You don’t have to be a culinary half-wit to appreciate “Umami Bomb,” a tribute to those kitchen hobbyists in your immediate orbit who go to elaborate lengths to impress at even the most low-key social gathering.
“I was spending all this time cooking, and it was taking its toll on my productivity in other areas,” says Haunted Shed’s Etienne de Rocher, who channels his inner Mark Mothersbaugh as the ringleader for the song’s strikingly inventive—and hilarious—video. “We were originally going for the classic ’70s food ad in Sunset magazine thing. But it’s probably better the way it turned out.”
While “Umami Bomb” may have a certain jittery new-wave appeal, much of Haunted Shed’s debut is more timeless. “It’s kind of the oddball novelty song on the album,” says de Rocher. “The grapefruit sorbet between the heavy courses.”
There are a few reasons why Faltering Light (Strolling Bones) is so successful at approximating the creative rush of ’80s and ’90s college rock for its largely middle-age audience. First and foremost, de Rocher himself is middle age. The son of two French professors, he grew up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., before heading to the San Francisco Bay area in 1987 to major in physics at UC Berkley. He lasted three semesters before getting caught up in the music scene there, leading to a few brushes with potential success.
Though producer Glen Ballard (Alanis Morrisette) got his hands on de Rocher’s four-track demo, de Rocher turned down a development deal from Capitol Records in favor of calling his own shots. That eventually resulted in a 2006 self-titled debut on Fog City Records that has since become a cult favorite. Because of that, de Rocher—now based in Athens, Ga.—continues to generate some income from private events and front-porch shows. He’s also dabbled in “designing and making stuff” (i.e. the construction field), and he continues to have the most success in the culinary industry.
“I got into it when I was young as a side job, and I like the culture,” says de Rocher, who’s happily married and the father of two teenagers. “Working in a good restaurant that’s thriving is like being on a pirate ship. There’s a certain amount of anarchy mixed with this military-style discipline. The adrenaline rush you get from working in the service industry keeps you sharp.”
In between restaurant gigs, de Rocher has been writing and demoing a ton of songs. But after almost 15 years, it took some persistence and a bit of luck for any of that to manifest into a legitimate album. For Faltering Light, de Rocher recruited Dan Nettles (Kenosha Kid) on lead guitar, Jacob Morris (Vic Chesnutt, Patterson Hood) on bass and cello and Joe Rowe (Glands, Pylon Reenactment Society) on drums.
“I was really just trying to absorb and channel the sounds of Athens now and in past,” he says of Faltering Light’s overall sound. “Joe had worked with (Strolling Bones’) George Fontaine on the Glands reissues. He was actually the one who suggested George. I got the album mastered and dropped it off at his office. He called me a few days later and said he loved it.”
De Rocher admits that Faltering Light might’ve been a much different records without Nettles and Rowe. “Dan added the smoke and pyrotechnics,” says de Rocher, who layered on keyboards where appropriate. “Dan brought in Joe, and it was just this instant chemistry.”
And if the chemistry experiment fails, de Rocher can always go back to the kitchen.