Wilco is now recognized as one of the best and most beloved American rock bands of the last 25 years. But once upon a time, it was a burgeoning project started by Jeff Tweedy in the aftermath of an acrimonious breakup by his previous band, Uncle Tupelo, in 1994. Teaming up with John Stirratt, who had originally joined the Uncle Tupelo crew as a guitar tech just a few years prior before stepping in as a bass player, Tweedy set about forming a new band that would eventually transcend the alt-country label. But it took a while for Wilco to hit its stride.
Before a recent Wilco show in St. Paul, Minnesota., I met up with Jeff and John backstage to talk about Wilco’s early days, and how the band evolved dramatically between its 1995 debut, A.M., and 1996’s landmark double-album Being There. (Both records will be reissued in special expanded editions 12/1, all details can be found here.)
In this interview, Tweedy admits that he initially felt compelled to hang on to as many Uncle Tupelo fans as he could by writing songs in the style of his former band, like “Box Full Of Letters” and “Passenger Side.” But with Being There, he made a break from alt-country by embracing noisier, more free-form songs like “Misunderstood,” setting a new path for Wilco moving forward.
Tweedy and Stirratt also discuss how Wilco was originally overshadowed by Jay Farrar’s band, Son Volt, and whether Tweedy felt a sense of competition with Farrar on those early Wilco records. (No, but also yes, kind of.) Other topics include: Tweedy’s (intentional) lack of a signature songwriting style, the literary greatness and emotional ineptitude of Lester Bangs, and the song on Being There that sometimes chokes Tweedy up when he plays it live. All in all, an essential listen for Wilco fans!