Wilco: Bringing It All Back Home (Relix Revisited)
It seems like a statement of the obvious: A band plays together when recording an album. Yet the fact of the matter is, very few albums that are made today represent bands literally playing together at the same time the recording is being done—it’s just not how the typical studio process works. The band will track drums, then bass, maybe some guitar and rough vocals next and slowly build the songs from the ground up. Sky Blue Sky is the sound of a band and all its parts being recorded simultaneously; it’s the sound of a band playing live.
“It was almost totally unique because, except where certain songs Glenn needed to, we didn’t use headphones,” reflects Cline. “We didn’t have barriers around the amps or the drums and we recorded it in The Loft rather than a recording studio proper.” None of this may sound like a big deal but, well, it is. It’s completely unorthodox.
Even a casual music fan can tell there’s something different about Sky Blue Sky’s sound: the palpable closeness of the musicians to each other, the natural ease and cohesiveness of the playing, the quiet purr of the two-inch analog tape. Looking around The Loft, I hear its homeliness on the record—the kitchen with photos and letters on the fridge, the books on the coffee table, the kids’ drawings in the bathroom, the hodgepodge of blazers hanging by the door. The album vacillates from rock to folk to jam to those places in between where Wilco feels most at home.
“I think maybe seven of Jeff’s vocals were live, like him singing four feet in front of me,” says drummer Kotche of the live tracking. “There’s a little bit more pressure that way because you know you have to get it right. People won’t know it but somehow it comes across through the music in the sound of the band playing together and everyone bleeding into each other’s mics.”
Stirratt, whose scruffy hair and tone make one think he could be related to Luke and Owen Wilson, concurs to a similar degree: “It was really as open and communicative as it’s ever been, for sure. We’ve never sat down with however many people in the band. We’ve dabbled in that but never for every song on the record, hammering out arrangements just in a circle and speaking in a highly civilized musical way. It had never been that way before.”
While these sessions proved to be the most egalitarian to date, for Kotche the purpose is still clear: “Wilco ultimately boils down to being a vehicle for Jeff’s lyrics.”
Jeff Tweedy’s career began in earnest with the release of Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression in 1990, a genre-defining release with a band that would burn brightly before burning out three years and three albums later. The acrimonious breakup of the band that saw Jay Farrar configure Son Volt and Tweedy form Wilco is still of interest to core fans, though little has been said by either of those days until relatively recently.
In the September/October 2005 issue of this magazine, Farrar, after years of avoiding the topic, finally opened up to writer Anthony DeCurtis about some of his memories of the friction he had with Tweedy. Those recollections included a lurid story of Tweedy hitting on his girlfriend, Tweedy’s drinking, verbal berating and sleights Farrar took personally. Of the girlfriend incident, he said, “Ever since that episode, every other issue between us was exacerbated by that… I felt that I couldn’t trust him.”
Tweedy has not responded to the specific claims made in our story, nor will he. “Ultimately, I think a lot of things discussed in that article would be things I would not feel comfortable addressing in the press,” he says matter-of-factly. “I think it exploited Jay a little bit, to be honest with you.” He picks at something stuck to the table’s surface with his fingernails and resumes talking.
“My question would have been, ‘Why would I hear about this now?’ I never heard about it, not only when the band ended but I didn’t hear about it in the five years between when that happened and when the band ended. These weren’t issues that were brought up. That’s why to me it’s not just a matter of setting the record straight, it’s something that’s been held onto for a long, long time and not only held onto a long, long time but was never discussed openly.” Tweedy pauses, seems to catch his tongue as if to remember he didn’t want to discuss this in the first place, and delivers his final thoughts on the matter.
“I’m certainly not perfect, certainly made a lot of fucking mistakes and did a lot of stupid shit when I was drunk and whatever but, like, who hasn’t? You’re not blowing the lid off of anything, in that respect,” he says with a dismissive laugh. “But the fact that this is still an issue, that’s shocking.”
The Howlin’ Brothers take to the Relix rooftop and share a song they wrote with Warren Haynes.
Beth Hart shares the opening track from her latest album, Bang Bang Boom Boom, live at Relix.
Jamie Lidell sets up in the Relix boiler room and delivers a tune from his 2005 album Multiply
Duane Trucks is happy to announce his new project, King Lincoln. Watch them perform “Coffee” live and acoustic at Relix’s Online-Video Coordinator’s loft in Williamsburg.
Here’s another song from Crystal Bowersox’s new record All That For This, live at Relix.
WYATT share a song in the famed Relix boiler room.
Goodnight, Texas share a song from their latest studio album, A Long Life of Living, live at Relix.
Warren Haynes performs a solo, acoustic version of “Railroad Boy” and explains how he adapted the traditional Celtic song for Gov’t Mule, backstage at the Hangout Music Festival.
Australia’s Alpine recently made their NYC debut at the Relix office with this song from their new album A is for Alpine.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
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