First official concert as an expat! Kotche: I do try a lot of different things. Jeff’s worn and weary voice perfectly suits the material and arrangements. Yet Ode To Joy is proof that Tweedy and his band can still wring exhilaration from exhaustion.
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In 2015, Wilco surprise-released a record called Star Wars,” a surreal assemblage of songs that had nothing to do with the legendary movie franchise. In 2014, John Stirratt ‘s side project the Autumn Defense released a new album, Fifth, and Jeff Tweedy inaugurated a new project, Tweedy , that found him collaborating with his teenage son Spencer, who played drums and percussion. The family band released their first album, Sukierae, in September 2014, with the combo touring in support. The year 2014 also marked Wilco’s 20th anniversary, and the group celebrated the event with a pair of archival releases: What’s Your Twenty? Essential Tracks 1994-2014, a two-disc set that collected the band’s best and most popular tunes, and Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994-2014, a four-disc set of obscure and unreleased material. Wilco also celebrated their first two decades with a series of multi-night stands in several cities, including a six-night residency at the Riviera Theater in Chicago.
But anyone who comes to Ode to Joy” expecting Beethovenian rapture and millions embracing will likely be perplexed by this enigmatic 11-song collection. The album is mostly slow and muted, as though, a quarter-century into its existence, Wilco had suddenly become suspicious of the whole idea of being a rock band. Drummer Glenn Kotche and guitarist Nels Cline are the most obviously reined in. Many of Kotche’s rhythms are heavy and square. Cline gets a couple of brief freak-out solos (in the bleak We Were Lucky”); elsewhere his work is largely confined to adding subtle washes of color to a largely acoustic texture. Every guitar is denied,” Jeff Tweedy sings in Quiet Amplifier,” a line that functions almost like a statement of purpose.
TWEEDY: Wilco Schmilco fit also because I felt like a lot of those songs were about shedding some identity, and maintaining a space for yourself to invent yourself. And that’s a difficult thing to do as a rock band that’s been around forever. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say about Ode to Joy. I don’t think we tried harder with the music on the new record, I think we tried harder at just exactly that self-invention. Schmilco is commenting on it, Ode to Joy is actually doing it.
TWEEDY: We’ve put things on records that aren’t comfortable to play. And we’ve either struggled to find a way to play them—because there’s some desire to conquer them, or a demand from an audience—or we’ve just left them behind, because it doesn’t fit the ensemble.
The Grammy award winners have been consistently released solid material since their debut album ‘A.M’ in 1995. Despite having not achieved great commerciality in the UK (their highest chart position to date remains #30) the crowd compensate this with enthusiasm. From the singalong to opening track ‘Less Than You Think’ you would imagine it was a #1 smash hit. This level of interaction continues for ‘Art of Almost’ thanks to the rapport that Wilco quickly builds with the crowd.
Debuting as a rough-and-tumble alt-country act and evolving into a mature and eclectic indie rock ensemble, Wilco rose from the ashes of the seminal roots rock band Uncle Tupelo , who disbanded in 1994.
Wilco returned to their loft in Chicago to record a sixth studio album in 2006. Influenced by The Byrds and Fairport Convention , the band considered Sky Blue Sky to be less experimental than previous releases. 67 Also unlike previous albums, the songs were created as collaborations.
Leaked tracks from the album surfaced on the Internet in late 2001, and the stripped-down lineup of Tweedy , Kotche , Stirratt , and multi-instrumentalist Leroy Bach embarked on a small tour to support – or drum up support for – the unreleased record. Nonesuch picked up the album and officially released it in early 2002 to widespread critical acclaim. Meanwhile, an independent film documenting the drama surrounding the album (I Am Trying to Break Your Heart) followed in the fall of 2002. During the downtime after the album was recorded, Tweedy composed and recorded the film score to the Ethan Hawke film Chelsea Walls, which ended up being released around the same time as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
In 1994 Stephen Malkmus declared: Good night to the rock ‘n’ roll era.” And he was right, of course, but he didn’t factor in the death throes. It would take a final handful of hospice years filled with spasms and Strokes for the genre to finally succumb fully to demographic destiny and terminal stasis. Quite accidentally or quite by design, Wilco was one of the few bands that clambered aboard the genre’s final chopper out, just as the curtain dramatically fell on rock’s imperial phase.
