For Sam Evian, Food is Just Part of the Business

On cooking with Blonde Redhead, Big Thief, and more at his Catskills studio.

Sam Evian is a songwriter and producer based in Upstate New York, and the founder of Flying Cloud Studios. Located in the Catskills, Flying Cloud is relatively isolated, and so when Sam is hosting an artist, collaborating on home-cooked meals is a big part of the record-making process. For the Talkhouse Reader’s Food Issue — out now digitally and in print — he told us more about it. Sam’s latest record, Plunge, is also out now. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

I always tell people, there’s not much else to do up here besides make music and make food. When people come up here, we kind of become roommates — they live in our house, we share meals and walks and relaxation time. So cooking is just part of the business. It makes for a really warm environment, when we’re all hanging in the kitchen, eating and talking. Then we just walk into the studio, cut a couple takes. 

Food is kind of everything. It lends itself directly to the creative process: If you make beautiful, healthy food, you’re going to nourish people’s energy levels. So cooking is built into how records are made up here. I think it’s a response to how I worked in the city for a long time, in various studios, and we always would just order take out. The food comes, you eat out of a plastic container, throw it in the trash, and then you start tracking again. Someone always orders a weird thing that’s too heavy, and it slows them down for the rest of the day… It’s really cool for everyone to share meals and be on the same page. And then after you get done with a big day of work, it’s so fun to just make a giant bowl of pasta for everyone and chill out and have some wine. 

Musicians are often great cooks, I find. Kazu from Blonde Redhead is an amazing cook. She’s taught me so much and has so many cool recipes. She taught us a recipe that is so easy, but so fun — I mean, all great pasta recipes are really simple, right? But this one is just a few ingredients: a whole onion, a can of anchovies, salt, pasta water, a little olive oil, and a lemon. You sauté the onion until it’s fully cooked through and starting to caramelize a little. Then you put in the can of anchovies, and some chili flakes if you want. Then you toss it with pasta water and it makes this kind of salty, sweet, onion-y sauce. Top it with parsley, a little lemon… If you’re into anchovies, it’s an amazing dish. I make that one frequently now. 

One of my favorite meals was when the power went out during a Big Thief session — we made breakfast for dinner by candlelight and it was really cute. Chris Bear, the drummer from Grizzly Bear, stood out to me as an amazing chef too. He came to work on a record I was making with Courtney Marie Andrews, and he’s got this really great flatbread recipe — it’s kind of Mediterranean, maybe served with some baba ganoush, tzatziki… Ellen from Palehound had just gotten back from Greece when they were recording here, and they brought a recipe for Greek salad that they learned that was so fire. 

I see cooking and music as very much the same for me, creatively. I like to improvise and be resourceful in the kitchen with ingredients and try out new flavors. It’s a pretty one-to-one parallel with how I work in the studio. Food is such a privilege and such an incredible thing to experience, when it’s elevated or cooked with love by a friend, at a restaurant or at your own table. It’s nourishment, it’s artistic. I prize it highly, next to all of the arts for sure. 

As told to Annie Fell.

Sam Evian is a New York-based singer-songwriter, and the co-owner and engineer of Flying Cloud Recordings. His latest album, Plunge, is out now. 

(Photo Credit: Josh Goleman)