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Wilco (The Interview)

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Fuseworks Media
Wilco (The Interview)
Wilco (The Interview)

With their mainly NZ-recorded seventh studio album on offer, Chicago alt-rock veterans Wilco return for two shows. JULE SCHERER of NZPA speaks to bass-player John Stirratt about working with Neil Finn, the new record Wilco (the album) and their top-fan.

Wellington, April 20 NZPA - The 15 years since US indie-rock band Wilco released their first album have been a bit of a rocky ride.

There was barely a year that didn't see a shift in the line-up. Singer Jeff Tweedy struggled with depression and a dependency on pain killers and former member Jay Bennett sued the band and tragically died last year from an accidental overdose.

The band also took their sound from solid alt-country on more experimental roads, famously left their label over that dispute and continued to assemble a dedicated fan base, including US President Barack Obama, on record as saying he had their music on his iPod.

The majority of their latest album -- titled Wilco (the album) -- was recorded at Neil Finn's Roundhead Studios in Auckland when the band stayed in NZ after taking part in Finn's musical charity project 7 Worlds Collide in early 2009.

"Neil Finn came to us backstage when we were playing in Chicago in 2008 and he had just had the idea of doing another 7 Worlds Collide and invited us soon after that," Stirratt, along with Tweedy the two original members of the band left, tells NZPA.

"I think he got introduced to the band through his kids and that's how he got turned on to Wilco and how he thought we would be a good fit for the 7 Worlds Collide project," Stirratt says.

So Wilco travelled to New Zealand and recorded an album for the charity Oxfam together with a range of musicians, among them Ex-Smith's guitarist Johnny Marr, Radiohead's Phil Selaway, Lisa Germano, KT Tunstall, and New Zealand songwriters Don McGlashan and Bic Runga.

"It was wonderful, Neil was amazing; there are not many guys who can oversee a project like that.

"First of all he owns a studio that has three functioning rooms in it with all the stuff.

"Not many people could have done that, and Neil is one and maybe (Paul) McCartney would be the other guy who could maybe do something like that."

But although much of the album was recorded here, Stirratt doesn't think it has a New Zealand sound to it. "The record was kind of done; we had sketched it out very well (before arriving in NZ), so we were sort of reproducing the demos we had.

"So I don't think there is a New Zealand stamp, there might be more a producer stamp but obviously the fact that we did do it so fast is probably representative of New Zealand because we were all really relaxed and were having a lot of fun," he says.

Releasing a self-titled album after all these years, might very well be seen as a statement that the band feels finally comfortable with where they are now.

"The album is sort of a state of the union message (The annual speech the US president gives outlining the state of the nation)," he says.

Wilco's line-up has been stable since the 2007 album Sky Blue Sky and Stirratt hopes they will play together for a very long time.

While Wilco (the album) has been described as more accessible than earlier albums, Stirratt vehemently denies that they might have mellowed with age.

In their 15 year career, Wilco have slowly accumulated more fans, with their recent albums entering the US Billboard charts in the top ten.

And although the band earned commercial success, they never lost their image as a down-to-earth indie-band.

Wilco fans seem to be willing to walk the extra mile. A couple of months ago the first Wilco themed restaurant opened in Toronto and a Californian brewery released the Wilco Tango Foxtrot, "A Malty, Robust Jobless Recovery Ale."

They are even the subject of a long standing rivalry between two US states, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Soon after port-city Duluth, Minnesota declared Wilco an "honorary Duluth band", Wisconsin's capital Madison named them honorary residents.

But their most famous fan is US President Barack Obama, whom the band supported during his election campaign.

The Chicago band shared the stage a couple of time with their then-senator.

Stirratt says, having been part of the campaign was a good experience and he thought that the band would do it again.

Another thing the band feels quite strongly about is the annual Record Store Day, which was celebrated around the world last Saturday (March 17).

On the other hand the band streamed their recent albums on the internet before they were officially released. The decision was made after they were leaked on the internet. For Stirratt this move doesn't stand in opposition to their support for independent music stores.

"The internet is just like the radio for us, a promotional tool and that's something that our fans know. They hear something they like and they are much more inclined to buy it and a lot of our fans support record stores," he says.

Having toured New Zealand before and having played the Big Day Out in 2004 the band are keen to come back as part of Wilco (the tour).

At the two NZ shows Stirratt promises to play a lot of the new album but the band, known for two-hours-plus performances, will also have a deep look into their large back-catalogue, and pull out rarities from earlier albums.

Wilco (the tour):

27th April - Auckland

28th April - Wellington

 

 

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