Drinking with Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor

The indie musician and producer on his new cookbook, the LA lifestyle, staging at the best restaurant in the world and why he doesn't drink on stage.

A bassist in a major indie rock band with a propensity for throwing dinner parties in his Brooklyn backyard gets a cookbook deal, moves to upstate New York to write when he’s not touring and then migrates to LA where he takes motorcycle trips with his girlfriend out to the Mojave desert and up Pacific Coast Highway. It all sounds either like a rose-colored profile in Kinfolk or a hipster satire sketch from Portlandia.

But this is real life. Specifically, Chris Taylor’s life.

When I meet Taylor on the front porch of his Angelino Heights bungalow, the freshly minted LA resident looks as if he’s been living on the Eastside for years. Sunburned in a ripped t-shirt, blond hair still disheveled from the day’s ride down from Ojai, he pours me a glass of a natural wine he’s into at the moment (Domaine de l’R’s “S02”) while talking about growing vegetables on the back porch, discovering the best driving route to Malibu and where he goes searching for wine (answer: Silverlake Wine and Lou in Los Feliz). This is what one might qualify as a very LA conversation, especially when talk of the 110 sneaks in.

A resident of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, since 2001—with several tours, a stint in the Hudson Valley and a year in Berlin between—the Grizzly Bear bassist and producer is warily easing into LA life, navigating his words carefully. “[I’m] adjusting. It’s super different,” he says, seemingly not quite convinced by the constant sunshine and palm trees. “Everyone in LA talks to you. I’m shy, so I’m getting the lay of the land before I jump in headfirst.”

Still, he looks as if LA is agreeing with him. There’s a barbecue going on in the backyard below, fairy lights and a roaring fire illuminating lots of pretty Angelenos. Taylor’s tall, beautiful, equally sunburned girlfriend pops in to introduce herself. “You have to try the steak,” she says offering him her plate before disappearing onto the patio. He shows me the traditional Chilean grill in the yard below, pours more wine, then realizes some sort of reduction a friend has been simmering on the stovetop has turned into a sticky, black tar. “Oh man, I really liked that little pot.” He laments the miniature, now-charred saucepan for a moment, standing over a big open range stovetop. “Oh man.”

As we get down to the last of the wine Taylor explains how cooking has become a sort of companion compulsion to making music. “I don’t know how to explain it—it’s like it’s just something I have to do,” he says. “I don’t know where it’s leading.” But it seems to have gone somewhere already. Between a major cookbook deal, a stage at Noma in Copenhagen and St. John Bread and Wine in London, Taylor’s accomplished more than many seasoned, professional cooks.

A good chunk of Taylor’s recent life has revolved around stovetops. That cookbook deal? The resulting work—called Twenty Dinners, which he wrote with his friend Ithai Schori—was released earlier this year by Clarkson Potter. Not unlike Grizzly Bear’s music, it has a dreamy quality that falls somewhere between a poppy J. Crew tableau and an urban-pastoral lifestyle catalog with shots of autumn leaves alongside a river or spiked cider being poured from a Stanley thermos into vintage mugs. Detailing twenty meals that meander from season to season, the book embraces everyman-friendly techniques that hew closely to the “Is it local?” ethos: lavender goat cheese crostini with peaches and mint; bay scallops with pea shoots; clams in bacon-mushroom broth. While the cocktails—created by the pair’s friend Nino Cirabisi—are sketched in a similar likeness (a winter Smoked Earl Grey Hot Toddy, a spring Peach Porch Punch, a summer G&T variation).

As we get down to the last of the wine, Taylor explains how cooking has become a sort of companion compulsion to making music. “I don’t know how to explain it—it’s like it’s just something I have to do,” he says. “I don’t know where it’s leading.” Between a major cookbook deal, a stage at Noma in Copenhagen and St. John Bread and Wine in London, it seems to have gone somewhere already: Taylor’s accomplished more than many seasoned, professional cooks. He has ideas for a second book, too, though he’s hesitant to voice the subject yet.

For someone who did 200 live shows last year, just moved across the country, is writing a new album and producing a solo project on his own record label, Taylor seems remarkably balanced—which could be chalked up to a lifestyle atypical to that of the average indie rockstar. When at home, he’s cooking or frequenting his own neighborhood bars—Bar Stella in Silverlake and Taix in Echo Park—and getting deeper into wine. While on tour, instead of hitting the bar to come down from a show, he drinks tea, a ritual he repeats each morning for his bandmates until they’re ready to get the day started. “There were definitely times when we were all four pretty drunk—not messy—but we’ve been a band for ten years,” he says. The luster of the free backstage booze has worn off; now, the guys have a juicer on the bus. “Drinking is ostensibly useless on the road,” says Taylor.

Also serious about focusing on the band’s next album, he’s been picking his drinking days a little more carefully than he might in New York where “you either hang out in your tiny-ass apartment by yourself or you go out for a drink.” But writing an album isn’t nearly the same process as writing a cookbook. “When you’re making a song, it starts with the randomest thing. Maybe it goes somewhere. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it picks up a week later, miraculously,” Taylor says. Where cooking is a skill that can be studied, improved upon and, ultimately, enjoyed, writing music doesn’t guarantee the same sort of final satisfaction. “But cooking,” says Taylor, “that’s a relief.”

More “Drinking With”:

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Drinking with Sex Writer and Activist Dan Savage
Drinking with Metallica’s Rob Trujillo
Drinking with Novelist T.C. Boyle
Drinking with NPR’s Ari Shapiro
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