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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy on faith, music — and the Dolly Parton track he dislikes : NPR

Jeff Tweedy says he thinks in “track shapes.”

Sammy Tweedy

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Sammy Tweedy

Jeff Tweedy says he thinks in “track shapes.”

Sammy Tweedy

I’ve lived with lots of musical insecurity in my life. I like a track I can sing alongside to. I like a standard track construction the place we transfer by a few verses however all of the whereas we’re constructing in the direction of the bridge. And it is gonna be so nice after we get there as a result of that is the emotional middle of the track and there’ll in all probability be some energy chords that I can belt out and perhaps the lyrics are darkish and countercultural — however perhaps they are not.

Perhaps they’re about essentially the most common of experiences: love and heartbreak and loneliness. And perhaps all that feels not particular sufficient to be fascinating, however I do not care. As a result of the best way the notes all occurred to line up makes me really feel extra alive than I used to be earlier than the music got here on.

I went to varsity in Tacoma, Wash., within the Nineteen Nineties. Once I confirmed up for my freshman yr I had my CD assortment in tow, which was heavy on the highest 40 pop hits of the time. Janet (Miss Jackson, in the event you’re nasty). En Vogue. Depeche Mode.

However the cool youngsters down the corridor — and seemingly in every single place else on campus — have been smoking pot and listening to Dylan and handing round Grateful Useless bootleg tapes. Then everybody acquired all enthusiastic about some band out of Seattle referred to as Pearl Jam.

Nobody was ever like, “Hey Rachel, your music style is tremendous fundamental and which means you are tremendous fundamental.” At the very least to not my face.

The purpose of me telling you all it’s because I simply acquired to interview a man who, from my outdoors vantage level, appeared fairly just like the cool youngsters down the corridor in my school dorm.

The blokes (and so they have been largely guys) who spent hours — nay, days on finish — debating the standard of Led Zeppelin albums and judging different individuals’s musical style. Not maliciously per se, simply laying out the critiques as a matter of reality after which one-upping one another with obscure musical references. I am over it. Cannot you inform?

So poor Jeff Tweedy. The lead singer of Wilco thought he was approaching for an NPR interview about his new guide World Inside A Tune, and he acquired my emotional baggage about musical preferences.

However, I promise, we talked about a lot extra. And he is a stunning man who bears no duty for my private insecurities.

This guide is his tribute to the songs and songwriters that impressed him to begin making music within the first place — after which to maintain doing it for a very long time. And though you’ll hear us disagree concerning the storytelling integrity of a Dolly Parton traditional, we agree on one thing very basic. The best type of music is that sort that makes individuals really feel much less alone.

This interview has been edited for size and readability.

Jeff Tweedy: I feel in track shapes. I feel it is simply the character of getting been immersed in data for my entire life, I assume.

Rachel Martin: You write within the guide that the track that made the primary “dent in your musical thoughts” is “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple.

Deep Purple performs “Smoke On The Water”


Tweedy: On the time that I am speaking about within the guide, I did not know the identify of that track. I do not suppose I might have even identified something about it apart from once I picked up a guitar and I attempted to think about how someone performs it, I put my hand on the neck and I went bump, bump bump — I performed the riff.

It is so elemental. It is empowering, you realize, and that is the primary inkling I had that that is one thing that I might truly do. And I really feel like that track functioned that manner for lots of people that grew to become musicians.

It is vital. It is like stumbling throughout some new factor that will get added to the desk of parts or one thing. You understand, when someone comes up with a riff like that we must always give it a scientific identify and an atomic weight.

Martin: There’s a track within the guide referred to as “Devil, Your Kingdom Should Come Down,” which is only a haunting, lovely factor. Initially this was sung by a man named Frank Proffitt. However your band earlier than Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, you guys lined this.

Tweedy: Once I hear myself singing that model, I can hear myself making an attempt to succeed in for the gravitas of the unique. It is so low for me to sing. The unique appears like a really outdated man that has earned the concern, you realize, and that is one of many issues I feel I responded to. Listening to these outdated people songs and the way that they had lasted and survived for lengthy intervals of time.

They’re concern based mostly, however there is a catharsis to them that I might relate to. It felt like punk rock to me. It felt similar to the best way punk rock would act as a security valve or launch of anger and concern.

Frank Proffitt performs “Devil, Your Kingdom Should Come Down”


Martin: Frank Proffitt strikes me because the sort of man who actually did consider in heaven and hell and Devil and good and evil. And also you strike me as somebody who doesn’t consider these issues.

Tweedy: I consider them in my very own manner. I feel that I’ve skilled hellish issues. And I’ve skilled issues which might be euphoric.

Martin: Did you develop up in a non secular household?

Tweedy: No. My mom was very suspicious of faith, clergy specifically. I feel she was suspicious of individuals in lots of methods. She thought they have been phony. All of the individuals. Everyone. Yeah.

Martin: All of the individuals?

Tweedy: Everyone. Yeah.

Martin: And did any of your individual ideas fall neatly into some sort of non secular framework?

Tweedy: No, it by no means made a lot sense to me. I feel I inherited lots of my mother’s skepticism. Perhaps that is in my DNA.

Martin: However you then went all in, Jeff. Not on Christianity, however you ended up changing to Judaism largely, as I perceive it, as a result of your son was going by the method of being bar mitzvahed, your spouse is Jewish, and also you have been taking Hebrew lessons alongside him to inspire him. You might have simply bailed on the finish of that, however you determined to transform.

Tweedy: Nicely, I joked on the time, even to the rabbi, that I simply thought that I must be on the identical workforce as my household when one thing goes down. And now it isn’t a humorous joke in any respect.

