The term "Wilco" is old two-way radio slang used to indicate compliance, i.e. "will comply." It took Jeff Tweedy multiple lineups, migraine headaches, panic attacks, addiction, rehab and over 12 years to get here, but with a new found sense of peace and ease with the world, his band Wilco is finally living up to their name. In fact, Tweedy recently told JamBase, "For us there's never been a better time."
Jeff Tweedy by Charles Harris
Approaching 40 this August, Tweedy's overwhelmingly positive experience with Wilco boils down to the band's current, and perhaps permanent, lineup, which was put together in 2004. In addition to Tweedy on guitar and vocals, the band features longtime bassist (back to the Uncle Tupelo days) John Stirratt, percussionist Glenn Kotche, keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen and newcomers Pat Sansome on guitar and keys, and incomparable guitarist Nels Cline. While every musician who has participated in Wilco has been remarkably talented, there's more to a band than just chops. For a touring juggernaut like Wilco, success depends as much on chemistry and communication as it does musical prowess and songwriting.
Ever since co-founding Uncle Tupelo (as a bass player) in 1990 with high school buddy Jay Farrar, Tweedy has been chasing that familiar dream of making rock music with friends. And for a few years that's what Uncle Tupelo did. However, while the band was breaking incredible ground musically, the friendship with Farrar was deteriorating. By 1994, the year Farrar split to form Son Volt and Tweedy for Wilco, Uncle Tupelo had released four albums, including their landmark debut No Depression, which partially spawned the magazine by the same name and helped lay a major cornerstone in the burgeoning Alt-Country scene. Ever since the traumatic, widely talked about breakup with Farrar, Tweedy has been searching for that same easy feeling. Of course, it's not quite that simple. These friends, amongst other intangibles, have to inspire and be a part of the creative process. While it's clear that Jeff Tweedy is the leader of Wilco, the group operates like a real band. Sure the songs are Tweedy's and Wilco is a way to transport those songs to listeners, but sharing the experience of creating music with like-minded folks is paramount to the equation.
Wilco by Frank W. Ockenfels
Two months ago Wilco released their sixth studio effort, Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch Records), the first to be recorded with the current lineup. For fans that climbed aboard the Wilco train following the more sonically challenging Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) and Grammy Award Winning A Ghost Is Born (2004), Sky Blue Sky may seem to be change in direction, or perhaps even a letdown. But, for those who've followed Wilco since the mid-'90s and Uncle Tupelo before that, Sky Blue Sky is actually a return to style reminiscent of Wilco's 1996 release Being There. For Sky Blue Sky, Wilco ditched the Pro Tools, knob-tweaking and overdubs to strip it down to the good ol' days where they all sat in one room and made music like friends have for centuries. There's an ease to this album we haven't seen from Tweedy in a long time. Sometimes stressful situations, such as the drama surrounding the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, can lead to genius, but those fires tend to burn out quickly.
With all this in mind we sat down with Jeff Tweedy to discuss how he was able to find peace and bring Wilco to Sky Blue Sky.
Continue reading for JamBase's candid conversation with Jeff Tweedy...