Interview with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco

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Jeff Tweedy
Jeff Tweedy (Courtesy the artist)
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Interview with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco
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We've been spending a quite a bit of time lately talking about Jeff Tweedy: whether we're playing songs from his recent solo records Warm and Warmer; or talking about his book Let's Go So We Can Get Back; or the upcoming Wilco Sky Blue Sky festival; the new Wilco record, Ode to Joy, coming out Oct. 4; and of course, producing albums for other artists, like Mavis Staples.

Jade recently had the chance to talk with Jeff Tweedy about his many creative pursuits. You can listen to the interview above and read a transcript below.

Interview Transcript

JADE: You have a lot going on. Are you somebody who thrives on taking on more projects?

JEFF TWEEDY: I guess so. I enjoy going to work every day. I feel lucky to get to do the work that I do, so it doesn't feel like a lot to me when I'm in the middle of it. When you hear it all rattled off like that it sounds sort of ridiculous. But my dad went to work every day for 46 years on the railroad, so it doesn't seem that strenuous to me.

When you head into the office, if you will, do you have a set way of doing things? Is it kind of a planned workday?

I think it goes in phases; there are definitely periods' where I have an awareness of some deadlines and I have a real set list of tasks that need to be completed to finish a project or there's something that's more goal-oriented sometimes. But most of the time, it's just pretty free floating, and moments like that, I'm using the studio more as a writing tool and just kind of exploring and seeing if I can surprise myself with something.

There's a moment in your book where you say "to become a creator, you have to create." You have to be there and do the work to make it happen.

Yeah, I believe that that's the case. I just think you have a lot better odds if you work at it, that you're going to get something good eventually, as opposed to sitting around and waiting for a brilliant idea to hit you on the head.

Yeah! That rarely happens. To go back to the book, you say that getting all of you in a room and rediscovering a song together is the moment that reminds you of why you play music, that's why you are in a band together. Now that there is this new album, was there a moment when you guys were together where you remember, "Yep, this is why we're doing this."

Yeah, especially because the previous 24 months or so, we were on hiatus. And where we had left things almost two years ago was not in a contentious place — we didn't feel like we had to stop or anything — it was just more of a planned separation so [drummer] Glenn Kotche and his wife could move to Finland and pursue some of her career goals; she had gotten a Fulbright scholarship. So it was kind of a nice way to take a breather.

So [when we got back together], there was always a sense it was delayed gratification, and it just felt like it was worth the wait. There was something exciting about withholding that from ourselves for that length of time because we enjoy each other's company quite a bit; aside from just playing music together, we're pals. So that was a nice feeling.

Was it everybody coming to the Chicago loft and sharing ideas from the past two years? Different bits and pieces that you guys brought together?

When we all got together in January, it was more of an agenda, I think, to put together a record, and we set out some different goals for ourselves as far as a process: each record Wilco does is pretty different from the past records in terms of what the workflow is or what we've decided is an internal logic or a goal for ourselves. Nobody sat around not playing music for the previous two years, so everybody brought in a lot of new energy and excitement.

Do you want to share more about what the idea was for the record or the goal you guys had for it?

There were some anti-goals, actually, that I can share with you! A lot of times, a band that's been around as long as we have with a bunch of guys that have grown up with a similar vocabulary, it's based on our record collections; a lot of times it's easier to just go, "Make it sound like a bass part on a Byrds record" or something — we use that kind of shorthand a lot of times. On this record, it was verboten to talk like that. I think it was helpful to make that a rule, to avoid referencing other people's records. It forced everyone to use their imaginations a little bit more, and say things more like, "I don't think the drums sound despondent enough" or "That keyboard part just sounds a little bit too chipper."

I do want to ask you a little bit about this Sky Blue Sky Festival. Curation of a festival is nothing new to Wilco and to you, but I was curious about how this specific one came into action.

There have been a series of concerts similar to Sky Blue Sky over the years with different artists curating them. They're put on mostly by the same people, and they had pitched this idea a few years ago. I got to go to one to check it out and see if it was something that felt like something Wilco would be interested in doing. And of course, it's just such a lovely place to be and seems so well run. It's not quite the same thing as a Solid Sound Festival, where we're really responsible for putting together the whole thing; this is more of a collaboration where we basically put together the lineup, picked all the acts, but for the most part, it's a glorious party that we get to be a part of.

I was looking at the lineup — some of my favorite acts that I've seen this year: Sharon Van Etten, Kamasi Washington, and if people have not seen The Comet Is Coming yet, they're a wild band to check out.

Is there a song of yours that you have been playing live that feels new, feels different, that we could go out with?

"Born Alone" or "Random Name Generator." Those are songs that have made their way into the core repertoire. After a lot of years, it's a hard thing for a newer song to break into the core repertoire.

Audio production by Derrick Stevens, engineered by Corey Schreppel. Interview transcribed by Luke Taylor.

Sky Blue Sky Festival happens Jan. 18 to 22, 2020 at the Hard Rock Riviera Maya in Mexico; you can enter for your chance to win tickets to that festival.

The new Wilco album, Ode To Joy comes out Oct. 4.

External Link

Wilco - official site

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    Wilco (Shervin Lainez)
  • Wilco, 'Ode To Joy'
    Wilco, 'Ode To Joy,' releases Oct. 4, 2019. (dBpm Records)