Here is my interview with the lead singer of rock group Guster as they swung through Charleston, SC on tour. We met and ate at the restaurant Husk.
Charleston Food Bloggers ( CFB ) : Did you know your band’s name “Guster” has some food implications? Gust or gusto means to relish, taste or sample.
Ryan Miller of Guster: Yeah, but when we named our band I was eating Chef Boyardee out of a can and Swanson dinners. Knowingly, there were no food implications back then. Apparently there is a pretty lascivious meaning too because sometimes it pops up while I am searching Twitter or Facebook. Guster means something else completely to some people. Weird. Your life will not be richer for going down that worm hole.
CFB: You guys seem to be doing some fun food stuff recently. I saw you having dinner with Daryl Hall on one of his webisodes. Is food something you are into these days?
Ryan Miller of Guster: There is a lot of overlap between touring musicians and…..I hate the word foodies…..but people that enjoy food and search it out. I am always looking for more unique or local stuff. We spend our whole lives traveling the world and you gotta eat. Then it occurred to us a few years into it that you don’t have to eat fast food. In fact we can probably eat great food. We can eat interesting stuff that is unique to whatever state or city we are in. We found out about ChowHound and I would spend an hour a day trying to figure out what people where eating wherever we were. Then Yelp came along and streamlined that whole process. Now there are a bunch of websites we can go to that helps us figure out where the fun weird places to eat are that are super local.
CFB: What are some of your favorite places to eat or types of food?
Ryan Miller of Guster: In Charleston there is a bunch of great places I like to eat. One that recent place I really liked was Hominy Grill. Charleston is one of my favorite cities in the country and definitely my favorite city in the south, mostly because of the architecture and the food. I always eat well when I am down there. I love BBQ. I grew up in Texas on Tex-Mex and chicken fried steak. When we go to California I’ll always eat a bunch of Mexican food but also a bunch of and sushi. I eat a bunch of seafood in the northwest and you know get some weird hot dogs in the mid-west. I have my favorite burger joint in Boston, but I am definitely always up for trying new stuff. Oh yeah and there is this vegan place in Kansas City we really love. I like to try a bunch of stuff…. especially if it is blowing up on ChowHound or Yelp or RoadFood.
CFB: Do you like the new food truck trend?
Ryan Miller of Guster: I love food trucks, especially out in LA and Portland. They are great because you can try a bunch of stuff. There are a lot of really amazing chefs doing food trucks these days. No question. But sometimes I just like sitting down and reading a magazine too.
CFB: Do you guys do any cooking on the tour bus?
Ryan Miller of Guster: Barely, it’s not for cooking. There is no stove. The fanciest we get is the George Foreman grill every once in a while. I mostly try to eat well at lunch or dinner.
CFB: Are there any food shows on TV that you follow?
Ryan Miller of Guster: Guy Fieri is pretty infuriating but I almost always like where he goes. I appreciate what he is doing but I am more of an Anthony Bourdain fan. I got into cooking with Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen. That is a really, really, dry program so it also got infuriating on a different level after a while. I watched Top Chef for a while but I don’t watch too much TV anymore.
CFB: Do you think all of the food TV shows are helping to step up the quality and diversity of food you can get in smaller towns?
Ryan Miller of Guster: I think it is cool that cooking is a cultural talking point. These shows are ambassadors for what cooking is. You can’t taste the food but it helps you to know what to look for. Does it feel fresh? Is it over seasoned? Is it under seasoned? There is a lot of emphasis on things that are made from scratch. Like the Guy Fieri thing. He goes to places that start with raw ingredients and it really makes a difference.
CFB: It feels like rock and roll and the food world have a lot of similarities.
