New Orleans has long been a music town, but recently it’s become a music town with pizza. That’s something The Pizza Underground can appreciate.
A New York band that features former child actor Macauley Culkin on the kazoo and percussion, The Pizza Underground’s reputation has grown exponentially since it recorded its first demo at Culkin’s home in November 2013.
The Pizza Underground will play at PubliQ House on Friday at 10 p.m. Har Mar Superstar will open.
It has focused its craft on parody covers of Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground songs. But the band is not just parodying the songs: they’re reinventing them as pizza-focused hits.
“Walk on the Wild Side” is now “Take a Bite of the Wild Slice.” They’ve reimagined “All Tomorrow’s Parties” as “All the Pizza Parties” and replaced “Venus in Furs” with “Pizza, It Hurts.”
“We find it interesting that the clichés in music and songwriting tend to be about love and heartache when food is much more basic to survival, arguably,” keyboardist Austin Kilham said. “And pizza is so very deserving of songs and music dedicated to it. Aside from the art of making music devoted to pizza, creating and eating pizza are art forms unto themselves.”
The group comes out of the resurging New York “anti-folk” movement that, according to Kilham, adopts an “anything goes DIY attitude,” which allowed the band to flourish.
Though they’ve gained much attention for counting former child star Culkin as one of their members, the band also includes writer and percussionist Deenah Vollmer, singer-songwriter Pheobe Kreutz, and musicians Matt Colbourn and Kilham — all members of the anti-folk scene.
The band fully commits to the pizza act. Their promotion, Twitter and correspondence are all thick with pizza puns and references to various toppings. One band member, Vollmer, even plays the pizza box as a percussion instrument.
The pizza box’s origin as an instrument was not unique to The Pizza Underground, though.
Vollmer was formerly a member of a band with Angela Carlucci named Meatball: The Carlucci Sisters. Though it predates The Pizza Underground, the band intended to be an Italian food parody band. “But it was very different, actually,” Vollmer said. It did include a pizza box drum kit, but the guitar was strung with spaghetti and our songs had nothing to do with the Velvet Underground.”
Vollmer never plays a pizza box twice, and each is marked by the city it comes from.
“In every city I get a box from the local pizzeria,” she said. “Each pizza place has its own distinct type of box, and each box has its own nuanced sound. I get to play a new pizza box drum with every performance.”
Though the band is young, they have come under quite a bit of scrutiny since their inception.
In the U.K., as the band performed at the Dot to Dot Festival in Nottingham in May, they were booed and pelted with beer until they left the stage. Some people didn’t get the joke.
“Either you get the parody and you enjoy the show, or you simply don’t get it,” Thomas Bane, who takes on the moniker Anchovy Warhol during the show, said in response to the criticism.
“At the end of the day we are there to have a good time and to let the audience have that good time along with us. It’s like circus that we’re bringing to town — just meant to be a lot of fun. We demonstrate our commitment to ridiculous ideas.
“We mean “ridiculous” in a really affectionate way,” he added.
But the band is happy to be back in New Orleans and their show will definitely have a heap of pizza at it, as they are known to hand out local pies to the audience at their shows.
“We love New Orleans and we feel the love back,” Kreutz said, referring to the stop they made in the city in the spring. “We wanted to make sure that this city was on the tour schedule as a few of us have good friends here as well as great memories from past visits. We genuinely look forward to playing in New Orleans.”