Wilco's latest recording sessions almost yielded two albums rather than just "The Whole Love," the group's eighth studio album, which was released Sept. 27 as the first release on Wilco's own dBpm Records label.
Multi-instrumentalist and "The Whole Love" co-producer Pat Sansone tells Billboard.com that "at one time we were considering making two separate records a few months apart from each other. As we started getting into the process, it felt like we had two separate kinds of songs going -- moody folk numbers, kind of acoustic based and a little more shadowy, then some straight-up pop songs and some rockers. So at first the idea was we'll make our pop-rock record, then a few months later we'll put out our dark, moody piece. But the more we worked on them, the more it became sort of an interesting idea to make them fit together."
The 12-track set does indeed blend the two directions, bookended by the muscular dynamics of the seven-minute-plus "Art of Almost" and the quieter 12 minutes of "One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)." Sansone says that bringing the different styles together was "challenging but worthwhile" and achieved because frontman Jeff Tweedy "is just confident it can work that way."
"The classic blueprint for this kind of record, which makes a lot of diverse moods and things fit together as a piece, is 'The White Album'," Sansone notes. "And a lot of it, too, is sequencing. I think if you have songs that are disparate styles and feelings, then you really have to make sure it flows. That had a lot to do with why we put 'Art of Almost' at the front and 'One Sunday Morning' at the back, the idea that you'd have these two longer, more ambitious pieces bookending a record that has more traditional songs and styles. So even if you take the two long bookends away, there's still a tight pop record within."
Sansone says his own goal for "The Whole Love," which Wilco recorded at its Chicago studio, The Loft, was to make "a really good headphone record," especially after the more straightforward fells of 2007's "Sky Blue Sky" and 2009's "Wilco (The Album)." "It's kind of a cliched thing to say, but I feel like on this record we were using the studio as another instrument moreso than on the last two records, which were more performance based," Sansone explains. "This was really using the studio, not being afraid to do things that weren't necessarily performable but making a record that really does kind of create a real sound world. I think listening to music over the last several years has become more and more a sort of insular, private event -- people listening on headphones more or in their cars or with ear buds. I was excited about the idea of making a record that would really be exciting in that environment."
As the third album to feature Wilco's current lineup, Sansone says "The Whole Love" was also "very much a collaborative effort...It seemed like (Tweedy) put a lot of trust in me and the rest of the band to kind of let us explore and experiment and find our own roles in the song and help take them somewhere he didn't even know they were going to go. We also, I think, had more time on this record to stretch out and try things. It was very much kind of a laboratory environment on this one."
Wilco recently kicked off a tour to support the album. The first North American leg wraps up Oct. 5 in Madison, Wisc., then the group heads to Europe later in the month and resumes in the U.S. on Nov. 29 in Dallas. Sansone says Wilco will be touring "on and off for the next year," and while much of "The Whole Love" will make it into the shows he's not anticipating that Tweedy will start sticking any of his recently covered Black Eyed Peas songs into the set. "I think Jeff might already be regretting that because it's gone pretty viral," Sansone says with a laugh. "I don't see it in the future, although I'm sure we're gonna be getting requests for it."
Meanwhile, Sansone and Wilco bassist John Stirratt have started working on a fifth album by their other band, the Autumn Defense, to follow-up 2010's "Once Around." "We don't have a specific plan for when that's going to come out," Sansone says, adding that has done one session for the album so far. "We'll be working in it whenever we can steal away a few days over the next year and finish it off as time permits."