WDET interviews Travis R. Wright about this story (MP3)
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Dave Graw and Derek Swanson are a couple of solid dudes.
Living evidence that age 35 is the new 21 (which is the new 15), they drink beer faster and tell dick jokes better than sports bar swillers, and though these total BFFs are heterosexually hot for each other's guffaws, they're also husbands with day jobs that see them as visual arts madmen pimping their skills to metro Detroit ad agencies. More, they're inked-up punk rockers who — before losing their shredmeister guitarist to hardcore torch-carriers the Dillinger Escape Plan — anchored the rhythm section (drums and bass, respectively) for a storied local band from the early 2000s called Heads Will Roll.
Graw and Swanson are solid dudes: good for a chuckle, or a ride to work when your car dies. But, literally, they are the Solid Dudes. See, for the last five years, Swanson and Graw have produced and co-hosted the best food show you've never seen, a Detroit-bred Internet sensation: Solid Dudes Kitchen.
The show's recipe is something like this: Take a healthy Aerosmith hatred, add in fistfuls of phallic referencing, simmer with six-packs of top-shelf beer, lay down some music, top with motion graphic animations that'd make Adult Swim envious and finish with a dash of dudery. Episodes are pithy, and, when all's said and done, see a running time of less then 10 minutes each. Not only is Solid Dudes Kitchen all over the Web, it's a legitimate DVD designed and released by Graw and Swanson, and can be found stocked on the shelves of metro Detroit independent retailers such as Thomas Video and Flipside Records. And in these post-post-modern times where, in our (pop) culture, there is no great and there is no awful — there just "is," and then it's quickly replaced by more "is" — Solid Dudes Kitchen has a real shot at mass appeal, and could easily work on, say, HBO.
But do they actually make food? Well, Swanson actually writes recipes and he does create dishes. Graw is more the straight man, good for a punch line or a cock punch. He's handy with an oven mitt.
Solid Dudes Kitchen is the anti-cooking-show cooking show. During one episode in which the dudes created a pancetta, pork belly, brisket, pork rib, pork shoulder, bacon burger topped with homemade bacon mayo aptly titled the "Pork Motherfucker," Swanson quipped: "This is where people would explain what Sriracha is, but if you don't know — go fuck yourself." But the show's charm isn't its cheap humor. It's not even the succulent foodie porn, such as the roasted beet and fennel salad, that the guys plate up. The show actually succeeds where most "reality-based" programs fail: It's not about the suspension of disbelief — it's about familiar comedic translation where food kind of holds it together. Put simply: they let you in on inside jokes to the point where you feel like you kind of know who these guys are.
Take the "Mac and Cheese" episode featuring their guitar-playing pal Jeff Tuttle. He's single-handedly the quietest character a Solid Dudes Kitchen episode.
When spoken to, Tuttle responds with blazing guitar licks. But is he really so quiet? Like several aspects of Solid Dudes, you get the feeling his muteness is an inside gag. But the Dudes want to bring us in. Back to the question: Is he really that quiet? Says Swanson: "He bums people out. Like people will meet him and be like, 'That guy's a fucking raging dick!' And Tuttle's like, 'I don't get it, I'm just kinda quiet.' People are super intimidated by him, but he's one of the nicest guys in the world." Adds Graw, "He's a pretty solid dude."
To have an inside joke that translates to an audience, where we don't feel alienated by some inferred elitism, or excluded from what's really their joke, is a one of comedy's biggest hurdles. These dudes mostly master it, and it's totally by accident.
Here they talk of punk rock, pot brownies, Hollywood and their very own homies.
Metro Times: How did this whole Solid Dudes Kitchen thing start?
Derek Swanson: It started with a "Wouldn't it be funny if we did this. I dare you to make an opening for it."
David Graw: "Well, I dare you to record a song for it." The whole idea for the show was an inside joke.
Derek Swanson: We don't know how to cook; we just kinda enjoy doing it.
Graw: Dude, you totally know how to cook. I know how to make grilled cheese.
MT: Is that truth or shtick?
