Tenant From Zero isn’t much concerned about the musical zeitgeist. The cultivated Brooklyn crooner, whose friends know him as Paul Darrah, draws on such exquisite influences as Prefab Sprout and Everything But The Girl to make music of almost ineffable and timeless beauty.
His debut EP, The Nape of Your Neck, is replete with the lamentations of an irredeemable romantic. From the evocative synths, to the world-weary vocals to the absolutely gorgeous melodies, haunted ballads like “The Things You Never Said” and “Who Painted This Year Blue” could almost be called “sound paintings,” for the complexity of their emotional and aural ambitions. And throughout, TFZ’s velvety baritone recalls David Sylvian at his most sublime.
But possessing as he is of equally good taste in food as in music, we also asked him to take us around to some of his favorite dining spots in Brooklyn – with one little detour to an exalted fragrance shop.
“Aside from music,” he says, “I’d have to say that food matters to me more than anything. I like to find spots that do one thing very well.”
Where does the name Tenant From Zero come from?
It’s from a late ’80s film called Apartment Zero, about a bookish, nervous guy played by Colin Firth, who takes in a swarthy and mysterious roommate who systematically seduces all of the nervous guy’s neighbors. There are these older spinsters who live in the apartment building and one asks the other “Have you seen the new tenant from zero?” There was something about the way she said it that sounded so right.
Your EP The Nape of Your Neck exhibits some interesting influences: David Sylvian, The Blue Nile, Prefab Sprout. What were you actually listening to when you wrote the songs?
I’ve been listening to them and similar artists like Everything But the Girl, Bryan Ferry and Style Council for a very long time; so much so that they feel like a part of my musical identity at this point. They represent a core of artists whose work I’ve returned to over many years since I first discovered them.
They vaguely call it “sophistipop.” But there is a brand of urbane, world-weary pop music that seems lost to time. Do you recognize any specific ideological peers?
I’m not a fan of the term “sophistipop,” as it suggests a kind of elitism. For me, what draws many of the artists together is a shared sense of melancholy, atmosphere and introspection, as much as production and arrangement. I’ve always referred to these artists as “private music,” or music that is meant for one on one listening rather than for crowds. I aspire to the likes of Bill Withers, Paul Buchanan, Tracey Thorn or Destroyer. What Dan Bejar/Destroyer did with the Kaputt album still leaves me breathless; it became my reason for living for awhile.
What are some of the personal highlights of the record for you?
I’d have to say “Who Painted This Past Year Blue.” Steve Morley’s trumpet work on that one just crushes me.
Who would you most love to collaborate with?
I think I’d like to work with Erland Oye from Kings of Convenience. His sense of pop, especially in his Whitest Boy Alive project, was just so perfect. I would also love to sing a duet with Feist.
Tenant From Zero’s Favorite Spots in Brooklyn
I would be remiss if I didn’t say that my regular spot for pizza every weekend is Grimaldi’s, which is near and dear to our hearts. But Lucali is quite simply the Platonic ideal of pizza. They don’t do trendy topping combinations or try to appeal to diet restrictions. You arrive at their dimly lit spot, which could easily double as a farmhouse somewhere in Umbria, and you eat what they have or be gone. I’ve never had a pizza either here in the US or in Italy as mind blowing as their pepperoni/mushroom pie with basil. The crust is perfectly crisp, and all of the ingredients – including the sauce and cheese, especially the ricotta – is absolutely fresh. When you’re taking your first few bites, conversation will cease – because you will not just be eating, you will be approaching The Divine.
Ramen for me is my comfort food on cold and rainy days. Ganso does a beautiful job with their ramen broths, which are all delicious and inventive. The ramen with braised short ribs is outstanding. They also have a great collection of beers – the “Ginga Ninja” pairs perfectly with their Ganso Shoyu.
Including Rucola was only partially based on their food, which is great; they do brunch/lunch really well. The slow-roasted pork sandwich with one of their excellent cocktails and a good book might be one of the best dates-for-one you ever have. But what I especially appreciate about it is the location, because when you’re done eating, you can stroll down Dean Street, quiet, tree-lined, four-story old houses. There is a serenity that’s contained on that street that you can’t quite find in a Brooklyn Heights that’s become strewn with tourists on weekends.
I stumbled upon Faun while strolling through Prospect Heights one weekend, I was intrigued by the menu — the stinging nettle pesto spoke to me. Also the chef came from Vinegar Hill House, which is always good. The interior is dark wood and off white walls, with a lovely outdoor garden dining area. It’s simple but elegant and not too loud. The artichokes are fresh and cooked perfectly, the bacala filled ravioli with a simple butter sauce is insanely delicious. They also have a really interesting Italian wine list, not run-of-the-mill choices; whomever created it has a very good palette.
In a city like New York, I appreciate quiet more and more. What I like about Botanica is that late on a Sunday afternoon, you could walk in and have a delicious cocktail at one of the edges of Brooklyn and listen to Sarah Vaughan or Brian Eno and not be disturbed by loud chatter and phones. That’s not to say it’s a church or anything, but that the staff and space itself values quiet. They just want you to relax.
A couple of blocks from Rucola on Atlantic Ave is one of the finest fragrance shops in NYC. They don’t do the really big names that you can get everywhere, but instead specialize in smaller, more idiosyncratic brands (Andree Putman, The Different Company). And the incredibly welcoming Christa and Carla who manage the shop know the backstory on all of the designers. For instance, Christa knew that I loved Hinoki from Comme de Garcons, and introduced me to a scent called LAVS by UNUM, which smells like an exclusive incense of amber and jasmine from the Vatican. She provided the scent’s fascinating backstory — the UNUM line was created by Filippo Sorcinelli, the former atelier for Pope Benedict, who went on to create a line of fragrances under the acronym LAVS (Laboratorio Atelier Vesti Sacre). Sorcinelli is also a liturgical organist who plays concerts in churches all over Italy…and what are you doing with your life?
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