Wilco lead singer Jeff Tweedy talks about upcoming concert at Fillmore Miami Beach

When the critically acclaimed alt-country, art-rock, experimental (add your own label here) band Wilco takes the stage Tuesday night (May 15), it kicks off an amazing five days of dynamic, eclectic music at the Fillmore Miami Beach (Chris Cornell, Jane’s Addiction and British dubstep DJ Rusko are scheduled to follow). The group – headed by enigmatic singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy – performs in support of its eighth studio album, “The Whole Love.” Tweedy talked to Miami.com about the concert, his attitude toward critics, his favorite country musicians while growing up in Illinois, and how it felt to win two Grammys.
What can we expect from your show?
Different songs from the last time we played in the area – we usually look at the set list from the last time we’d come through town and try and play at least half a show of different songs. We definitely didn’t play any of the new songs last time we were there, so we’ll play a lot of “The Whole Love.”
Wilco is very difficult to describe critically, because there are so many musical styles going on – do you kind of chuckle when you read reviews of your music?
Umm, I don’t chuckle – I cry, I wring my hands, I don’t know [laughs]. Yeah, I don’t take too much of it very seriously, the positive or the negative. The thing to really pay attention to is the relationship you have with an audience onstage, and the people that you meet, and friends, and the people that you trust. And not to say what people in your profession do isn’t important – I understand it is – it’s just that it has to be taken with a grain of salt when you’re on this end of it.
I hear so many different influences in your music – maybe early on some Traveling Wilburys, then a lot of Beatles, especially Lennon and Harrison, then some Elliott Smith and Pavement. Is that by design, or does that just kind of flow out of you?
There’s not very much that’s by design – I can tell you that, honestly. I think that we don’t spend a lot of time intentionally going for something to sound like something else, using an influence explicitly. And I also think we don’t spend a lot of time trying to hide influences if they emerge and we identify them after the fact, just like anybody else listening to our music would. So I think it’s just trying to be honest – I don’t think we need to go out of our way to conceal it.
Many of your songs head off into tangential jams – is that spontaneous in the studio?
I would argue that there aren’t any jams in Wilco – I think everything is pretty composed. Jamming to me says that it’s just chord progression and then you just vamp over it and play. I don’t think there’s a lot of that. I think we usually try and be fairly intentional – I don’t think there’s a lot of free-form jamming or improvisation in Wilco. There’s room for things to be bent every night, and that’s part of what makes the shows exciting and fun, but there’s not what I would call straight-up jamming.
Where did your country roots come from?
Oh, it’s just liking country music when growing up. But I know a lot of people that grew up in the part of the country that I grew up in that hate country music.
Who are some of your biggest country music influences?
I tend to like the earlier pioneers – Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Merle Haggard. I could name a thousand.
Wilco was labeled “alt-country” early on – did you kind of rebel against that in your songwriting?
Well, no – people called us that, but we never thought of ourselves as that, so there wasn’t any rebellion. We just tried to stay true to what we thought of ourselves as, and never felt exclusively beholden to any one genre of music. And as we’ve gotten older and had more experience, I feel like we’ve tried to claim more stuff as being a part of Wilco, to appreciate and love more, not to narrow things down.
How important was it to you personally to win two Grammys?
It was really nice, I guess. Grammys are a lot easier to dismiss before you win one. And I still feel like it’s never been the validation that we’ve looked for or needed to feel inspired to do what we do. That being said, it’s awful nice for your parents and things like that, and everybody likes being acknowledged. But I can say that the Grammy that I won for helping Mavis Staples make her last record was really rewarding, because it was so meaningful to her, and she’d never won one, and that was a serious oversight on the part of the recording industry. But it felt really great to be a part of that with her.


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