Graw: Nah, that's honest. I mean, I'm fine — I can cook for myself —I just don't want to.
Swanson: Plus, it's funny being the straight guy.
MT: And Derek, you have no culinary background whatsoever?
MT: Before the show, what was the most challenging thing you tried out in the kitchen?
Swanson: I was a vegetarian for nine years, then my wife and I went to Paris and she was like, "If you go to Paris without eating meat you're going to regret it for you whole life." At that point I didn't give a shit, really, about being vegetarian anymore, so I started eating meat again. At that point, it was fucking on. The most elaborate vegetarian shit I'd try to make were like 36-ingredient veggie burgers that tasted like fucking sawdust. Coming back from Paris, the food I was cooking was all French, and I went for big dishes, like beef bourguignon cassoulet. That was probably the toughest — shit takes three days to make. I've never been a big fan of going out to eat. Growing up, we didn't have a lot of money, and then in college we didn't have a lot of money, so you can either eat shit like Burger King or make your own.
MT: What about your diet while touring in Heads Will Roll?
Graw: We ate like assholes on the road. You take advantage of every free thing you can get and make up the rest of your meals by going to whatever's still open.
MT: I'd like to see that episode.
Swanson: What, the "Tour Food" episode?
Graw: [looks at Derek]. Shhh — there are things in motion.
MT: [Inside Ronin, a hip metro Detroit sushi lounge where we meet the dudes, the interview is frequently interpreted by friends with good intentions.] So it seems at least one of you knows every other person in this place. Is this home base?
Graw: We have a lot of friends that work here but we also taped episode two of the new season here. We met with Ronin's head sushi chef, Kaku Usui, and co-owner Hugh Yaro on — was it a Sunday?
Swanson: It was eight in the morning, on a Saturday. We started drinking beer and eating sushi, and we did that for another five hours.
Graw: We got a lesson, man. We got schooled. As far as food goes, both of us are completely open to eating anything, and we're both really big fans of sushi. We saw this as an opportunity to watch and learn. Not only does Kaku prepare sushi and train everyone in his kitchen, from the ground up, but when he's not here at the restaurant, he's competitively fishing. ...
Swanson: Literally, competitively.
Graw: His life is fish. He's like the Tiger Woods of fishing. ...
Swanson: Our friend Kevin Hickner was like, "Wouldn't it be funny if you guys did an episode here?" When we got here, I couldn't believe what we'd fucking stumbled onto. There was just piece after piece after piece of shit we'd never think to order, shit that's not even on the menu. It was humbling. He has us breaking down fish, so Dave's whole thing about not really doing anything — he fucking nailed it. Neither of us had ever filleted a fish before and his was beautiful. Mine was mangled. Destroyed. Even Kaku said it sucked.
MT: How long does it take to complete an episode?
Swanson: Filming takes a day, and then —
Graw: Filming is really like half a day, right? Under six hours.
Swanson: Yeah, a lot of that day is just us fucking off and hanging out. We haven't got to that point yet where we have a crew that comes in and boils water ahead of time. We throw some water on, put the camera on it and watch it try to boil for like a half-hour. That's when we get some of the best shit, like Aerosmith rants. The post-production stuff, that takes a while.
MT: In the past year, Solid Dudes Kitchen has built some decent buzz locally. What gear is the hype machine in heading into the second season?
Swanson: Our friend Jason, thankfully, lost his job and wound up with a ton of time on his hands. He used to put out Heads Will Roll records so we were just like, "Dude, could you just get out there and talk to people for us — we'll put you on the payroll, for whatever that's worth." In the first two weeks we were on NPR, written up on a ton of blogs, Aquarius Records wrote us up favorably in their weekly thing.
Graw: As it leaked out there, we had some — we've turned down our fair share of the little L.A. feelers, the "I know people who know people. ..."
Swanson: "Hey, man, I know people at the Lifetime Network, ..."
Graw: "... let me produce your show." Let me tell you, I'm a fan of Dischord Records and what they did, the fact that punk rock was punk rock and they did everything themselves and pushed everything themselves. We looked at L.A. and were like, "You know what? You guys are jerks."
