Touring musicians have a great gig. Rock and roll! It’s doubly great when they’re interested in exploring the international culinary world. We do realize some bands subsist solely on Taco Bell and Coke Zero. Shame on them! There’s Hatch chile to sample in New Mexico. Pappy Van Winkle in Kentucky. Doppelbock outside Hamburg. Tortas on the California-Mexico border. In Good Food, Rocks, we track down a band member serious about their grub — and who has held a job in the food industry too.
“When I’m recording, eating becomes kind of a burden,” reveals Black Moth Super Rainbow creative center Tobacco (né Tom Fec). “When I get into the zone, I just want to go for 16 hours straight. I dump a can of chickpeas into a bowl and try to drink them down as fast as possible.”
The statement, which comes at the end of a 30-minute call with the Pittsburgh musician, is a bit of a shocker, as we’ve just talked extensively about barrel-aging Negronis, Pequod’s vs. Burts (it’s a Chicago pizza thing), Philly chef Marc Vetri and the masterful barbecue at his hometown favorite Union Pig and Chicken. It turns out that homeboy is really into food, but aparently art comes first. And bless him for it. BMSR’s latest album, Cobra Juicy, is one of the year’s best — a collection of songs built around Reagan-era analog synths and tape machines mingling with everything from Beck guitar licks to the bass lines and buzz saws of a midnight Justice set. You can hear it live in a city near you. And if you like it, buy the man a bourbon. Small batch, of course.
Have you had any jobs in the food service industry?
I was a busboy at an upscale Italian place for one day. The owner was weird, the manager was weird and everyone just sucked, so I just didn’t come back.
So that’s your food career right there?
I actually always wanted to work at a pizza place and I still kind of do, but I never did it. Maybe one day, just for fun.
What’s your fascination with pizza?
It’s not even the pizza. I guess I just created a fantasy in my head where hanging out with friends, driving around and delivering pizzas to all these weird people in town would just be so much fun. I’m at that point where I definitely don’t need to get any kind of job, but want that all to be kind of my hobby.
Do you like pizza? Do you make it at home?
I don’t make it, but I like it. I’m getting pickier as I get older I think. When you find really good shit, it’s hard to then go back. There’s this one place in town that’s about a half-hour outside of the city that not a lot of people know about. The crust is almost a pastry – it’s buttery and the sauce is really sweet. I’ve never had anything even similar to it. It’s called Jioio’s.
Tell me more about the dining scene in Pittsburgh…It’s pretty underrated and dare I say unknown.
Yeah, you just have to dig in. Over the past two years some things have really popped up. I wouldn’t say it exploded here or anything, and it’s not like you have a shitload of options. But you can find one or two of each type of food that is amazing, even better than other cities. I don’t want to start a controversy, but I think some of the best things that I’ve had here are better than I’ve had in New York.
Let’s start some controversy…
We have this barbecue called Union Pig and Chicken. I’m going to guess that people around here would consider [Kevin Sousa] our local star chef because he also owns Salt of the Earth and runs this hot dog place. Union Pig and Chicken is hands-down the best barbecue I’ve ever had, including in the South.
And you’ve toured the South, like Texas and Mississippi?
Yeah. I’d say the second best I’ve ever had was in St. Louis – I can’t remember the name of the place – but I’ve been everywhere in the country and this guy has the best barbecue. It’s not even close.
What food item that Pittsburgh is known for?
Well, that’s the thing. I’m not proud of what Pittsburgh is known for. I hate this because any time I have friends who are coming through, they are like, “We have to go to Primanti Brothers!” And that’s fucking gross. Have you heard of this place?
Yeah, it’s like a place that you see on The Food Network?
Probably, I’m sure. It’s what we’re most famous for, which is really any kind of shitty sandwich covered in coleslaw and fries. They’re open all night, which is their thing, but it’s just trash. Greasy food is great, but they don’t even do that well [laughs]. I’m going to get killed if anyone from Pittsburgh sees this!
It’s like delis getting a lot of press in New York, but they all fucking suck. What are some of your favorite cities around the world for the food?
