Sunday, January 7, 2018

Cookin' With Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy

It's no secret that occasionally these reviews teeter off toward the topic of food. This is no accident. I find that food is kind of a sacred thing. Every musician has something they can call their own. An amp setting they like. A guitar they prefer. A drum sound that works. After years of tweaking the things they like, it becomes part of them. Such is the way with food.

You are what you eat. It's a part of being a musician. The stomachs of many musicians tend to gravitate to the finer foods. This is the complete opposite of what people typically think about musicians. We don't LOVE eating fast food. We don't survive on pizza, cigarettes, and beer.

It would be a safe assumption that most musicians are skilled cooks, as well. Think about it: A creative mind, with the ability to shift ideas around into a new one. That sounds like something you could easily say about a chef. This has brought an idea to light. Why not mix the two? Since we musicians pride ourselves in our jamming skills, it comes naturally to assume that we, as entertainers, can take pride in our ability to entertain through food. In the coming reviews/features, I'm hoping to get more musicians involved in sharing recipes.

Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy are a band from Lawrence, Kansas. Til, who's been writing songs for what seems like the better part of his life, has a lot going on. One look at his musical output will practically astound you:

I mean... this guy has music coming out of him constantly. If we were to joke about it, I'd say Til writes 8 songs a day. If we do the math, that's 2,904 songs (with two days off) a year. That sounds about right. Truthfully, Til obviously never stops writing. With a huge heaping of full-lengths, a few scoops of EPs, some live stuff, even a rather tasty Joy Division cover. Each full-length averages about 14+ songs per album.

 I first heard of Til on Bandcamp. The usual rabbit-hole goings-on. When I heard a few tunes, I knew it was going to be something good. He's got these built into his sound: Altabilly-Americana, Midwestern, Tom Waits blasting with the windows down, gravel road/Summer day, indie rock, down home, country-style, rootsy, stripped-down, rockin', free-wheelin', lush, and addictive. He's taken cues from singer-songwriters of the past, and all forms of music to create something he can call his own. The truth is, Til can jump into different skins over the course of one album, without batting an eye. The magnificent Hackles shows this ability quite well. We're looking at a guy who knows his way around music. On one of his latest albums, Interrupting Aim, we're treated to an incredibly diverse Alt-Americana/indie rock platter. Til's approach to songwriting appears to be a "let's try this" kind of thing. And it works. Perhaps Til's approach to cooking might be the same. I began to wonder...

With his own solo stuff, his work with Erratic Cowboy, plus SoloHawk material, this dude is busy. On top of touring, is it always Taco Night? Does Til Willis find time to cook anything, or is he living the "rock star life", eating dollar menu and White Castle?

I recently spoke with Til Willis about some of things he likes to cook. When asked about it, he replied with "I love cooking". That was all I needed to hear. The gears were turning.

What albums would pair well with what particular foods? If one were get the full Til Willis experience while listening to a Til Willis album, what food should one cook? Til has answers. His response was not surprising. He puts a spin on red beans & rice that's not too far off from the way he makes music: It's different, but MAN does that sound great!

Without further ado, here is Til Willis, of Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy (among others), sharing his recipe for:

Erratic Red Beans & Rice

"Red Beans and Rice is a personal favorite of mine. I started tweaking the recipe many years ago to make my version. Like good Jazz, this dish changes slightly every time depending on ingredients, time, mood etc.
Here’s the basics...
Red Beans one bag(or two cans)
Andouille sausage
Onion (about half a med one chopped)
Tomato (chopped)
Small Potato (chopped)
Green Olives (chopped with pimientos removed)
Cucumber (peeled/chopped)
Garlic (usually 3-4cloves minced)
Red wine(dealer’s choice)
Olive oil

Salt Black Pepper
Cheyenne Pepper
File Powder (if handy)
Chili Powder

I start by getting the onion, garlic, butter and olive oil browning. Add a bit of seasoning, I tend to season to taste constantly throughout the cooking adventure. However, hold off on the mint till closer to the end. Next get the potato and tomato in the pan. A bit of wine and this point is lovely. Next the olives go in along with a little dash of olive juice. Too much, and you’ve blown it. Once all that seems like it’s having fun together, and remember to taste and season as new ingredients are added, add the beans. When I use canned beans, I like to rinse the can with a little wine and milk. Otherwise, it’s at this point that I add a little milk and more wine to the party. Just gives it a bit of creaminess that sits well with the spice. A little taste, a little seasoning, and now it’s time to cover and simmer. While that’s doing its thing, I cut up and brown my sausage. I used to just throw it in with everything else, but my wife’s a vegetarian, so now I cook meat separately.
After the beans have had a little time to themselves, I give another taste, maybe a little more seasoning (add a pinch of that mint now), and in the cucumber goes. I put it in last so that it won’t cook all the way and will retain some bite. I find that it balances the spice. Now it’s time to stir in the flour. A little bit at a time constantly stirring until you have a nice loose gravy(usually a tablespoon or two depending on the liquid level of your pan). Reduce heat to low for about 3-5min, then off. Pour yourself some wine, you’re ready to eat.
There, I think I remembered everything. I’ve never tried to write this down."

I believe this will pair well with Interrupting Aim, Cars Etcetera, or Land Of Sawdust And Spangles. But honestly, anything from Til will work with this. For a man who has such a diverse musical range, it's no wonder he has such an interesting take on the tried-and-true.

As an added bonus, Til also threw this in:

Roasted Apple and Turnip

"Here’s another simpler one.
One large turnip
One green apple
Both peeled and chopped.
Wrap in tin foil.
Lightly drizzle with olive oil.
Season with salt, pepper, garam masala, and just a pinch of coriander.
Bake at 350/375 for twenty minutes or until tender."

Til followed up with:

"Thank you so much for taking the time to listen. Honestly, a fair listen is all any musician can hope for." 

100% agree with you, Til.

 Here at Nerve Salad Central, we like to eat. We like food that's not boring, and we don't believe that anything you listen to should be boring, either. We're super happy to have Til Willis share the first in what, hopefully, will be an awesome series of features at Nerve Salad. Thanks, Til Willis, for being a good sport and for sharing your recipes with us!

Visit Til on Bandcamp and Facebook, check out his music, and let him know how your meal turned out!

2018 looks to be a great year. Keep the recipes coming, friends. Nerve Salad is hungry.

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