If it's on a dinner plate, on a printed page or coming out of stereo speakers, Matt Baum wants to know about it.
He wants to talk about it.
He wants to do it.
His life, when he's not with his wife and their two pugs, is taken up by one of three things: food, comic books and music.
“I'm trapped by my passions,” the Omahan said, laughing. “I'd probably be healthier without these things.”
On a given day, you may see him cooking at the French Bulldog, a new Dundee restaurant, drumming with the recently reunited indie rock band Desaparecidos or spouting off opinions about comic books on the “Two-Headed Nerd” podcast.
Baum, 37, calls it “adult attention deficit disorder.” He can't focus his energies into any one thing. Really, he's just doing what he loves to do.
“Those three things are really important to him and I think he'd be lost if he didn't have those. I think he wouldn't know what to do with himself if he couldn't express himself,” said Kacie Baum, his wife. “I think he's just a hard worker. He doesn't sit still for long.”
He never has, said Joe Patrick, Baum's friend and co-host of the “Two-Headed Nerd” show.
“He's always doing something, whether he's talking or doing shows or going to school,” Patrick said.
Tattooed, boisterous and quick with a joke, Baum is an encyclopedia of comics knowledge, a world-touring musician and a well-regarded chef, but he's not a bragger.
“Matt's the most humble rock star I've ever met,” Patrick said. “Matt has never been one to toot his own horn. He's very critical of himself, which is what drives him. He wants to do something well that other people will enjoy.”
His most visible work has been as a drummer. He's toured all over the country (and other parts of the world) in bands such as Desaparecidos, Bright Eyes, the '89 Cubs and Statistics. He's drummed for loads of Omaha bands including Red Menace and Race For Titles.
Baum's known for an aggressive playing style. He bashes the beats out, and he attributes that to Keith Moon of The Who. He heard “Quadrophenia” after learning the drums and said “I'm going to play drums like that.”
He used to hit the drums so hard, his hands would become sore, and he had a tough time gripping the stick shift in his car. He's stopped that pounding, he said, but his energy comes through when he yells at the audience and his bandmates in between songs.
Fans wonder why he shouts. Baum said it's because he's very much into the moment.
“I've got to stay right there and I don't want to lose it,” he said. “I'm always going into it thinking it's the last show I'm going to play.”
Friends and bandmates love his playing style.
“He's a powerhouse. Live drums are so vital to a band's presence,” said Desaparecidos bandmate Denver Dalley. “Matt goes above and beyond. He's extremely energetic, entertaining and truly fun to watch. I feel like that's a very rare combination.”
Baum has been pursuing all of his passions, including music, one way or another since he was a child.
He played the trumpet and French horn before seeing others in the Westside High School band play drums and deciding he wanted to try that.
He got into comic books earlier than that. He remembers buying a copy of “Weird Mystery Tales” when he was a small child.
“I just fell in love with it,” he said. “It was a kid's book because there were pictures, but it had all this violence and cool stories. From there, I read anything I could get my hands on.”
His love of food came from his parents, who were both great cooks. His father, especially, was very talented and very passionate about food.
Playing music, and the stress that came with it, actually led to Baum cooking as a profession. While he was in college at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, friends in bands would constantly call and invite him out on tour. He never did finish his undergrad degree.
“I'd wanna go do drugs, drink and play rock 'n' roll. That sounds way more fun,” Baum said, laughing. “A lot of times, it was. Other times it wore on.”
After a tour with indie rock band Statistics that ended near Christmas, Baum missed his flight from Europe and feared he wouldn't make it home to see his family. He called his father and broke down, saying he couldn't handle running out on tour all the time and the stress of jumping from band to band.
“I told him, ‘I don't think I can do this any more,' ” Baum said. “My dad told me, ‘Why don't you go to culinary school?' So I did.”
He finished the culinary program at Metropolitan Community College three years ago. Since, he's worked at Omaha spots such as the Magnolia Hotel and French Bulldog. Though he balks at calling himself a chef (he'll say he's not yet running his own restaurant, so it doesn't count), he insists on learning how to cook all kinds of food.
Friends and colleagues say he's very good at it. At the French Bulldog, the pressure's on since much of the food is prepared next to the bar, out in the open in the restaurant. Preparing someone's food is a little more intense when they can see everything you do.
Aside from cooking, he's trying to learn how to do everything at the French Bulldog, including how to pour cocktails.
“I get afraid of locking myself into any one place,” he said. “I don't want to stagnate. If I stop learning, I'll go insane.”
Kacie said her husband doesn't do anything halfway, even with little things such as taking their pugs, Beeps and Mabel, out for a walk. He won't simply walk them around the corner, but sings a song for the dogs and maps out the entire walk before he leaves.
“He goes all in,” his wife said. “He's like that in whatever he does.”
They met through a mutual friend that Kacie had dated. After meeting at an Andrew W.K. concert, Baum pursued her, even calling the ex-boyfriend to get her number. Eventually, he invited her to see his band, Red Menace, and they began dating. Though they had tough times when Baum would run out on tour for months at a time, they've now been married for three years.
“She's far and away the best thing that's ever happened to me,” he said. “I married above myself.”
His wife loves his music life and really enjoys his cooking, but she doesn't share Baum's love of Godzilla or comic book collecting. That hasn't stopped him from turning that hobby into tangible pursuits including the “Two-Headed Nerd” podcast and a freelance comic-collecting blog for Worthpoint.com.
He does brag about the podcast to nearly anyone, including his musician friends who don't know much about comics. Baum says he wouldn't be the person he is without Superman and Captain America.
“I learned all my morality lessons from superheroes,” he said.
Often, his knowledge awes his friends. Baum said taking investigative journalism courses in college changed how he thinks and made him want to look into everything. Now, he said, his head is full of “useless knowledge.”
“Matt is extremely knowledgable, in general, and we all usually come to him like a child would come to a parent when we have a question about anything,” said Dalley. “He's kind of our in-house encyclopedia.”
Baum admitted that he's addicted to finding new music, and his bandmates said they love that he's always introducing them to new food — say, sake and seafood ramen in Los Angeles — while on tour. He started the podcast with Patrick partly because he wanted to force himself to read new comics. Discovering those three things, he said, are what drives him.
“This stuff is as close as we get to truth, to humanity,” he explained. “I honestly believe that all of life's mysteries are answered on the plate, on the page and coming out of speakers. There's nothing more human than those art forms.”
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