MB: Was it something that was discussed going in‚ or did you guys just go in knowing you were gonna record and it just kind of evolved that way?
NC: Well‚ I think it was more the latter. I think that we did many demo sessions where we just basically sat around the same way we recorded the album in our loft in Chicago and just tried anything that came up‚ and whatever came up we sort of collectively arranged it. There was always discussion about form and chords and modulations and speed and various things that one would do when one collectively works on some piece of music. And really‚ when we recorded the record we just recorded everything we had and tried to make it of master quality‚ and there were more tracks recorded than are on the record.
I think that as far as discussions prior to that‚ there really wasn't very much. It was more just "let's record a bunch of songs." And the way the record came out I think is a combination of most of the music being generated from Jeff and either something he was playing on the guitar or a chord progression that he had in mind. It also had its own mood. The music makes its demands; it wasn't begging to be‚ in this case I think‚ over-thought or deconstructed‚ as has sometimes been the case with Wilco songs. And I think that it was-oh‚ God‚ I can't use that word "organic"; I have to figure out a new word-a certain naturalness to it and a lack of abrasion‚ if you will‚ to the sound.
MB: Now‚ would you say-I mean I would obviously never want you to speak for anyone else in the band-but would you say that it seemed like a relief for Jeff and other people who have been in the band longer to be able to go in and record a record this way considering the challenges they had recording the last two albums?
NC: I'm pretty sure from things Jeff has said not only to the rest of us but even to the press that he was more than relieved. I think he was loving every minute of it. It was the first time he was able to work in his own space and make a master quality recording. He at one point turned to me‚ while we were listening to a playback or something‚ and said‚ "Usually I really freak out and have massive anxiety and sleepless nights when I'm making records‚ but the only thing that's freaking me out about this record is that I'm not freaking out." (laughter)
I think it was pretty pleasant overall for everyone. I think it really felt like a group to everyone. I don't know anything about making Wilco records other than this. I think it was very much a group effort and perhaps more so than in the past.
MB: Reviewing your website and press materials and everything‚ I came across the Rolling Stone mention of you as a guitar god. At the same time was checking out your site‚ which has the sketch of you as an alien flowerpot. I think the dichotomy of you being a guitar god and an alien flowerpot is very‚ very fitting. I was actually gonna ask you if you've ever played or checked out that video game Guitar Hero?
NC: I have not played it‚ but I have watched it being played at Jeff Tweedy's house in fact. While we were recording the record‚ we were all hanging out there one Sunday afternoon. I just watched; I did not participate. I felt a little bit too old‚ too far off from the video game generation. You know‚ I remember playing Pong. I'm not much of a video game guy. I watched in awe and was entertained and found it hilarious.
MB: Ordinarily‚ you're pretty far outside of what the mainstream would be‚ what the mentality of something like a guitar god or guitar hero would be‚ that kind of adulation of the guitarist or the lead guitarist as some kind of Zepplin-esque figure‚ the golden god kind of idea. What do you think of the idea of a video game that's about someone being a guitar hero? We talked a little bit earlier about freedom and American culture and how sometimes free music obviously doesn't jive with American culture. What do you think of that idea of that kind of video game even existing?
NC: Well‚ I think that-and I'm not trying to be evasive or a pain in the butt-but I think that it's so far beyond anything where my opinion would matter because it's just crazy. I think that it's a cause of concern as much as it is a source of entertainment. It's some sort of strange‚ weird cultural iconography that has sort of mushroomed out of control. But that said‚ there are so many so-called guitar gods that there's never gonna be a consensus.
We have created this individual in our iconography of a guitar god‚ and I find it perplexing and amusing how much sway the electric guitar has over our pop culture. I remember with somewhat a note of irony that in the early '90s‚ when England was declaring the electric guitar dead and all the pop music coming out was synthesizer driven‚ and then grunge happened. (laughter) And then Sonic Youth became suddenly really even more popular‚ and then it's like‚ "Take that synthesizers!" (laughter)
MB: I know‚ and then synthesizers definitely lay dormant for quite a long time after that.
NC: Yeah‚ and there seems to be no end to it‚ you know? But that said‚ somebody like Thurston or somebody like myself‚ we still routinely play for‚ like‚ a hundred people or even less‚ just because our path is not…is not the path to the arena. It's the path to whatever sound is that inspires us or drives us to create spontaneously‚ not just to play songs.
I wanted to mention something back when I was talking about those little encodings where I have these nods to people on my record. I left out a very important one‚ which is Low‚ who are on tour with us right now and one of my favorite groups of all time. And I think the influence of Low is very discernable on the Singers record on several pieces‚ and certainly with my own harmonic vocabulary added‚ but they've been a real inspiration to me and continue to be‚ and I'm really lucky I get to see them multiple times on this tour.
MB: That's a great point. I hadn't thought about bringing it up. I actually was just speaking to a fan of theirs recently; I have a friend who over the years was constantly‚ constantly trying to get me to listen to them and for many reasons I just hadn't gotten around to it. I think of actually the first track on Draw Breath‚ that kind of very slow‚ very kind of low-end‚ very sparse kind of tune that‚ in my mind‚ sticks out as something that could be a little bit influenced by Low.