Wilco's John Stirratt on The Whole Love, The Autumn Defense, and Lacking Irony
Though the Wilco lineup has solidified since 2007's Sky Blue Sky, the years leading up to that album were marked by turnover. Of the original lineup, only songwriter Jeff Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt remain. In fact, Stirratt's ties to Tweedy stretch all the way back to Uncle Tupelo, the seminal alt-country band he played in with Tweedy and Jay Farrar before forming Wilco in 1994.
Wilco, with John Stirratt pictured far left.
Coming up on 20 years of active Wilco duty, Stirratt says that the band is playing at the "height of their power." The band's latest, 2011's The Whole Love certainly bears out his statement. Opening with the clattering "Art of Almost," the record explores both gentle balladry on songs like "Open Mind" and artful power pop with songs like "Born Alone." Stirratt's bass playing is at the forefront of "Capitol City," acting as melodic element of ornamentation, and gritty and fuzzy on "I Might," which serves as the best garage rock jam we didn't know Wilco had in them.
Speaking over the phone, Stirratt and I discussed the band's Grammy nomination (Best Rock Album), the new album, the current Wilco lineup, and why people didn't seem to enjoy "happy" Wilco.
Wilco is scheduled to perform Saturday, January 21, at ASU Gammage in Tempe. The show is sold out.
Up on the Sun: The last time you guys were in Arizona, you played in Tucson, but it's been a long time since you've played Phoenix or Tempe.
John Stirratt: I was trying to remember the last Arizona gig . . . I'm trying to remember the last Phoenix or Tempe gig, and I can't remember when that was.
Jeff did something solo acoustic at the Orpheum, and I caught both that and the Tucson gig, but everyone is really looking forward to having you back in Tempe.
For sure. We don't get to do the West Coast enough, in my opinion. It feels like we're [always] in Europe. We do Barcelona two or three times before we do L.A. or Phoenix [laughs]. It's always nice to get out west.
Congratulations on the Whole Love being nominated for a Grammy. I imagine it's a cool kudos but not something you guys think about a lot about internally.
Yeah, it's always nice and fun. We have gone [to the Grammy Awards] but it's funny, the one time we didn't go was the one time we won [laughs]. So we're thinking the more we go, the less chance we have of winning. But it's nice, it's worked out well. After the West Coast tour, we'll just go and hang out in L.A. afterward.
The record is really enjoyable.
We're really happy with it. It's my favorite that we've done in at least four records, maybe. It's a good feeling. The lineup really everyone opened up on it. The last one, too, but this one especially.
This is the third record with this lineup. What do you think it is about this lineup that has made it what it is? I'm sure it's not just one thing, but it seems like this group has gelled in ways past lineups haven't.
I think it's just everyone is at the height of their power, playing in the band. Nels Cline was a legend before Wilco, to a lot of people, and everyone is at a level of seriousness that you have in your early 40s. [We're] you know, all better at our individual craft, and there's a high level of musical generosity at work.
It's people listening to each other and guys that aren't afraid to sit out for a beat here and there. It's very sympathetic. It's also a tight group of people. We've gotten along off stage really well, too. I think that's really it. I'm not really speaking to myself too much, but there's a lot of talent in the band [laughs].