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Interview: Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline Discuss the Guitars and Gear Behind Wilco's Latest Album, 'The Whole Love'

Interview: Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline Discuss the Guitars and Gear Behind Wilco's Latest Album, 'The Whole Love'

When you work the songs up into full band arrangements, is it ever a challenge to find space for three guitars?

TWEEDY: Not really. I think that everybody in Wilco has made enough records and is sensitive enough as a musician to know how to not step on each other's toes. There isn't a lot of fighting over frequencies in Wilco. We tend to stake out our territory, and it usually doesn't require a whole lot of discussion.

What would you say are Nels' and Pat's particular strengths as guitarists?

TWEEDY: They're very different players. Pat is very much a classicist and can really emulate a lot of styles, not just from rock and roll but across the board. Nels is obviously virtuosic on his instrument but is more interested in just going for it. He wants to find textures that are very unique and very personalized. And I think the two complement each other perfectly. With Pat, it's really helpful to have somebody who's just able to immediately go to the thing that everybody is hearing. I also think it's very helpful to have someone like Nels, who will push it to another place. And I'm very happy living between those two points.

Nels, what do you see as your role in the band?

NELS CLINE: I feel like my role is to play what the song wants. I came into Wilco to try to fit into an orchestral vision of a band, not to be a hot soloist or anything like that. When I'm asked to solo it's sometimes a challenge for me to play a 10- or 20-second pop-song thing, because I tend to like to wind things out for a long time; I'm more comfortable with the long form, shall we say. [laughs] But in general I'm just trying to play something that makes the song sound beautiful or recognizable or powerful, or whatever these things might be.

Sometimes that involves adding things like looping and distortion and other elements that are maybe newer aspects of the Wilco sound. But that's certainly not an attempt on my part to change the sound of the band at all. Those things come naturally to me, and everybody has seemed to embrace them in their own way.

Given your musical resume, people tend to assume that those "newer aspects" of the Wilco sound are largely of your doing.

CLINE: Well, in truth, despite what people may think, I rarely take an unobvious or unexpected approach to these songs. I usually play it pretty straight at first. I think people suspect I'm the guy that always wants to take things further out, but I'm not. If there's something that needs to be added that's beyond the nature of the song, it's usually up to Jeff to drag it out of me.

On the new record, the most obvious moment where you take it further out would be the solo at the end of the first track, "Art of Almost."

CLINE: For that one, Jeff just turned to me and said, "Okay, man, shred! This is it!" [laughs] There's sort of a rough tone and rough phrasing on it, which is not the first thing I would do on a song. But one of the things Jeff has said to me on occasion is to play as though I had two of my fingers tied together; in other words, not just more slowly but also sometimes with less finesse. And I'm comfortable taking this kind of direction and going with it.

TWEEDY: We worked really hard to get the shape of the rave-up, or the freak-out section -- whatever you want to call it -- at the end. And then we let Nels have some go's at it. But to be honest, Nels really wants a lot of direction. Maybe it's because he can fucking play anything, so it's helpful for him if you steer him a little bit.

And in the case of "Art of Almost," he was doing a lot of passes where he was using a lot of his sound effects and toys, and I think at some point we just kind of gave him one pedal and said, "You can use this one and that's it. Do what you can do with just this pedal ... and maybe this one." [laughs] And he pretty much just nailed it. I could practice for 100 years and I wouldn't be able to play that solo.



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