Photo by Philip Cosores
Wilco surprised everyone last month when they dropped a new album called Star Wars out of nowhere. It wasn’t just the album’s existence that bewildered folks, however, as everything from the title to the artwork was wonderfully head-scratching. After all, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is coming in December, and to release a record with the iconic title in the same year could be seen as ballsy.
As it turns out, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy had never heard of The Force Awakens until he told his legal team what the album would be called. “In fact, I didn’t even know there was a new Star Wars movie coming out until my lawyer told me,” he revealed in the latest issue of Rolling Stone (via Stereogum). “Everybody advised me against it, because there is a heavily protected trademark involved.”
The artwork was another off-the-cuff decision, as well, as it’s simply a picture that he sees a lot while working on Wilco tunes. “That painting of that cat hangs in the kitchen at the [Wilco] loft, and every day I’d look at it and go, ‘You know, that should just be the album cover.'” And that was that, until: “Then I started thinking about the phrase ‘Star Wars’ recontextualized against that painting — it was beautiful and jarring. Th album has nothing to do with Star Wars. It just made me feel good.”
Tweedy also discussed why the band decided to go with a surprise release instead of a regular album announcement. “I was really dreading the modern roll-out pattern,” he explained. “Usually by the time the record comes out, I hate it. I hate talking about it. I hate all the people that have weighed in on it. I think it’s done a disservice to our records, the way they’ve been heard in dribs and drabs, and a lot of people think they’ve heard a whole record after hearing one song. That’s not the way Wilco records work.”
And speaking of how Wilco records work, they apparently can come together rather quickly. According to Tweedy, he has “a whole lot of material” that’s ready to be recorded, calling it “very different.” Unfortunately, the catalyst for this recent bout of productivity hasn’t been the most positive of experiences. He explained:
“I certainly have been very prolific in the past few years, and it could be for a couple of reasons, [including] my wife’s cancer diagnoses. She’s doing great now. It’s provided maybe a deeper need for the distractions that I’ve learned how to use helpfully in my life. Like, no matter what condition I was in with addiction or anything, music has been a healthy adaptation in the face of some kind of maladaptation. But there’s something more practical than that, which is that I’ve been home a lot more than before, and in between chemo session and taking my wife to radiation and her recovering from the surgery, I’ve been walking to the loft [studio], making something for a little bit every day.”
Elsewhere, Tweedy discussed Wilco’s recent tour with Bob Dylan. He said he got to know the Bard a bit while on the road, and found his rather cross-grained temperament to be rather inspiring:
“We’ve talked a little bit, and I actually get a really warm feeling from him. I felt very inspired just being in the presence of somebody that has that few fucks to give about anything. There’s a lot of middle ground there between somebody like Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney, who totally gives it up every night for the people and the songs. But if I had to choose only one to be more inspired by, it’s definitely on the more curmudgeonly-asshole side of the spectrum.”
Listen to a full stream of Star Wars below.