Back before Christmas, we teased the release of Unarmed’s debut EP when we helped premiere the band’s new single “Home.” Well, fans of the group (and the members’ former endeavours) were handed a real treat when they released the It’s Like That EP with very little notice on January 13th. It was a nice way to start off the year, as this post-hardcore powerhouse continues to establish themselves. Vocalist Ian Fike, also of It Prevails, is joined by guitarist Therron Francis (It Prevails, Scars of Tomorrow), guitarist Brian Wilson (American Me), and drummer Aaron Marsh (Ex-It Prevails, American Me).
The four members that compose Unarmed have long wanted to do a band together, and the time just happened to be right to get the ball rolling with some writing and recording. If you enjoy the members’ other recording projects, then you’ll most likely enjoy this band as well, but there are some significant differences, including a reimagined vocal approach from Fike, thick, intricate, melody-intensive guitars, big hooks, and lots of passion and candour.
We temporarily changed course from music to food recently when we spoke with Therron Francis for Art of the Meal in which we discussed his favourite foods, favourite restaurant, and favourite cooking shows.
What’s your favourite type of food (i.e. Korean, Italian, comfort, fine dining, etc.)?
Therron Francis: “It’s probably the kind I don’t get the opportunity to eat a ton of, for whatever reason, whether that’s because of proximity, option quality, or a dearth of time. Right now that’s going to be Ethiopian, Indian, or ramen. We’re blessed in the PNW to have a ton of great options for most any cuisine (except Mexican food), but my qualm with ramen is the fact that they want to lean really heavy on using mushrooms as a substitute for meat which I’m allergic to (no, I’m not really allergic, it’s just I tell people that so no one tries to make me eat them!).”
What’s your favourite dish?
“Without an ounce of hesitation, It’s Swedish meatballs over rice! This is not only an incredibly cozy comfort food for me, but it’s the most delicious, nostalgic food from my childhood. The reason it’s over rice instead of the traditional noodles is that my dad worked seasonally for a rice mill, and we got ample amounts of rice at either an incredible discount or for free; so it was a really inexpensive meal for our large, destitute, family of seven.
“Aside from the obvious rich and creamy sauce, what I enjoy most about this dish is the aroma you get when preparing, that somehow never fails to take me back to how I felt when we had those family dinners.”
Growing up, what were your experiences of food and eating? Did you cook a lot as a kid, or mostly watch? Are there specific memories of eating growing up that stand out to you (that you feel comfortable sharing)?
“My experiences with food growing up weren’t great, and vastly different from the relationship and habits I’ve developed as an adult. For background, I grew up in a small, Podunk town in Northern California, which meant that there wasn’t a lot of mind-blowing, inspirational cuisine unless you count the very real and last-standing Shakey’s Pizza in existence as an inspiration; but I digress.
“I didn’t cook as a kid, and my family still grills me about that to this day, given how much I enjoy cooking today, but I didn’t really love food in the way that I do now. We were a very meat and potatoes family, limited fresh veggies, well-done steak, boiled hot dogs, awful Western Family boxed food, etc; which may be part of the reason I’m vegan today.
“Around the ripe age of 13 or 14 I read this book on animal cruelty and it completely changed my life in a lot of ways, but especially my relationship with food and cooking. When you first go vegan, or vegetarian, (especially back in the ’90s and early ’00s), and you didn’t want to become malnourished, you needed to learn to cook. After a fun, transitional period of living off of junk food, I got with the program, learned to cook and fell in love with the world of food.”
What’s your favourite cooking show?
“I don’t really watch any shows these days, but when I did have the Food Network, I was all about Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten) and her lovely husband Jeffrey, anything Alton Brown (got to see his live show in Portland some years back!), Giada De Laurentiis (I love a girl that loves to drink), Guy Fieri (whatever, I’d still party with him), Iron Chef, Top Chef, Cutthroat Kitchen, Chopped, and Throwdown! with Bobby Flay.
“I’m unsure of who the popular vegan chefs or cooking personalities are, but there are a few people from the Portland area that I really dig, like Conscious Chris and Simple Sweet Vegan, Nora Cooks, and Dana Shultz of Minimalist Baker.”
What restaurant is everyone sleeping on right now?
“Maybe it’s just top of my mind right now because I’m going there for dinner tomorrow, but I’ll say (Portland’s) Abyssinian Kitchen! I only have one friend who’s into Ethiopian food, and while he’s not vegan, he’s always down to eat or prepare me vegan meals, which is probably the coolest thing you can do as a non-vegan ally.
“My newest obsession though is this vegan pop-up, Scratch Breakfast that’s currently at a local tap house in downtown Vancouver called Tap Union. The best gal-darn vegan brunch I’ve probably ever had, check it the heck out!”
What’s your go-to dish that never ceases to amaze?
“I get a lot of compliments about my asparagus risotto! It’s a bit of a labour-intensive dish in that you have to really be continuously whisking and babysitting it, but I think it’s worth it. For everything that requires veggie broth (or faux chik’n/beef broth), I use the Better Than Bouillon exclusively, which adds a ton of flavour. I also use Nooch and Follow Your Heart vegan parm to finish which makes it creamy and cheesy.”
What’s your most controversial opinion on food?
“In 2023, mushrooms are not an acceptable substitute as a meat alternative, and this isn’t just because of my severe, totally real allergic reactions to them. Don’t get me wrong, mushrooms have their place in this world (read: Michael Pollan’s amazing book, How To Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence), but they don’t have a place on my plate.
“Same sentiment towards stuff like Boca burgers. If your restaurant’s vegan option is Boca, you’re a a joke-a. There are too many options anymore, and a trove of interesting, creative ways to do vegan in 2023. Sometimes it still feels like we’re stuck in the ’90s. I really do appreciate how far we’ve come as an accepting society though (vegan, gluten-free, etc). Almost everywhere I go, there are more and more alternatives, which I totally love! I don’t want to let perfection be the enemy of progress.”
Are any of your bandmates cooks? Or foodies?
“I know our vocalist/bass player, Ian is a foodie for sure. Him and his wife will host these rad dinners at their place, and they go all out! More effort than I could ever put into hosting, that’s for sure!”
What are some of your favourite restaurants in your hometown?
“Other restaurants that I haven’t already talked about ad nauseam would be Doe Donuts, who as you might’ve surmised, have a completely 100 percent vegan menu chock-full of delicious, innovative donuts, ice cream, and milkshakes. I take all my non-vegan friends from out of town there as a way to set the stage for what to expect in terms of the quality vegan food that they’re in store for during their visit.
“Kate’s Ice Cream on Mississippi Ave. is a fairly new all-vegan ice cream shop that has a baker’s dozen amazing ice cream flavours. There are a few places in town that do vegan ice cream, but none have this level of quality and quantity.
“The Bye & Bye is part of this Portland bar/food collective where they share a lot of common vegan menu options with the likes of Sweet Hereafter, Century Bar, Victoria, etc. If I’m ever indecisive about where to eat, I’ll go to the Bye & Bye. It’s got a real chill vibe despite how busy it can be, a cool outdoor patio, and pretty inexpensive drinks. It’s also a good first date spot!”
If a fan were generous and to give you a food or drink-related gift, what should they get you?
“I can hardly take a compliment, let alone a gift from someone (laughs). But! In this totally plausible imaginary scenario, if it were being forced upon me, I’d graciously accept a tallboy of my favourite cheap, PNW beer, Rainier. I can’t explain it, but Rainier somehow tastes like the PNW, and I’m all about that.”