The Starting Five, 10/30/2014


The scene, this Thursday night at the Hi-Fi: A Velvet Underground cover band, reconfigured to only be about pizza. Sure. Featuring Macaulay Culkin on kazoo. Sure, all right. We're on board. After all, NUVO appreciates the inherently ridiculous.

That pizza-loving Lou tribute act is the Pizza Underground, remarkable mostly for the inclusion of '90s superstar Culkin, who, as an adult, has devoted himself to the New York anti-folk scene. Other members of the group include Austin Kilham (keyboard) Phoebe Kreutz (glockenspiel), Matt Colburn (guitar), Deenah Vollmer (pizza box), Toby Goodshank (bass) and vocalist Thomas Bayne (as Anchovy Warhol). The first recording, a demo EP dropped on Bandcamp last December to the collective freak-out of the entire Internet, cheeses out classic Lou lyrics into saucy jams like: "I'm waiting for delivery man / 26 dollars in my hand / Comes from Dominos, 1,2,3 / More than 30 minutes and that pizza is free." A limited release of that demo and a live recording were released on cassette by Bitter Melody Records; a month-long tour kicked off Monday. The pizza train rolls on.

The group is a little particular. They do group email interviews, only. (Guess they want to avoid any crazed Home Alone fans fixating on Culkin's non-pizza related projects.) They want pizza-themed questions in those group interviews. All right, we can talk about pizza all day. And so can our interviewer, Indy rapper Oreo Jones. He is currently planning the relaunch of Let's Do Lunch, the late night show-style web series which, in its new incarnation, will feature three segments: Jones cooking with a local chef; a performance by a local band; and an interview with a local cultural figure. Let's Do Lunch will be filmed at Westgate, an all-ages venue on Indy's Westside. Jones tells me episodes will drop monthly on starting in November. The first season of Let's Do Lunch, which ran in 2012, was on a much smaller scale – just cooking segments with different local celebs. This new version of Let's Do Lunch is a massive collective effort: Nate Karamanski will direct, Jeremy Tubbs will coordinate visuals; Dimitri Morris will run sound; local artist group The Droops helped build out the set.

I thought the Pizza Underground and the Let's Do Lunch host would be a perfect interviewing pair. And for the most part, they were. There were some questions Jones asked that they definitively did not want to answer. (To wit: What do you think of the rap name Don Papa John? Tommy Thin Crust? Have you guys ever been spanked in public by your parents, and if so, was it at a Pizza Hut?) They apparently only wanted to talk serious pizza talk, and even asked a few questions of themselves, which they then answered. Hey, we've hung with them this far; we can handle restrictions.

And now, I turn over the floor to Jones.

Oreo Jones: The first time I discovered Lou Reed was through listening to A Tribe Called Quest's "Can I Kick It" I didn't know until years later that it flipped his rendition of "Walk on the Wild Side." Do y'all remember the first time you heard Lou, and if so how did it make you feel?

Pizza Underground asks themselves instead: Did the idea for this band originate with one of you specifically, or did you all share a love for both the Velvet Underground and pizza?

Pizza Underground answers: Well, our drummer Deenah Vollmer was on tour in Catalonia with Matt Colbourn, Phoebe Kreutz and Toby Goodshank on a Deenah-Matt-Phoebe-Toby "LA Boobs" tour. They were playing a secret show in a cafe that was, in fact, so secret that no one came. The cafe was playing the Velvet Underground and Nico album. All of the sudden it hit them:"What if these songs were about pizza?" Just like that. 

Most of us are friends from the New York anti-folk community where there's a real anything-goes, DIY attitude.  Deenah has been hanging around that scene since 2005.  Macaulay Culkin's friendship and artistic collaborations with both Adam Greene and the aforementioned Toby brought him into the community as well. All of our friendships were thus strengthened by pizza.  Cheese is a real glue,  you know.    

Jones: Every Friday was pizza day at my house when I was a kid. It was the one day I looked forward to. What is so enchanting about this beloved dish? Is it the nostalgia? Is it convenience? 

Pizza Underground: The one thing that pizza has going for it, that other foods don't necessarily, is that pizza is something that's with you your whole life, something that you return to again and again on your journey. There's no "acquired taste" period with pizza, nor is there a time when you stop considering it an option. Pizza occupies a genuine place in the present. And of course the old saying is true:  Pizza is like sex.  Even when it's bad, it's good. 

Jones: If you were on death row, what would your selected pie of choice be?

Pizza Underground: Well, we love a good plain slice.  But recently we had the good fortune to create a special Pizza Underground Pie with Two Boots Pizzeria that has kale pesto, garlic, onions, plum tomatoes and ricotta cheese.  The Two Boots scientists put all these ingredients together in a brilliant way and we are more than pleased how this combination turned out. Couldn't pass that up!

Jones: I played the Alabama Music Box this past spring in Mobile, Ala. just days before you guys were there. There was a sound dude named Turbo and he had a huge black eye. When you are on tour, is it a pain in the ass to find good food? Do you have a favorite pizza city?

Pizza Underground: That certainly is an interesting segue from Turbo to finding good food on the road but we'll go with it. It really isn't hard to find a good – sometimes even great – pizza in the cities we visit. Our tradition is to to find a local pizzeria to provide pizza which we share with the crowd. It's great to support local business and fans are excited about their hometown slice being a part of the entertainment.  As an added bonus, Deenah plays the box from the local shop – each pizzeria box has its own nuanced sound and it's a privilege to play on the local box.

Jones: In 2009, Giuseppe Lucia won the World Pizza Tossing Championship. Would you ever think about writing a song in his honor? 

Pizza Underground: Well, yes, we will certainly think about it now. Thanks for the inspiration.

Coplen and Jones host a local music radio show on Alt1033 on Sunday from 10 p.m. to midnight.


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