MORNING AFTER: Diner Daze With The Off White

COLUMNS|Interviews|Monthly Mondays|Morning After

I’m not upset or anything, but Sean Jones got me to profile The Off White under the pretenses of a home-cooked meal. I remember it clearly, and by that I mean I barely remember it at all. I was at Milo’s Yard sandwiched between him and Michael Stuart Grossman. Sean was hand-feeding me a samosa and he was like, “Mary Grace, interview us and I’ll make you breakfast,” and I was like, “Oh my god, I love free things!” The plan was set. But that was before the boys woke up hungover after a gig at Berlin, back in the days when I could stomach food (because it has been a rough week).

Regardless, I’ve broken bread with The Off White before, and it’s always a goddamn party. Long Beach Island troublemakers at heart, these Jersey boys have been crashing the Brooklyn scene for a while, making high-tide waves last summer when I found them at my go-to pizza place. At the time I likely served the same side-eye I used to reserve for my little brother’s friends, thinking “What are all these children doing in my home?” but a few shows, a tequila-saturated night at the Soho Grand followed by a very bohemian brunch at The Lodge later I warmed up to them. And musically? They’re heating up just in time for this summer. They’ve added a little polish to the scrappier psych-punk sound for their upcoming EP, and even showcasing a bit of surprising swagger on songs like “Rave And Drool” (recorded and co-produced by Gods’ and The Parlor Mob’s Paul Ritchie).

It’s like when your little brother’s friends come home from that first year of college, still rambunctious and a bit goofy, but having long shed all their baby fat. You’re impressed, intrigued, and maybe a little bit uncomfortable.

Anyway, 3/5ths of the band are with us today: Sean, Matthew Aidala and David Jensen. Michael Rocco Bongi is absent, and frontman Pat Brenner… I just want to go on the record saying I think Pat is a very charming young man, but for personal reasons I’m malevolently thrilled to write he’s at his diner job today. Also joining us is longtime band associate  Melissa (she’s known the guys for a decade), who looks way too pretty this early in the morning, like it’s criminal.

The Scene: The crew allowed me to pick our breakfast place, and it was a real Sophie’s choice between “the diner next to my apartment” and “the diner next to the G train.” I opted for the latter, mainly because I have to bounce to Penn Station to make it to Jersey for Easter. But diner-ing was entirely necessary, and everyone feels very welcome at Manhattan Three Decker, the Mediterranean mural besides us a reminder of our shoreside routes.

11:11 This feeling of belonging is immediately followed by everyone being seriously disappointed in me.

“Mary Grace, Pat says there’s no booze here,” Sean says. I mumble something about how I think there’s mimosas although now I’m wondering if I dreamed that up. Matt’s V8 juice arrives and he empties it with a manic glee.

They want to make sure that V8 gets an endorsement, so this article is brought to you by V8 and by JD Powers and Associates.

“This article is going to be a V8 sponsored post,” I promise.

“I mean we have endorsements across the board,” Sean says.

“We should get Nascar jackets with all our sponsorships,” David adds. Matt’s now pouring hot sauce into his cup, which apparently makes the difference. Sean and David are adamant about adding butter to it.

“Rich makes coffee and he adds butter and coconut oil,” Sean explains. “It tasted like we were drinking butter. And it was a French press, so it was really strong coffee.”

“What is a French press, anyway?” I ask.

“It’s like this…” Sean gestures wildly. “Kind of like this but a little bigger…” David also mimes the coffee-making mechanics.

Melissa has a more coherent explanation. “It’s like you have tea, but you put in the coffee, it’s the same thing where you’re like, pushing the grinds down.” The bottom line is, everyone’s about this weird, fancy machine.

“Once you start French pressing…” Melissa starts.

“…you can’t go back.” David finishes.

11:23 Shout-out to Mustache’s Bill’s. Sean is trying to tell me, “We all worked at this diner—”

“I didn’t work there.” “I didn’t work there.” “I didn’t work there but I’m sure it’s great.” David, Matt, and myself gang up on that statement real quick.

“Me, Pat, and Bongi worked there,” Sean confirms. “Our boss has complained about being abducted by aliens twice. He’s our biggest fan.”

Incidentally, Pat isn’t just working at Mustache’s Bill’s anymore. Not only is he really embracing his role as a frontman now that he’s not tethered to his drum kit, he’s also working as an insurance salesman, which means he now brings business suits into his stage attire. Last night, he added a cowboy hat to the ensemble (Melissa has the pictures). Again, I’m delighted.