Number two would be Philly and that’s mainly because one of my best friends from high school works at a few restaurants there. He works at Osteria and Vetri. He knows how to show us around, so I’m a little biased towards that city. In terms of finding stuff on my own, my favorite city is Chicago.
Where do you like eating in Chicago?
I’m not a big burger guy or anything, but Kuma’s is pretty fucking phenomenal. I’ve never had a burger that good anywhere else. Then the pizza – if you go outside of that typical Chicago pizza – there’s a place called Pequod’s. The guy who started Pequod’s left and is doing his own thing at Burt’s. Pequod’s is amazing and most people would say it’s better, but I like Burt’s even more because it’s more eccentric and apparently the guy picks up all of the shit on the way in to work. Everything is super fresh and it’s made with care because he’s the only one back there.
What food and drink is on your tour rider when you’re on the road?
I like to go really simple. The hardest thing to find when you’re on tour and waiting at a venue is fruits and vegetables, and that’s all that I want. I need blueberries, avocados, broccoli, celery, strawberries and shit like that. And you don’t always get it.
You sound like you’re pretty health-conscious? Do you drink?
I’m pretty healthy. I like a good cocktail or a really good liquor. If it’s something different, I’m totally down.
What kind of cocktails do you like?
My friend in Philly designs the alcohol menu for the Vetri restaurants and got me into Negronis hardcore. We got a barrel here at our house and I’ve been aging my own kind of Negronis. Artichoke Negronis.
Oh, with Cynar?
Why barrel-age a cocktail?
It just mellows out. Especially a drink like a Negroni. Campari is fucking rough. It’s like ehhhh and gets into your throat. The barrel takes the edge off of it and totally smooths it out. It’s really nice. We got into that because there’s a place in Pittsburgh called Meat and Potatoes and they started doing barrel-aged Manhattans and Negronis recently, and it’s the best shit ever.
What kind of gin do you use in your Negronis?
We’ve still been working on the best. Since we only have one barrel, we can only make it once a month. We’re still working it out. We’ve tried every kind. The latest batch was Bombay and that was pretty good.
Bombay is good. I personally like Beefeater because it has great juniper and isn’t too citrusy.
My favorite is Hendrick’s, but it’s too much for a Negroni.
What other cocktails do you like to make at home or order on the road?
I just like really simple stuff usually. When we’re on the road, unless we’re at an amazing cocktail place, I’d rather get something straight. Some people just go overboard – even when you order something normal that you think is simple, it’s all sugared up. It’s just nasty. We’ll just try to find like one Prohibition-era kind of place in town and get one thing that’s really good. The best drinks that we’ve probably ever had were at Village Whiskey in Philadelphia. The burger is actually almost at Kuma’s level too.
Do you cook at home?
Not really. I like to eat stuff really plain – cut up an avocado, eat some celery. I think the most complex I like to get is like broccoli with pasta sauce. I like to eat really clean.
Why eat clean?
I don’t know. I like to run a lot and when you’re digesting easier, it makes everything go smoother and I feel better. Right now, I’m so tired – we just got home from tour yesterday – I’m so tired from changing up my routine and eating so much crap. I couldn’t wait until this morning to just have blueberries and flaxseed. I also feel that since I’m not a great cook, I’d rather just once a week pay someone at a restaurant who is really good at it [laughs].
Do you run competitively?
It’s just for my own personal sense of accomplishment. I’ve never been in a race but am definitely working on getting my times to a really good spot.
Chefs really like your music. Have you heard that before?
I haven’t heard that but I also don’t know any chefs [laughs]. I’ve definitely never heard it in any of the restaurants that I go around town.
You have a lot of food imagery in your song titles. Does food play a role in the creative process?
It’s not necessarily that, but I always like the song titles to be a major part of what the whole concept and art of it is. I like to create titles that you can’t really place – but when you think about them and combine what I’m saying – it creates its own new thing. I’ve always liked adding some kind of taste into my titles because if you can taste the title, you just think of it in a different way.
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