Songwriter
While Matt Blais’s blues rock calls for bar food, Amy Thiessen’s intimately grown-up folk sound is a perfect match for a laid-back but sophisticated restaurant — which is why she’s currently in the middle of a spring residency at Raw Bar. While some musicians don’t love the idea of people digging into a steak while they’re pouring their heart out on stage, Thiessen likes setting a tone for people’s dinner dates.
“My style of music makes it great for me to play while people are eating,” she says. “I’m not a get up and jump around kind of girl, my music is for people to listen to. The challenge of playing in a restaurant is that people may be talking, but after a couple of sets when everyone is relaxing after their meals, people really start listening.”
As for what she eats herself, Thiessen also keeps herself busy as a yoga teacher trainer, so she’s very conscious of properly fueling her body for that and she’s also been a vegetarian since she was 12. She loves shopping for salads and veggies at Community Natural Health and tends to cook simple stir fries, quinoa pilafs, and Indian dishes at home, but she knows that when she hits the road she needs to be a little bit flexible when it comes to eating.
“In Northern Alberta it’s hard,” she says. “I don’t eat a lot of gluten, I don’t eat a lot of dairy, and I need to let go of those kinds of restrictions as soon as I hit the road. I just have to go to Tim Horton’s right away and say ‘This is how my life is going to be’ and accept it.”
In the Studio
Lorrie Matheson is not only a much-beloved performing musician (he plays solo and also leads the band Sons of Bears and plays keyboards in Night Committee) but he also works as a producer, spending a lot of time in his studio with a lot of different bands. Matheson says that he does indeed see a lot of bands (especially the younger ones) turning to the traditional rock ‘n’ roll diet of pizza, chips, and beer, but there’s also a higher percentage of locavores and vegetarians in the music world since the punk rock ethos is so often accompanied by higher social awareness.
“I find for a lot of people they’re very conscious of what they’re eating for a number of reasons,” Matheson says. “A lot of people are worried about their health because it can be an unhealthy lifestyle with the staying up late and getting up early and the travel. A lot of musicians are very socially and politically involved, and that plays into the food they eat.”
Matheson also enjoys the way that food can bring working musicians together. The whole idea of a business dinner where colleagues can let loose, sit down and eat something delicious while solidifying their professional relationships, applies to musicians the same way it applies to corporate business people.
“Your relationship when you’re eating together is more intimate,” Matheson says. “When you’re in the studio and you’re working on a record, tensions can get high and frustrations can set in, so when you take a break to eat something you can relax. That’s the time to decompress.”
Going back to the whole idea of an inherent connection between music and food, all three of these local musicians can see all kinds of parallels. Whether they’re eating steak and lobster (Blais’s personal favourite when he plays a place called Kergano’s Bar and Grill in Moose Jaw), a veggie burger from the Blue Star Diner (one of Thiessen’s favourite places to take friends and family), or a fatayer from Aida’s Bistro (a meal the Matheson has bonded over with other musicians), food is hitting many of the same senses that they use when they make music.
“Food is totally like music,” Thiessen says. “You figure out what sounds right to you and what makes you feel good, and you do your best to create something that comes from your heart and represents your journey. And food is the same. I want to be able to taste all different kinds of things, but I don’t want to overwhelm my senses on just chocolate. Or even carrots!”
Matt Blais’ current album The Heartbeat is out now. Amy Thiessen’s new album In Between Goodbyes was released on May 31 at Festival Hall in Calgary. Lorrie Matheson’s most recent solo album is called The Night is For Sleepers.
Photos of Matt and Amy by Ingrid Kuenzel.