To celebrate our return to publishing the print version of MAGNET three years ago, we will be posting classic cover stories from that time all week. Enjoy. And order a copy of the issue here.
Dad-rock isn’t a dirty word for Black Eyed Peas’ number-one fan, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. By Althea Legaspi
Tucked away on a side street by an industrial area in Chicago is the Hideout, where a capacity crowd turns up for Dan Sinker and some surprise guests. The man behind Punk Planet and the fake @MayorEmanuel Twitter account—which parodied real events surrounding Rahm Emanuel’s race for Chicago’s mayorship—is holding a release party for the book housing the tweets that became an Internet phenomenon. Sinker is among many excellent writers and poets reading their work. The real Mayor Emanuel shows up, does a quick handshake lap around the bar and disappears. But it’s another surprise guest who steals the show, thanks to a single tweet from eight months prior.
At the time, Wilco was performing a fundraising concert for the real Rahm Emanuel, during which the fake @MayorEmanuel tweeted, “Tweedy’s being pissy because he doesn’t want to play any Black Eyed Peas songs. What the fuck? People love that shit.” With some prodding from wife Sue Miller, the tweet inspired Jeff Tweedy’s surprise acoustic appearance at the Hideout. He takes the stage and irreverently performs “I Gotta Feeling,” “Rock That Body” and a spoken-word version of “My Humps” that is comedy gold. (Video from the show rightly makes the Internet rounds.)
Over the years, Wilco, primarily the vehicle for Tweedy’s songwriting, has been described as many things—from sincere, philanthropic and ever-evolving to seemingly less flattering descriptors like “hipster dad-rock” and “music for white people.” Goofy and comedic, however, are not the first words that spring to mind when describing Wilco and/or Tweedy.
“That’s something I think that’s frequently missed in people’s assessment of what the Wilco environment is like,” says Tweedy. “I think we have a lot of fun. Even the bad times that people talk about and are so well-documented, I guess, in the minds of our fans—I don’t have many memories of anything being really harrowing at all. I really think that one of the reasons we’ve been able to stick around so long and do what we do is there’s a real enjoyment—a true enjoyment—of it, and we’ve been fortunate to not have too many things interfere with that. Certainly in the last five years or so, things have been much easier. So, yeah, I don’t know; even recording really sort of melancholy-sounding songs, there’s been an overwhelming atmosphere of levity in the way we work together.”
The band has just issued its eighth studio LP, The Whole Love. It’s the first album Wilco has released on its own label, dBpm Records. After 17 years and several lineup incarnations, the current formation—Tweedy, John Stirratt, Glenn Kotche, Nels Cline, Patrick Sansone and Mikael Jorgensen—is unique for the Wilco camp.
“Well, it’s certainly longer than any one lineup, and I think it’s probably getting closer to longer than any of the other lineups combined,” says Tweedy. “Previous to (2009’s) Wilco (The Album), no other lineup had made two consecutive albums, and I guess, counting the live album (2005’s Kicking Television: Live In Chicago), we’ve made four now.”
Wilco’s storied past has been thoroughly documented in print and the 2002 film I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, where the relationship between Jay Bennett (who passed away in 2009) and Tweedy dissolved during the making of breakthrough album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. But there’s a certain chemistry now that hasn’t been present before. “I guess you just have to spend less time talking about things and be just more able to go directly to something and intuitively know what each others’ strengths are,” says Tweedy. “And as far as what has contributed to the longevity and the chemistry, I don’t know; that’s a pretty intangible thing, chemistry is, but I could say I think that it’s a band full of people who are primarily appreciative and grateful, doing something that they love to do and having it support them and keep them alive. And I guess being a little bit older and not taking anything for granted, that helps everybody keep things in perspective … The petty squabbles that might plague a younger band don’t tend to enter into our politics.”