Hundreds of stories have appeared in MD over the years with drummers talking about the skills that helped them land a particular gig. This typically ranges from a knack for supporting songs with creative, unobtrusive playing to the ability to shapeshift from song to song. Being a good hang in the studio and/or on the road always seems to help as well. But rarely do we read about drummers who earned a job based largely on their vocal chops. Enter Joe Seiders, who says that a rehearsal involving zero drumming and a whole lot of harmonizing is what helped him land the gig manning the kit for the veteran indie-pop outfit the New Pornographers.
Seiders had been bouncing between band and session work for a decade with Bleu, Tracy Bonham, Juliana Hatfield, Adam Lambert, John Oates, and Emitt Rhodes—first in Boston, then Los Angeles—when the New Pornos, a group he absolutely loved, needed a drummer on the eve of the Brill Bruisers album release and tour in 2014. Seiders had an “in”—his brother is the band’s tour manager/front-of-house engineer. But that connection guaranteed him nothing more than consideration for the gig, an opening that had to be filled within seventy-two hours so the band could play the Rifflandia festival in Victoria, British Columbia. Eighteen songs under his belt and forty-eight hours later, Seiders found himself in a hotel room with lead singer/guitarist Carl Newman, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Kathryn Calder, and guitarist Todd Fancey, strumming and singing through a set they’d play in front of 10,000 people the following day. Fortunately he’d been working out potential harmonies while woodshedding the drum parts.
“I didn’t know exactly what parts I’d be singing, so I just tried to think of all of the harmonies,” Seiders says about his crash course in New Pornography. “They tell the story now that apparently when I walked out of the hotel room, Todd said, ‘Hey, he’s a nice guy—we should hire him.’ I think basically I got the gig for singing and being a nice guy. The harmonies are more important than the drums, for the most part. It’s such a vocal band. And then the next day we finally got together to play the show and I was like, I better focus on playing these drum parts now!”
In the same way Seiders’ voice blended seamlessly into the New Pornographers’ signature harmonies, his steady, propulsive drumming was perfectly suited to the buoyant and clever songcraft, as evidenced on his first recorded effort with the band, 2017’s Whiteout Conditions. Unlike the forty-eight-hour window he had to prepare for his first gig with the group, Seiders had a little time to think about how he could humanize the robotic feel that chief songwriter Newman was going for on songs like “Play Money,” “High Ticket Attractions,” and the title track.
“I really stewed over how I was going to approach this record,” Seiders says. “I went in a different direction sort of in every take, and we ended up with a million ideas and pieced a lot together. And I think they were really stoked by that, because that’s not how they did it with [former drummer] Kurt Dahle. I think they really appreciated being able to put a lot of input into the drums and throw a lot of ideas at me.”
MD: On the album you do a very nice job of playing with a metronomic feel without the music feeling at all stiff. Did you have much experience with that type of drumming?
Joe: I think my time playing to loops and tracks with Bleu was great preparation for this sort of thing, things like “High Ticket Attractions,” where there’s sequencing going on. Carl sent me these demos, and they all had this sort of Krautrock beat—guh-guh-guh-chick—with just a very basic drum machine, kind of manic. And we got into the studio and thought, How about we do a human version of these manic drum-machine beats?
MD: Were you tracking along with the demos to capture that feel?
Joe: Carl had those demos going most of the time. Our bassist, John Collins, would play along so he could start working on his parts. I think it just helps the vibe when you have a bassist playing. John and Carl sort of produced it together. The way I normally work is, do three or four takes and cut something together. But they were like, “Just keep going—just give [us] more ideas.” John engineered it and really wanted to just sift through tons and tons of ideas. I gave them a lot of choices.
MD: Are the sequenced parts happening live as well?
Joe: Yeah, we have tracks going underneath. We play two or three songs that have a kick drum driving through the whole thing. I’ve got a click running from a Roland SPD-SX.
MD: You had two days to learn a whole lot of material for the first show. Do you have a method for cramming like that?
Joe: I learn songs in a weird way. I don’t chart. I only listen to the song and imagine myself playing. It’s very odd. I just listen to it over and over again and pick up the song form. So when I went into that gig, I didn’t sit at a drumkit until we sat down to play. Looking back, that was a little dicey. I could chart—I have that knowledge, I know how to read music. But that’s not what works for me.
MD: Was it pretty surreal to be playing with a band you loved so much?
Joe: I still can’t believe it. As a fan, I was so in love with their  album Twin Cinema. When we play “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” I still can’t believe I’m singing the harmonies on the pre-chorus. It’s mind-blowing.
MD: So let’s talk about your harmony singing. It’s an overlooked part of a drummer’s tool kit. Had you been singing and playing all along?
