Battles Likes More Than "Ice Cream"

Dec 26, 2011 | Updated Feb 25, 2012


Ian Williams is the founder of Battles. He also played in the bands Don Caballero and Storm and Stress. Battles, which has a song called "Ice Cream", it turns out has quite the palate... bone marrow, Japan fish market, and mention of Grant Achatz; it's all in there.

What do you eat before a show?
Usually whatever is in the dressing room on our rider, although I don't eat up to three hours before the show. Our rider is pretty healthy food-wise, although it gets boring day after day. Fruit, spinach, hummus, blueberries and veggies. I also drink a beer before the show and chew Black Black gum from Japan, which has nicotine and caffeine. It can't be very good for me. But it wakes me up.

What's your favorite thing to get after a show?
Sometimes our tour-manager orders delivery from a local restaurant, but late night places aren't always the best. How about a late night pizza delivery in Germany?

Does it vary depending on city?
Yes. In Japan, the tradition is that the promoter takes the band and their crew out to eat after the show. Late night places are pretty common there. And good. My only beef is that you usually sit in a small room and most of my friends smoke, and you're still allowed to smoke indoors there. So I smell like an ashtray the next morning. 

Traveling across the world makes you want to eat what you think is supposed to be from there. I remember playing a show in Mexico, and the people there said, what would you like to eat? Italian? Japanese? French? It felt like there was a bit of disappointment on their part, like somebody was coming to the U.S. and wanted to eat a hamburger at an old-fashioned diner. But I wanted Mexican.

What's your favorite post-NYC show meal?
Blue Ribbon if the mood calls for bone-marrow and oxtail marmalade. It often does.

What's your favorite post-LA meal?
I guess I'd have to say some form of Mexican food. There's a late night taco truck that parks outside of the Cha Cha Lounge in Silverlake that we've eaten at the past two times we were there. 

Have any groupies ever made you anything and sent it backstage?
 I don't think so.

Any food that musically inspires you?
I really think the stuff that Grant Achatz is doing in Chicago, or what they're doing at WD-50 in New York, is one of the few remaining experimental-modern forms in culture that has currency with people. I get really excited when I get a chance to eat at places like that. 

What's your favorite city for eating before or after you've played a gig?
Most Italian shows involve meals at a traditional Italian restaurant that take a long time, but are usually great. I like Thai food a lot, so I'd have to put Bangkok up there. It's all about the street food in Bangkok. A classic would also be the Tsukiji fish market for sushi in the morning after a late night of karaoke and drinking in Tokyo.

What is your favorite tour bus snack?
We pack our tour bus with the catering from the night before, so it's the same stuff. But a lot of times I just make a coffee in the morning or have a beer at night. Sadly the only food on the bus sometimes is potato chips.

What hometown meal do you miss the most when you are on the road?
Coming back from an American tour, I like to have pizza as a way of confirming I'm back in New York. But interestingly, coming back from overseas, I like to eat Mexican food to confirm that I am back in the U.S. 

Who's the pickiest eater in the band? What's his deal?
I'm mostly vegetarian, but I do make an exception for when I'm around meat-eaters. So I adapt to the scenario. Our only rule is to avoid fast-food if possible. The exception are the occasional visit to 5 Guys Burgers or In and Out Burger, and if there really is nothing and you're way out in the rural part of the U.S. and there is a Ruby Tuesday, I will go there. I think it's the best out of that Chili's, Applebee's, T.G.I. Friday's genre. 

Who's the best cook in the band? What's their best dish? 
I dunno. I cook mostly vegetarian and base everything on improvisation, Dave tends to cook Italian, and when John cooks it smells like my grandparents' place when I grew up. Steak, steak and steak -- real meat and potatoes stuff.

Any food favorites of the entire band?
We all love a good southern BBQ place. On the other end, we also had an amazing meal at Alinea in Chicago. And we have had a lot of great meals at Cragies on Main in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

Any on-the-road food discoveries or restaurants or roadside vendors... some hidden gems you've come across?
The Chicago O'Hare airport has a Rick Bayless restaurant. And the Charlotte Airport, the Brookwood Farms BBQ restaurant might be the best airport meal I've ever had. 

Backstage requests?
Nothing unusual. Beer, water, towels, snacks. As opposed to liquor, beer is the alcohol of calculated control for a live performance. You can gauge how much you're drinking more easily because the distance from sobriety to drunkenness is a lot further.

Have you ever requested 10,000 M&Ms, but none of them brown?
No. That's famous because of Van Halen. But supposedly they did that to serve as a canary in the coal mine kind of thing. If there were brown M&M's that would mean that the promoter wasn't paying close attention to the rider and that they'd have to check out on more serious issues included in the rider like whether the stage was constructed well enough to support all of the equipment.

Photo courtesy of Battles.