Brock Boonstra Hungers for Community Both Onstage and in the Home Kitchen

By: Karen K. Tran | Photos by: Karen K. Tran; Art by: Michael Rancic

“I know it’s kind of audacious that I, as a white guy from Guelph, have chosen to make a curry today,” Brock Boonstra says. He minces cloves of garlic as we chat in his Guelph apartment kitchen about our shared interests in cooking and what we love about the local arts scene. 

Boonstra is the frontman of Habit, a punk band formed in 2018. As the ringleader of the group, he plays guitar and sings, along with doing most of the band management.

We meet on a Friday for lunch to talk about what we love about cooking and why we enjoy taking time to prepare extravagant meals to share with the people we love. Being able to work from home gave me a lot more freedom to cook for myself and others, instead of rushing to pack a quick lunch and run out the door. I wondered, how do some people think of food as only sustenance, and how do others get nourishment not only from eating but also from the act of cooking? And how do we as musicians and listeners find nourishment by sharing music?

He explains that the reason he chose to make curry for today’s meal is because it was one of his first introductions to international cuisine. Growing up poor in Owen Sound meant that he spent most of his childhood eating chicken nuggets and Kraft Dinner. It wasn’t until he was about 14 that an Indian restaurant opened its doors in the city and gave him an opportunity to try something new. 

By now, his go-to curry recipe is tried and true—he doesn’t need to check a recipe to measure ingredients or remember which spices he needs to pull from his kitchen shelf. It features tomatoes, cream, garlic, cilantro, and other spices. Halfway through cooking, he divides the curry into two halves: chicken curry for him and a thoughtful cauliflower and chickpea curry vegetarian portion for me. He serves the curry over a bed of white rice with garlic naan and cucumber raita on the side. 

Two dishes of curry over a bed of white rice with garlic naan and cucumber raita on the side

For Boonstra, cooking is often a meditative experience that allows him to unwind from his day job and musician life, and a way to interact with other cultures. It’s also a skill that is not only necessary to live on a budget but also a great way for him to share an experience with friends and loved ones.

“I think food and music are the two most universal things in the entire world—everyone’s into food and music to some extent,” says Boonstra. “Being able to invite people over and say, ‘Hey, this is something that’s really interesting to me’ is just a good way to communicate with each other. Especially with music—there’s a joy in being able to show somebody something that they haven’t heard before.”

Boonstra and his girlfriend have also discovered the joys of cooking and sharing meals with friends and loved ones. Over the pandemic, the couple took to hosting themed dinner nights. As a group, they would select a country and one of its styles of cuisine, and make a meal based on it, with someone in the group each being assigned the duty of creating the entrée, dessert, or alcoholic drinks. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and repeat recipes as a home cook, but these dinner nights became motivation for him and his partner to discover new culinary creations.

Habit’s approach to their live show is particularly thoughtful for a still-developing act. No one would fault them for simply showing up and playing their songs, but still they are always asking themselves what more they can do to take their show to the next level. For example, the band fills the gaps with audio clips of ambient sounds—organ drones and amp feedback recorded at Boonstra’s home—strewn with readings from poems and bits of dialogue from old movies or random YouTube videos.

“We know we’re only playing to like 25 people on a Thursday night at Jimmy Jazz, but we try to treat every show like it’s a big deal,” Boonstra says. 

Due to COVID lockdown, Habit’s 2020 EP, The Last Testament, didn’t really get the release party that it deserved. Without being able to put on a traditional release show, the band decided to hold a special recorded performance. Boonstra envisioned the venue as something grander than a rehearsal space or bar stage, since there wasn’t going to be an audience anyway. He reached out to every church in the city to see if they could perform in their space, and received more interest than expected. 

Luckily, Habit managed to convince the council of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church that the band’s music wasn’t too explicit or sacrilegious to be performed at a place of worship. To try to emulate the feeling of going to a show in person, the band made the livestream available for viewing at only two specific times.

Brock kneels beside an open oven to check on his garlic naan

Our conversation moves back and forth from music and food quickly. During our chat, we compare picky eaters to music snobs. Often, they’re both groups of people who don’t give chances to anything that is outside of their comfort level. We’ve all heard someone say “I don’t like country music” as a blanket statement or know someone who only ever orders the same dish at a restaurant. 

Just like there are picky eaters who are hesitant to try new dishes, there are music listeners who refuse to branch out and try listening to new genres. Boonstra mentions that a lot of people are reluctant to attend a Habit show based on the band’s self-described punk genre. There have been people who have disagreed with the punk label or have tried to attach other genres to the band’s sound, such as alt-rock or college rock, because Habit’s music doesn’t align with other people’s idea of what punk music sounds like. The verdict is that some people waste too much time thinking of new types of genres instead of just enjoying the music. 

“I think any chef or musician worth their salt should be fundamentally curious and be willing to expose themselves to new things,” Boonstra says. “I see a lot of people who are music listeners or makers who limit themselves to one genre and never want to hear anything outside of that box… I think it’s a really enriching experience to find new music—there’s a whole world out there, as there is with food, too.”

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