the grub street diet

Ian Devaney Is a Detroit-Pizza Convert

“I delivered pizza for years growing up in New Jersey, and it never occurred to me to involve ranch and pizza.”

Devaney, who just got off a long tour with his band, Nation of Language. Illustration: Sarah Kilcoyne
Devaney, who just got off a long tour with his band, Nation of Language. Illustration: Sarah Kilcoyne

Ian Devaney is winding down a good year. In September, his band, Nation of Language, released its third LP, Strange Disciple, a record that, NME wrote, “perfectly conveys the inner chaos of infatuation, not just lyrically but with every note the trio plays.” In addition to bassist Alex MacKay, the band includes Devaney’s wife, Aidan Noell. The couple recently returned home to Brooklyn after a long cross-country tour — in time to see Strange Disciple named the No. 1 album of 2023 by Rough Trade … and to move apartments for the first time in a decade. Fortunately, they still had the tour van for a few days to get started.

Sunday, November 12
I woke up very zonked. We got back from playing a show in Washington, D.C., at 3:30 in the morning, unloaded all of our gear, and had to get up early for a shoot. I got a cortado with whole milk and this dank vegan banana bread from my favorite place, Hamlet. It opened up right around the beginning of the pandemic. It was one of the few places that we could walk to, where it was just one person ordering at a time, and then you could sit in front with your coffee. Not too far from us, there was a townhouse that no one lived in. For a while during the pandemic, we sort of treated it as our stoop because there was no one there. Eventually, one day, someone opened the door behind us. We were like, I guess somebody moved in! We ran away.

We’ve lived in the same apartment for nine years, in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, but we’re about to move for the first time to Bed-Stuy. An opportunity for a nicer apartment came up. We felt like we had to jump at it because each year we’d look around and see what was available — usually just in our neighborhood, because we really love it here — but then a friend had this apartment open up, and so we are going to make the leap. It’s very strange. I’ve only lived in two places long term: the house I grew up in and then this apartment.

After the shoot, I made Campanelli pasta with Rao’s marinara sauce, and packed bags to move things to the new apartment while we could still use the tour van. Eventually, we did a dinner hang with some friends who live in the neighborhood. We ordered Domino’s. I grew up pretty much never eating Domino’s, but my wife is from Kansas City, and when she was growing up, there were not as many pizza options. This is her default pizza, and I mean, I love pizza, so I’ll eat any kind.

One of our friends is gluten-free, and when you’re back from a tour and tired and you want to eat something easy with your friend who needs it be gluten-free crust, it makes it easier and easier to just order Domino’s and click the gluten-free button. We ordered one pepperoni and jalapeño, one mushroom and banana pepper pizza, a “garden salad,” and Pepsi. We dipped the pizza in Ken’s ranch, which is funny to me because I delivered pizza for years growing up in New Jersey, and it never occurred to me to involve ranch dressing and pizza in any sort of way. But we started doing it sometimes because one of our favorite places, Corner Pizza, has a pie called the Dirty Jerz that is served with ranch on the side. When I saw that, I was like, What are they thinking? but then I put it on and it’s super.

Monday, November 13
I got a cortado with milk from Hamlet and then headed to a place in our neighborhood called Photo Life to get my film developed. I’ve been going there for a number of years. We had 11 or 12 rolls to drop off from the tour, so it was a massive film dump. Pretty much every member of the touring party always has a camera on them. Everyone’s snapping photos all the time. It’s a nice way to remember all the small moments.

We dropped off our merch at the new apartment and walked over to Saraghina to get some coffee, rossa focaccia, and a chocolate-chip cookie. But I also had a sweet-potato loaf from Hamlet. A friend surprised us with it because she knows that it’s one of my favorite baked things. She just had it in her tote bag and was like, “You want this?”

We took the tour van over to Ikea. I’d only ever been, like, once before, but when you have a vehicle, it’s the best way to get to Red Hook. We wanted more record shelves and a couple of other things for the new apartment, but then it was the sort of vibe where we kept our eyes open if we saw anything. We stopped by the cafeteria. I don’t know if I’ve ever had the food at an Ikea before. I got four Swedish meatballs and some macaroni and cheese. I was not crazy about it, but I didn’t expect to be super-crazy about it. I just needed some food, really.