11:26 Our food gets in and there’s a lot of side-eye thrown at Matt’s toast-and-sausage combo. He’s really just not a big fan of anything scrambled, poached or, I don’t know, hollandaise-d. “I don’t like eggs, I don’t want eggs.”

“Alright, Nuge.” Sean says, and everyone laughs. “Dude, Nuge worked at a breakfast joint and just hated breakfast.”

Michael Nugent—friend, bandmate, also of the band Psychiatric Metaphors—passed away back in November, just as he was slated to make the move over to Brooklyn with Sean. It would be inappropriate (and the boys are big on inappropriate, but I like to keep my tactless behavior at a 7.5) to eulogize him so dramatically based on a few conversations about records and that one brunch with the boys. It’s not my style, just like breakfast was not Nuge’s style.

What’s clear is that Nuge is permanently associated with The Off White, tied to the family forever. They carry him everywhere, they mention him constantly, and when they do it seems to be with more laughter than tears.

I never knew Nuge past one brunch, but it’s a safe assumption that’s what he would’ve wanted.

11:35 For whatever reason the diner has completely cleared out (Sean: “We’re too lively for them”) and the band starts talking tour booking. “April… 20-something I have a wedding,” David says. “Or September.” There’s a light ripple of incredulousness that flows throughout the group.

“That’s this month,” Matt says. “That’s in like four days.”

David backtracks with, “Not this month. Maybe the next month.”

“Not this month, but September,” Sean says. “So you’re saying we shouldn’t book anything until September; it could be any of those days.” Eventually everyone stops jumping down David’s throat, and we start talking about how weddings are just so gosh darn lovely. “I’m trying to set up a wedding for Chris and Amy from Little Dickman records,” Sean reveals. “I call them mom and dad, so I’m gonna sett it up for my own personal reasons.”

I perk up at this. “Just like in Beauty and the Beast when Gaston comes to Belle’s house and he’s like, ‘Ok, suprise wedding!’ and she’s like, ‘No, thank you,'”

“Absolutely. I can’t wait. I can’t believe we didn’t do it in Texas when we had the chapel on the ranch.” The boys lament not utilizing their SXSW home-away-from-home in such a way, but said chapel was allegedly being occupied for sex stuff. You didn’t hear it from me. Except… you literally did.


11:53 Sean has some great news:  “I switched over my plan for Verizon and went from like $130 to $80 for like, 16 gigs which I go over all the time. Unlimo!”

“Is this another sponsorship we should add in?” I ask. This article is brought to you by Verizon, and also Sprint.

Apparently they all went from Sprint to Verizon or Verizon to Sprint, so that’s just being fair. I ask if there’s any other sponsorships I should tack on. The short list seems to include Penske, the new 1892 (I think they mean 1893) Pepsi, and Lime-Cucumber Gatorade: the very “essence of freshness.”

Anyway, the band doesn’t just promote fine goods and wares, they’re also promoting their latest record Free, Four, Five, and it’s coming out with Little Dickman records, accompanied by their very first release show. Obviously I love parties as much as I love free food, so I ask when it’s happening.

“We’re saying May,” offers Matt.

“We’re thinking mid-April,” David counters.

“It’s either April or September,” Sean says. It’s going to be a secret release show, too. “You have to win a ticket inside an 1982 Pepsi.”

12:04 Because it’s a day that ends with y, the G isn’t running properly, so Sean offers to drive me to the L in his glorious soccer mom minivan. Melissa is adamant that “this is The Off White” – this van, and everyone in it, is now basically part of the band.

There is a momentary lapse of seriousness on the drive over, as Sean and I chat about the upcoming release. “It’s not lo-fi at all. Our last two were. Everything is clean and upfront and our last two weren’t even mastered.” There’s a faint, almost imperceptible touch of self-disgust at this. “We put out a full-length on Little Dickman Records and we didn’t even master it.”

And there it is, the rough-around-the-edges band shedding their baby fat. Make no mistake, The Off White is far from fully grown and they’re not retiring their rowdy, booze-loving behavior and endearing goofiness anytime soon. But a year since I side-eyed them, less than a year since brunching in the mid-July sun, I’m ready to buy into the party, eager to see what they can do with this newfound bit of swagger.

This article is brought to you by The Off White & Associates.

You can follow The Off White on Facebook and stream their self-title EP at Bandcamp. Their next show is May 22 at Alphaville in Bushwick.

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