Jeff Tweedy has been busy. Shortly after I talk to him on the phone, Chicago-based boutique grocery store and cafe Foxtrot Market will release the details of a collaboration with his band, Wilco, that involves a branded cereal, a gummy mix, a special pilsner, a Baggu tote, and more. The night before, Tweedy and co. played on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and a few hours after our call, they’ll start setting up for the next show in a short tour commemorating their 2001 masterpiece Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Foxtrot, Foxtrot; get it?). Oh, and earlier the same morning, Wilco announced a Yankee Hotel Foxtrot reissue for September that will involve 11 LPs worth of material: the album, 82 unreleased tracks, and multiple live concerts. (7xLP and 2xLP versions are also coming.) So it’s been a big day for America’s favorite rock band. After two more anniversary gigs in New York City—where, naturally, they’re playing the entire record each night—the band will conclude with three shows in their hometown of Chicago.
I could go on forever about how good Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is, what it means to me, and what it’s meant to music… but we’re here to talk about the food it has inspired. Wilco’s Foxtrot partnership has yielded Wilc-O’s, a vegan and gluten-free cinnamon cereal that features an illustrated likeness of a smiling, hungry Tweedy on its box front. (And, of course, he’s holding a guitar while eating, because the rocking stops for no one.) The cereal is actually good—it tastes like if Corn Pops and Cinnamon Toast Crunch had a baby in a health food store; atop the box is a QR code that leads to a very funny jingle that I won’t spoil (but suffice it to say, Tweedy was happy enough with it that he specifically asked me whether I’d heard it yet). There's also Wilco’s gummy snack mix—lovingly called I Am Trying to Eat Your Heart after the album’s beloved opening track; I can assure candy fiends that they’re sweet and enticingly sour, with plenty of punchy, fruity flavor, something I’d legitimately enjoy eating on a road trip or in a movie theater with my friends. And then there's the Wilco-inspired beer, Jesus Don’t Cry Pilsner, which was made in collaboration with Great Central Brewing. Indeed, sitting at home in a Wilco x Foxtrot dad hat, listening to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for the millionth time, eating candy and daydreaming about trying their new beer, I’m probably Wilco’s target audience for this stuff. But pay no heed, Wilco haters—your taste buds don’t care what music you like. These products are for everyone.
Twenty years after the release of one of the great American rock albums, Wilco and their fanbase seem to be in the right moment for snacks and dad-wear: a moment that’s wholesome, nostalgic, and laid-back. With this limited pop-up with Foxtrot and the anniversary of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Jeff Tweedy and Wilco have given us yet another reason to come together and enjoy the fruits of their creativity. After all, distance has no way of making love understandable.
I spoke with Tweedy about how it feels to perform Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in 2022, why he doesn’t actually eat cereal, his favorite non-alcoholic beers of the moment, and his true feelings about unsalted tortilla chips. Bon appetit!
VICE: Hi, Jeff. How are the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot shows going so far?
Jeff Tweedy: From our perspective they’re going great. It’s really challenging—we just looked at it as wanting to get as close to the record as possible, because all of those arrangements have drifted over 20 years to different eras of the band and different performance styles.
What resonates with you most about the album after all this time? Has this experience revealed anything new about the music?
There's just the insight about how the songs have continued to live on for us, because we’ve had to unlearn muscle memory of how we play some of them. Not like they're different songs, but it's weird how much you evolve as a musician and a band, and how your communication on stage has taken precedence over how we were able to perform in the studio. The songs have been part of the show for a long, long time, so it’s not like I'm rediscovering material I turned my back on; it's more being proud of how the record was presented in the first place. And a tiny twinge of vindication that people are still listening to it 20 years after it was rejected [laughs].
The Yankee Hotel Foxtrot reissues coming later this year are pretty serious—what was it like revisiting all that material?
I basically OK’d everything, but I didn't really go through the archives. We hired people to do that. Mark Greenberg, Tom Schick—they did a lot of the quality control. Cheryl Pawelski did all of the investigative work and digging up the track sheets and all of that stuff. It was a big job that was handled by a lot of people.
What’s the coolest thing in the box set?
The version of “Ashes”—the original version of “Ashes of American Flags”—basically has a Stravinsky piece going through the entire song. We finally got clearance to do it, and that was the original concept. It's a piece from Symphony of Psalms. At the time, it was rejected. It’s a completely chaotic mess, but it's one of my favorite things I’ve ever done.