We got the record shelves and some wooden utensils, and went back to Bed-Stuy to drop them off at the new apartment. Then we drove up to Honey’s in Bushwick, where our friend puts on this monthly event called “Cinema De Joh,” where he chooses a short film and a feature film and everyone just kind of hangs out and watches them in the room where they do the mead distillery. It’s a free hang and super-fun. This time, the films were actually both features: The Fabulous Baron Munchausen from the ’60s and Chicken Run. It was great.

I was still sort of hungry, so I had a Clif bar and half a Nopales burrito that my friend ordered. We ate it while we watched Chicken Run. I was feeling a little under the weather, so I had a kombucha, and then we drove the van home.

Tuesday, November 14
I woke up sort of not feeling well. When you come home from a very long tour, everything feels weird. Your body can sense that it has crossed some sort of finish line. Whatever sicknesses you’ve been fighting off just come crashing down. I figured I’d grab something healthy, so I got a juice with beet, ginger, lemon, and pear from Veggies. My wife goes there more than I do, but it’s right next to the film-developing place. We had another roll to drop off as well as the developed rolls to pick up.

We got coffee with my friend Nolan at Hamlet. It was super-packed, so we drank our coffees in the community garden nearby. It’s an amazing place that we discovered way too late.

We drove our DVD collection over to the new apartment. It’s one of those things where you look at all of your stuff and you’re like, Do I really need these? We’ve pared it back to the ones I really couldn’t get rid of. I’m not going to get rid of my Lord of the Rings DVDs. They’re the extended editions.

Our bass player’s dad likes to buy super-cheap, beat-up old guitars and has turned his living room into a little repair workshop. While we were in the Bay Area, we went to their house, and they have all these very cool, strange guitars. He told me to take one. I’m not good at guitar by any stretch, but making something or learning something new is a very nice way to keep trouble at bay with the post-tour blues that can set in. You just sort of lie around and have all these existential, What am I doing? thoughts. So I played my new guitar for a bit, and then we went to Corner Pizza to meet our friend’s new boyfriend. I was excited about it. I had only heard good things. It was the right place to do it. We got a slice of “Basic Bb” — tomato pie with burrata — and two slices of the Dirty Jerz with the ranch. We love going to Corner Pizza, and it’s a very different vibe from the pizza I grew up with because it’s Detroit style.

Wednesday, November 15
I woke up feeling sicker and was like, Goddamn it. Here we go. I had a late 1 p.m. bacon, egg, and cheese on a plain bagel and orange juice from Lula Bagel after sitting in bed and reading Lord of the Rings. I haven’t read the books since I was a teenager. I bought this copy from a bookstore in Ohio when we were on the road, and I was getting to the end of it.

Being sick sucks, but it only really bums me out when it gets in the way of playing shows. Otherwise, I just deal with it. I canceled my plans and watched The Great British Bake Off, then had a few glasses of hot water with lemon.

We ordered delivery from Amy Thai Bistro. We get the masaman curry with rice from there a lot, but we wanted to try the spicy chicken larb. When we were on tour in Seattle, we had the larb from Bangrak Market and it was just amazing. I think that might be the best Thai food I’ve ever had. We watched Veep while we ate. I had seen the first few seasons but fell off.

I ate some chocolate Hobnobs and went to bed.

Thursday, November 16 
I woke up late again, feeling worse. I had some hot lemon water and got a bacon, egg, and cheese on a Kaiser roll delivered from our local deli.

Aidan and I had some teatime while watching The Grifters with John Cusack and Anjelica Huston. It’s like a conning-con-men sort of movie, so it was a good thing to pull me in and distract me. I’d been feeling stressed because we were scheduled to play a festival at the end of the week in Mexico City. I was pumping myself full of Emergen-C and vitamins, desperately hoping something would pull me out of whatever I had.

We’d never played Mexico City before, and we were looking forward to it as much as our fans there. As we’ve gone on and more people have come to our shows, it’s been interesting to watch the age range increase in both directions. Now, we’ll literally have kids who are 7 and people in their late 70s at the same show — that’s a really cool phenomenon to experience from the stage.

And being able to experience all of it with Aidan has been so stabilizing. It would be so hard to be on the road for that long without her, but our lives are very intertwined. To be on tour, to come home and move for the first time in a decade — it helps a lot that we’re partners who can support each other through everything, navigate it together, and help each other out.

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