Wilco: The Interview

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

What led you to record the record in New Zealand?

We went there and we were doing a benefit record with Neil Finn and the guys from Radiohead and Johnny Marr and we were having a great time and sounded really great in the studio, and Jim Scott was there with us, who had worked on our records before, and we did a little bit of recording, a little bit of demoing of different things. And we could get a lot of work done really quickly, because we were all set up and ready to go. When that project ended, we asked Neil Finn if he had anybody else coming into the studio for awhile, and if he had any open time, which he did, so we just stayed an extra nine days and knocked out the basics for almost the whole records.

Was it nice to record there?

Yeah, it’s a lovely place to stay, and I think the longest I ever stayed anywhere outside of the United States. So yeah, it got to be a home away from home, and for a large portion of that, my family lived with me, and Glenn and John’s families were there the whole time, and so it was a pretty lovely experience for everyone, really. Summer time there, it’s not summer time in Chicago, I can tell you that much.

How was it working with Feist on “You and I”?

It was great. She’s an amazing singer and a great friend. We got to be friends over the last year pretty quickly, and I have a lot of admiration for her and her records. So we were really glad that it worked out.

Did you spend a lot of time working on the lyrics to the songs, or was it more spur of the moment?

I spent a fair amount of time editing the lyrics and allowing the songs to kind of evolve. It’s a hard question to answer because anytime there’s anything worthwhile, it certainly “feels” like it happened on the spur of the moment, but it’s a composite of lots of spurs of the moment, hopefully. And over time, you catch up with those, and then you have full set of lyrics you’ve thought of and you feel comfortable singing.

I read that some of these songs were written in character.

I’ve always been sort of ambivalent about that approach to writing because I think it’s really hard to do, and I don’t think you every fully mask the person who’s writing; it usually comes through loud and clear, no matter how deeply into the third person you wanna get. But it’s something I’ve tried many times over the past few records, writing from different angles and perspectives, and sometimes it helps as a device to try to get a set of lyrics finished. But as it turned out, I thought this record ended up with more lyrics that used that approach than past records, in a character driven way.

What’s going on in “Bull Black Nova”? There’s a lot of blood in that song.

I don’t know what’s going on in that song. Well, nothing good is going on, I can tell you that. Except for the notion that however desperate to flee something that you wish you hadn’t done, you’re not going to be able to outrun it—so I guess that’s the moral of the story in that song. But I don’t know if I want to elaborate that much, at this point. It’s pretty there. [Laughs]

What’s the story behind “Wilco (The Song)”?

Initially, I thought it would be funny to write a song that sounded like an infomercial of some sort. I had other lyrics in the place of where I sing “Wilco” at one point, and I tried a lot of different things, but everything sounded too serious, including “let go,” “oh no,” and different things like that. I just kept coming back to “Wilco,” and that was certainly the most fun thing to sing when I was playing it for the other guys in the band. Eventually, it sounded silly to sing anything else, and it made the song a little funnier in our opinion.


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