• The Basement Tapes: Elaine Greer

    Indie folk singer-songwriter Elaine Greer and her band will be playing at Hole in the Wall this Sunday.
    Indie folk singer-songwriter Elaine Greer and her band will be playing at Hole in the Wall this Sunday.

    Singer-songwriter Elaine Greer’s light, airy voice, winsome melodies and slight country twang has earned her serious critical praise in Houston: She was nominated in 2009 for Best Female Vocalist for the Houston Press Music Awards. Greer, now based in Austin, has also opened for The Fiery Furnaces, Tilly and the Wall and Tim Barry. Her first EP, Making Plans and Going Places, featuring a cleaner mix of her breathy vocals was released in 2009. Her debut album, Annotations, will be released on June 30 and she is setting out on an American cross-country tour in July.

    Greer will be performing twice on Sunday at Hole in the Wall for the Follow that Bird! Tour Kickoff, once as the front-woman of her band and then with local band The Sour Notes. (See weekend recs)

    The Texan interviewed Greer and fellow band member and UT alum, Yola Blake, about their upcoming tour, latest album, recent show at Free Press Summer Fest in Houston and choosing a new name for their band.

    Daily Texan: I know you have been going solo for a while, has that changed?

    Elaine Greer: I have two projects going on. One of them is my solo project. I'm playing with a new band with a new line-up of people here in Austin, including Yola. There's six of us so it is kind of a big band. Then I'm also in the band The Sour Notes. I used to be in it a while back and then I quit that band ‘cause I wanted to focus on solo stuff but now I'm with them again.

    DT: So for your solo project, is the band's name going to remain "Elaine Greer?"

    Greer: At this point, we've labored for hours trying to find a successful "and the 'name' " but no one can decide on anything yet.

    DT: Are there any nouns standing out to you?

    Greer: There's been some potential. Which one is your favorite?

    Yola Blake: I don't know because we shot everything down. We did the "yellowbirds" for a while...

    Greer: There was the "daylights." There was the “killer whales.” [laughs] There's been like a hundred thrown around by our friends, saying I've got it. Our drummer said the “magnets.” [laughs]

    Blake: There's the “sapphires.”

    Greer: And the “pickles.”

    Blake: I like the “sapphires.”

    Greer: Eh. I don't. [laughs] See, this is why we haven't decided. [laughs]

    DT: So how was Summer Fest?

    Greer: Summer Fest was hot. If I could describe it in one word it would be hot.

    DT: Was it a lot different this year than last year?

    Greer: I think it was. It was pretty different. I played the first year that they did it, and it was way different because they had only two stages that year and that was awesome, I thought, ‘cause they had a lot of local bands and that was what they were pushing. Now it has become a really huge thing with all of these bigger bands and all of the local bands kind of get pushed aside a little bit more. It is kind of a bummer. But it was fun, I guess. I just hate being hot. If I'm hot, I'm never happy.

    DT: I've seen you play and sing during concerts with other local Houston bands such as the Wild Moccasins and the Young Mammals – even when they were the Dimes, what has that transition been like, being so known in Houston and moving to Austin?

    Greer: It was really frustrating at first, because yeah, that scene was, you know, you go out and everyone is your friend. The Dimes, we played together since we were in high school and the Wild Moccasins and I had a lot of the same band members. So it was like one big collective family there. When I first moved here, it was kind of depressing because I was like I don’t know who to talk to, what to do, I don't know anyone here. So yeah, that was frustrating for me. We were talking about this earlier, ‘cause I'm so excited now ‘cause I have a lot of stuff going on. I think it just took a little bit longer to pick that up.

    DT: What initially made you want to make that move?

    Greer: There were a few factors. One of them was a relationship. Also, I've lived in Houston all of my life so being in that kind of place where you go to a bar and you know everyone there, I guess I didn't really like that so much? I kind of miss it sometimes, but at the time, it wasn't what I really wanted. I didn't know what steps to take and what to do. I guess I wanted to move somewhere that had a lot more opportunity and more bands. Austin has been so inspirational. I would say that the main parts of the move were more personal reasons.

    DT: What was the inspiration behind Annotations?

    Greer: Basically with the album, I started writing songs whenever I was transitioning from Houston to Austin, so there's a common element to those songs, that feeling of feeling displaced and lonely and being unfamiliar with your surroundings. They are all songs I wrote when I first moved to Austin. The name Annotations I came up with is ‘cause it just reminded me of annotations of things I think about in life. Like going through these day-to-day activities and these situations that are really awkward or weird or uncomfortable and it's my little side notes.

    DT: So the band is going on tour in July, what are some of the cities you are just so ecstatic to visit and play?

    Greer: New York is always exciting. We're going to be playing Providence, RI, which I heard is really cool. Chicago. We're playing in Akron, Ohio on the Fourth of July for the Fourth of July bash so that should be cool.

    DT: What are you packing?

