Wilco: Bringing It All Back Home (Relix Revisited)
As an interviewer, when you talk to Tweedy, you almost feel guilty. It’s clear he doesn’t love doing interviews though he obliges in entertaining them. It’s akin to asking a dog to do a trick it loathes doing—it does it only because it’s part of the social contract, not because it really wants to. It would much rather be left alone to go about its business.
“I have a really tough time talking about this record more than any other record I’ve ever made because I feel like…” Tweedy says early on in the conversation, pausing as he often does in our interview to search for the right words. “I feel it’s more direct than any of the other records. I feel like I don’t have any more to say about it.” Not the most encouraging words an interviewer can hear, but—as I came to find—Tweedy always has more to say, despite such declarations. “It’s about acceptance. Basically trying to cope with the world as it is as opposed to the way you wish it to be. That’s the general, lyrical drive of every song.” He stops, his forever-patchy beard framing a face with soft but penetrating eyes. Tweedy knows a thing or two about coping.
Having kicked a booze habit more than 15 years ago, Tweedy succumbed to painkiller addiction up until a high-profile stint in rehab in 2004. Bound up in his addiction were depression, severe migraines and panic disorder, though few realized—including Tweedy—how bad the situation had gotten despite years of functioning with all four in play. Finally getting the right treatment through dual diagnosis after finishing work on a ghost is born, he was back onstage in short order to support the album. Then, last year, his mother passed away, throwing his emotional state and the outcome of Sky Blue Sky into flux.
“She wasn’t in really great health, but no, it wasn’t expected,” says Tweedy as he fidgets with microphone wire on the table. “She was on different medications for a couple of things. She had had a heart attack like three or four years ago, she had had some mini strokes, she wasn’t in the best of health but she was happy, living and nobody really expected it. She was playing cards with friends that she had been playing cards with once a month for forty-something years. That’s a blessing if you want to think of anything that could be a blessing in the way someone dies. I think most people would probably knock off ten years of their life if they could say, ‘Oh, I’m going to go with my friends playing cards.’ That’s a comfort to us.” Wilco had to perform four days later in West Lafayette, IN.
“Well, it was very tough. It was raw and very difficult for me to think about even afterwards, even a couple weeks later. I really wished I hadn’t gotten up onstage in that condition, in that emotional state. But I really do think, not so much my mom, but everybody in my family—my aunt was going to be at that show, my mom’s sister. There were a lot of people that really felt like that was a way to honor my mom. I think it’s really safe to say that she would have been very upset if a show had been canceled. She would have loved to have been there. It was pretty much everything anybody at the funeral said to me. It felt like I really didn’t have any other choice.”
With all these events in mind, I hear themes of isolation, loneliness or perhaps even alienation on Sky Blue Sky. “Maybe you feel alone at times,” suggests Tweedy. “Any intent there is just a product of that being a part of everybody’s life. If that’s there at all, it’s maybe just corollary to some idea of reaching out. You reach out when that happens, some people don’t choose to. Ultimately I think that you have to do that to get by.”
The album cover, a black and white photograph of a massive flock of birds with one distinctly outside the group, seems to perhaps reflect the album’s lyrical sentiment. “This is a peregrine falcon chasing a flock of starlings. Basically it’s going to eat one,” says Tweedy pointing to the image. There seems to be something of a transcendental, Guthrie-like vibe in the language and imagery he’s using in songs like the waltzing “Side With the Seeds,” the folky “What Light,” The Band-like “You Are My Face” or the solemn “Sky Blue Sky?”
“I’ve had a pretty consistent interest in spiritual concerns. I read a lot about religion; I’m fascinated by philosophy and basically really intrigued by anything that people developed belief systems around that help them feel like they’ve got it figured out. Because I would very much like to have it figured out but I don’t have it figured out.
“I think that one of things that I struggle with in this world is the thing I will struggle with till the day I die and that is ambiguity. Being comfortable with it doesn’t mean you don’t struggle with it. I think it’s something you just have to deal with and I think that’s maybe the basis for most of the things that we’re talking about on this record.”
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
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.
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