Tour Bus Drinks
The Cocktail Drummer: The New Pornographers’ Joe Seiders
In between sets, Joe Seiders perfects his bartending skills and travels with a bar tool kit.
While I enjoy listening to Joe Seiders drum in the rock band, The New Pornographers, what I really want to do is drink with him.
I should explain, he runs the Instagram page Cocktail Drummer (@cocktaildrums), which presents an impressive and sophisticated series of exceedingly well made drinks, many of which he’s concocted with the materials at hand at the venue or on the tour bus for fellow band members A.C. Newman, Blaine Thurier, Dan Bejar, John Collins, Kathryn Calder, Neko Case, and Todd Fancey.
On the list of jobs that turn out to be much less romantic than they seem from afar, touring musician has got to be up there pretty high. Of course, there are transcendent moments, satisfying shows, and camaraderie, and it goes almost without saying that it’s better than digging a ditch, but I’m also sure that somewhere on the highway those Bob Seger songs start to make sense and you just want to be at home, making breakfast and drinking your coffee from your favorite mug.
What’s more, there are not a lot of examples of how to be a civilized grown up in a rock and roll band. It’s been done, but it hasn’t been much discussed. The role models—the dudes who inspired you to play—were all about trashing LA’s Hyatt House and tilting bottles of Jack Daniel’s backstage with a face full of booger sugar. Think about it: stories of helicopter crashes outnumber those of responsible parenting.
All of which makes Joe Seiders compelling.
“I spent so many years where the tour rider was a veggie tray, pita/hummus and a bottle of Jameson that I just accepted it. Until I met my buddy Max Toste in Boston, who has definitely been a huge inspiration. We toured together as a rhythm section and on nights with a bad booze selection, he’d pull a bottle of Buffalo Trace and a bottle of Fernet out of his backpack. From that moment on, I knew I had to travel better. He’s been on the forefront of the Boston cocktail scene for over ten years now with his stellar restaurant Deep Ellum.”
Inspired, Seiders read the classic Savoy Cocktail Book from 1930 and Gary Regan’s Joy of Mixology. Suffice to say, scrounging for coffee in the hotel lobby and settling for shaken Manhattans with stale vermouth was no longer going to cut it.
Coffee, as anyone who travels a lot will tell you, becomes a serious problem. Sure, coffee shops seem ubiquitous, but believe me, they are not everywhere. Seiders has learned over the years that “crew guys love coffee. Between band members and crew, there’s probably four AeroPresses, three different kinds of grinders, a Hario pour over, a standard coffee maker and the bus driver always has a Keurig. My brother Dan, who was our audio engineer for a couple years, actually had a road case custom made for his grinder and pour over gear.”
The cocktail gear Seiders now packs is equally thorough. He flies to the first gig of a tour with shaker tins, a jigger, a strainer, a bar spoon, and two fruit peelers—he always loses one. In the kit are also a couple different kinds of bitters and cocktail atomizers. Seiders gets a cocktail glass from the first venue that they play and he uses it on stage for the entire tour.
On the road, he and his bandmates try to keep a well-stocked bus bar and rotate spirits each day of the week to keep things interesting.
Then there’s the Margarita bar he sets up backstage. He’ll make drinks for the New Pornographers’ opening acts, and he’ll have atomizer and tincture demos for their guests and friends.
There are specific challenges to offering such a robust traveling cocktail program. “You definitely have to get a little creative with what you have on tour. My cocktail projects usually consist of whatever I can find in catering. I’ll come into the greenroom in the morning, maybe cut up some apples and pears and stick them in some rye for the day, come up with something for that night. That kinda thing. Sometimes I’ll make simple syrups using the electric kettle with whatever I can find lying around. I remember a particular Earl Grey-infused honey syrup that was pretty bangin.”
Of course it doesn’t always work. “Some infusions look good on paper but you take a sip and say, ‘there’s no way in hell I’m serving this garbage to my bandmates,’ in which case there’s always some killer Malbec [wine] available.”
It took half a century to get from Buddy Holly’s Romeo and Juliet in bobby socks to LCD Soundsystem reminding you that nothing will dispel your nostalgia quicker than remembering the feelings of a real life emotional teenager. At which point, we may ask “well, what now?” How do we rock and roll as adults? Seiders offers part of the answer.
Flip through his feed and you’ll see playful, sophisticated drinks like his Ziggy Stardust tribute to David Bowie with an Aladdin Sane lightning bolt of Peychaud’s Bitters, or the Infirmary, a rye-based cocktail with lemon juice, raw honey, and chili-infused simple syrup.
He’s now ready to level up—his line of Ocotillo Bitters, a labor of love cum side hustle that is debuting this spring.
“To this day, my greatest creation was up in Calgary. We had just finished a show and got on the bus to find that all the ice had melted. A few inches of fresh snow had just fallen outside, so I went out and gathered up a bunch of it, added gin and vermouth and voila! The ‘Snowtini’ was born. Probably some kind of health code violation but who cares, we’re a rock band.”