Wilco on "Ode to Joy" - Simple and Brutal | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, July 11th, 2020  

Wilco on “Ode to Joy”

Simple and Brutal

Dec 18, 2019 Photography by Annabel Mehran Issue #66 - My Favorite Album - Angel Olsen and Sleater-Kinney
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Eleven albums into their career, Chicago's Wilco has been labeled everything from "alt-country heroes'' to "the American Radiohead" to "sellouts" for licensing songs to VW commercials. No matter the moniker, the band always works for their own agenda, exploring the melodies that they find most interesting and taking their fans on some incredible sonic adventures.

Their latest record, Ode to Joy, was recorded after the band took a break for all of 2018 and part of 2017. Each member worked on their own projects, with frontman Jeff Tweedy recording two solo albums (last year's WARM and this year's follow-up WARMER) as well as publishing a memoir entitled Let's Go (So We Can Get Back). Even with all their activities during the break, coming back together as a band in the studio to record the follow-up to 2016's Schmilco felt natural.

"We had a pretty clear plan of how long we wanted to take a break for," Tweedy says. "We left each other feeling great about each other and the band and pretty appreciative of what we have. By the time we got back together, it only enhanced that feeling. It felt great to be playing music with those guys again. Everyone has such a great energy for what it is that we do."

According to Tweedy, he and drummer Glenn Kotche began working on the new batch of songs last December before the band would reconvene in the studio. Similar to the opening track "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" off the band's seminal Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Tweedy and Kotche explored percussive rhythms that would subvert normal songwriting expectations.

"We laid out a rough outline of the record and worked hard to tear apart a drum kit and not have it sound like a rock drum kit," Tweedy explains. "Just trying to avoid some of the 'rockisms' that have been part of our vocabulary. [Opening track] 'Bright Leaves' was probably the first successful attempt at distilling something really simple and brutal out of the songs we were working on."

Ode to Joy was recorded and produced by Wilco and longtime producer/collaborator Tom Schick at the band's Loft studio in Chicago. The songs run the gamut from the spacey "Quiet Amplifier" to Tweedy's two-syllable per line lyric delivery on "One and a Half Stars" to the acoustic and electric guitar call-and-response of "Love Is Everywhere (Beware)." And despite the kitschiness displayed in 2015's Star Wars, Tweedy hopes to be taken a little more seriously with the title of this latest album.

"The other working title was The Trouble with Caring but that seemed a bit too heavy and too on the nose," Tweedy says. "But Ode to Joy felt serious and not ironic, even though I knew some people would take it that way and would seem like an underselling of the originality of the record, to use [it as the title]. But nothing ever felt like it fit as well as that title."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 66 of Under the Radar's print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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