Jeff Tweedy has always been the musical brains behind Wilco. But now, seven albums deep, that might not be totally true anymore. In fact, one thing that is immediately apparent in talking to Wilco guitarist Nels Cline is that, as much as Tweedy is bandleader and songwriter, other voices can be heard on the group’s albums. On the new Wilco album, The Whole Love, multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, in particular, had a big hand in the process.
“Well, Pat has a lot of ideas generally. I mean, he’s very vocal,” Cline said in a recent phone interview. “I think he was just so full of ideas, and I don’t know, there was certainly not a spoken alliance that emerged with Jeff and Pat on this record. I think it was an organic one. But the next thing I knew, Jeff was kind of sitting back and letting Pat try anything and everything.”
In fact, Sansone’s contributions to The Whole Love were significant enough that he was given co-production credit, along with Tweedy and Tom Schick — the first time a band member other than Tweedy has been recognized as such on a Wilco record. (The band as a whole has gotten production credit on several other CDs.)
The idea that a band member other than Tweedy took the reins, at least in some significant respect, goes against perceptions of the group’s inner workings.
Tweedy formed Wilco in 1994 after the split of Uncle Tupelo, the influential country-inflected rock band that he co-fronted with Jay Farrar (now of Son Volt).
From the start, Wilco was Tweedy’s group. And a series of personnel changes that left Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt as the only remaining original band members only further reinforced that notion.
But the new lineup — Cline, Sansone, drummer Glenn Kotche and keyboardist Mike Jorgensen — has now been in place since 2004.
Today, Wilco is far from a one-man show. “I don’t think there is any lack of anyone shining on this record in some way — and not in the most obvious ways. I don’t mean shine time like heroically, but I mean, musically,” Cline says.
He adds that this collaborative atmosphere has been around for three albums now.
With The Whole Love, Cline says, many of Tweedy’s songs were fully formed. But a real spirit of adventure came into play in the studio.
“There was a lot of freedom, for sure, and a lot of experimentation and a lot of ideas just put out there,” he said. “We were able to see what made the cut without getting too precious about it.”
As a result, some songs underwent considerable transformations.
The album’s opening track, “Art Of Almost” was reworked from a down-tempo tune into a poppy track that liberally mixes electronics with traditional instrumentation before shifting into a sonically dense and fairly furious finish that spotlights Cline’s creative guitar soloing.
It makes this album one of Wilco’s more eclectic efforts. In fact, for a time, the band considered splitting it into two separate albums, before Tweedy settled on the current wide-ranging group of 12 songs.
“This record has some pretty strong bold rock with big choruses,” he said. “It’s not super-heavy, but I think it still packs a punch. I think that’s what I like about the sort of pop-rock songs on this record is that, as poppy as they might be, they still have some crunch and a couple of good blows to the breadbasket.”
The group has been gradually incorporating songs from The Whole Love into its live set. Cline says it’s taken some work to develop live versions of a few of them.
“Having had a lot of
freedom to be creative with overdubs in the studio … how do I reproduce
some of the sounds that I did, or how do we play the arrangements live?”
Cline says. “That can be a bit of a daunting proposal.”
Wilco • Mon, Feb. 6, at 8 pm • INB Performing Arts Center • $33-$41 • All-ages • ticketswest.com • (800) 325-SEAT