Weird Merch: Wilco's "Freaker" or colorful beverage cozy takes the band's merch concept to another level.
(This excerpt is from an article appearing in the latest issue of Billboard -- see below for subscription and single-issue-purchase info.)
Wilco has taken great strides to become not only an independent band, but its own business. Most recently, this has included Wilco's record label, dBpm (decibels per minute), distributed by indie label Anti-. "The Whole Love," the alt-Americana band's eighth album (released Sept. 27), served as dBpm's banner release. Before that, in 2010, it was the founding of Wilco's annual Solid Sound music and arts festival at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
"Sometimes people ask me, 'What do you think about the music business?' I really don't," band manager Tony Margherita says. "Sometimes I feel like we're on an outer road outside of the main highway of the music business. We're kind of on the service road."
But before dBpm (the band was picked up by Nonesuch following the release from its Reprise contract) and before Solid Sound, it all started with merch. Seven or eight years ago, Wilco and the small team at Tony Margherita Management ditched outside companies and started handling its own. With the exception of physically designing the pieces and fulfilling the orders that come through Wilco's online store, the band's wide array of quirky merch offerings are handled in-house.
"We commission all the art, we approve all the art, we do all of the ordering of the actual stock and supplying both for the road and for the company that does the [online] fulfillment for us," Margherita says. "In the past we'd done it with several merchandise companies, but I just sat down and said, 'I know we can do it better than this.' I remember showing up at a gig and the official tour shirt was not even there. It was like, 'This cannot happen. There's going to be 7,000-8,000 people here and we don't have the shirt?'
Yankee Foxtrot Hotel Dog Collar: The Tweedy Souldier Dog Collar is made of the same vintage fabric Wilco's Jeff Tweedy uses for his guitar straps.
Wilco's merch selections have evolved far beyond tour shirts, catering to the Chicago band's mature, cult-y fan base. Attendees of Wilco's three-month North American and European jaunt this fall will find posters and ball caps nestled on the merch table alongside a "freaker" (a one-size-fits-all knitted beverage cozy), as well as a vinyl-record carrying case. Merch catering to environmentally conscious fans-such as Wilco-branded reusable nylon sandwich and snack bags ($8 and $10, respectively, and handmade by Massachusetts company snackTAXI)-are also available. Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche even has sweatbands for sale ($3, in three colors), embroidered with his last name and a cricket. "We just try to make cool, quality items, whether they're posters, yo-yos, T-shirts, dog collars or baby clothes," Margherita says. "When it goes well, it's fun for the business."
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