Joe: Since the Everyday Visuals, my very first band. I learned how to sing with those guys when I was fifteen. A few years later I got asked to play some shows with Juliana Hatfield and Tracy Bonham. I slipped into this ’90s female rock thing for a moment there, which was awesome. And for the most part Juliana sang all of her own backing vocals on the record. So when I was learning songs, I needed to sing harmony and learn how to sing her kind of female backing vocals, to get that female vocal blend. I was trying to hone my falsetto. That was a great learning experience, singing with Tracy and Juliana. It took a long time to feel comfortable singing and playing. I think I’m still figuring it out. [laughs]
MD: You grew up near Boston and eventually moved back there. Was attending Berklee something you were thinking about?
Joe: It totally was. I was obsessed with Berklee. To the point where when I was sixteen or seventeen I was putting together the audition tapes, getting ready to apply to the summer programs. But high school was kind of terrible for me. I let my academics slip. Band and chorus were seventh and eighth periods—the last two periods of the day—and I would only go in for those two periods. Finally the band teacher said, “You can’t do this anymore.”
I ended up getting kicked out of school; basically I dropped out. But an English teacher helped me get back into school. So once I got through high school, I didn’t think I could go to college, because it was so hard for me to put effort into school. So I just didn’t go to Berklee, which was a bummer at the time, but I’m fine with it now.
MD: Bleu was someone you hooked up with in Boston, and you guys have done a variety of things together, not just rock stuff.
Joe: The Everyday Visuals moved to Boston, then we hooked up with Bleu. He asked me to start playing in his band, and that became a duo thing—I’m still playing with him to this day. Through Bleu I sort of got into the power-pop world in L.A. I’ve done a little bit of writing with Bleu, and we ended up doing the score for the last Tinker Bell film, The Legend of the NeverBeast. They wanted some weird textures, so we ended up going to the hardware store with drumsticks and mallets and banging on everything, trying to make instruments and create different sounds and textures for this film.
We ended up using tons of that stuff. The composer, Joel McNeely, was handling all the orchestral stuff, and Bleu and I were handling all the weird found-percussion stuff. I think he was trying to keep it more orchestral, and every time they would have a meeting, the producers would say that they wanted more of the weird stuff Bleu and I were doing. We didn’t know if we were going to lose our jobs at any point. But it’s in there a ton. We’re banging on trash cans and whirly tubes, the corrugaphone or whatever they call it. We created this sort of soundscape with flower pots and these copper pipes, hanging them from strings—definitely not rock drumming.
MD: What’s your setup with Bleu?
Joe: We’ve got a cool little thing going where I’ve got a kick drum turned over on its side, and I’ll play it with a mallet. I’ve also got a keyboard, and I’m running some beats and he’s looping some vocals. It’s a weird experiment that we’re still trying to figure out. It’s definitely a different approach, but really good training for playing to tracks, trying to be on the click, playing along to weird loops and beats, and singing at the same time.
MD: Was it the opportunity for more work that prompted the move from Boston to L.A.?
Joe: That was definitely part of the move. It also felt like the Everyday Visuals had exhausted our resources. It never got to the next step. We didn’t take any more steps in L.A. either. [laughs] But I was always a band guy with them. Then I got asked to play some shows with Bleu, and that turned into another band, then the duo thing. So it’s just the two of us, and I’m playing guitar and all these other things, and I thought, Okay, I guess I could be a sideman.
Then I got asked to play some shows with Juliana and Tracy. So I thought, Maybe I can float around and not be dedicated to one band. I always wanted to be more of a session guy, and there was going to be more of that type of thing in L.A.
MD: Coming from a band you’d started as a teenager and juggling a variety of projects, how do you try to fit in—musically, personally—when you join a group that’s been at it for seventeen years?
Joe: It’s easy. They’re Canadian—they’re the friendliest people on earth. Every idea I’ve had, they’ve been game for trying. They don’t have a crazy set way of doing things. Nothing’s grueling. There’s no practice schedule. They’re very relaxed. I think that’s what’s made them successful.
Drums: C&C 12th & Vine
• 6.5×14 Ludwig Black Beauty snare
• 9×13 tom
• 16×16 floor tom
• 14×24 bass drum
• 14″ Avedis hi-hats
• 18″ Avedis crash
• 19″ Avedis crash
Heads: Remo Coated Vintage Ambassador snare batter, Coated Ambassador tom batters, and Coated Powerstroke 3 bass drum batter
Sticks: Vater Los Angeles 5A sticks, T7 mallets, and Poly Flex brushes
Hardware: DW 5000 bass drum pedal, Roc-n-Soc Nitro throne
Electronics: Roland SPD-SX sample pad
Accessories: JH Audio JH16 in-ear monitors, Shure Beta 87A vocal mic, Big Fat Snare Drum muffling device, Low Boy beaters
“This list represents my live rig,” Seiders says. “My studio rig is basically the same, except I’ll mix in some other Ludwig metals—Supraphonic, Acrolite—and get a little more creative with snare heads, such as Remo black dots and Emperors.”