The Avid Listener: Interviews

1 posts categorized "Interviews"

October 15, 2014

Jeff Tweedy: Crawling Across Cut Glass

Joe Fassler (Brooklyn, NY)

Sukierae—a collection of 20 songs written by Wilco’s frontman and primary songwriter, Jeff Tweedy—is not a proper solo record. It’s a collaboration with his 18-year-old son, Spencer, who plays drums on the album; many of the songs grew out of their exploratory jam sessions. Still, it’s the closest we’ve come to seeing what Jeff Tweedy songs sound like in their natural habitat. In a career that spans nearly three decades, Tweedy has never released music under his own name before now.

The album’s opener, “Please Don’t Let Me Be So Understood,” is something of a head fake. Sonically, the leadoff track promises a return to nineties guitar rock, with snarled vocals and distorted power chords. While the album still feels heavy—thanks to Spencer Tweedy’s steady, forceful drumming, which, on tracks like “World Away,” references John Bonham’s playing—light instrumentation dominates, mostly strummed acoustic guitar and single-finger piano descants. The song’s title and belligerent words—elliptical, opaque lyrics that terminate mid-line and resist easy parsing—suggest a songwriter who’s done putting himself out there, tired of being scrutinized. And yet that’s not the Tweedy we hear on most of Sukierae, which is a revealing and confessional domestic portrait.

Paul McCartney’s early solo records are clear antecedents here: like McCartney and Ram, Sukierae has the spontaneity and intimacy captured best when it feels like no one else is looking. Those varied, freewheeling albums were stitched together with family photos and recorded at home, presumably on toy-strewn floors; we get family photos on this record’s sleeve, too, and the album’s 20 tracks are similarly eclectic. Even though Sukierae was mostly recorded at The Loft, Wilco’s penthouse recording studio in Chicago, it feels like a family affair—and not just because of the father-and-son team up. Songs like “New Moon” seem to explore marriage in its mature phase, and “Piano Idea” and “Nobody Dies Anymore” wrestle with the anxiety of losing loved ones. Through it all, it’s hard not to feel the presence of a third Tweedy close by—Susan Tweedy, Jeff’s wife. Sukierae, as Pitchfork reports, is her family nickname.

I asked Jeff Tweedy about the process of making the record, and how he felt going it alone for the first time. We discussed Sukierae’s writing and recording, his aversion to grid-based music, and why he feels aspiring artists should learn to get by on very little.

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