Ben Frost is finally home! Taking a well-deserved break from pummelling the eardrums and psyches of audiences around the world, he will be pummelling the eardrums and psyches of his Reykjavík friends and neighbours at Húrra tonight. To celebrate, we called him up and talked about the various meals he’s eaten on the road, what books he’s been reading and what tonight’ show is going to be like.
You’ve been on a massive world tour basically since we last spoke, if not longer. What were some memorable meals you enjoyed on your travels?
Let me think… meals. Notable meals. Well, actually I have my collaborator slash sound man Daniel Rejmer sitting here who’s been here with me in all these places… he seems to be falling asleep though.
Haukur’s on the phone, he wants to know about meals we’ve had on the road… what comes to mind… I’m drawing blanks. It’s all about Tokyo, right?
Daniel Rejmer: Yeah. Tokyo and Italy.
Ben Frost: Yeah. One of the few redeeming features of being on the road is the cuisine. It can also be the worst part of it, you know. Like, when you land in Frankfurt at 11 pm…
Daniel: …or anywhere in America…
Ben: …and the only thing open is a sad looking sandwich bar. But, let’s see.
We had the most ridiculous sushi experience it’s possible to have in Tokyo. In fact, since having sushi in Tokyo, I actually feel weird referring to sushi anywhere else as “sushi.” It really isn’t sushi. It’s just a pale fucking shadow of an idea of a thing that was once sushi. It’s kind of depressing actually. I wish they’d just call it something else.
Proper sushi, like we enjoyed in Tokyo… It’s that thing you pay through the nose for, and eating it feels like you’ve been shot in the arm with adrenalin while receiving oral pleasures at the same time.
That definitely shoots to the top of the list.
There was also that weird… what were those things called, those weird balls we ate in Osaka?
Ah yes! Takoyaki! Octopus balls!
Yes! Octopus balls! Delicious octopus balls that give you third degree burns.
When I was in Osaka with my uncle Gummi, we ate lots of those and got wasted on sake… I got so wasted that I… I bought a suitcase.
You were so wasted that you bought a suitcase?
Yes. Long story short, I had been dragging around this god-awful wreck of a suitcase for weeks and was growing very tired of it. Wandering the streets of Osaka, we stumbled into this little hole in the wall that seemed to be one of those ubiquitous t-shirt slash novelty stores. Browsing through their stuff, we kept going deeper and deeper into the store, which just kept going on and on, past a hallway, up a staircase… it was some real Alice in Wonderland shit, through the Matrix, you know. We eventually find ourselves on the fifth floor of a giant department store, in the suitcase aisle. That t-shirt corner was just a ruse…
I know exactly the store you’re talking about! Tokyo Hands! We were in that exact place, I shot a video of this wonderful thing you use to exercise your face muscles or something… Tokyo Hands, it’s the thing I love most about Japan…
Amazing dead animals
Anyway. We’ve had some pretty great food in our travels, but it’s all kind of blurry at the moment. I seem to have forgotten all of it. I’m just looking through photos right now, trying to jog my memory.
Oh, Italy is always great. This time, we were in the far, far south of Italy, in this place called Bari on the Adriatic. It’s basically the heartland of Mediterranean goodness, and these promoters took us to a vegan restaurant. I don’t think I’ve ever been so sad. There’s something really disheartening about going to a Hare Krishna vegan restaurant when you’re surrounded by so many amazing dead animals and animal related products that can be eaten.
But again Italy is always great.
Then there’s… there’s Serbia. Oh yes, let’s talk about Serbia. In Belgrade, when you order coffee, let’s say you walk into a bar and ask for a coffee, you will receive a silver tray with a cup of black steaming coffee, a piece of perfectly squared powdered Turkish Delight, and a cigarette. It’s not some special menu item—that’s what you get when you order coffee. This is a feature of Serbian society that needs to permeate the rest of the world, because it would make the world a better place.
Then there’s… there’s…
THE WORST MEAL THAT EXISTS
What about the worst meal you’ve had on this tour?
The worst meal I had? Let me tell you about the worst meal I had. Let me send you a picture of the worst meal I had.
I ate something. I’m not proud of this. I went on an aircraft carrier in Virginia with Richard Mosse. And I ate something called—and I’m quoting—The Garbage Burger. And I’ve never been so ashamed in my entire life. It was horrendous. It was everything that it promised to be.