Swanson: It's validating enough to have this thing, this tiny little show, that if only like 16 people see it and think it's funny — it worked. If things happen, then great, but we're not going to go talk to Señor Cocainepants to make it happen.
MT: You don't see it taking over your lives anytime soon?
Swanson: In our real jobs, we're both professionals and we're good at what we do. People pay the companies we work for a shitload of money for us to do what we do. We don't see too much of that, so we just tried to take what it is we know how to do and make a fun thing out of it, for us.
MT: So then is Solid Dudes like a living résumé of what you do, editing and animation-wise?
Swanson: Fuck, I hope not.
Graw: There's a lot of people who like us that work in advertising and production and art production, ...
Swanson: ... who have that one thing they've always wanted to do something for themselves. I was just working on an ad for Coke Zero. I don't love Coke Zero, I love hanging out with Dave, ranting about Aerosmith and making mac and cheese. Now, selling that experience for $10 a pop? Buy it or don't buy it, I'm going to do it. ...
MT: Do you have criteria for what makes a "solid dude?"
Graw: I think it's one of those things you just know. In the back of your mind, when you look at your friends, you're like, "Yeah, what's-his-name is awesome, but would he really help me out the same way I think I'd help him out?"
Swanson: Dave's mom is a solid dude.
Graw: My mom is a solid dude.
Swanson: She'll make sure that you're fed; she'll make sure you're wearing your seat belt; she's always looking out.
Graw: If his car broke down, she'd drive to wherever he was.
MT: Do you collect solid dudes?
Swanson: You go through that period where you're like, "I have a million friends and I'm 23." At 28, you have 30 friends. I have 15.
Graw: People into creating quality work, and are really into just going for it, end up kinda gravitating toward each other. I think a solid dude is, I don't know, P.R.D.? Yeah, Punk Rock Dave [P.R.D. is not to be confused with Dave McGraw, but as far as the guys are concerned, he's an archetypal "solid dude."]
Swanson: This whole thing, the Solid Dudes name, came from our friend P.R.D. who's a guitar tech for Alice in Chains, Chris Cornell, Queens of the Stoned Age and more. He was putting this band together and Dave [Graw] was playing drums and I was like, "That dude is a solid dude. Wait! Oh my god — that would be the best band name. Let's give it to him," and Dave's like, "Fuck, yeah." So we phone P.R.D. and tell him and he's like, "That's the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard." We were all bummed out, like, "Fuck him then — we're fucking keeping that."
Graw: Three weeks later Derek calls me: "You wanna do a cooking show called Solid Dudes Kitchen?" I said, "Absolutely." Then we hung up the phones.
Swanson: That was it. Six months later, I recorded a theme song.
Graw: And once I got the theme song, I did an animation. We had an opening, so now we had to do something.
MT: But the pilot episode is only a bonus feature on the DVD, right?
Swanson: The pilot was built off the Food Network blueprint. There were like three or four dishes, there was the drinking night montage, and then we tried to do this Lost sort of opening that was fucking stupid and just went on forever. It sat for four months — we knew it sucked.
Graw: We almost scrapped it, then we were like, "Fuck it, let's do it another way." We showed up with one camera and no plan and filmed the Super Bowl episode in, like, two hours. We knew it was right.
MT: Who makes up the rest of the Solid Dudes crew?
Swanson: There's CJ Benninger, he's a still photographer, and our friend Mike Shepard, who's a fireman that works nine days a month.
Graw: The rest of the time, he does karate. He's the dry man — if he laughs at a joke, I know it's funny.
Swanson: He's also the guy who, when we were filming here at the sushi bar, all of a sudden says, "I want one of those," and puts the camera down on its side in the middle of filming. It's like, "Well, I guess we're taking a break."
Graw: He'll totally break form and not give a shit.
Swanson: That's the whole thing though. We're not trained how to cook and we're not really trained how to make television.
MT: How much of the show is scripted?
Graw: Nothing's scripted —
Swanson: Other than what we're cooking.
Graw: And I don't even know that.
