I was always inspired by Wilco. At one point before Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was released I was listening to an advance pressing at the YMCA everyday in Philadelphia. I talked their head of PR to sending it to me, posing as a writer. I’d listen to Jeff Tweedy’s close mic’d words while running the treadmill and watching a class of obese women do aerobics through the glass. I was planning on getting fit, saving money, moving to Chicago, starting a band, signing to Bloodshot, touring the world, and making a hit record. I was still a long way off. But I had the right soundtrack.
As the years past I moved to Chicago, started the band, and got signed (never did get too fit really but I’m still trying). All the time my allegiance to Wilco’s music always continued. And they always seemed to be just a degree away. Our first drummer was Glenn’s drum tech. I used to practice at Leroy Bach’s house. Even Jeff would come to the theater I work at, The Second City, and do his charity show at Letters to Santa every year and I would wonder if I’d ever have the guts to say hello. I saw them play live 10 times at least. I bought the B Sides. Wore the t-shirt. But eventually, like with all young loves, I lost track of them, waiting a little longer to buy the new records, studying the lyrics less – too busy working on my own.
In 2009 the Uptown Sound was brainstorming doing a cover that was not soul music. We talked about The Smiths’ “This Charming Man”, Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work” and a couple others. But it was at a sound check at a WGN show that I started doing a bit about our friend Syl Johnson doing the greatest hits of Wilco. And that’s when it hit me.
By the Do Division fest that summer we had an arrangement of I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, with the bridge lifted from Theologians. We sent a video of the performance to their PR person, the same woman who I used to call asking for advance releases pretending to be a writer. She said the band loved it. I ran into Pat Sansone and he confirmed it. I was ecstatic. The whole band was. Knowing that Wilco liked it spurred the band on to recording it and eventually making a video. Encouraged by our mutual friend Heather Whinna, I finally got up the guts to talk to Jeff and gave him the test pressing.
On tour we learned that Wilco had posted our video to their site and the next time I saw Jeff he asked me if we’d ever let him sing it with him. So here I am standing there with essentially my hero and he’s asking me if he can sit in with my band. And true to his word he invited us to play the Park West with him and then come to Solid Sound and sang it with us. Sharing the same microphone as one of my hero’s has been a highlight of the year and my life as a musician.
But the most interesting part may be being in the periphery of Wilco’s Universe. They still make great records (Check out “I Might” from the upcoming record – fuck yeah I still find a way to hear them early.) But now they spend their time creating their own studio, their own label, their own festival. Doing things their way. A new way. They appear more committed to charity and using their influence to better the young arts community around them than any other band. I’m always inspired by Wilco. -Billy