The Way We Get By: Nick Brown of Cable Ties is Making Passata With His Roommates

That’s tomato sauce, and it’s not easy.

Most of us are sequestered in our homes, doing our part to slow the spread of COVID-19. That includes some of our favorite artists, so we’re asking them to tell us about one thing — a book, a movie, a record, whatever — that’s helping them get through this difficult time.

We’re all adjusting to a new way of life here [in Australia]! Yesterday they closed the pubs and restaurants, so we’re just getting into that period. They’ve closed the schools as of today as well. 

There’s four of us that live in this house together. We’ve got a relatively new housemate named Tim who’s just moved in, and at the end of every summer for the last 20 years, with his friends, he’s made passata. It’s something you do at the end of the tomato season. I’m no great expert, but it was a great way to spend the weekend with your housemates when you can’t go out. We got ourselves 80 kilos of tomatoes — what’s that, 160-170 pounds? We spent a day washing them, cutting them, and then you wrap them up in a sheet in a box overnight, and you put a couple of bricks on top, just to press them down and push a bunch of the water out of them.

And then on Saturday we spent the day running them through a passata-making machine, this beautiful bench-top machine with a couple of bits attached to it that you feed these squashed tomatoes into. It separates out the seed and the pulp from the good tomato juice. Then you run that into a big pot, and with a big funnel you fill up a bunch of glass bottles, and you put all the bottles into a big 44-gallon drum and light a fire underneath it. You fill it with water and you boil all the sealed bottles to finish the job! 

I’m not 100 percent sure how much we ended up with. But it’s something in the region of like three decent-sized crates of tomato sauce. At the beginning of quarantine lockdown, I’m not entertaining thoughts of getting sick of anything just yet. That’ll all come in due course. It should definitely be enough to get us through the winter and spring.

Probably the most joyous part of this for me was sustained attention to a task that felt worthwhile and productive. For the past few weeks there’s been so much disappointing and worrying news and uncertainty, and just sitting down in your kitchen and cutting and squeezing tomatoes is a relatively therapeutic activity, because you can’t really worry about anything else. You’ve just got hundreds and hundreds of tomatoes to work yourself through. And that’s a beautiful and comforting thing. You see the giant mountain of washed tomatoes slowly start to diminish in size as the crates of squashed tomatoes increase in size. It has a pleasingly linear relationship between labor and outcome. It’s at the opposite end of the spectrum to most things right now.

We listened to music while we did it; it’s a repetitive physical activity, which will always be assisted by music. I think on Saturday we stuck on Powerage, the 1978 AC/DC album. I feel like it’s the perfect working record. It’s got all those incredible, super hard-hitting AC/DC sounds from that Vander/Young production period, and it doesn’t really have any of the big mainstream hits on it that you might be sick of hearing. You can just work away with it; it’s got a physicality of sound that suits just getting on with stuff.

The coronavirus has hit many people financially, and it’s been especially tough on musicians who rely on touring to support themselves. If you’re able and inclined, check out Cable Ties’ Bandcamp or their artist page at Merge Records and order a T-shirt, some vinyl, or whatever they’ve got on offer. Every little bit helps.

(Photo Credit: Spike Vincent)

Far Enough, the second album from Melbourne, Australia’s Cable Ties, brings a towering wall of ’70s hard rock and proto-punk to songs that explore hope, despair, and anger but offer no easy answers. Cable Ties’ fundamental elements — a driving rhythm section, anxious and emotive guitar playing, defiant, passionate songwriting, and Jenny McKechnie’s earthshaking voice — are complicated on Far Enough by nuance and ambivalence.

(Photo Credit: Lisa Businovski)