Swanson: Yeah, you fucking asshole.
Graw: To be honest, I didn't even know they were Derek's recipes.
Swanson: He calls me one day to go over this idea for this thing and he's like, "Yeah, I don't want to do that. Just do this other sandwich." So I was like, "Alright, I guess I can figure that out by the time we —"
Graw: What do you mean, figure it out? Just look it up.
Swanson: You know that I write all these recipes and test them beforehand and —
Graw: No, not really.
MT: How much of season two has been shot?
Graw: Three are shot, two are totally done and we're going to do ...
Swanson: ... six or seven.
MT: Any big changes?
Swanson: Not so much as to the feel, but more in ways and the places were filming. The first episode we shot for season two, we went to this Jalapeño Fest thrown by this guy Bill Kozy.
Graw: Are you familiar with this guy? If you've ever been to a show in Detroit, you've seen him.
Swanson: He had a house in Hamtramck where he had a little jalapeno garden there. He had all his friends come over for a barbecue and every food had jalapeños incorporated. He kept doing his thing, then he and his sister, Karen, bought a house in Indian Village, and it just grew from there.
Graw: How many years has he been at it again?
Swanson: This was the seventh year.
Graw: Dude, it will blow your fucking mind. There were either 14 or 17 specific dishes.
Swanson: Not even counting side dishes.
Graw: All made somehow with jalapeno, ready to feed ...
Swanson: ... like, 200-250 people per dish.
Graw: And there had to be 500 people there.
Graw: There's the 313 O.G.s — the original grillaz — who are a grill team made up of Mike Mouyanis and the staff from Small's Bar.
Swanson: No joke, they were working with five different smokers. They had two pork tenderloin, both stuffed with cheese, chorizo and jalapenos, both wrapped in bacon, in the smoker.
Graw: And as they smoked, they had them dripping onto a massive jalapeño-stuffed brisket.
Swanson: Usually when me and Dave are doing things for the show, my wife takes care of our son and they do their thing. I was on the phone like, "Get the fuck up here right now — you're never going to believe this."
Graw: Barring tragedy, I will never, ever, ever miss that party.
Swanson: Oh, and the next day —
Graw: The next day we're just calling each other all day long, while on the can pissing blood out of our asses. Our asses were peeing to the power of 10 because of the burning-hot jalapeño juice. It was so worth it though — so worth it.
MT: What jalapeño dish did you make?
Swanson: We made chocolate chipotle steak bites on the grill. And Dave had an amazing idea to do mango jalapeño ice cream with tequila and topped with chipotle powder. We did that too.
Graw: If you have the rare opportunity to be invited to that party, do not pass up on it. If not, make your own party.
MT: So you're shooting on location now. Are we talking external lights and boom mics?
Swanson: Yeah, now we are. We've got this dude Andrew who does audio recording, CJ does all the lighting, my buddy Russ was running a fan.
Graw: It's just like seven of us assholes wingin' it.
Swanson: Hey, it's Sunday morning, let's have mimosas and cook food and we'll film it. Let's throw in a green screen.
Graw: Oh, and we brought Tuttle back. Jalapeño Fest is the first episode, Ronin sushi is the second, and we brought Jeff back for the third.
Swanson: It's a Dia de los Muertos episode. Jeff comes out dressed like a Norwegian black metal guy.
Graw: Death metal, that's the tie — we like it loose.
Swanson: You like it loose. The first time I read about black metal I was in Chicago. It was 1994. I was like, "Fuck me, I cannot wait to hear what this shit sounds like." Then I did. "What the fuck are these synthesizers doing here? This sucks." It was like when I was 8 years old and I first read about punk rock. "Man, I need to find that shit." Then a cousin of mine was like, "Oh, you want to hear punk rock, you should check out Echo and the Bunnymen." Then I did. "What the fuck? This isn't threatening at all."
Graw: Then you hear Black Flag.
Swanson: And that changes everything.
MT: Is there a Season 2 launch party in the works?
Swanson: Yeah, and this time we'll do it right!
MT: What does that mean?
