Wilco is back.
This may not be breaking news in the world of auto-tuned wonders littering the pop charts. But it’s a pretty big deal for fans of a band that started out a quarter of a century ago in the alt-country corner of the room, before evolving into an eclectic indie rock band more concerned with unique creative expression than fitting into a neat box.
While Jeff Tweedy seemed the busiest member of this sextet during the three-year gap that followed Wilco’s 2016 album, “Schmilco” — thanks to the pair of solo albums he released (2018’s “Warm” and this year’s “Warmer”) and his autobiography, last year’s “Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc.)” — fellow founding member John Stirratt wasn’t exactly sipping hot toddies at home in Maine.
Stirratt not only spent that time touring as a duo with singer/songwriter Ray LaMontagne, he also got involved in running a hotel in North Adams, Mass.
At this juncture, singer/guitarist Tweedy, bassist Stirratt and the other Wilco members are focused on “Ode to Joy,” the group’s newly released 11th album. A new tour will bring the band to the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids on Friday night (11/15).
Despite the length of Wilco’s hiatus, Stirratt never doubted the Chicago-based outfit would hit the studio again.
“I don’t think there was any feeling that we were going to stop or anything like that. There was an unusual rollout for those last two (Wilco) records. ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Schmilco’ came out a year apart,” he said. “So it turned into this kind of three-year album stifle and it seemed like a good time to go away — along with the fact that our drummer had gone to Finland for a year so his wife could do some work. It seemed like the timing was good all the way around.”
The seeds for “Ode to Joy” were planted by Tweedy and drummer Glenn Kotche, both of whom sought to make a more atmospheric record goosed along by the latter’s rhythms and the former’s wistful croon. Comfortably ensconced in middle age, Tweedy’s lyrics are wrapped in a cloak of self-awareness. It’s particularly true with the melancholy “Everyone Hides,” where the song’s chorus caps off couplets like, “If you’re selling yourself on a vision/A dream of who you are/An idea of how it should be/And a wish upon a star.”
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Elsewhere, Tweedy’s experience of losing a loved one is at the heart of “White Wooden Cross,” which layers beautifully-strummed guitar and Kotche’s subtle timekeeping, while the lumbering cadence of “We Were Lucky” gives guitarist Nels Cline a chance to cut loose with a bit of six-string squall and howl.
For Stirratt, who counts “Love is Everywhere (Beware)” as a favorite song to play live, Tweedy’s and Kotche’s planned-out approach to the new album was a different, but welcome, departure from prior recording experiences.
“We hammer everything out on the floor arrangements-wise. But most of the arrangements are pretty set,” Stirratt said. “In this case, Glenn and Jeff got together to work on these drum sounds and drum performances, along with acoustic guitar and some bass. We created these kinds of big, dry drum sounds. It set the tone for the record. Everyone else convened and just worked through the rest of the instrumentation after the fact, from that point. We never really recorded like that before. It’s a change in process. A lot of times it paid off.”
Stirratt knows all of Wilco’s recording history, given that his relationship with Tweedy dates back to Uncle Tupelo, the Americana outfit Tweedy and Jay Farrar founded in 1987. After Uncle Tupelo split into what became Tweedy’s Wilco and the Farrar-led Son Volt, Stirratt found himself with Tweedy and the rest of Wilco on a wild major label ride that took them through stints with Warner Bros. and Nonesuch Records, before the band released “The Whole Love,” the group’s first album on its own dBpm Records in 2011.
“It’s nice to have control and know that we have an audience that’s still interested in physical product to some extent,” Stirratt said of having the dBpm label.
Beyond a fall tour with Wilco, Stirratt hopes to record more music in 2020 with The Autumn Defense, the side project he’s in with Wilco bandmate Pat Sansone.
“I need to sort of get back into the head space of songwriting, when you’re not under the gun. So I’ve just been concentrating on that and really trying to get some really good, worthwhile songs together myself for The Autumn Defense,” he said. “In the meantime, Wilco is going to be touring through the rest of the year and heading out the beginning of 2020 year. ”
• What: Wilco
• Where: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
• When: 7:30 p.m. Friday (11/15)
• Tickets: SOLD OUT; Paramounttheatrecr.com
• Band’s website: Wilcoworld.net