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As a Whole

Increased collaboration made Wilco’s latest release the sum of all the band’s parts

By Alan Sculley · July 3rd, 2013 · Music
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Tags: Wilco, Riverbend
Over the course of Wilco’s seven previous studio albums, singer/guitarist Jeff Tweedy has been viewed as the musical brains behind the critically acclaimed band. But one thing is immediately apparent while talking to Wilco guitarist Nels Cline: As much as Tweedy is the bandleader and songwriter, other voices are being heard on the group’s albums. And on the latest Wilco release, The Whole Love, that voice is multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, in particular. 

“Well, Pat has a lot of ideas, generally. I mean, he’s very vocal,” Cline says. “There was certainly not a spoken alliance that emerged with Jeff and Pat on this record; I think it was an organic one. But the next thing I knew, Jeff was kind of sitting back and letting Pat try anything and everything.”

In fact, Sansone’s contributions to The Whole Love were significant enough that he was given co-production credit along with Tweedy and Tom Schick — the first time a band member other than Tweedy has been recognized as such on a Wilco album. (But the band as a whole has gotten production credit on several other releases.)

The idea that a band member other than Tweedy took the reins, at least in some significant aspect, during the making of The Whole Love goes against perceptions of the group’s inner workings.

Tweedy formed Wilco in 1994 after the split of Uncle Tupelo, the influential Country-inflected Rock band that he co-fronted with Jay Farrar (now of Son Volt). From the start, Wilco was viewed as Tweedy’s group. A series of personnel changes that left Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt as the only remaining original band members further reinforced the notion that Tweedy was running the whole Wilco show. Today, Cline, Sansone, drummer Glenn Kotche and keyboardist Mike Jorgensen complete a lineup that has been in place since 2004.

But what’s apparent in talking with Cline is that, while Tweedy is the band’s songwriter and he makes the call in terms of what songs end up on the band’s albums, Wilco is far from a one-man show.

“Certainly everyone’s personalities emerge strongly on this record,” Cline says.

“I don’t think there is any lack of anyone shining on this record in some way.”

In addition to Sansone, Jorgensen also had a significant role in shaping the sonic personality of The Whole Love.

“Mike (Jorgensen) had some amazing textural, sonic keyboard things that he did on this record and would sit and concoct them prior to recording them,” Cline says. “He’d just get all these synths going and all these programs going and it really was fun to hear Mike concoct these events. Some of the stuff ended up on the record and some of it didn’t. But some amazing stuff went on.”

Cline says that collaborative atmosphere has actually existed in the studio on all three albums this lineup has recorded. It was particularly true of the 2007 album Sky Blue Sky, on which Tweedy involved his bandmates at an early stage in the writing. As Cline notes, the band members were involved compositionally in that set of songs and the band generally records live as a unit.

On the 2009 release, Wilco (The Album), Tweedy was further along with the writing of the songs when recording began, but the band members had considerable input on the parts they contributed to the final versions of the songs.

With The Whole Love, Cline says, many of Tweedy’s songs were again fully formed. But a real spirit of adventure came into play in the studio.

“There was a lot of freedom, for sure, and a lot of experimentation and a lot of ideas just put out there,” he says. “We were able to see what made the cut without getting too precious about it.”

As a result, some songs underwent considerable transformations, while, with a couple of other tunes, much of original demo recordings were used on the finished tracks.

“‘Black Moon’ and ‘Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend’ were very early versions that Jeff really liked and we just kind of refined them a little bit and Jeff re-sung them and that’s that,” Cline says.

On the other hand, the album’s opening track, “Art of Almost,” was reworked from a down-tempo tune into a Poppy track that liberally mixes electronics with traditional instrumentation before shifting into a sonically dense and fairly furious finish, spotlighting Cline’s creative guitar soloing. “Sunloathe” was another song in which the arrangement underwent considerable change.

“It became a completely different thing and went through many different phases as far as how to approach each verse, what the drums were going to do,” Cline says. “That was just a song that could have gone in so many different directions.”

The Whole Love is one of Wilco’s more eclectic efforts. In fact, for a time the band considered doing two separate albums before Tweedy settled on the ultimate wide-ranging group of 12 songs. Cline says he’s very pleased with the end result.

“This record has some pretty strong, bold Rock with big choruses,” he says. “It’s not super heavy, but I think it still packs a punch. … What I like about the sort of Pop Rock songs on this record is that as poppy as they might be, they still have some crunch and a couple of good blows to the breadbasket.

“I’m very proud of it. I’m proud of the direction it went. I think it has a really nice combination of (boldness), maybe even a bit of audacity, at least unpredictability, and a kind of classic quality here and there in terms of the songwriting. And I think that Jeff’s lyrics on this record are some of his strongest ever.”


WILCO performs Saturday at Riverbend as part of the AmericanaramA Festival of Music, featuring Bob Dylan, My Morning Jacket and Richard Thompson. More info: riverbend.org.


 
 
 
 

 

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