Whole Lotta Love
Wilco dodges critics and classification on newest tour
By Adam ScoppaPublished August 1, 2012
Chicago’s Wilco has seen its share of career obstacles, ranging from label-snubbing and infighting to founder and songsmith Jeff Tweedy’s crippling personal demons. However, the music had too much going for it to fade away into the ether, and Wilco consistently emerges as one of modern rock’s strongest and most artful contenders.
Since shedding their alt-country descriptor with 2002’s kaleidoscopic opus Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Tweedy and Co. have mastered the art of eluding easy pigeonholing. Subsequent releases have proven Foxtrot was no lark; nostalgic, rootsy formalism and oft-unpredictable skronk are now both defining elements of the band’s unique DNA.
Much of the latter is due to guitarist Nels Cline, whose impressionist solos and soundscapes provide counterpoint to Tweedy’s weighted, wandering thoughts.
(614) chatted with Cline at the onset of their summer tour, which includes a stop at the LC on August 4th.
How’s the tour going so far?
Pretty good. We had a little trouble with our bus getting to Louisville but we made it. So everything’s fine.
That must be annoying after all these years.
Well, frankly it’s not the normal thing. There are a lot of reasons that we have these not particularly good buses on this run that I won’t go into … (laughs)
Do you enjoy the festival circuit in the summer?
It’s okay – I think we prefer to play our full set, for example. We play shorter at festivals. For the most part we don’t do sound check, so they just dial us in and we go for it. But it’s fine, it’s nice to be able to play. I prefer to play indoors, but sometimes you have a crazy fun time at one of these outdoor things. The show that we played at the end of our last little run was at a ballpark in Geneva, Illinois. The audience felt really great, the whole vibe was really cool. So I don’t want to generalize. I like playing indoors, we get to have our light show, our full-on atmosphere of pageantry and magic (laughs). It’s different from playing little art spaces. I like to pretend, at least, that the audience is really transported by that. I like all the, I guess in a way you could say, a kind of artifice … but I like that stuff.
The new album, The Whole Love, was recorded and mixed entirely in the band’s loft in Chicago, correct?
I wasn’t around for the mixes, I kind of opt out on that portion of our production schedule. Pat [Sansone] and Jeff [Tweedy] and Tom Schick had it well in-hand. I think it was very, very fun for them to be in Chicago and in our familiar space, and it makes the work hours, if there are long hours, less punishing. Certainly recording there is really chill, it’s really nice.
How did the record come together? What was the band drawing on for inspiration on this album?
I don’t know about other bands, but I don’t think any bands go into a recording situation and then describe necessarily what their goal is. In the case of Wilco, it’s pretty boring if you think about it on the surface. Jeff brings in a song, sometimes in various states of completion, and we tinker around with it until there’s something listenable. Then we record very quickly – it doesn’t have to be finished – and then we move on and basically compile a heap of songs that are in various states, and then we kind of hone them over time. In this case, we had quite a few extras and we had a lot of diversity. I think the question was ultimately what we were going to do. At one point, we thought we were going to put out two records: one more country, or a folk kind of record, and one rock and roll, uptempo kind of record.
But it ended up being a diverse record, which is fine with me; I like that, I come from that. I’ve always liked records that exhibit diversity. Even if it confuses some listeners, I find that’s a good thing. Challenge is better than no challenge, right?
You’ve been with Wilco since 2004. Do you feel like this is your band at this point, or do you still feel like a collaborator?
A little of both. I get to do a lot of other things when I’m not playing in Wilco – playing my own music or playing improvised music with my friends. It’s basically a great combination. After eight years of a solid personnel, we’re dealing with a lot of chemistry, musical chemistry and camaraderie.
Do you consider yourself a musical kindred spirit with Jeff Tweedy? Do you come from different backgrounds?
I think there’s definitely a mutual respect there, and when I first was pondering joining, Jeff and I had some discussion about all kinds of stuff – among them psychology, growing up, early influences. I think one of the things that I enjoyed most that we chatted about was garage rock and psychedelic rock. Jeff has a really good grasp on and is inspired by garage rock. One of the bonds that we have is an understanding or love of that. And of course the more obvious things, like we all love songwriters and folk rock, and experimental sounds. And we have a mutual love of language, so I can appreciate his writing as a lyricist.
There are a lot of different avenues a Wilco song could take. Do you still find it challenging to choose the sounds the song needs?
I do. I think that’s probably well documented because I keep saying it, but it’s absolutely true. I have, many times, been a little perplexed as to what my contribution to a particular song could be. It’s an interesting challenge, it’s actually one that Jeff has helped me out with greatly, because he’ll draw something out of me, and insist that I’m being too reverent to the material, or too safe, in a way, traditional. He sometimes gets me to just blast away and be a little bit free. My first impulse isn’t to be Mr. Fancy Hot-Handed Guitar Player. I’d like to do something that’s more of an interior part, something more textural.
Live, do songs take on different shapes as far as experimentation goes?
Not so much, we’re pretty well rehearsed. Some songs are freer than others. People might not realize this, but to me the freest songs are the sort of folk country stuff where my role is less defined. If we ever do play something like “Less Than You Think,” there’s a certain amount of freedom there to experiment with texture. Jeff has a good handle on what a song can and can’t handle, what it can withstand. He doesn’t over-do things. He doesn’t really want to have too much head scratching, and I respect that.
How have you seen the band change or develop over the years?
I think it’s been nice to see Pat emerge playing a little more guitar. Conversely, I wish Jeff would play a little more lead guitar sometimes because I really like his style, but that could happen depending on what we end up doing with the next record. It was great to hear Mikael [Jorgensen] come in with his synth stuff on “Art Of Almost.” There’s all kind of things he did on The Whole Love where he rose to the occasion and worked really hard. It’s been nice to see Pat and Mikael, for example, who are behind the scenes to a lot of people, it’s been nice to hear them emerge, and I hope people notice that.
So who knows where that direction could take us? I think everyone in the band, the more we drift into these areas, the more exciting it is to play music because the possibilities keep expanding.
Wilco will perform at the LC Pavilion (405 Neil Ave.) August 4th, with Lee Ranaldo Band opening. For more information, visit www.promowestlive.com.