Jeff Tweedy Talks About Summerteeth

The songwriter branches out from roots rock with new Wilco album

| May-June 1999

If you said there were two sides to the Chicago rock band Wilco, you’d be several sides short.

On its debut album, A.M., Wilco played grade-A roots rock in the vein of Uncle Tupelo, bandleader Jeff Tweedy’s former group. For its second release, the two-CD Being There, the band took a sharp left off the alt-country path, adopting a low-fi sound that was idiosyncratic and experimental. Last year, Wilco entered music history when it was tapped by Billy Bragg to collaborate on Mermaid Avenue, the Grammy-nominated album that set Woody Guthrie lyrics to new tunes. And several band members have cranked out successful side projects, including Tweedy, who has played with alternative-rock “supergroup” Golden Smog.

Wilco remains completely unpredictable on its new album, Summerteeth, which sounds like a ‘90s mutation of the “B” section in your record store: the Band, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Big Star. A cascade of sonic effects—horn riffs, bells, singing birds, psychedelic interludes—drape over songs about the ebbs and flows of relationships. The sound is audacious, almost humorous, recalling the ‘70s through a postpunk lens.

“Ideally, I always want to be surprised,” says Tweedy. “I want to look at something at the end of the day and go, ‘How did we do that?’”



They did it this time by fussing over details. Tweedy says the actual performances were “maybe a tenth” of the time spent making Summer Teeth. The rest was studio time spent tinkering, à la former Beach Boy Brian Wilson, with sounds and mixes.

“We kept raising the ridiculousness bar. We’d finish one song and think, ‘Wow, that’s over the top. But now this song isn’t going to fit.’ So we’d take that one back apart and put some stuff on it.”