When I listen to Songs for Ice Cream Trucks, the 2007 CD by Michael Hearst, I hear dystopian carnival music. I hear gypsy jingles, played by a chorus of creepy clowns. I hear the interplay of a theremin and a tuba.
More important, I hear the summertime tinkle and rattle and trill of a thousand ice cream trucks, circling the suburbs of small-town America, selling Eskimo Pies and Orange Creamsicles. And I like what I hear.
Hearst’s band, One Ring Zero, entered my consciousness a couple years back when they cut the album As Smart as We Are, featuring lyrics by novelists like Margaret Atwood, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Lethem, Paul Auster, and Rick Moody. The songs were playful. (“Kiss Me, You Brat” was the title of Moody’s One Ring Zero-channeled song.) And they were smart.
Critics swooned. And soon Hearst—who honed this sort of approach in college when, for his senior recital, he wrote a choral piece that relied upon a recitation of grocery store names—was casting about for his next opus.
An ode to ice cream trucks made good sense, he says, because “Who isn’t damn sick of hearing the Mister Softee truck play that one song?” Out of that simple question came an album of 13 offerings, from the upbeat “Popsicle Parade” to the ponderous “What’s Your Favorite Flavor,” to the downbeat “Where do Ice Cream Trucks Go In The Winter?”
More recently, Hearst has been indulging his food obsessions. Specifically, he’s been working part-time at a Brooklyn pastry shop. And he’s been assembling a new album, loosely inspired by his work with novelists. This time out, he’s working with chefs, setting recipes to music. “It’s the ultimate challenge,” says Hearst. “To take a list of commands and figure out a way to make it musical. I’ve been getting recipes, asking the chefs what music they like.”
Hearst started with his brother-in-law, Chris Cosentino, the offal-crazed chef of Incanto, in San Francisco. When listening to the fruits (or maybe I should say the livers and spleens) of their collaboration over a backbeat of jumpy electronica, you will hear throaty lyrics like these: “Gently place the brains into the water. And simmer them for five minutes.”
Though the project is still in development, Hearst has an octopus salad from Michael Symon in the can. Ditto spaghetti with tomato sauce from Mario Batali.
Along with the Cosentino ode to offal, they’re streamed on the One Ring Zero website, where, after all that boyish bluster, you’ll also be happy to find “Pickled Pumpkin,” based on a recipe from Andrea Reusing, chef at Lantern in Chapel Hill. As interpreted by One Ring Zero, pumpkins get pickled to the thrum and angst of a six-string guitar, played, pleasantly, by an Indigo Girls acolyte.