Wilco: Bringing It All Back Home (Relix Revisited)
Nels Cline is all angles. From his cropped, spiky hair to his height, Cline is a study in beautiful fragments. If on the surface he seemed an unlikely choice—an avant-garde guitarist who trafficked in noise and improvisation—a closer inspection reveals a prime candidate.
Cline met Tweedy in 1996 when a group he was playing with, the Geraldine Fibbers led by singer/songwriter Carla Bozulich, was opening for Golden Smog, a supergroup of sorts that saw Tweedy, The Jayhawks’ Gary Louris and members of Soul Asylum joining forces. The guitarist made enough of an impression after a sit-in that Tweedy, eight years later on a suggestion from Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, called Bozulich to ask if it was all right to offer Cline the gig.
“I was doing great work but it was becoming so untenable that I was about to go back to the work force in some capacity,” says Cline now, sitting in the band’s management’s office in New York. “I was really frustrated and that’s when Carla called me and I was driving at two in the morning from the Bay Area back to L.A. She told me that Jeff had called and I thought, ‘Maybe this one I’m going to have to try.’” (Cline was unable to accept an offer shortly before that to tour with Rickie Lee Jones due to prior commitments). “I figured if it was going to work out, I would be really entrenched.”
Despite having recorded on some 120 albums and worked with everyone from Thurston Moore to Mike Watt, it wasn’t until he aligned himself with Wilco that Cline started getting recognition on a broader, more public level, the most recent being a nod as a “guitar god” in Rolling Stone.
“I took private pleasure in thinking to myself that I’m probably the only person on that list that regularly plays for under a 100 people,” chuckles Cline, whose other gigs at the moment include leading The Nels Cline Singers, collaborating with key wiz Zeena Parkins and contributing to The Rova Saxophone Quartet. “It doesn’t have any sense of reality to me,” he says of the accolade, “but it’s fun to tell your mom.”
Cline’s age is also deceptive. It wasn’t apparent until he made an offhanded comment about the Grateful Dead: “I saw them back in the day, right after Pigpen died.” Cline is 51 and the elder of Wilco by about a decade (and the show in question was 11/17/73, Pauley Pavilion), though he certainly looks much younger.
“I still think Workingman’s Dead is great and what’s so funny is that my twin brother Alex was really, really into the Dead (Alex is a noted avant-garde drummer). We really got into Live Dead, “Dark Star” and all that stuff which we used to listen to a lot. But when they went Crosby, Stills & Nash style, he checked out and I was into it. ‘Black Peter’ is an incredible song.” While there are a few similarities between Wilco and the Dead, as haute improviser Cline doesn’t mind Wilco’s more structured, somewhat repetitive nature.
“I think that when I start playing, no matter what I’m doing, if I like it, it’s all kind of the same. In that sense it’s kind of like a sandbox to me; I really have a rather moronic pleasure that pretty much is initiated and experienced every time. Certainly there are songs that demand playing regularly that we like playing a lot but it’s not like starting with the same tune and playing the same sequence of tunes.
“So I don’t think it’s all that daunting to play songs. When you come out onstage with Wilco and people are freaking out, it’s a really different experience. That hasn’t really worn off. That scared the hell out of me the first time I walked out on to that stage with Wilco because the cheering was so loud. It threw me completely off balance.”
“He’s obviously a musician that’s very dear to my heart, like everybody in the band,” says Tweedy of Cline. “But because Nels and I play the same instrument there’s a real connection there. I really feel challenged and at the same time validated playing with Nels. I think he is very, very generous and he encourages me in a way that I feel very supported. I guess the simplest way to say it is that we really like playing with each other.”
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Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
Ron Sexsmith visits the Relix office to perform a tune from his latest record Forever Endeavor.
Crystal Bowersox stops by Relix to perform a song from her new album, All That For This.
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