Swanson: You weren't at the party? It was amazing. We got a whole roast pig, all this fucking food, and all these fucking people show up. My dad drives a truck in Iraq and he even made it in for this thing. Great night, beautiful weather, couldn't ask for anything better. Then everyone turns their attention to the screen, we pop the DVD in the player, push play, and the fucking thing dies. Dave being Dave just kicked the shit out of it. "This DVD player is done." Then he hooks up another one. That one dies. "Sic it, Dave!"
Graw: Dave walked out, went to the Garden Bowl bar and proceeded to get hammered, and watch people leave.
Swanson: We wound up getting a DVD player to work out on the patio.
Graw: After working on Season 1 for four years, we screened it on a TV out on the patio.
MT: Why did it take so long to finish the season?
Graw: Day jobs, man.
Swanson: Wives, a baby ...
Graw: I got married in the middle of all this.
Swanson: I actually married them.
Graw: After we finished the first season, though, we told ourselves, "Fuck it, let's have the second season finished in a year."
MT: How long ago did you tape the first episode?
Graw: Aug. 2 of last year — before the premiere of Season 1 — before all of this. We go in bursts.
Swanson: We come in bursts too.
MT: As far as executing these recipes, what didn't work out?
Swanson: Tons of shit. Most things had at least one fuck-up. Most dishes. ...
Graw: No way. You nailed it with the bacon burger, and that was the most complicated dish. It was insane. Macaroni and cheese was perfect.
Swanson: Bacon burger was four days of prep, man.
Graw: We got an e-mail from some guys who work in a kitchen somewhere — they actually re-created the bacon burger at work. That's awesome.
MT: Have the winds of the interweb carried Solid Dudes far across the map?
Swanson: The first 15 to 20 web purchases we were like, "Oh, it's our friend Brandon, how nice."
Graw: Now we don't even know.
Swanson: Now it's like some dude in Germany ordering five at a time.
Graw: Through small Web ads, we sell, like, three or four things a week off our website. If we're lucky, we make — who cares how much we make? I don't know how much we make.
MT: Do you know much you make?
Graw: Yeah, I keep track of it, but I don't pay attention. It's not about the money.
Swanson: At no point have I ever held money in my hand and been like, "This is from DVDs!"
MT: The "Pot Brownie" episode was a personal fave. Were you guys legitimately stoned?
Graw: You can publish whatever you want; I smoke weed.
Swanson: So we eat them, but then we have to film us being high, and the shit takes a while to kick in when you eat it, so we were like, "Fuck it, let's just smoke some too."
Graw: We filmed for two-and-a-half hours — that's why the cuts are so funny. You have to watch it with the commentary; I loved how he edited it, 'cause it was literally two-and-a-half hours of being stoned in chairs looking at the camera.
Swanson: The first cut of that episode was probably 20 minutes long — 20 minutes of stoned gems. Brutal.
MT: More mind-altering drug episodes coming in Season 2?
Graw: I've been thinking about a 'shroom episode, but it might be a little weird.
Swanson: I'm 34, dude. I just don't have time.
Graw: Yeah, that's a long day.
Swanson: At some point of which, I have to put my kid to bed.
Graw: We've actually been talking about doing another version of the "Hangover Episode." I think we have a better one in us. I don't want to spill all the beans, but ...
Swanson: It involves alcohol and hangovers.
MT: What have you grown to hate about the first season?
Swanson: Dude, every fucking time I watch the beet episode, the roasted beet salad we made on the Super Bowl, I ask myself, "Dude, how the fuck are you going to make a salad and not use any fucking lettuce?"
Graw: I think it's because we had such complex dishes for the first three that [pauses to nod along to "Weird Fishes / Arpeggi" by Radiohead] ... Dude, this is a good jam. I went and saw 'em in Indiana with the full-on light show and we were so close that I had to back the fuck up because it was too intense. They took that massive stage and filled every square inch of where they weren't with hanging lights in a perfect row like a geometric grid. Their stage became this small little box of light. This band's genius.
Swanson: You know Aerosmith did that same thing in '86.
