By Jeremy Hallock
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By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
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"I am a foodie," Fudesco says in an especially serious tone of voice. Of course, he's asserting this as he sits in a Dunkin' Donuts--"Hey, my only other option in this part of town was a Shell station"--but between his normally refined palate and the massive number of global miles the Seattle quintet has logged in its five years (the band is currently on its longest U.S. jaunt to date), Fudesco could easily stake a claim as the Anthony Bourdain of rock. "I travel long distances to get delicious morsels, and I know where all the good places are. It's my passion, almost as much as music."
Our conversation began 24 hours earlier, while Fudesco was riding in the back of the PGMG van as it lurched toward Boston. I was asking him about the group's new album, Élan Vital (its third full-length), and the usual shit about songwriting, how the shows on this tour were going, that sorta thing. He was answering my queries politely but unenthusiastically until, 20 minutes in, the dodgy cell phone connection forced us to reschedule for the following day.
When I reach him for the second round of questioning, he's just finished writing the inaugural post on Fucking Delicious--about that lobster sandwich he'd eaten for breakfast in Beantown--and, as he made quite clear, he far prefers talking about meals than music. "Man, we were just making jokes about how all these interviews are exactly the same," he says. "Nobody has covered me talking about food yet."
Well, fuck it, I say. Let's talk about food.
"Yeah?" he says. "Let's do it."
He hips me to the best Mexican cuisine in Seattle, and then to some roadside joint in Louisiana where you can get five pounds of steamed crawfish for three bucks. He explains how buffalo meat can be mighty tough if the beast isn't killed quickly: "My mom's friend has a friend who's an insane hunter, like total Ted Nugent-style, and I guess he used the wrong kind of bullets or something, and it took 20 minutes for the buffalo to die, so the meat was totally ruined. But he gave me some buffalo jerky and that's pretty good." He goes on to call the Alice Cooperstown restaurant in Phoenix "a bummer," not only because of the grub but also the fact that all the waiters and waitresses have to wear Alice Cooper makeup.
Eventually Fudesco gets to the particulars of the band's dietary habits: He and singer Andrea Zollo (who is as food-obsessed as the bassist) are the most adventurous of the quintet--they recently ate kangaroo satay while on tour in Australia ("tastes like lamb, pretty much"); guitarist Jay Clark is a vegan; drummer Nick Dewitt "goes back and forth" between the vegetarian and carnivorous life; and keyboardist/vocalist Leona Marrs "doesn't eat any bird at all--she practices a vegetable and fish diet." Fudesco says that can all be trouble come mealtime, when no one can agree where to go, and so "sometimes you just gotta break away."
Apparently, the way to this band's heart is through its stomach, because after a half-hour of food talk, that last thought has Fudesco suddenly interested in talking about the music--specifically the tight bond, creatively and friendship-wise, that the five now share in the wake of PGMG's in-fighting and near breakup around the time of the last album (2003's The New Romance), the subsequent departure of guitarist Nathan Thelen in 2004 and the addition of Marrs (formerly of Hint Hint) that same year.
"The shake-up," he says in mock dramatic tone, then laughs. "Yeah, it made everyone assess what was going on and be like, 'OK, this is an opportunity for us to start completely fresh and do whatever the fuck we want--we don't have to be a two-guitar, dueling-guitar band anymore.' We're in a really neat place where everyone gets along and are open to everyone's ideas. Three years ago, if someone would have been like, 'Hey, I wanna play a song where I'm gonna play an accordion,' my initial reaction would have been, 'That's stupid.' But now, pretty much anything goes with our music and how we view ourselves."
Élan Vital is proof of that--it's hard to believe this is the same band (or even four-fifths of the same band) responsible for the urgent post-punk of The New Romance and 2002's much more spiky and ragged Good Health. Though largely devoid of that hyperkinetic energy, the 12-track disc is as appealing as either of its predecessors and more surprising at every turn: Opener "The Nocturnal House" pins Zollo's echo-y, enticing croon (which has grown more confident and less Kathleen Hanna) beneath hazy, dubby guitar textures; "Domino" does sly disco-rock like early Girls Against Boys with Marrs' svelte keys leading the way; "Selling the Wind" brings that aforementioned accordion and sounds like vintage D.C. emo transported to the Left Bank; and the languorous "Pearls on a Plate" floats on a cloud of synths, electronic burbles and stately horns.