2022 was meant to be the year Wilco celebrated the 20th anniversary of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the album that almost split the band but ended up securing their legend. However, this is a group that likes to keep moving – hence the surprise appearance in May of the organic and emotionally direct Cruel Country.
For this month’s cover story – in UK shops from Thursday, July 21 and available to buy from our online store – Jeff Tweedy and his cohorts explain why Wilco don’t really do nostalgia: “We value ourselves based on what’s on the horizon.”
The band have also curated an alternate version of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot exclusively for Uncut, which is only available with our September 2022 issue.
Wilco’s sole UK stop on their summer European tour is at the Black Deer Festival, a celebration of Americana held in the Marquess of Abergavenny’s estate on the Kent/Sussex border. Surrounded by the Sussex Weald’s thick woodland, it’s a sedate English scene far from the wind-blown Midwest landscapes Wilco conjure on their new double album, Cruel Country.
It already sounds like one of their finest records, looking back to the glistening, redemptive acoustic beauty of 2007’s Sky Blue Sky, and further still to Uncle Tupelo. But 2022 also finds Wilco reckoning with their storied past more directly, with the upcoming 20th-anniversary reissue of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. With its troubled genesis, an eerie post-9/11 resonance, experimental production and tender songs, the album has always been a Wilco landmark. This new monolithic reissue – the 8CD Super Deluxe Edition includes 82 unreleased tracks – restates the case that it’s still their most crucial record, opening the way to everything they’ve done since, Cruel Country included.
Talking to Uncut backstage at Black Deer, John Stirratt – Wilco’s bassist and the band’s sole constant bar Jeff Tweedy since the band’s inception in 1994 – has the rangy, lived-in attitude of a ’70s Hollywood character actor. Multi-instrumentalist Mikael Jorgensen, who joined in 2002, still talks with the boyish, undimmed enthusiasm of a Wilco fan. Tweedy sports a green jacket and the rustic yellow hat he’ll doff on stage like an Opry showman. He has the amiable conviction of a man who’s exactly where he’s meant to be, his voice dry in tone but crackling with conviction about his work. “I’m really, really happy that we have a new record out and it’s not just a year devoted to looking backwards,” he says. “Wilco isn’t a band that has any real interest in catering to nostalgia. We value ourselves based on what’s on the horizon.”
Taking the stage at Black Deer, the band offer one answer to their legacy’s conundrums with a set that artfully interweaves their past and present, as new songs rub shoulders with old favourites, revealing the common thread of 28 years of radically shifting styles. The soft, pedal-steel swirl of Cruel Country’s “Story To Tell” is followed by Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’s epochal opener “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”, with Tweedy’s voice rediscovering its old fragile slur. The new “Ambulance” considers death and redemption, themes that roll through Yankee…’s “War On War”, as well as “Bird Without A Tail/Base Of My Skull”, whose mix of soft ballad beauty and freakout has much in common with Sky Blue Sky’s “Impossible Germany”. The tumbling, psychedelic madness of 1999’s Summerteeth ballad “Via Chicago” then shows Wilco’s penchant for experimentation didn’t start with Yankee.
“That diversity and contrast is what Wilco represents,” states guitarist Nels Cline, checking in later from Wilco’s next stop in Spain, alongside drummer and percussionist Glenn Kotche. “Having no hits is pretty liberating; so is being stylistically unpredictable. One of the reasons why I joined the band, honestly, is because I was aware of that. I felt coming into Wilco that I wouldn’t be in some sort of straitjacket. And I was right!”
PICK UP THE NEW UNCUT FOR THE FULL STORY