Wilco learns to mellow out

During the making of Wilco’s seventh album, in stores this week,guitarist-frontman Jeff Tweedy had penned a breezy love song he feltwas good enough to make into a duet.

During the making of Wilco’s seventh album, in stores this week, guitarist-frontman Jeff Tweedy had penned a breezy love song he felt was good enough to make into a duet.

The person Tweedy had in mind to make that duet a reality? Canadian indie-rock songstress Feist.

“Jeff was looking for a suitable female voice to go along with the song You And I, and Feist was by far his first choice,” says John Stirratt, bassist and co-founder of the Chicago alt-rock sextet.

Wilco and Feist connected after meeting at the Grammy Awards this past February and months later the group invited her to its Chicago studio to record her vocals.

“We’re big fans of hers and it turns out she’s a fan of ours,” Stirratt says. “And in just hearing the voices together, we knew this was going to be cool.”

Wilco aren’t strangers to duets, either. The band, along with British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, recorded two albums’ worth of unreleased Woody Guthrie material in 1998 and 2000, respectively. And months ago, a YouTube video surfaced of an in-concert duet with Fleet Foxes, covering Bob Dylan’s I Shall Be Released.

The accessible duet coincides with what’s become a series of marked changes for Wilco, most notably a more relaxed demeanour within the band itself.

For a spell, Wilco faced some years of turbulence. In 2002, the group’s fourth album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot wound up rejected by one Warner-owned record label and accepted by another, which puzzled Tweedy and company.

Tensions also surfaced between Tweedy and then-guitarist Jay Bennett, who was fired from the group after recording Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. In May, Bennett sued Tweedy breach of contract that stemmed from his contributions to Wilco, but didn’t see the lawsuit through as he died unexpectedly towards month’s end.

“We’re dealing with his loss, but it’s been tough on us all,” Stirratt says.

The addition of guitar whiz Nels Cline and Tweedy overcoming his addiction to painkillers have also contributed to the band’s improved outlook.

“Jeff’s always been the same kind of guy,” Stirratt says. “Although now he is so grounded by family whereas before the music was his ultimate escape.”

Stirratt says the choice of album cover art for Wilco (The Album) — featuring the double-humped camel next to a kiddies’ table and six chairs — was meant to reflect the group’s outlook.

“We originally had in mind a funny group photo, kind of like what The Who did with its Magic Bus cover,” Stirratt says. “But the camel photo was more thinking outside the box – at the same time we wanted our humour to match the album title.”