"It's alright," Jeff Tweedy sings on "I Might," the boisterous lead single from Wilco's latest record, The Whole Love. "I've done a lot of crawling around outside, and I heard it's alright."
That line--such a typically oblique Tweedy line--seems to sum up the place that he and his band find themselves in these days. After some tumultuous years, the Chicago alt-rockers seem to have struck a happy balance, finding some long-sought-after continuity, and maybe even some tranquility, with a lineup that's been together for seven years. On The Whole Love, their best album since A Ghost is Born, and the first on their new dBpm label, Wilco get back to doing what they do best: Making things more complicated.
Tweedy and Co. return to Minneapolis next week for back-to-back nights at the State Theatre, so City Pages caught up with their bassist, John Stirratt, over the phone. Stirratt is the only member to have stuck it out from the beginning, his connections with Tweedy reaching all the way back to their Uncle Tupelo days.
This is the band's first time back in the Twin Cities since you took a break from touring last year. Are you feeling recharged from that time off?
Absolutely. It was instrumental in us making a better record, I think, than the one previously. The touring schedule had just been so insane from, I'd say, 2005 on. We'd probably emphasized the touring a little too much. The deadlines of the records were always really just hanging over our heads, and there was always another road trip to go on, and that takes preparation. Just the mindset of having nothing to do but make a record, it was a great, really sort of welcome thing for Jeff, I think, in terms of preparing material, and for everyone else in terms of hunkering down and just really getting into the studio mode fully.
The new album, especially compared to the last two, sounds a little more like a "classic" Wilco album, a little more experimental.
Yeah, I agree. The process is more of this, like, whatever you want to call it, deconstruction, at least sort of a non-traditional way of approaching a song. Like, you know, the first song on the record, "Art of Almost," that's time consuming [to make]. It's definitely a lot more time-consuming to approach a record like Ghost is Born or Yankee Hotel, and those records we did spend a lot more time in the studio than Wilco (The Album), for example.
This is also the longest continuous lineup the band has had, so that must have had an influence on the album, as well?
It did. Every record, I think, had its own story--you know, Sky Blue Sky was this coming together of the lineup and really approaching the material with an unadorned, natural sort of feel. And really, I think this is the culmination of what we can do, in terms of bridging the experimental side of the band with the more traditional sides of the band, much more successfully than the last record, I think. It really shows the individual personalities of the band members in a great way.
Do you think that's a matter of the particular personalities you have in the band right now, or maybe just the point you're at in your careers?
It's a combination, maybe. It's the people we have involved and knowing there's a lot of talent, along with the fact of having done it for so long--being better at it on the one hand, and also being able to appreciate of what you have, on the other hand.
You've known Jeff as long as anyone. What's it like working with him, and how's he doing nowadays compared to other points in his career?
I think that sort of consistency has been a reflection of his really improved mental state the last several years, especially after the period where he dealt with his addiction problem. The band wasn't going to be functional if he wasn't functional. I've never really seen in him in better form. He has a confidence that he didn't have in the '90s; I think he's very in touch with what he's doing and what the band's doing.
Just last year, you guys became honorary citizens of Duluth. Have you been doing any house shopping up there yet?
[laughs] I don't know if I want to move any further north--not that I want to sound wimpy to a Minnesotan. But that's a beautiful town, man, it really is. I would totally hang out there during a summer.
Well, you have a pretty big following here in the Cities, too. Is that something you've picked up on over the years?
Oh, absolutely. Actually, in the '80s--when I was playing music and I met Uncle Tupelo, when I met Jeff and those guys--Minneapolis was the place where everything was, it was like the Valhalla or something, you know? I remember going to the Uptown Lounge and seeing Bob Stinson there, just hanging out. It was like, "This is the equivalent of seeing the Stones in London," it was just that big
I can imagine you guys being big Replacements fans, actually.
Yeah, I opened for them in '87, with this sort of college band I was in, the Hilltops. It was in Mobile, Alabama--a secondary market for those guys, I would imagine. They showed up at the bar at like one in the afternoon in these thrift-store, over-sized zoot suits; they reminded me a lot of what the Faces might have been like to hang out with. They were playing pool, and they had massive, massive, like half-gallon bottles of booze, like two or three up on the table next to them. The locals had all shown up already and started playing with them; it was very rock and roll. And they came out, opened with "Bastards of Young," and it was the most brilliant show--typical Replacements--for 15 minutes, and then it just degenerated into people lying about the stage. It was incredible.
WILCO performs with Nick Lowe on TUESDAY, DECEMBER 6, and WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 7, at the STATE THEATRE. All ages. $44. 7:30 p.m.