Alex Kapranos is the singer-guitarist of the UK band Franz Ferdinand and, as of not long ago, a food writer. His new book Sound Bites gathers musings on meals that Kapranos ate while on tour the world over.
AV Club: How did you start writing about food?
Alex Kapranos: It all started with a column I wrote for the British newspaper The Guardian, which wasn't my idea. I had been keeping an erratic blog, on our website, writing about things we were up to while we were on tour, and I'd written about food once or twice. One of the editors at The Guardian contacted me and asked if I'd write a column about the food that I ate. My first reaction was, "No, that's a stupid idea." I'm not a food critic, and I'm not really an authority to write anything on food. But then I thought, maybe that's a good reason. A lot of food criticism has a similar flavor to it, and I'm probably going to write about it in a different way. It became something I looked forward to every week.
AVC: What did you get out of it that you weren't expecting?
AK: It forced me to go out and look for interesting food. It's easy to be lazy when there's food lying around backstage or there's a fast-food joint a couple blocks away. But if you walk a little further, ask around a bit, of course there are exciting things to discover. Also, the writing itself was enjoyable. I only had 400 words to write every week; no matter what, I would write at least 2000 words and then have to condense it and edit it down until it was really to the point. There is a parallel between that form of writing and songwriting. The best songwriting comes from being as creative as you can and editing it down to the good bits, essentially.
AVC: Did you have an interest in unusual food beforehand?
AK: That's one of the great things about being out on the road. The Korean food that's available to a guy living in Glasgow is fairly restrictive, so it's amazing to be walking around a food market in Hong Kong and trying different kinds of kimchi from earthenware jars, or walking the streets of Bangkok and crunching on a grasshopper.
AVC: Did you have a food background growing up?
AK: In the long period of time I was in a band not making any money, I paid my rent by working in catering one way or another. I was a chef for a while, a delivery driver, barman, waiter—that sort of stuff. In fact, Bob—the bass player in Franz Ferdinand—and I used to work as chefs in a kitchen together. That's where a lot of the ideas for the band came from, from sitting together during prep time talking about what we would do if we got a band together.
AVC: Had you read much food-writing?
AK: I'd read a little bit. My favorite food book is Much Depends Upon Dinner by Margaret Visser. It takes each element of a standard American meal and traces the history and the social history of how it ended up on the plate. I read Down And Out In Paris And London, and Kitchen Confidential when I was a chef—it was the first book I read that caught some of the dirty side of working in a kitchen, as well as the excitement of working in a kitchen, which until that point had remained a pretty well-kept secret.
AVC: How do you think you wrote about food differently in the end?
AK: Usually I would use the food as an excuse to write about where I was and who I was with, and sometimes the food isn't really the main feature of the pieces. And I don't come to the writing with the presumption of omniscience. I don't write as if I'm all-knowing and my word is gospel. I'm honest about the fact that I'm not that knowledgeable, and I'm quite happy for my writing to be questioned.
AVC: What's your favorite thing you've eaten in New York?
AK: There are a couple of places I wrote about in the book, like Keen's Chop House. It's not somewhere I would go more than once a year, but I love it because it captures a certain old Manhattan, almost like a living museum piece. It's quite marvelous. Then there's another place I wrote about, a doughnut shop in Greenpoint, which, for somebody who grew up in Glasgow, is almost a caricature of a Scottish kid's idea of Brooklyn, with the cops sitting around dunking their doughnuts into their coffee. The characters there are fascinating.
AVC: What's the weirdest thing you've eaten in New York?
AK: The stuff I haven't been tempted to eat is what you've got on the corners: the little fellows with the trolleys that cook kebabs. There's something extremely unsettling about those guys. But, they could be fine if you're walking out of a bar and the smell of that acrid smoke hits your nostrils and you kind of think, mmmm, I should really give that a go.