Graw: Fuck off. Really, the beet salad had to be simple. Frankly, fuck football. I mean fuck it right in its face. I was sick of getting called a fag for playing soccer my whole life, you know. When it came time to do a Super Bowl episode, we couldn't care less. While everyone else is eatin' wings, drinkin' beer, suckin' their own dicks and spending wasted money on Super Bowl squares, we're like, "Let's make a roasted beet and fennel salad with capers and a mustard vinaigrette, tell dick jokes and not pay any attention to any of that shit."
Swanson: My brother calls me every fucking Super Bowl like, "Dude, we're gonna be up at fucking B-Dubs watchin' the game — where are you gonna be?"
Graw: Your brother's a solid dude.
MT: Are there any creative endeavors outside Solid Dudes that you two collaborate on?
Swanson: You should see us fuck.
MT: What about music?
Graw: Yeah, we recently met up with our friend and we went and got high ...
Swanson: Which is code for "getting high."
Graw: ... and recorded some jams. We love our instruments. We play when we can.
Swanson: It's hard. It's not hard finding the time, and it's not hard doing it, but it's hard finding people you can tolerate doing it with. The idea of getting together with someone else and doing that irritates me to no end. Out of that session, we have new credit music for the new season and we wrote a couple other new jams.
MT: Is the approach to the show similar to your approach to music?
Swanson: The whole thing is informed by the whole punk rock ethic. If you're going to put out a record, then put out a fucking record.
Graw: But you gotta do it yourself because nobody else is going to do it for you.
Swanson: If you want to put out an Internet cooking show, then put out a fucking Internet cooking show.
MT: It's been said that you shouldn't ever work with your best friend. Have there been any rifts in making Solid Dudes?
Graw: Actually, good question, man. It's been pretty sweet.
Swanson: Yeah, I hadn't even though of it. So far it's really working out.
Graw: And that notion doesn't make any sense to me. I mean, if you gotta work, then why wouldn't you want to work in a situation you really like hanging out in?
Swanson: And, dude, at this point we've worked with each other for so long. We got this shit.
Graw: If my best friend tells me I'm being an asshole, well, then I'm probably being an asshole. I should suck it up, swallow my pride and go, "My bad, dude." If everybody did that, we'd be solid across the board.
MT: The candor you guys have with each other comes across on screen.
Swanson: My mom is always like, "Oh, that Bobby Flay is really good — his food is really good." I'm like, "Mom, did you go to his restaurant?" and she's like, "No, but you just know — his shit is good." Cooking shows are to cuisine what porn is to fucking.
MT: Dave, anything you wanted to add to that?
Swanson: I look really good with my shirt off.
MT: As opposed to Steven Tyler? Seriously, though, dude, you really hate Aerosmith, eh?
Swanson: No, I think we all really hate Aerosmith.
MT: I hear they're trying to get Lenny Kravitz to take over vocals.
Graw: I think that's extremely disgraceful. I think Lenny Kravitz kinda sucks, but I would never in a million years put him on the same plane of sucking as Aerosmith. The band's dogshit — just terrible. And you know what? I don't know why I picked them to hate so much, but you gotta hate something, you gotta nuke something. They're despicable. I think they had skill and they put out one record and it was decent and they were supposedly supposed to be America's answer to the Rolling Stones and they're a fucking joke.
Swanson: [to the interviewer] For the record: You asked this question.
Graw: They're egotistical maniacs in purple shirts with suntans with a guy who puts scarves around his microphones and does the truffle shuffle on stage like an A-grade A-hole. I watched that video of Tyler falling offstage, like, 40 times — and I laughed every single time. I dreamt about having a time machine where I could go to that moment in time when he falls off the stage and beam in just to see him bail and point at him like, 'Yeah, fucker" and then beam right out. Whew, sorry, but you gotta hate something.
Swanson: I hate Dave.
MT: But do you like beans?
Swanson and Graw: Huh?
Watch Solid Dudes Kitchen Season 1 at soliddudeskitchen.com.
Travis R. Wright is arts and culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.