Jeff Tweedy Talks Wilco's "Irreverent" Fall Album

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Jeff Tweedy in January 2011 / Photo by Zoran Orlic
WRITTEN BY
Kevin O'Donnell

Over the last year, Wilco have taken time out from touring and side-projects to work on their eighth record, the band's first since 2009's Wilco (the album). But now Jeff Tweedy and Co. are in the homestretch, putting in long hours at their Chicago loft studio for an album that's tentatively slated for release in September, on the group's newly formed label dBpm Records.

"We're still chipping away at it," Tweedy tells SPIN. "We're just doing some overdubs and some tracking, but we're pretty far along."

So far, Wilco have laid down some 20 tracks for the album, which has the working title of Get Well Soon Everybody. Tweedy says the material fits into two categories: experimental-leaning rock and "cinematic-sounding country music...you know, folk music."

The band- Tweedy, bassist John Stirrat, guitarist Nels Cline, drummer Glenn Kotche, multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, and keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen - hasn't decided which tracks will make the final product, but Tweedy says it could end up being a two-disc set. "I don't know what type of record is going to win out or if it just ends up as a double record," he says. "I put off that decision until I know which songs are still kicking my ass."

The finished album may be one of the group's most adventurous yet. "I do think it's a little bit more obnoxious and irreverent of a pop record than people have heard from us, maybe, ever," he says. "And that's exciting. But I have no doubt that the second this record becomes available there's somebody sitting in a basement at their computer with the word 'meh' already typed up, waiting to post a review."

Tweedy is being modest. One new song, "Art of Almost," has an experimental feel, like 2009's "Bull Black Nova" and 2004's "Spiders (Kidsmoke)." It's a seven-minute, two-parter that starts as a free-form jam, punctuated with burbling synths, mellotrons, and tribal drums. It swells into a punk-ish coda, with virtuosic, fuzzed-out guitar shredding courtesy of Cline, the band's secret weapon. Tweedy says the inspiration for the track came from Neil Young. "It's a sort of atmospheric song you might hear on Tonight's the Night," he says. "I don't know what happened to that song, to be honest. It just sort of morphed over time into something that's a lot more interesting to us now."

But that isn't the most out-there track on the album: Wilco have also cut a 14-minute jam tentatively titled "Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend." Loosely inspired by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author's books, Tweedy says it's an autobiographical tune with ten verses: "It has a pretty long narrative."

The final version of Get Well Soon Everybody could also have plenty of potentially pop-friendly songs. Or, as Tweedy describes it, "Other people's pop music that doesn't sound like pop music." "Whole Love" is an easy-going country-rocker that finds Tweedy testing out his falsetto skills. "I gave it the old college try," he jokes. "Born Alone," meanwhile, starts as an up-tempo, synthed-out slab of power pop, with sharp chord changes that are similar to the group's 1999 song "Summer Teeth." Halfway through, however, it explodes into a thick, distorted wall of noise, with Tweedy and Cline's guitar chords descending to the subways.

Tweedy, who went to rehab for painkiller addiction around the time of Wilco's 2003 album A Ghost Is Born, is clean and sober nowadays and he isn't afraid to revisit that dark part of his life lyrically. In fact, he's willing to make light of it.

"There's a lyric on one song that goes 'I spit and swallowed opioids,'" he says with a laugh. "That was more about the way it rhymes. It just sounded good." But has sobriety changed his approach to songwriting? "The only thing I've noticed is that I can stay awake longer," he admits. "I have more energy. I don't know, people make a big deal out of all those things - how drugs reflect the creative process. I really think I'm in the minority."

Wilco's eighth album won't be ready until September at the earliest, but the group will release a 7-inch single titled "I Might," backed, fittingly, by a cover of Nick Lowe's "I Love My Label" - the first release for their new imprint. It will be available at the band's Solid Sound Festival, taking place June 24-26 in North Adams, MA, with a wider release planned for July. Judging by Tweedy's description, "I Might" seems to fall underneath the band's overarching sonic mission with the album. "It's obnoxious," Tweedy jokes. Lady Gaga's "Judas" obnoxious? "Well, it doesn't sound like Lady Gaga but it's our way of being obnoxious."

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