With a new album, Wilco shares the ‘Love’
Fans devoted to band with eclectic approach to sound
When Wilco released its debut album in 1995, the outfit was a well-liked, fairly straightforward alt-country/roots pop band, in the vein of Uncle Tupelo, the group from whose wreckage Wilco emerged.
Over the course of time and personnel shuffles - the current lineup includes frontman Jeff Tweedy, guitarist Nels Cline, multi-instrumentalist Patrick Sansone, keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen, bassist John Stirratt, and drummer Glenn Kotche - the Chicago-based band has evolved into a much more eclectic collective. Today, Wilco is as capable of country comfort as captivating cacophony. Many of the band’s original fans hung on for the unpredictable ride, new ones came aboard, and critics applauded the expansion of horizons.
“I just think that Wilco doesn’t seem to have a desire to be that disciplined about what we choose to present,’’ Tweedy says on the phone from rural Michigan, where he’s vacationing with his family prior to a tour that stops for a sold-out date at the Citi Wang Theatre on Tuesday. “Either that or we have an inability to focus,’’ he adds with a laugh.
“But mostly I think we just enjoy a lot of different approaches to music making. If we really try to narrow it down and focus on one type, the target keeps moving,’’ Tweedy says. “Somehow a song that we think is starting out as an [aggressive] rock song turns into an orchestrated pop song. It’s like the longer we look at something, the more it shape-shifts.’’
There is plenty of shape-shifting on the group’s forthcoming album, “The Whole Love,’’ due out Sept. 27.
The opening “Art of Almost’’ oscillates between peaks of nervy guitar and valleys of fuzzy keys. The hushed acoustic warmth of “Black Moon,’’ replete with woozy strings and lap steel, conjures visions of insomnia. “Capitol City’’ is a jazzy little ditty that sounds like it comes from a whole other record.
Which, in a way, it turns out it does, as the remnant of an earlier songwriting session. “There was something kind of fun about just throwing curveballs into the mix here and there,’’ Tweedy says. “We had that one in our back pocket. It ended up fitting on the record somehow in our twisted logic.’’
But no matter how twisted the approach, to the band’s credit “The Whole Love’’ never feels like it’s lurching from sound to sound, but more like the group pouring its gifts into each style. It is all topped by Tweedy’s often abstract lyrics.
“In general and especially on this record, I’m much more concerned with not [messing] things up than most people would assume,’’ he says. “I think when [listeners] think about lyric writing, they assume you sit down to teach the world something or have a message or a drive to say something. I want there to be images. I want to see things and I want to feel things. I don’t necessarily want to tell people anything. I want them to feel something. I really believe the music does all of the heavy lifting and if the lyrics can’t help, they should at least stay out of the way.’’
The album caps a good cycle for Tweedy and his bandmates. After years of indie and major record label jockeying, they’re releasing “The Whole Love’’ on their own imprint, dBpm Records. The second Solid Sound festival - a two-day, multi-artist affair they curated and held at MASS MoCA in June - was a rain-soaked success that they hope to continue - if not annually, occasionally.
It’s also been a fruitful time for Tweedy personally. He enjoyed watching Mavis Staples ecstatically claim her first Grammy Award earlier this year for the 2010 album he produced, “You Are Not Alone.’’
“I really felt a deep close connection with her. I think we’re going to try to work on another one at some point,’’ he says of the soul legend.
And he’s currently messing around in a side project called the Raccoonists with his young sons Spencer and Sam, even releasing a split single with Deerhoof. “I love that they think it’s fun,’’ he says. “That’s really the whole point. I think Wilco’s fun.’’
Even more fun when Tweedy gets to invite heroes like Nick Lowe to open for them, including at the Citi Wang show.
“We’re really, really looking forward to getting to hang out with him and hopefully get to play some music together,’’ he says of the Brit rocker who just released a new album of his own called “The Old Magic.’’ “I’m just sort of shocked that it’s happening, because he’s been one of my favorite songwriters for a long time.’’
Sixteen years on, Tweedy is grateful to supporters who have seen Wilco through its various permutations.
“It’s very flattering, and Wilco is very appreciative of the good will that exists between ourselves and this community,’’ says Tweedy. “I wouldn’t really call it an audience. I think it’s a community. It seems there’s a certain portion of the fanbase that Wilco has that I think Wilco is almost like a peripheral element of it. It’s not necessarily the center of it. It’s kind of cool to be able to participate in that.’’
Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.