Herald spillover (or as BlogDH would call it: Alums who do cool things): Gabriel Kahane ’03

In the Brown Daily Herald Media Empire, the people are informed by two separate, yet equally important groups (and Post-): the paper, which you grab from the Ratty and the Blog, which you read on your laptop during lectures. Occasionally, a story will be too big and awesome to completely fit into the pages of the Herald, so we’re here to pick it up.  This is their spillover.  DUN DUN!

Gabriel Kahane’s ’03 music is like the love child of Arnold Schoenberg, Andrew Bird, Elliot Smith and Steven Sondheim if that child were raised by drunken Russian crystallographers on a maritime kick. In short: his music is very, very good. Also, he looks like a friendly elf. Best of all: people are noticing. The 31 year-old has been written up in the New York Times more times than I, a humanities concentrator, can count; Pitchfork says fewer bad things him than they do about almost anyone except Kanye West; he was recently named a composer-in-residence of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra; he’s collaborated with Sufjan Stevens and Rufus Wainwright, among others and he’s currently writing a musical for the renowned Public Theater. Here are some of the choicest things he said to me — including a recipe for braised pork shoulder ragu — after his concert at Grant Recital Hall last Thursday.

I heard someone in the audience mention that using the word ‘banjo’ was the best way to win an argument. What’s your take?

Laughs. I don’t know about that. It definitely has the element of surprise. But I’m just a dilettante when it comes to the banjo.

I noticed that your songs contain a lot of interesting imagery. Why is that?

I read a lot and I love language. Also, my voice is inescapably sincere. I think the imagery comes from me needing to find a way to express specificity in a way that transcends cliché and my voice’s earnestness.

What are you reading right now?

After a year and a half, I am finally finishing Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. My advice to you: Don’t read DFW unless you have a lot of time on your hands.

You seem to take a lot of German influences into your music.

Actually, two of the songs I played tonight were Schumann, from his Dichterliebe … he was like the 19th-century version of a (modern-day) singer-songwriter. I think (Dichterliebe) sounds like the prototype for an 80’s power ballad, like something Journey would write.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the musical you’re working on right now?

It’s called February House. It’s a co-production between Longworth Theater and Public Theater; it was commissioned by Public Theater. It explores the question, what is an artist’s role during wartime? So basically mastermind fiction editor and complete misanthrope George Davis got a shit ton of artists together in a big house in Brooklyn in 1942 and — well, it ended badly. Also, all the people he invited to live in the house — except two — were queer-identifying. In that way it’s the story of sexually other-ed individuals coming together to make a family, and whether there’s a universal desire to create a family.

Fred (Jodry, director of choral activities) tells me you are a great cook. What is your favorite thing to cook?

I do love to cook, though I’m not sure if I’m a great cook. I’m pretty seasonal when it comes to cooking: head to the farmer’s market, buy all the nice looking vegetables, go home and make something up. But I have, of late, been obsessed with making braised pork shoulder ragu over homemade pappardelle. It’s a long process — three and a half hour braise for the pork, then make the pasta while the pork is stewing, then take all the meat off the bone and start the sauce in a pan… carrot, celery, onion, the pork, some white wine, milk, tomato … let it hang out and simmer for forty five more minutes. An all-day project, but well worth it.

What are you currently listening to?

The new TuNe-YaRdS record is pretty sweet — “w h o k i l l “…  Also been checking out the late Judee Sill. She was an idiosyncratic 70’s singer-songwriter who succumbed to a nasty drug problem after making only a record or two. But her songs are really special.

What was it like coming back to Brown as a teacher? As a performer?

Echhh. It actually felt like a nice homecoming to give a masterclass. I’ve been away from school long enough to feel that I’ve got my bearings in the world, and it was a delight to share little tidbits of quasi-wisdom with the incredibly bright students. It was an incredible reminder — and I say this in no way blowing smoke up the university’s ass — how amazing an institution Brown is. The kids are so eager, so curious, so smart … I hope that I can take back to Brooklyn with me the kind of optimism and idealism that I felt being around the students. And more generally, I hope to take a walk around campus and dig up the ghosts of all my old crushes, haunts, etc.

As a performer, well … sort of odd. But mostly because half of the (very small audience) was made up of former professors of mine. It felt like a doctoral colloquium or something. Over the course of touring this album, I’ve played in just about every conceivable bizarre situation — rock clubs, concert halls, synagogues, suburban coffee shops — so Brown just gets tacked onto that list.

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