Wilco keep pushing ahead

Jeff Tweedy doesn’t mind bad reviews.

“The really negative stuff is really fun to read because people tend to be able to write better when they’re being terrible,” the Wilco frontman says.

But ultimately he doesn’t care what others think of this music.

“It would be terrible if people convince me something I did was great, that I don’t feel as great and thinking it is great would prevent me from wanting to move forward and vice versa,” he muses on the phone from his home in Chicago.

Wilco were famously dumped from their label after its bosses deemed 2000 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot not “commercially viable”. The band eventually streamed the album on their website and released it two years later on another label.

The record went on to sell more than half a million copies and amassed a lot of critical acclaim.

Every attempt to pigeonhole Wilco’s sound is doomed to fail. They deliver intelligent alt country, indulgent, layered pieces of pure playfulness, avant-garde rock and catchy pop pearls.

Their latest album, 2011’s The Whole Love is no exemption, once again generating “America’s Radiohead” comparisons.

Although Wilco signed with another offshoot of Warner Bros after their label row, that was chronicled in the documentary, I Am Only Trying to Break Your Heart, the band always maintained their indie band image.

Last year they followed through with it, releasing The Whole Love, on their own label dBpm Records.

Although Tweedy says he doesn’t have much to do with the day-to-day business of the label, he enjoys “finding creative ways to present ourselves and looking at any aspect of what we’re doing as a band as an opportunity to do something that has some expression to it”.

The band’s website, WilcoWorld.net, for example, is reaching out to their fans on many levels. There are photo competitions, a list of their causes where they give back to communities and charities and a button next to their show listings for fans to request songs.

“I don’t personally engage in any sort if tweeting or social media stuff, but as a band, as an entity, it is really nice to be so much more connected to our audience and have fewer people in between us and our audience in terms of middlemen and record labels and that,” Tweedy says.

“It is an unprecedented time for just being able to communicate directly with the people who are supporting us and that’s really great to watch this side of things grow and learn how to navigate that.”

The requests still mainly came from “hardcore fans that go on the website, and hardcore fans tend to request obscurities”.

“The other really interesting thing for me is that the other songs that end up on request lists,” Tweedy says. “I can look at the request list and I know what we played last time we were in town because they are very similar.

“People want to relive a – hopefully – good experience they had the first time the saw us,” he says.

The band has been around for almost 20 years, the last 10 in a stable lineup and through the release of eight albums have amassed a huge fanbase of all ages.

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“We’ve been around for a long time so there’s a familiarity and we’re a band that people had an opportunity to grow up or grow older with.

“I’d like to think that Wilco fans are real music fans and they would go see Leonard Cohen one week and go the XX the next week and not even consider that there are 60 years difference in their ages or whatever,” Tweedy says.

The sextet is due next month for another visit to New Zealand, of which they have nothing but fond memories – having been here regularly and having recorded their 2009 album Wilco (The Album) in Neil Finn’s Roundhead Studio in Auckland.

This time they’re bringing along fellow Chicagoan and gospel-soul legend Mavis Staples, whose 2011 Grammy-winning album You Are Not Alone was produced by Tweedy.

“We just met and hit it off and we have this rally tight bond and for some reason it feels like family,” he says about the youngest of the four Staples Sisters, who is a surrogate grandmother for his children.

What finally ends up on their set list for their two shows is still to be seen. But there’s no doubt that it will be a memorable night.

Or as the Rolling Stone Magazine puts it, Wilco are “a jam band a hipster could love, with every note so tasty and rich you need to hit the gym after a couple of listens.”

Wilco with Marvis Staples April 5, Wellington Town Hall April 6, Auckland Town Hall.