In Good Food, Rocks, we track down a band member serious about their grub — and who has held a job in the food industry too.
Matt Roberts asks to push his interview time back so he can finish his shift at Tartine, the James Beard Award–winning bakery and café in San Francisco’s Mission District. This being a food site, we’re obligated to comply. When we do connect with Roberts, he’s in a convivial mood; his band The Mantles has just released its latest and best album, Long Enough To Leave (on the Slumberland label), a warm-sounding rock record that recalls cult underground New Zealand and California garage bands from an earlier indie wave.
Roberts and his bandmates are gearing up to tour the East Coast that starts this Friday, and I’d highly recommend you check out a show if they’re in your town, especially if you’re into melodic, unfussy pop tunes with a ragged edge and a lot of heart. And, if you can help out Roberts, turns out he’s the sole carnivore in the Mantles, so steer him towards a proper cheese steak or burger. Here, he talks about how his touring turns into a quest for sandwiches, what it’s like working at Tartine, how he and his co-workers feel about the cronut, and last, in a shocker, he spills on Tartine’s secret best dessert item.
Let’s talk about the Mantles and food.
Yeah! Two things I like. And am heavily involved with.
Which came first — The Mantles or Tartine?
Defninitely playing bass in the Mantles. I’ve been in the band for six years. It started a year before I was in it and I recorded the first single before I was in the band and put it out on my label. I just started working at Tartine something like eight months ago.
How’d you get the Tartine job?
I had music jobs forever. I worked at a distributor in town for a long, long time and then I got laid off and I did nothing for about a year besides hang out at bars. I’ve always lived in the neighborhood, so one of my friends who worked there said are you looking for a job? I wasn’t thinking I’d want to do a service job but if you like baked goods it’s as good as you can get. It’s great for playing music too because it’s really flexible and there’s a bunch of musicians who work there. Jessica Pratt works there. And this girl who’s in Sonny and the Sunsets, and a bunch of other people too.
What do you do there?
It’s front of house, so I put croissants in bags and make people coffee. They didn’t hire me for my baking skills. They hired me for my excruciatingly handsome looks and my sharp wit.
One of the reasons I’ve become so infatuated with Long Enough To Leave is that it reminds me of some of my favorite bands from the ’90s, like The Clean and The Bats. The Mantles have also hooked people who’re into garage-rock and psychedelic pop. How did your sound evolve?
[Before I was in the band], it was kind of this garage rock thing. I went to their first show in San Francisco and a friend and I were blown away — like, this is the best band in town. It was really amateur-ish. After I saw them, I talked to Virginia [Weatherby] and I said, It weirdly sounds like New Zealand stuff, bands from the Flying Nun label. And after I joined the band I found out that [singer/songwriter] Michael [Olivares] had never heard of any of those bands — he had no idea what it was. It just comes naturally to Michael as a songwriter.
Was it a similar thing with Tartine, where you were impressed by husband-wife team Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt?
With the Mantles, it was like joining my favorite band, but with Tartine, it was more that I had eaten every product there because I had lived with employees from there in the past, and I knew the food was great. Frankly, going back to a service job after music industry jobs wasn’t very appealing, but the idea of working at a place that’s super-respected and a place where I actually like the food made it easier.
I was familiar with what Chad and Liz did; I see Chad every day, but I’ve only met Liz a couple of times. I’m certainly more familiar with their respective talents than I am with them personally.
Tartine’s got a big following in the Bay Area, especially for its pastries. Is there any rivalry with New York now that we’re in the middle of a full-blown Cronut Craze?
It’s funny you mention that because I was on my break upstairs and I was reading this article and there was a visual history of the croissant in The New York Times, and I’ve been like, I really want to try [a cronut], but I’d be too embarrassed to wait in a line. But I wanted to get a reaction, and there was a baker in the office with me, and I said, So what’s your view on the cronut, and she was like, “Fuck that, I don’t want to hear about it.”
Wow. It’s the start of an East Coast-West Coast pastry beef!
But its’ probably like with me — I’m a big music snob, so if I hear about the hot new band, my kneejerk reaction is going to be snotty about it. I would try [a cronut] though, and I think other people here would if they didn’t have to wait in line. Why, how do you feel about it?
I wouldn’t wait in line an hour for a pastry.
I mean, people wait in line an hour to get pastries at Tartine!
What are the most popular items at Tartine?
Bread is Chad’s domain and pastries are Liz’s domain, but I don’t know the history behind everything. I would say it’s most famous for the bread, but at the same time what we sell the most of is pastries, dessert and croissants. We sell a ton of tarts and cakes, and then croissants. Of the desserts, the most popular thing is the banana cream tart; I like the coconut cream tart better. The secret dessert item there that is the best is the chocolate pudding. For some reason people don’t get it that much, but then there’s the secret people that all know about it and they come in and get like four.
What’s next for you and for The Mantles?
We’re going on tour, and I’m really looking forward to it because I am definitely a tour eater. Being in a band with vegetarians makes it a little bit not as fun. I don’t know if you have seen this show on PBS that they air like once a year called Sandwiches That You Will Like?
It’s amazing. This guy goes around trying all these regional sandwiches. It’s my favorite thing: I’ve watched it like 30 times. And every time we go on the road I always try to go to these places. Of course, they’re all meat places, so my bandmates won’t want to go, but I’m definitely going to have to hit a couple of those.
What’re your favorite food cities?
Montreal for the poutine. Memphis and Austin for barbecue.
Oh wow, so that must be tough with a vegetarian band.
Yeah, they definitely get frustrated. I have to sneak out on my own.
Listen to “Hello” by The Mantles [via Soundcloud].
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