Ryan Miller of Guster: I read this article about 6 months ago “Is Food the New Indie Rock?”. It talks about all of these parallels between food and hipsters. They have to find the weirdest ingredients and want things the purest. It was maligning how hipsters have to be there first and how it has to be so cool and everything has to be so immaculately sourced. On Portlandia how they did that thing with “I need to go meet my chicken”. (see below…starts getting good about 1/2 way through)
They kind of nailed it in that sense. There is a lot of cross over with the elitist attitude. Saying “I’m going to go here because no one knows about it yet”. The guys that are cooking, like the really badass chefs, like Wylie Dufresne, and the dudes that do Animal in LA, there is a lot of cross over….David Chang. Those worlds are really melding all the time and in a great way. David Chang just put out a magazine called Lucky Peach. The first issue was on Ramen Noodles. It was like a Rolling Stone the way it was produced. It looked just like a music magazine and it really hammered home this point. I would be just as excited to meet David Chang as I was to meet one of the dudes from Arcade Fire.
(The famous cheeseburger at Husk)
CFB: Have you ever eaten at any of the celebrity chefs places?
Ryan Miller of Guster: David Chang is my speed. I have also done the Mario Batali’s. There was a guy on Top Chef. He was a molecular gastronomist. He was a friend of a friend and we were going to go over for dinner and make chicken fried steak out of meat glue and chicken skin. I would love to meet more of those guys and be in that world a little more. I certainly enjoy it.
CFB: What is the hardest thing to eat with a full beard?
Ryan Miller of Guster: I just need to keep it under control. It’s mostly just mustache. I do it now. I sacrifice and cut it down. I don’t want to eat hair with everything…..cotton candy.
CFB: What is a typical day like for you
guys while you are out on the road?
Ryan Miller of Guster: We all have developed other parts of our professional careers. I am a composer. I score for films and TV. Right now I am working on a movie. I work on the film during the day and do shows at night. In the morning when I get up I might look on Yelp or ChowHound or ask some people where a good place to eat is. I try to make sure and find a great lunch. That might be my one exploration of the city. Depending on how it all filters out I might go out to dinner. Food really serves as a launching point for exploring the city. In St Louis if something looks cool but is really far out of the way I might get on my bike and ride to a weird part of town and that way I can explore and go farther afield. We try to keep a couple bikes with us on the bus.
CFB: Did you want to weigh in on some of the sadder stories in music this summer like Amy Winehouse’s death or Kings of Leon canceling their tour? Band of Horses were their opening act. Those guys live in Charleston now. We were really bummed for them.
Ryan Miller of Guster: I can’t imagine that being that famous is easy and having to keep it up. Having one of the biggest record of the year worldwide and them maybe your next one isn’t and having to be that guy. There is a lot of pressure being in that spot. We have never been close to being that famous or having that many eyeballs on us and pocket books that are relying on you. I only met [Kings of Leon] a few times and they were always super nice to me. It is really hard to be a musician right now, especially a working musician. It is so hard to get people to focus on what you are doing and appreciate your music. I am a lot less eager to bash people that are actually out there making it happen because I realize how much harder it is every day. I am sure Band of Horses have a lot to say about that too. The Winehouse thing is super sad. She was obviously very sick for a long time and it is a real bummer. There is probably a lot of crossover between those people that are somewhat self-destructive and people that have something to say artistically that is valuable.
CFB: It seems like XM radio’s channel The Spectrum plays your stuff quite a bit. Has some of these new technologies helped get your music out there a little more?
Ryan Miller of Guster: We are really big fans of all the technology. The reason the music business is hard is because there are so many outlets now and there are so many great bands making great music. Spotify has become a big thing here in the states recently and it’s incredible. XM is certainly an extension of that as is Pandora. We debuted songs on our new EP on Turntable. It is on the front end of a lot of this stuff. As long as you put the music first then it’s all great. We certainly have had support from XM and appreciate it.
CFB: Is there anything you want to tell your fans in Charleston?
Ryan Miller of Guster: We just want people to come. Honest to God I love Charleston. There are not that many cities in America where you can just walk around and all the houses are stunning and there is so much culture pound for pound. Savannah and New Orleans are the only others that come to mind. Just come out and see us. I love to keep coming back here.
(Me, Ryan, and local musician Johnathan Gray)