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 bandleader and songwriter, other voices are being heard on the group’s album. On the new Wilco CD, The Whole Love, multi-instrumentalist 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,” Cline said in a recent phone 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 CD. (The band as a whole has gotten production credit on several other CDs.)
The idea that a band member other than Tweedy took the reigns, 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 that 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 that occurred prior to 2004 and left Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt as the only remaining original 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 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 CDs, Wilco is far from a one-man show.
“Certainly everyone’s personalities emerge strongly on this record,” Cline says 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 CDs 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 says 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 poppy 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 CD.
“This record has some pretty strong bold rock with big choruses,” he says. “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 poppy as they might be, they still have some crunch and a couple of good blows to the breadbasket.”