Lost in the Trees are an orchestral-folk band from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who found a big place in my heart a couple years ago. Their first big release, All Alone in an Empty House, came out in 2010 on Anti- Records (I wrote about it here and here), and it’s beautiful and heartbreaking and hopeful. That album’s follow-up is out today; it’s called A Church That Fits Our Needs and in some ways it follows the torn-family narrative frontman Ari Picker started with Empty House, this time addressing his mother’s 2009 suicide. The subject matter is dark, as is some of the music that accompanies it — but like the last one, it’s just as much about the suffering as the recovery.
Because Lost in the Trees’ music is so emotional and ultimately about hope and healing, last fall I made a sweet potato corn chowder inspired by their music; comforting because soup has magic healing powers, and sweet potatoes and corn for their southern roots. It’s easily one of my favorite dishes I’ve made — for this blog or otherwise. Someone in the band posted the soup on the band’s Facebook page and said they were going to try it out — and when I met them last month, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Emma Nadeau said she’s made it several times, at least a couple of which have fallen on band-practice days (“so now they think I make it every day,” she told me).
The band was in town last month for a week of press and a few shows, culminating in a run-through of the entire new album at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho, and thanks to what started as a Twitter back-and-forth about New York restaurants, I met up with them at 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday, just before they headed back south for a short break before a five-and-a-half-week tour. We went to Veselka, the famed East Village Ukranian diner, where we drank copious amounts of coffee, chowed down on potato pancakes and crepes, and chatted about some food stuff. [All photos by Dominick Mastrangelo. It’s quite obvious that we were all extremely awake.]
On tour food:
Emma Nadeau (French horn, vocals): We definitely make regular grocery-store stops [and cook with the people we stay with].
Rusty Sutton (sound engineer): I carry a couple mason jars of granola, and you can just go to a Whole Foods or bulk store and refill them. I can subsist on that for a couple days.
On the local-food movement in North Carolina:
Sutton: I grew up in the mountains in Asheville, and the way we dealt with the winter was that we had a farmers market that was open 365 days a year and growers were from 30 miles away…They would come in every day and you could buy fresh, seasonal food from them. There were probably five or six full-time farmers set up there and if their food comes from more than 200 miles away, they let you know. They don’t want you to feel like you’re being had. … My grandmother and my parents had grown their own food for generations. It’s not a fad, it’s just what they’ve always done.
On their current cooking projects:
Mark Daumen (tuba): There’s a restaurant in Chapel Hill called The Lantern, and the chef [James Beard Award winner Andrea Reusing] did a cookbook called Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes. I got it in April so I’m almost full circle now. [Fun fact: Reusing is married to Mac McCaughan of Superchunk and Merge Records — Ed.]
Sutton: I’m working through the Hugh Acheson book right now [A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen].
Ari Picker (vocals/guitar/arrangements): My wife is really into cooking and she’s big into local-food and works on the farm, [practices] sustainable agriculture. So I just wash the dishes. I am the dishwasher.
On Momofuku Mik Bar:
Nadeau: [This week] was the first time I had been to the Milk Bar. Usually we go to the Noodle Bar. I’ll get one of those kimchi stews and it’ll last me a couple days. The corn cookie was — oh my god, it’s just so rich. Just butter and corn flavor.