Jeff Tweedy on Two New Wilco Releases: 'The Last Thing in the World I Wanted to Do Was to Listen Through All the Old Records'

Austin Nelson 


Though Wilco releases two major retrospectives this week to celebrate the band's 20th anniversary, Jeff Tweedy admits that he's not a guy who likes to celebrate the past. 

"The last thing in the world I wanted to do was to listen through all the old records and all the old outtakes. It's just not my nature to feel too comfortable doing that," Tweedy tells Billboard. Nevertheless, he says that "I thoroughly approve of everything" on the 38-track What's Your 20: Essential Tracks best-of collection and Alpha Mike Foxtrot, a four-CD set featuring rare and unreleased studio and live tracks. 

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"I honestly didn't spend that much time putting them together," Tweedy notes. "I did listen through the rarities box to write some liner notes for it and came away from that feeling like we've left most of our best songs off the records. Maybe not, but I guess it's just because familiarity breeds contempt; when you play a song 500 times and then you play a song you forgot you even recorded, it sounds fresh and innocent, and at the same time pretty accomplished. But for me, once I've had the joy of making something and disappearing into the act of creating something, a song generally has served its purpose for me. I don't need to go back and look at them some more."

Tweedy says his favorite material on Alpha Mike Foxtrot comes from "our kind of middle period, like Summerteeth through A Ghost is Born, stuff I think is really interesting. My favorite things that we've ever recorded are these exercises we were doing around the time of A Ghost is Born called Fundamentals. A lot of that stuff ended up on the (rarities) record." What's Your 20, meanwhile, held a bit less interest for Tweedy, and he credits longtime manager Tony Margherita with spearheading that project.

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"It certainly can't be a greatest hits album; it would be blank at that pint," Tweedy says with a laugh. "A best-of is pretty subjective, and I was really reliant on Tony; he's been my manager since I worked in a record store he managed and we've been buddies and collaborators all this time, so I really trust his perception of that. To me, any time anybody tells me they have a favorite song or they really like some song on a record, my immediate though its, 'What's wrong with all the other ones?' So it's best for me to not get involved in stuff like that."

Tweedy and Wilco will be continuing the 20th anniversary celebration with Wilco Winterlude 2014, a six-night residency beginning Dec. 5 at the Riviera Theatre in Chicago, with a different, career-spanning set list for each show. Wilco's last studio album, The Whole Love, came out in September of 2011, and Tweedy says there's motion towards a follow-up, possibly in 2015. "I feel fortunate I have some raw material to be in a band with other people and provide material, so we'll see where it leads," Tweedy explains. "I have a studio, which is handy, and it's a cool place to keep everything I've been working on, demos and stuff, so we can just go back and listen to stuff and start from there."

Tweedy also plans to continue making music with the band Tweedy, and group he started with his son Spencer. The group released its first album, Sukierae, in September, with 20 of some 40 tracks it worked on, and Tweedy says he has ever intention ot maintain it as a going concern. 

"I think it's really a thoroughly enjoyable thing, and I think its significantly different, especially live, from what Wilco does," Tweedy says. "I feel like I have creative steam to sustain both things and participate in both things, fully engaged and satisfied. It might be four years before we get another chance; Spencer is going to college next fall, so it'll probably be a while before we have another opportunity. But I know we'll do more together."