The doughy deliciousness of the internet rose a bit higher this week when news of Macaulay Culkin’s pizza-themed art collective, The Pizza Underground, was tossed and spread around by pretty much every music and pop culture outlet online. The band, an East Village, anti-folk outfit devised in February 2012 by founding PU members Deenah Vellmer, Matt Coulbourn and Phoebe Krutz – and featuring musician Austin Kilham and Macaulay Culkin (on kazoo) – pays tribute to the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed by taking classic songs such as “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” and giving them tasty, pizza-themed makeovers.
Their Bandcamp demo, recorded live at Macaulay Culkin’s home in November, is an over eight-minute medley with titles like “Papa John Says,” “Cheese Days” and “Pizza Gal” (an ode to “Femme Fatale”), that reimagine the Velvet Underground’s musical catalogue in a satirically, cheesy-like way while channeling their love for the Velvets and the greatest food on earth at the same time. Phoebe Kreutz, the glockenspiel player for The Pizza Underground, took some time out of her busy day to talk to me about the band’s latest demo, Macaulay Culkin (because obviously), Lou Reed (also because obviously) and ideas about other food-themed cover bands.
There’s been so much attention this week on The Pizza Underground. Considering you formed in 2012, why do you think the internet is just finding out about PU now?
Well, there’s an obvious answer for that, but I think the moment arrived when we put our demo out there in the world. Everyone was excited to see that and also excited to see what the different members of the band had been up to for some time. So it all sort of came together at the right moment.
And Mac joined the band a while after PU formed, correct?
Mac came in to resurrect our pizza dreams. We played one show and we felt that maybe that was enough for The Pizza Underground. But sometimes you just need a catalyst to get yourself back in the game and that’s what Mac has been.
In terms of the origins of The Pizza Underground, is it true the idea started as a joke?
Yes, but now it is not a joke at all. Now it’s dead serious [laughs].
But before all the press and all the attention, how did the band start? Was it while you were on tour?
It did. I’m a musician and my husband [Matt Colbourn] and I are in a band together and we were on tour with Deenah Vollmer, who plays the pizza box, and she’s in a band called L.A. Boobs. So we were all on tour together in Europe and it started as a goof that Matt and Deenah came up with on a train and it just sort of spiraled from there.
Did you know Deenah prior to touring with her in Europe?
We’ve all known each other for a long time, mostly from the New York City, anti-folk community in the East Village – that’s where we all met. And the reason we know Mac is also through that community because he’s good friends with an artist named Toby Goodshank and Adam Green [of The Moldy Peaches] who are both anti-folk musicians and visual artists that are in a collective with Mac. So that’s how that all ties together.
For people unaware of anti-folk, how would you define it?
It has a lot of definitions. Sometimes it has just meant a social group which means if you played at the SideWalk Café [in New York City] between 1995 and 2000 and now, you could probably call yourself anti-folk if you felt like it. But I think the other definition you could say is acoustic punk. I don’t know how useful of a term it is. It’s sort of gone in and out of being a fun thing to say and not a fun thing to say. I don’t think anybody lives or dies by it too much, but it’s sort of the thing we hang our little hat on when it’s helpful for shorthand.
Do you know when the anti-folk movement began? I think it was the late 80s, early 90s, but I could be wrong.
I think the origin story has something to do with a guy named Latch. And there’s sort of been different rises of it [anti-folk] throughout the years. There was the first wave, which involved Latch and some other people who I think got some notoriety, and then the next wave came with The Moldy Peaches, which was the band Adam Green was in. It’s sort of had its ups and downs – probably more downs than ups – but it still has a community here. It’s more of a social grouping than it is a musical genre. The aesthetic is lo-fi, sort of DIY. None of it is going to sound radio-made, nor would it want to. I think it’s definitely got a loser’s parade kind of chip which is sometimes to its detriment and sometimes its saving grace.
You describe The Pizza Underground as a medley band. Do you like that idea better than a full band?
Yeah, I think it’s great. I mean, I’ve been in full bands before, and I’m a songwriter – I love writing a complete song with a beginning, middle and end. But I think for this particular project, once people know what we’re doing, we don’t want to belabor the point. Sometimes they [listeners] can see where the cheese lies.
So what are the plans for the band? Are you thinking of releasing more medleys?
Making more medleys is definitely going to happen – we’re excited to get to work on them. That’s what we really should be doing instead of thinking about press stuff all the time – it’s been pretty overwhelming. Our band meetings usually devolve into giggling about who’s trying to contact us next. But I think certainly, obviously, we’re enjoying the goofiness of it, but I don’t think it’s only a joke. We have great love and respect for the Velvet Underground, and part of our challenge that we do take seriously is trying to figure out what would be the most eloquent, pizza-like way to express the heart of those songs – because there is such heart in the songs. And they [the Velvets] really talked about disillusionment and indulgence and all these modern concepts that I think are interesting and lend themselves very nicely to pizza. So we don’t want to do only the dumbest joke we can – maybe just the second dumbest joke.
Do you know if Lou Reed was aware of The Pizza Underground?
I doubt it. But my husband and I were singing a little song to each other as we were walking around Tribeca a few years ago and he [Lou Reed] gave us a really dirty look.
He was known for that.
That was kind of like a blessing from the Pope, I think, for a native New Yorker to get yelled at by Lou Reed.
Did you go to Lou Reed’s memorial at the Lincoln Center?
No, I didn’t. But we did play at a tribute benefit night at Jalopy [Theatre in Brooklyn]. A lot of people came in and covered Lou Reed songs. It was really moving and it was great to hear so many songs that aren’t on the usual playlist.
How about songwriting? When you come up with pizza-themed lyrics, is everyone involved in the process?
Oh yeah. Everyone pitches in and usually we all can tell the winning line. It’s the one that makes us smile the most.
And you’ll be showing off these songs on November 13th, correct?
We will. It’s going to be at Alright Baby which is a new-ish venue in Williamsburg. It’s going to be more of a pizza party than anything else. We’re gonna have some pizza and it’s going to be short since it was so last minute. We’re not taking over the whole night, we’re just going to show up and have a little fun. I think another band is going to play and it will just be a jolly little evening.
Should we expect more PU shows in the future?
We’re doing some radio things on Sunday. I believe we’re going to go out and play Roberta’s Pizza [in Brooklyn] on their radio station. But I think tomorrow is our only live show for the weekend that people can actually come and see us in person – so that will be low pressure. People have been very cute and silly in their enthusiasm to get us to come out to play. We’re excited about some of the offers we’ve gotten and we’re just trying to figure out what makes the most sense for us.
OK, one last cheesy question for you: If you could form another cover band with another kind of food, what would it be?
Mac had a good suggestion yesterday of the Tofu Fighters, which I think is pretty terrific. I’m not sure how that would work exactly, but I’m all for it. We’re fully expecting someone in Chicago to make a Chicago cover band that would talk about deep dish pizza, and we encourage them to do so.