However I used to be intrigued by my older son’s expertise at our temple and the tolerance of lots of completely different viewpoints. When he requested our rabbi what he ought to do if he does not consider in God, the rabbi stated it did not matter that he did not consider in God. He stated what issues is that you simply seek for the sacred.

That made sense to me, and in a manner you would take that as nearly something, you realize — search for magnificence, search for no matter sacred means to you. And I believed that was actually lovely, and it felt extra sincere than any expertise I might ever had in any organized faith.

Martin: If we keep in a non secular vein, I am stretching a bit bit, however I wish to speak about Otis Redding and “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay,” as a result of I feel that is essentially the most Buddhist of songs. You are simply there. You are simply sitting on the dock of the bay. That is it. That is all that life is, proper there.

Tweedy: Yeah. It is like a metaphor in your ideas. You are simply watching them come and go. That is the objective of meditation.

Otis Redding performs “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay”


Martin: Why did you wish to put this within the guide?

Tweedy: Nicely, I simply suppose it is superb. I feel it is a welcoming track. It is a heat embrace. That track to me, it is non-judgmental. It does not have an agenda like lots of songs. It is simply very nonetheless.

Martin: The place does that pop up in your individual songwriting?

Tweedy: I do not know. I do not know if I’ve ever gotten that fortunate, you realize, or I am not expert, however it’s not for lack of making an attempt.

Martin: Can we speak about “I Will All the time Love You”?

Tweedy: Certain.

Dolly Parton performs “I Will All the time Love You”


Martin: So, this track is included not as a track that modified your life for the higher. This track is included since you despise this track. And I wish to have interaction you on this, Jeff.

Tweedy: OK, alright.

Martin: In fact there’s Whitney Houston’s a lot acclaimed high 40 model. However there’s additionally the unique, Dolly Parton’s model, which you write about.

Tweedy: To begin with, I would not say I despise it, and I additionally would not go as far as to say it isn’t made my life higher. I feel discovering out what you want and don’t love is all part of making your life higher, you realize? And having the ability to acknowledge and mirror and introspect on what you do not like and why. And generally there isn’t a reply. And I feel having the ability to make peace with not realizing why you do not like one thing is nice.

Martin: Earlier than you redeem your self although, earlier than you get to play the man who can acknowledge the wonder in all issues, are you able to simply inform me what you do not like concerning the track?

Tweedy: It is the I-EEE-I half. That is the place the hair on the again of my neck begins to face up or one thing, on all of the variations. Regardless of who sings it, that half drives me loopy.

And to me, the track has by no means actually earned that huge of a refrain. I do not see the entire image. I do not know who it is being sung to. I do not internalize it.

Martin: At this level, I ought to admit that I used to be nervous to even have this dialog with you as a result of that Dolly Parton track was one of many solely songs that I knew on this guide once I was wanting by the desk of contents and instantly I believed, “What did you suppose was going to occur, Rachel?” You have been listening to manner cooler stuff while you have been rising up, proper?

You had the Ramones and Velvet Underground, and I used to be listening to Depeche Mode and Janet Jackson. I am a pop music lady, and I’ve lived with this insecurity that my musical tastes have been by no means fairly edgy or fascinating sufficient. And what I cherished about this little essay you wrote about “I Will All the time Love You,” and a pair different essays within the guide, is that you’ve got come to the belief that not all the things is for everybody, and that’s OK.

Tweedy: Yeah, effectively, it will probably’t be. You would not need it to be, I do not suppose. That is the deeper realization. I feel it might be actually exhausting for us all to love the identical issues and dislike the identical issues. It might make no sense.

Martin: However did it take stepping into your early 50s to return to this epiphany? Would 23-year-old Jeff Tweedy have been so beneficiant?

Tweedy: No, I do not suppose so. I do not know if 53-year-old Jeff Tweedy can be so beneficiant to be sincere. I feel that I in all probability could be a lot extra judgmental than I painting myself within the guide. I simply do not suppose it is a very sympathetic, public going through a part of me [laughs].

As a musician, I do not suppose that there is lots of good that comes from musicians sniping at one another or are dismissing one another. As a result of there’s not so much to be gained from making an attempt to take someone down a peg.

And that is why I picked Dolly Parton, who I like, as a result of nobody’s going to try this to her. And Jon Bon Jovi is the opposite particular person I punch up at. I am certain he can take a bit little bit of criticism from me. It isn’t even criticism, it is simply being dismissive. You understand, I’ve met Jon Bon Jovi. He is a really beautiful particular person and does lots of actually nice work for his group and it does not assist his music for me in any respect [laughs].

Martin: You may maintain each truths on the identical time [laughs].

Tweedy: I additionally really feel very assured that he can take a punch.

Wilco performs “Will You Nonetheless Love Me Tomorrow” reside within the Nineteen Nineties.


Martin: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by Carole King — you wrote that there was some extent while you have been doing that track as an encore with Wilco and it felt to you want essentially the most sincere that you would presumably be with an viewers. Are you able to inform me why?

Tweedy: Nicely, as a result of I had by no means written a track that expressed that as effectively, the concern of affection being fleeting, of loving someone greater than they love you.

Early on in Wilco, there was an actual sense of like, do I actually get to do that? Do I actually get to do that factor that I really like so, so, a lot? And, are you going to let me do that? Are you going to like me sufficient so I get to maintain doing this? I used to be saying that very explicitly to the viewers. Are you going to return again subsequent time we play on the town?

One of many issues that’s embarrassing to me about being on stage, nonetheless to at the present time, is that it is so clearly about that. It is so clearly you wanting some approval and there is a nakedness to that, simply by being prepared to stroll out on a stage. No person must psychoanalyze you, they simply know, oh, you would not be up there in the event you did not need me to point out you that I really like you.

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