Tell Me About That Album: The Whole Love by Wilco

Austin Nelson
Wilco are a band's band. Second perhaps only to Radiohead in terms of love from rock critics, Wilco are also the kind of band other bands aspire to be like: Career artists who have sustained success on their own terms mostly outside the mainstream. Wilco's eighth album, The Whole Love, is their most challenging in years, earning the band a Grammy nomination and a successful North American tour. On the heels of their upcoming sold out show at the Paramount on February 7th, we talked to Wilco's longtime bassist John Stirratt, who provided some insight on the band's creative process, his feelings about the Grammys and his favorite Seattle ritual.

Is there any discussion before the writing process for a record begins -- or while it's going on -- about its concept or mood or agenda? It's usually unspoken until we have a few songs. It seems like there will be multiple threads going on with a record. This one had that. One thread was sort of a "One Sunday Morning" spacy, folk feel. And the other was a more experimental, louder, more rocking thread with "I Might" and "Born Alone" and songs like that. In years past, to try to get a more clean record, we've maybe gone one path. Sky Blue Sky was like that. This record just merged after a while. A sound wants to take over and you have to sort of allow it. It is a real challenge to make different sounds and different feels exist on a single record, and I think Wilco (The Album) was a less-successful version of that. That really takes time and we had a lot more time with The Whole Love.

Can you tell me about the title and why it changed from its original one, Get Well Soon, Everybody? I think it happens with bands that more humorous titles come out sooner, and I think everybody liked it. We had this album art that we thought sold the whole thing in a really good way and we weren't able to get the piece of art. We had a lot of hopes wrapped up in the entire package. The Whole Love is parlance for detectives when a suspect is about to give a confession they say they're going to get the whole love. And I think Jeff got really attached to that idea.

Was it a famous artwork that you wanted for the cover? [Laughs.] No, it wasn't all that famous, but they just wanted a lot of money for it. That's the reality of having your own record label these days and trying to work within a decent budget. The [Joanne] Greenbaum stuff on the cover we thought would be part of the package regardless.

How did you discover her work and what made it seem like a good fit? Jeff was a fan and had some of the work around the loft and everyone dug what she was into. I love the album cover, the more spiral-y sort of things. After "Art of Almost," where there was this almost abstract piece of music leading off the record, I think it really felt at home to me. It fell right into the sound and the look of the record to all of us.

The album is nominated for the Best Rock Album Grammy. Do you feel any kinship with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Kings of Leon or Jeff Beck? Uh, no. [Laughs]. Jeff Beck is a hero for sure and he continues to amaze -- what an artist. I thought we might be more in tune with the alternative thing, but maybe we're just too old.

Does the nomination validate the work? Do you care about nominations? I care. It is nice to be acknowledged by your peers. Obviously there's an aspect that's flawed to the whole thing, in terms of it being a contest. I guess we've been nominated a lot now, but I think the only time we won was when we haven't attended, so we're thinking that might be a good idea.

Do you have a favorite song from the album? "Born Alone" is one I always love playing. And I do have a soft spot for "I Might." To me it invokes a real honest attitude from Jeff that I was hoping we'd get to see on this record.

In a discography filled with great lyrics, do you have a favorite lyric on the record? As a whole, I think the narrative of "One Sunday Morning" really blew me away.

Do you have any rituals in Seattle that are different from other cities? Coffee is a big ritual for me wherever I am, and there's hardly a better town than Seattle for that.

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