Chris Colohan is a pretty influential dude, but his sphere of influence fragments into two decidedly unexpected camps, depending on how you're approaching it. Fans of the dearly-departed Canadian metallic hardcore juggernaut, Cursed, will recognize his name in a snap—he held court as the band's snarling mouthpiece until their abrupt breakup in 2008. His current bands, Left for Dead and Burning Love, have accrued plenty of name recognition on their own, and are still very much alive. One would think he'd be busy enough tending to them, but Colohan is rapidly becoming better-known for his exploits in the kitchen.
He's the creator of Magic Vegan Bacon Grease, a creamy, one hundred percent vegan spread that's just as at home in a frying pan as it is spread on toast, and claims to impart a delectably rich, smoky flavor unto all that it encounters. He swears that it tastes just like bonafide bacon grease. Colohan's been vegan for over two decades, and has been touring in bands for just as long. Eventually, he got fed up watching his bandmates gloriously feast on greasy soul food, and decided to whip up his own cruelty-free version. I got in touch with him for more details to find out if this porcine substitute holds up to the hype.
MUNCHIES: For someone who doesn't identify as a chef, you've created something pretty, well, magical. Chris Colohan: I was messing around with clarified canola oil and other shortenings, synthetic bacon bits, fried onion and garlic, and just eating it. At some point, I got industrious enough that I made a few dozen jars at once and took them to TBC (a vegan bakery here in my end of Toronto). I wasn't expecting much out of it, so I didn't know until a few weeks after that the reaction to the idea that someone had cracked a vegan version of bacon grease had gone so far and wide. From there, it was a patent, then a business, and then a life plan in a really short time.
I've spent a lot of time touring and have always marveled at the extra effort that my vegan friends had to put in just to stay fed on the road, let alone healthy. What are a few of your favorite tips for touring as a vegan? If your experience of tour life is anything near as… let's say "spartan" as mine (a.k.a. selling all your original Pusmort and Crossed Out records to Damian for rent money the night before tour so you can lie badly to your super patient wife that you totally had it covered) then: big jars of peanut butter and tahini are your friend. And bananas. If you're any good at stealing (I suck), that's a thing. Punk stew is going to happen to you somewhere, and you're going to have to fake liking it. I have a little mini travel shaker that's got lemon pepper and all my favourite spices in case of Punk Stew emergencies or huge vats of pasta. I try to be discreet about it while grateful to the chef.
Now that things have changed, what's your favorite greasy treat? Collard greens or kale are my own favourite, fried with onions and Cholula hot sauce. If you ask Andy Czuba, my friend in Buffalo and one-man US MVBG disseminator, he'll say gross toast—just straight up MVBG on toast. It's super lazy, and secretly not actually gross. Can someone that drinks please try this and tell me that it's as good a hangover cure as it seems like it should be?
Not every vegan wants to scarf down whole grains and seitan 24/7; sometimes you just want a big plateful of greasy, cruelty-free comfort food. It seems like you've managed to plug a very real, fatty hole in the market. Aside from even the vegetarian issue, peoples' childhood memories of cans of bacon drippings next to their stoves and the comfort food feelings we associate with that are fairly universal and cross-generational, and that includes vegans who—until recently—have been pretty starved for options. We were eating Tofutti ice cream that was like a cup of straight edible oils (basically non-dairy creamer) and soy/rice cheese that tasted like plastic for many years, and really trying to feel it when it was, in fact, gross. Anyone from vegans to older dudes that have had heart attacks are getting into it once they realize that MVBG makes all that accessible to them again.
What kinds of products do you eventually plan to add to the line? Vegan Spam? Now that things are rolling, I am actually making a second product, a vegan cheese spread. I don't have a "business plan", and I'd like to keep it that way to see how things evolve. I think that's a good rule of thumb. Seeing that I can make brand new things, I have a whole new disrespect for reality, so I'm gonna let my inner mad scientist off the leash and do more shit like that. People can take it or leave it. That's pretty much my approach to music, too, but edible.
I know that Burning Love and Left for Dead are still very much alive. What creative pursuits are you currently working on—new music, touring, writing? Tour life is secondary to grease-life right now, but Left For Dead will try to finish the 4 x 7" set we put out the first installment of last year, and play a few selective shows this year. BL has a new 7" coming out via Deathwish Inc., and we're going to write a new LP for Southern Lord this year, even if we aren't able to get away as much to tour around it. I have been working on finishing more ambitious writing projects since publishing Negative Space with Permanent Sleep Press last year and doing a reading tour for it in the middle of Arctic Storm Pax along with an old friend whose writing I respect a lot, Joe Sulier. A few more zine-style projects are done and slated for release with Permanent Sleep, and I'm trying to finish a book called Nine Lives that's been underway for over ten years.
Now that every band under the sun has hopped on the reunion train and a good few years have passed since you went your separate ways, do you think that we'll ever get a chance to see Cursed play again? It's a long and pretty sad story but I'll just say that there are some irreconcilable things that happened before, during, and after which would render it impossible. It was a good if frustrating run and I'm proud of the artifacts we left behind. There isn't a word of one song that I won't always stand behind. I just wouldn't do it, for money or anything. Other than reissues, it's not happening. I'd rather play to 15 kids in someone's basement with BL (like Cursed did for 9/10ths of our run) than some overblown reunion show that's nothing like our lives or friendships really are. I don't need any amount of money that badly.
Have you shared the magic of MVBG with any other touring musicians? I still work production jobs on punk shows sometimes, and I usually have MVBG in my car. Inevitably it comes up and I put it in the hands of a lot of vegan friends and bands that come through town. So far, mission accomplished.