How did this collab with Foxtrot Market come up? And why cereal? I tried it this morning—it's really good!
I vaguely remember [the collaboration] being something [Foxtrot] asked about in the past, and maybe it made more sense now. [Laughs] You know, the crazy thing is, it’s sort of the same as the box set. I don't eat sugar and I don't drink beer, so I don't eat the cereal, the candy, or the beer. None of the products are things I consume.
Do you have a desert island cereal?
Not really. It’s really hard to find cereal that doesn’t have sugar, and I’m an addict—I found out years ago that I can't be trusted with sugar. I try to avoid it as much as possible. This is a really rock ‘n roll interview [laughs]. We try and work with people that we think are contributing to the community and are doing quality things… who are having fun and are creative about what they’re doing. It can always get a little too serious, and I think we try to combat that with things like this [collaboration].
The gummy mix seems like the perfect snack to eat at the movies. What’s your go-to movie snack?
I haven't been to the movies in quite some time. The first time I went to the movies with my wife, when we were just starting to date, Susie locked eyes with me and said if I ate any of our popcorn before the movie started, she would kill me. And that if I took a handful of popcorn and shook it like a pair of dice, she’d never talk to me again.
Fair enough. OK, what are your favorite things to sip on before or during a show?
I don’t drink during the shows. I stop drinking any beverages about an hour before the show because I’m afraid I'm going to have to pee. I'm very neurotic. I rarely drink during shows. I don't do anything [laughs]. We all like Topo Chico. I like these energy drinks called Ardors, these non-sugary energy drinks. I've been drinking non-alcoholic beer these days.
There are some really good non-alcoholic beers. Which ones are you into?
Athletic [Brewing Co.] is really good.
It is. They have a good IPA.
I’d never even had an IPA—I quit drinking so long ago that it was before craft beers and microbreweries were a thing, outside of a few small places. I always felt like the one thing that might pull me off the wagon is the packaging and the beauty of the modern microbreweries. I’m really relieved there are opportunities to participate in that revolution.
What snacks are always in Wilco’s green room?
We're pretty spartan, really. Chips and salsa. There’s some new snacks, smaller companies making good snacks out of cauliflower these days. [Editor's note: Jeff’s publicist emailed me later saying he was referring to Hippeas.]
What’s the weirdest thing on your band rider?
Wow. There have been weird things over the years. I will say that over time, when you play as much as we have, you go back to places over and over and over again, and a lot of promoters around the world have old versions of our rider—things that have been taken off, but will reappear after years of not being in your dressing room. At one point it was put on our rider that we like tortilla chips without salt. Unsalted tortilla chips. It's a real hardship when those appear. I don't know why those exist.
On that note, what’s the best food city?
Compared to the old days, everywhere is tolerable. It really is a different world. Touring in England used to be really hard. We’ve been having a great time here in New York. We love Chicago. Obviously, we’ve had so much more time to explore and have our favorites there. One of the things that the pandemic taught restaurants is how to do takeout better, which is really helpful for a band like us.
What's the most popular snack at home with the family these days?
My wife likes it when I make popcorn. Our whole relationship is based around the popcorn story now. Ferris [Coffee & Nut Co.] has these cherries, berries, and nuts that are awesome. Honestly, I’ve just been trying not to snack.
I grew up in St. Louis, and I know you’ve spent a lot of time in St. Louis as well. Both St. Louis and Chicago are known for their distinctive styles of pizza. Where do you stand on St. Louis-style pizza?
I’m not a participant in any kind of pizza wars. I think there’s room for us all to get along. I am totally fine with a cracker crust—Imo’s Pizza—and then having a big deep dish in Chicago. That's kind of the fun of it, all of the regional styles. My wife, not so much. I think she finds Imo’s to be an exotic and undesired presentation of pizza.
What’s the best pizzeria in Chicago?
We always say Lou Malnati’s, because it’s been the family [place]. We like Paulie Gee’s, Pizza Lobo. We’re living in the golden age of pizza.
Sorry we mostly talked about food and snacking, but I appreciate you talking with me.
No problem. I’m hungry now.
Catch Wilco on tour for the 20th anniversary of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in a city or festival near you.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.