DCP’s exclusive interview with Wilco guitarist Nels Cline about their new album, The Whole Love
By Alan Sculley
Over the course of Wilco’s seven previous studio albums, singer/guitarist Jeff Tweedy has been viewed as the musical brains behind the critically acclaimed band.
But one thing that is immediately apparent in talking to Wilco guitarist Nels Cline is that as much as Tweedy is the band leader and songwriter, other voices are being heard on the group’s album. On the new Wilco album, The Whole Love (in stores September 27), multi-instrumentalist and producer Pat Sansone, in particular, also had a big hand in helping make The Whole Love what it is.
“Well, Pat has a lot of ideas, generally. I mean, he’s very vocal,” said Cline in an early September 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 album. (The band as a whole has gotten production credit on several other albums.)
The idea that a band member other than Tweedy took the reins, at least in some significant respect, during the making of The Whole Love goes against perceptions of the group’s inner workings.
Tweedy, of course, formed Wilco in 1994 after the split of Uncle Tupelo, the influential country-inflected rock band Tweedy co-fronted with Jay Farrar (now of Son Volt).
From the start, Wilco was viewed as Tweedy’s group. And a series of personnel changes prior to 2004 that left Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt as the only remaining band members further reinforced the notion that Tweedy was running the whole Wilco show. Cline, Sansone, drummer Glenn Kotche and keyboardist Mike Jorgensen complete a lineup that has been in place ever since 2004.
But what’s apparent in talking with Cline is that while Tweedy is the band’s songwriter and he makes the call in terms of what songs end up on the band’s albums, Wilco is far from a one-man show.
“Certainly everyone’s personalities emerge strongly on this record,” Cline said of The Whole Love. “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 said a collaborative atmosphere in the studio has existed on all three albums this lineup has recorded — 2007’s Sky Blue Sky, 2009’s Wilco (The Album) and now The Whole Love.
“There was a lot of freedom for sure and a lot of experimentation and a lot of ideas just put out there,” Cline said of The Whole Love sessions. “We were able to see what made the cut without getting too precious about it.”
As a result, some songs, such as “Art Of Almost” and “Sunloathe,” underwent considerable transformations. But on a couple of other songs — “Black Moon” and “One Sunday Morning (song for Jane Smiley’s boyfriend)” — much of original demo recording was used on the finished track.
In the end, the 12 songs that made the cut for The Whole Love make up one of Wilco’s more eclectic efforts.
The Whole Love has gentle, largely acoustic tracks like “Black Moon” and the 12-minute “One Sunday Morning (song for Jane Smiley’s boyfriend).” There are also several compact, pop-y rockers (“I Might,” “Dawned On Me” and “Standing O”) that feature immediately enticing hooks and a couple of other catchy songs that stretch out a bit more with instrumental segments (“Born Alone” and “Art Of Almost”).
Cline is very pleased with the finished album.
“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 pop-y as they might be, they still have some crunch and a couple of good blows to the breadbasket.”
The group has played four of the more concise rockers in its few shows this summer, and Cline said the band was just getting into the process of shaping other The Whole Love songs for live performance as the mid-September start of the band’s tour approached.
“I think for me, the challenge has been a similar challenge maybe as some of the material from the last record, which is to say having had a lot of freedom to be creative with overdubs in the studio, then the question is how do I reproduce some of the sounds that I did, or how do we play the arrangements live,” said Cline. “That can be a bit of a daunting proposal, but I’m looking forward to figuring it out.”
The Whole Love is available at Omega Records, 318 E. Fifth St. in Dayton
Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.