The Main Attractions: Jeff Tweedy
Festivalpalooza special! Wilco's frontman returns to the stage cleaner, soberer, and ready to rock you in a relatively gentle fashion. With video!
For our May cover feature, six stars of this year’s festivals give the skinny on ginormous outdoor shows to (sun-)baked crowds. SPIN.com was on hand for the historic cover shoot in Hollywood, and we filmed our own quick interviews with the cover subjects. Watch our on-site video interview with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, and keep checking this space for interviews and behind-the-scenes footage of Jeff, Satellite Party’s Perry Farrell, AFI’s Davey Havok, Rage Against the Machine/Nightwatchman guitarist Tom Morello, Wu-Tang’s RZA, and Spoon’s Britt Daniel.
Wilco’s playing Bonnaroo for the second time. What are you most looking forward to?
I think I’m going to keep myself a little more hydrated than last time . I had only been out of rehab for a couple months, so I was still just kind of hanging on. I used to really struggle with these big outdoor shows — there was a lot of material we were trying to play that required subtlety and texture, and that’s much harder to get across in a big environment. But after playing with this lineup of the band for a few years, I actually look forward to them now.
How much does a 12-ounce bottle of water cost?
I have no idea. I’d imagine about 100 percent more than it’s worth.
Is there a particular festival that you wish you’d attended?
I don’t think I would have wanted to be at Woodstock without a helicopter, but that would have been pretty amazing. To be honest with you — and this isn’t going to be a very popular comment for a magazine doing a huge feature on festivals — I generally wouldn’t go to one of these unless someone was paying me. I don’t mean that to sound crass. I’m just spoiled because, for the last 20 years of my life, I’ve been able to watch bands from the side of the stage. If I was younger, I could see how [festivals] would be really enjoyable. Or if I was younger and had friends other than the guys in my band.
Was there anyone at the photo shoot you’d want to work with?
I genuinely liked everybody. The obvious answer would be Britt Daniel, because we’re probably the closest musically. But Tom Morello…doing music with someone who had a song on Tony Hawk’s video game would make me a god to my seven-year-old son.
Will the Blisters, featuring your sons, Sam and Spencer, be opening any Wilco shows this summer?
That would be child abuse — their egos are already out of control. You know how the Beatles came to America and all of a sudden there were 70,000 bands in garages across the country? I swear, that School of Rock movie, it’s like a fucking kid-band explosion now.
Compared with the last couple of Wilco albums, your new one, Sky Blue Sky, seems much more straightforward and laid-back. How do you think those songs will go over with festival crowds?
I didn’t really intend for it to be a mellow or quiet record — I know that sounds crazy. The ideas I had were much more about keeping things simple and direct, and feeling like the world was complex enough right now. The records I’ve been gravitating toward have just been more soothing. Byrds records. Fairport Convention records. It seems like the music is more immediate than our past stuff, and maybe it’s the type of material that doesn’t necessarily need to be heard first [on record] to be enjoyed live.
You’ll be playing Bonnaroo with the Police — are all these band reunions tempting you to re-form Uncle Tupelo?
All I can say is, right now it feels like that would be kind of silly and wouldn’t be very productive musically. And as a music fan, I don’t know how many times it’s happened where I said, “Wow, there’s a lot of great artistic ground that just wasn’t mined yet.” But at the same time, I would never rule it out. And contrary to most people my age, I don’t think I ever liked the Police.
You guys streamed your last few albums on your website months before they were officially released. Do you think that records themselves are pretty much obsolete at this point?
To be completely honest, it’d be nice if when a record came out, nobody had heard it but the people you’d sent it to. It should be like waiting for Christmas morning. But I don’t think bands should go out of their way to stop people from hearing their music. Philosophically, for me, that just seems really backward. I understand that it’s commerce and I’m no altruistic innocent, but it’s music. It’s bigger than you. It’s better than you. Fuck, man.
What is the one drug you don’t want to be on at an all-day festival?
I don’t know — maybe angel dust? It’s what they embalm cadavers with. Don’t do angel dust. That should be easy to remember.
You took a swing at someone who jumped onstage at a Wilco show last year. What will you do if people start getting uppity or throwing things at Bonnaroo?
I’m not challenging 88,000 or however many people are gonna be there. I don’t want a face full of nine volts.
Describe your live show in four words.
Hopefully. Not. Too. Long.