After the dissolution of the alternative country band Uncle Tupelo the remaining members of the band, Jeff Tweedy and John Stirratt, went on to form the beloved alternative rock band Wilco, which they based out of Chicago, Illinois, US.
Where Star Wars finally coalesced into a boisterous, glam-rocking showcase of Wilco’s variable styles, Schmilco is something of its quieter mirror counterpart—more intimate and candid, executed in modest arrangements and instrumentation.
Wilco continues to release high quality albums and have appeared on many notable television shows such as Late Show with David Letterman and Saturday Night Live. In their free time the band also enjoys working on their side projects. Jeff Tweedy has been involved with the band Loose Fur, which features Jim ‘Rourke and Glenn Kotche, and is also involved in the band Tweedy with his son. Pat Sansone and John Stirratt have released several albums under their soft-rock band The Autumn Defense and Nels Cline is involved with his solo material.
After the release of Wilco’s Grammy award wining album, A Ghost Is Born”, they would stabilize their lineup with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone and avant-garde jazz guitarist Nels Cline. Although one might expect Wilco’s sound to become even more experimental with the addition of an avant-garde guitarist, in fact their next album Sky Blue Sky” showed Wilco moving further away from experimentation and following a style that was deeply rooted in the folk and Americana genres, which conveyed inspiration from artists like The Byrds and Bob Dylan. The Grammy nominated album showed that Wilco could perfect the sound of ‘70s soft rock and broadened the diversity of Wilco’s audience.
Kotche: (Laughs) That’s great. We covered ‘Broken Arrow’ a few times. We played it for Neil Young at the MusiCares tribute two years ago and some people have suggested that us learning that song might have had an impact on things like ‘Art of Almost’ or ‘Capitol City’ especially with my field recordings on there. I never made the connection, but everything you do and experience filters down to who you are in your playing. To some degree, I’m sure that’s where it comes from. That song was a completely different tune when we started.
Kotche: Oh yeah. By far. You know, I never thought of those times as being that unhappy or that miserable just because there is dysfunction in a lot of bands. That was the norm when I walked into that situation. I said, ‘Oh, this is like all the other bands I’ve been in. There are fights and creative differences, people getting messed up. It was business as usual. Compared to where we are now, I think this lineup really gels. We really respect each other. Personally and musically, we get along. We have each other’s backs. It’s a much healthier situation. There are no wild cards in the band. Everyone has their act together. We’re fairly responsible. Five of us are married and well grounded, I think.
The mainstay kings of alt-country and rock, Wilco hails from Chicago, IL. Blending expertly timed sequences, furious guitar and organ driven tracks, and Tweedy’s signature grainy vocals, Wilco has cemented itself as a mainstay of the scene.
Kotche: I do try a lot of different things. It takes a little trial and error to see what is going to feel right for everyone else. For any given song, I could do a thousand different beats. There’s no shortage of different takes on it, but it’s finding the right one one that works with the lyrics, one that won’t throw Jeff off while he’s singing and one that works with the other guys and the overall mood of the song. A lot of times, I’m moving things, taping things to the drum and shuffling around. There’s still some of that on the new record. On ‘One Sunday Morning,’ there’s some of that left. You can hear me taping and un-taping things in there. It got left in the final mix.
Following his two solo albums, WARM and WARMER, and memoir, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), Tweedy gathered Wilco to The Loft in Chicago. While all six members of the band can be heard on every song, Tweedy and Glenn Kotche were the launching pad from which most of the songs on Ode to Joy materialized – Kotche’s percussion propels the music forward while Tweedy’s measured words flesh out the cleared paths.
Alpha Mike Foxtrot features 64 pages of liner notes that include track-by-track recollections from Tweedy, notes by band members Nels Cline and John Stirratt, and reflections from members of Wilco’s extended professional family. The booklet also showcases dozens of archival and never-before-seen photos from a wide array of photographers chronicling all phases of the band’s career.
The ChiThe Chicago band Wilco’s 10th studio album, Schmilco, is available now. Schmilco features 12 new songs written by Jeff Tweedy and is the band’s third release on their own dBpm Records. It follows Star Wars, which was released for free and as a surprise in July 2015.
NELSE CLINE: For me, when you started working on it, it was immediately apparent that it was going to be primarily stark: the use of virtually no cymbals—not a lot of sustaining sounds—which opened up a lot of dynamic turf. What Jeff’s describing—the sound of something being hit—is very apprehendable, and at times startling.