116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
When Wilco announced in April that its latest album was dubbed “Cruel Country,” fans speculated that the venerable band would deliver a project similar to 1995’s “A.M.” or 1996’s “Being There.”
However, “Cruel Country” isn't like those albums. It’s more of a classic country collection.
“This one sounds more like Merle Haggard or Waylon Jennings,” drummer Glenn Kotche said by phone from his Chicago home. “It’s definitely different, and I think that’s a good thing. The songs came quickly and easily. We didn’t overthink this. They fit together.”
What: Wilco, with Courtney Marie Andrews opening
Where: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 12, 2022
Tickets: $39.50 to $79.50; creventslive.com/events/2022/wilco-cruel-country-tour
Band’s website: wilcoworld.net/
The new tunes, which will be showcased Aug. 12 at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids, are angst-ridden but soothing and bittersweet.
“These songs are moving,” Kotche said. “They’re fun to play live.”
The fresh material, which has a Gram Parsons quality, marks the first time in years the band has recorded in the same studio with each other.
“The temperature in the room was just right,” Kotche said.
Wilco has been one of the most consistent bands of the past quarter century. The aforementioned “Being There” is brilliant and remains relevant, and “A.M.” still sounds terrific.
“We had more time with ‘Being There,’ and I was in a different space and I realized that I could write these different type of songs,” vocalist-guitarist Jeff Tweedy said in a separate phone interview from Chicago, where the alt-rock band is based.
“But when I look back at ‘A.M.,’ I’m very proud of that record. It holds up today. I still like a lot of the songs. It’s a weird pop-country album. I don't know many records that sound like it.
“And that's always been one of our goals,” Tweedy added. “We want to make records that don’t sound like what anybody else is putting out.”
The baroque and poppy “Summerteeth” and the charming, joyous and brooding “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” also are exceptional albums. And then there’s 2004’s underrated “A Ghost is Born.”
“Sometimes I think back and I’m just thrilled those early records are still in print,” Tweedy said. “People are still discovering those albums. ... My biggest dream was to make records. I want to make the kind of records that people are still discovering 20 years after they were released. The fact that people are still inspired by them is awesome.
“As far as consistency goes, the goal is to make every record the best record possible and to not make the same record twice, and to make a record like no else has ever made.”
“Ode to Joy” from 2019 is an underheralded gem that was released months before the pandemic.
“I wasn't very optimistic," Tweedy said about penning the ”Ode to Joy“ tracks. ”When I wrote those songs, I was trying to talk myself into some optimism. That’s the way my mind works.
“When I create things I always start in a pretty dark place. I’m not a pessimist — I tend to reflect on dark things and spend a lot of time experiencing sad thoughts. But I always work toward the light,” he said. “Every time you think things won’t get better, you experience some odd moment of joy. I experienced a lot of depression in my life, but I find great comfort in how life works. When you think things won't get better, you find joy."
Still, not every song can be a happy tune.
“Science has proven that there is something cathartic about hearing sad songs,” Tweedy said. “Those songs are really helpful. I’m extremely comforted and consoled by the saddest songs in my record collection. You can’t unpack happy all of the time. Sometimes we’re sad and sometimes we experience self pity — and that’s all right. You’ll eventually find the light.”
Wilco members, which also includes guitarist Nels Cline, bassist John Stirratt, keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, have a difficult time making a set list.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Kotche said. “It gets even more difficult since we now have ‘Cruel Country,’ another album. We have a lot of songs to play but the great thing is that we have the benefit of never having a ‘hit.’ No one expects us to play that hit song since we don’t have that song, but we have so many favorites. It all balances out.”
Tweedy is an inveterate writer who crafted 50 tunes while in lockdown during 2020.
“Writing songs is the most of anything I do,” he said.
However, the band chose not to focus on fleshing out those tunes last year, and instead focused on ‘Cruel Country’ in 2021.
“We didn’t want to make a pandemic record,” Kotche said. “Jeff was writing about a song a day in 2021. We’re saving those songs for the next album, which will sound very different than ‘Cruel Country.’ We’re looking forward to making that album, but we’re also focused on this tour.”