Sunday, February 23

Q&A: John Stirratt shares thoughts on sounds and history of Wilco

Courtesy of Zoran Orlic

Brittany Taylor / Daily Bruin

Wilco is currently touring, promoting its new album “The Whole Love,” and is also nominated for Best Rock Album this year at the Grammys. It will be performing in Hollywood Tuesday and in Los Angeles Wednesday and Friday. Daily Bruin’s Brittany Taylor spoke to Wilco’s bassist, John Stirratt, about Wilco’s origins, the band’s longevity in the music business and its new album.

Daily Bruin: Can you talk a little bit about how Wilco got together?
John Stirratt: Yeah. Well there was a band called Uncle Tupelo from the St. Louis area, actually, and they were friends of mine. I was in another band and I was a fan of their band. We’re talking like late ’80s or ’90s here. I eventually joined (the Uncle Tupelo band when) the band that I was in broke up. So I joined the band and Jeff (Tweedy, lead singer of Wilco) was interested in continuing the band with the personnel that we had at that point. And that’s what we did. We immediately recorded the first Wilco record after that in 1994. So it was a band that came right out of another band.

DB: Can you describe your band’s sound?
JS: We’ve had a long career “¦ although Jeff and myself are original members of the band, we’ve had several other people in the band and it’s changed the sound of the different records. “¦ So the records, some of them sound quite a bit different. Which is kind of what we were known for … although we never really tried to do that. But you know, different circumstances made that happen. So, I think there’s been a lot of different sounds early on. It was very country sounding. We made these records of Woody Guthrie lyrics set to music and those sounded more folk-y. We had some more electronic sounding records. And more sort of post-rock records. So it’s been a long career and a lot of different sounding records.

DB: How does it feel to have performed for so long?
JS: It’s an amazing thing to have a career in music in general. But yes, to have this successful career, to be able to play, have the records that we make and have an audience for this long, it boggles the mind, frankly. It never ceases to amaze me.

DB: Through all the changes throughout the years, what do you think has remained consistent within the band?
JS: Jeff’s songs and voice, primarily, and my bass playing and voice as well. We’ve had the same line-up now for 6 years. We’ve had (Glenn) Kotche on drums now for 10 or 11 years and that’s been a factor since “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” in 2002. His sound has been a big part of the band. And now Nels Cline (is) on guitar, who was kind of a legend before he even joined the band. So, these people come in and put their stamps on the sound. And this is probably, in a way, the definitive version of the band that’s been around the longest.

DB: Which of your band’s albums is your favorite?
JS: I have a weird attraction to the second record, which is called “Being There,” which had a wonderful “¦ communal vibe to it. We were at that point in our career where we were kind of behind the eight ball in a way. We made a good first record, but everything was completely uncertain at that point. And Jeff wrote a lot of great songs and we made a really cool record together. That’s a very fond memory for me.

DB: Can you talk a little about your latest album “The Whole Love”?
JS: As I said before, we’ve been together for six years, (so) now we are really finding our way. This is the third record we’ve made together. We’ve been such a touring entity for the last six or seven years that sometimes ““ with the previous record that was called “Wilco (The Album)” ““ we felt like we didn’t have the adequate time to work on a record. This time we really allowed ourselves all of last winter. We really hunkered down, took the time and it just had a lot of really great material. And we were able to make a cool record, something that we all think is probably our favorite record that we’ve made together as this line-up.

DB: What is your favorite song to play live?
JS: Presently it’s a song called “Born Alone,” off the new record. It’s just a lot of fun to play. When it all comes together it feels like a big rush. It’s nice.

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