When we watch our favorite bands kill it onstage, we usually aren’t thinking about what the people currently sweating and singing ate that morning for breakfast. But when you think about it, there are probably some eating insights to be gleaned from touring bands — these are folks who do very physical jobs, travel constantly, and generally don’t have the budgets to whip up ridiculous riders. If breakfast is supposedly the most important meal of the day for even the most sluggish of us, these folks presumably worship the day’s first jolt of meal-related energy.
In my years of interviewing musicians, not one of them has ever recommended the touring experience, which often includes unmemorable, survival mode meals; the kind of things you eat when you don’t have enough money or willpower to seek out something you actually want to eat. Gary McClure, in the band American Wrestlers, describes it as such: “These days I stop them before they melt the cheese on to whatever abomination I've reluctantly given in to. I lie to myself every day that it'll be the last greaseball that I'll put inside me and six hours later I'm shamefully walking to the gas station counter.” Josette Maskin, in the band MUNA, co-signs the monotony of tour breakfasts: “I usually eat an exciting oatmeal or hard boiled egg. We try to eat as many free hotel breakfasts as we can. Those two items are pretty consistent everywhere we go.” Josh Berwanger, in the bands The Anniversary & the Only Children & Berwanger, goes for a more spontaneous breakfast: “I find myself in unique situations on tour waking up each day in strange places and in odd parts of cities which leads to the diet of Klonopin, beef jerky, and if I'm very lucky a V8.”
Brianna Collins, in the band Tigers Jaw, doesn’t always plan to get a real breakfast: “Most often on tour breakfast is just an iced coffee, and where we get coffee will determine what I eat with it. If we have enough time to stop and eat a ‘proper’ breakfast, I just stick with eggs, toast, and homefries.” Given the unkind prolonged health toll of many of these touring breakfast options, Tanner Jones, in the band You Blew It!, has a practical tip; before you travel, steel your gut with healthful smoothies: “Gotta build up strength at home to prepare for weeks of hemorrhaging money and polluting one's poor body with all three greasy interstate-side options on the road.”
But the touring breakfast conversation isn’t all humdrum and/or depressing. Breakfast can also be a way for musicians, oftentimes traveling for at least weeks at a time, to hearken back to their far-away homes. For Naomi McPherson, one of Maskin’s bandmates in MUNA, her California upbringing makes her crave Mexican breakfast: “Lately I’ve been making soyrizo chilaquiles in green sauce with a fried egg on top for myself.” Kiley Lotz, who records as Petal, has fond memories of breakfast rituals as a kid (“I'd get up and my dad would make us breakfast. He'd put on a record and we'd sit and eat either in silence or in sleepy annoyance or buzzing about the day to come”), and extends that ritualistic aspect toward her tourmates: “I try to make sure I can recreate that regularity as much as possible. I love diners and getting poured some Folgers and just slugging it down. It's something [the band] can all enjoy together as a team.”
McClure, interestingly, praises the simple box of cereal, but clarifies that he’s looking for the stuff of his Scottish childhood versus modern American fare: “I like the classic corn- and rice-based products with the pictures of animals and elves on the box. There are no toys or stickers in the boxes in the USA like I used to get when I was a kid in Scotland. Instead of a spinning toy or a She-Ra transfer, the last box I bought here tried to sell me a credit card.” And Michelle Zauner, who makes music as Japanese Breakfast (!), wrote elegantly about her feelings about and toward food for Glamour, and carries her heritage in the form of food with her when she tours: “I usually eat rice with a poached egg and sesame oil, homemade radish kimchi, and soybean soup. We bring a rice cooker on tour so I try to eat as close as what I usually eat at home as possible. I bring small packets of instant miso sometimes I'll eat with rice or poach in a deli cup with hot water from a gas station.”
Miso is also a breakfast staple for Sadie Dupuis, who’s both in the band Speedy Ortiz and records solo as Sad 13. She and Elaiza Santos, who’s in the band Crying and records solo as 100%, both shouted out vegan food for breakfast and their favorite morning teas (green tea for Dupuis, sleepytime for Santos). “I wind up eating a lot of tofu scrambles, because that's sort of the breakfast go-to in America if you're vegan,” Dupuis says, while Santos goes for another veg-friendly staple: “Sautéed greens and vegan sausage plus raw garlic has been my go to breakfast recently. I wake up salty.”
Of course, breakfast doesn’t mean the same thing to every musician. Chris Chu, in the band POP ETC, rejects “regular American breakfast type foods”: “I grew up eating whatever we ate for dinner the night before, and I pretty much still do that. Doesn't matter if it's fish or ribs or noodles or curry or whatever. The band often skips breakfast and just waits till 11 or 12 when lunch places open. Last tour we ate a lot of phở and bún for breakfast.”
What every musician interviewed could co-sign was the fact that a good breakfast spot could be an instant bright spot on tour. Dupuis shares, “Bouldin Creek in Austin, TX is my all-time favorite café — I have drunk dialed this place trying to get the recipe for their zucchina migas and pecan pesto.” Maskin raves about “this amazing brunch in Pittsburgh—we all got really beautiful rustic egg dishes with potatoes and other root vegetables. Then mini donuts for dessert. It was the best of both worlds.” Berwanger highlights “a crab omelet at Lowell's in Seattle which was amazing,” as well as “a place in Lawrence, KS called The Roost; anything you get there is great.“ When Collins isn’t touring, she touts a hometown favorite: “I love getting breakfast at a local restaurant in Kingston, Pennsylvania called Something Special”; but on the road, she and her bandmate Ben Walsh go for something a little off the beaten track: “The best tour breakfast is always at Twedes Diner in North Bend, Washington (aka the RR Diner). Ben and I are obsessed with Twin Peaks, so we try to make it a point to stop there whenever possible. The food is actually incredible, and the coffee and cherry pie are A+.”
While many of us like and appreciate food, musicians exist in the rare intersection between those who must travel regularly for work, and those who can’t always accommodate for their dietary needs on their own preferred terms. For them, breakfast is both a source of frustration but also a salve, a necessary means of kickstarting their days but also a way to tap into the lives they lead outside of the touring grind. Tour goes by, long night after long night. And at the end of each evening’s tunnel, breakfast shines its soothing, sating promise.
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.