    Blake: Oh my gosh, we were just talking about this.

    Greer: I was like I think I'm just going to bring all summer dresses and just roll them up so I can like fit 12 in there. [laughs]

    Blake: [laughs] I was like I guess I'll bring accessories so I can wear the same thing every day, dress it up.

    Greer: Girly girls on tour is always hard.

  • Apron Optional: Grab your onion goggles

    Hello, all!

    While you may think of me as a 1950s housewife from my picture, I am actually just a staff writer for The Daily Texan with an affinity for sun dresses, floral prints and bunny videos on the Internet — but this post is about food.

    I have been baking on and off for quite a few years now. Perhaps I inherited the bug from my dad, the cakemaster of our house. Or maybe it came about as a way to lock in my circle of friends with sugary treats and confections. Either way, there is no disputing the direct relationship between providing baked goods and being adorable — a concept I’m completely comfortable to admitting I enjoy.

    Every Friday, I invite all of you to join me as I take on new adventures in the kitchen, leading the way through the thicket of online recipes and confusing ingredient substitutions. Each week you will find a new recipe complete with tales of my culinary conquest. I’m definitely no expert, but that just means more entertainment for all of you!

    I’m not sticking to any specific style or cuisine. Instead, I’ll be digging up recipes that are presentable and impressive but still easy to make (hello, we aren’t on “Top Chef: UT”) and, most importantly, delicious. Being a student, the recipes will be (for the most part) student-budget friendly.

    Full steam ahead, I thought it best to do a little cooking 101: How to chop an onion and cook pasta.

    For some of you, this may sound a bit ridiculous and basic, but I’m not lying to you when I say a year ago I could make cinnamon toast cupcakes from scratch, but I didn’t have the slightest idea how to make spaghetti. No judgment here.

    It all started with a dinner party last summer. I had just started getting into cooking and invited five friends over for dinner. Between myself and my two self-elected helpers, the kitchen quickly devolved into a disaster zone. The dessert was messed up, the chicken alfredo sauce wasn’t cooking properly and my friend dumped two pounds of spaghetti (for six people) in a pot and left it for me to cook. Just as I was about to completely unravel, my brother (resident Pasta Roni aficionado) stepped in and saved the day. After a pleasant meal and a lot of cleaning up, my brother suggested perhaps it was time I learned how to make pasta.

    First, the onion. Oh, the onion, how I have avoided the task of chopping you. Is there any vegetable less appealing to chop than an onion? No, there is not. Unfortunately, onions are vital in making plenty of delicious things, so we’ll have to get over it. While you can choose to take the stylish route of wearing swim goggles like my mom, the most fashionable advice I can give you to avoid the traditional tears is to chill the onion in the freezer for 10-15 minutes before cutting it and breathe through your mouth.

    Now, on a cutting board, take a sharp knife and cut off the top and bottom of the onion. Resting it on one of the flat ends, carefully cut the onion in half, intersecting the bulls-eye in the center. Peel the skin off, and lay each on the board so the center is face down. Make parallel cuts beginning at one of the flat ends (please watch your fingers). The thickness of the slice is at your discretion or whatever the recipe requires. Take a few of those slices at a time and stack them sideways, and cut them again to make small pieces. Repeat with the other half and you have successfully chopped your onion! Next step: buying breath mints.

    Pasta is pretty simple. First, boil water in a large pot, using enough to clear the top of the pasta by a good three inches or so. One time I thought I would save time by heating water in an electric tea kettle and pouring it into a pot sitting on a preheated burner — big mistake. The whole thing started hissing and bubbling in a violent mess that left me with a minor burn and a bad mood. Don’t take shortcuts, just cover the pot and enjoy the 15 minutes to yourself. Once the water is boiling, sprinkle in some kosher salt (roughly a teaspoon, but it’s not an exact science) and put in your pasta. If you’re using spaghetti or any other sort of long noodle, there’s no reason to break them in half! Wait a few seconds and stir the pasta to push it all under the water. Set a timer for a minute less than the smallest amount of time on the package. When the timer goes off, (carefully) test a piece of pasta. It should be al dente, which is the fancy Italian way of saying firm, but not hard or undercooked. If it’s ready, drain it over the sink into a colander and you’re done. If it still feels crunchy, set the timer for one more minute, taste it again, then drain it. If you aren’t planning to use it now, I suggest tossing the pasta with a very small amount of olive oil to prevent sticking.

    That’s all for now! Next week, we’ll make something even your pickiest friends will want to mooch off of.

  • Pop Index: Bradley Cooper parle français, Reese Witherspoon’s diss and Anthony Weiner’s dirty tweets

    Welcome, kind readers, to the Pop Index. My name is Aleksander Chan (pronounced like Alexander, but with a Russian spelling) and I am the Life & Arts associate editor. Every Friday I will write this index of the best and worst of the week’s pop culture, handily rendered in the photo above for your viewing pleasure.