Daniel: If you take the average, America has the worst food. Although when you find good food, it’s exceptionally good.
Ben: I love that I can talk about this. I felt shame, and possibly a mild heart attack. My arteries are clogging again just looking at it. “The burger that started it all…”
That was the worst meal you ate?
I think that’s the worst meal that exists.
READING, WAITING AROUND?
What about books? What have you been reading on your travels?
Let me think. Oh, I really enjoyed The Conquest Of The Useless [Reflections From The Making Of Fitzcarraldo], Werner Herzog’s diaries from making Fitzcarraldo. It really reflects the hopelessness of the touring situation, that kind of horrific never-ending fucking cycle of hell that somehow is the most exhilarating thing you can possibly do—the best time of your life—and you feel like, you feel like a plastic bag being thrown around in the fucking wind, not in that American Beauty kind of way either, without the sappy music. Just the shitty part.
So there was that.
Another thing I read and really enjoyed was a book about bumblebees called A Sting in the Tale, by a man called Dave Goulson. There is something kind of heartening in being stuck in that mode; that one-eyed view of the world, where your basic needs as a living entity are reduced to, like, WiFi and room service. And your ability to function is equally limited, cordoned off by soundcheck time, stage time, mealtime, travel time…
On such a tight schedule, your worldview shrinks immeasurably over time, so there’s something heartening about being to delve into the very specific, but totally otherworldly aspect, of someone else’s life. Like reading a four hundred-page book by a guy whose entire life is consumed by bumblebees and how important they are to us. That was very informative and very interesting.
I enjoyed that.
I’ve been reading [J.M.] Coetzee’s Waiting For The Barbarians for the first time. That’s quite a read as well. A work related one, actually.
On this subject, there are two things that I should mention. For a while, I was carrying around a copy of Hemingway’s Death In The Afternoon, because I realized I’d never read any Hemingway—and I’ve certainly never read anything about bullfighting. The nice thing about classics like that generally speaking is that they are usually quite small and fit in your hand luggage, as opposed to those gargantuan new books.
Another one I carried around was this amazing book called Redeployment by a man called Phil Klay. It’s basically a collection of stories of returning war veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Lots of short stories, which again is really good to have on tour, books that don’t require long periods of concentration. You’ll get exhausted for no particular reason, so your ability to stay awake is significantly less than usual, and then there are so many instances of having to wait around for short periods of time.
Tell me about tomorrow’s show
Well, I’m going to play a show in my hometown, which doesn’t really happen that often, and I’m quietly excited about it.
I think the other thing I’m kinda excited about is that it’s a little more produced from a technical point of view. Usually when it comes to doing things at home, I’ll often take a different approach than when I’m touring…
I’ve played quite a few shows in my local bar [Kaffibarinn] by now. That’s always a lot of fun and it means a lot to me to do those, but sonically they’re never fully indicative of what it is that I’m doing in my other life as a touring musician—what myself and Daniel create as a touring entity. That experience is kind of demanding, I guess, and we ask a lot of people. We are very demanding of venues and festivals and promoters, we maintain a certain standard to make the show work in a particular way that will deliver a specific experience
And I’m really hopeful that we can ensure that it will translate to our show at Húrra.
I’m genuinely excited about the show. Living in a town this size and doing most of your work elsewhere, it creates an interesting divide between what you could call “my working life” and then “me as human being.” I feel as if I haven’t worked at home, really, over the past few years, and thus being able to allow those spaces to collide, that rare instance, is rather exhilarating.
Being able to walk home from a show and sleep in my own bed is equally exhilarating.
Are you done touring for now?
But, I’ll be home a lot more this year, god willing.
What have you been up to since you returned to Iceland? Have you checked out the protests?
Yes! I actually did go down to the protest on Sunday. I was actually quite, I was genuinely kind of… what’s the word I’m looking for… not shocked. I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with pride, at the turnout on Sunday. I honestly did not expect that.
It was really something. I don’t particularly think the European Union is a perfect system, but I think that when you live under an entrenched sort of mafia of cronies, like Icelanders do, and that mafia is vehemently rejecting any kind of involvement with the EU—or the outside world in general—you really need to ask what it is that they are scared of. My take has never been that Iceland should necessarily join the EU—I have reservations about whether the EU is a good thing for anybody, really, but that is a dialogue that should have been open some time ago, and that should stay open.
And it’s one that the people of this country should be privy to and involved in.