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Family Reigns Supreme On Jeff Tweedy's New Album, 'Love Is The King'

Oct 29, 2020
Originally published on October 29, 2020 6:42 pm

The return of live music may still be a distant hope, but Jeff Tweedy has found plenty to keep him busy during the pandemic. The leader of Wilco has a new solo album called Love Is the King, on which he's traded his usual bandmates for people he's been quarantining with — his sons Spencer, who's 24, and Sammy, who's 20. He's also been livestreaming their evenings at home: Tune in to The Tweedy Show via Instagram and you might hear an impromptu family cover of a beloved song — or Jeff's wife, Susie, taking Sammy to task for his taste in movies.

Jeff, Spencer and Sammy Tweedy joined NPR's Mary Louise Kelly to discuss the making of Love Is the King, their very online evenings and the peculiar chemistry of entertaining as a family. Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read on for an edited transcript.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Mary Louise Kelly: I want to ask how The Tweedy Show came to be — because the idea of livestreaming my own family evenings at home during quarantine frankly sounds horrifying. Which of you decided this would be a good idea?

Jeff Tweedy: I think it was my wife's idea. She suggested that it would be nice to reach out to the fans that were so disappointed when our tour got canceled. One day I got my wife to laugh quite a bit at the notion of me just taking a bath and her coming in there livestreaming it — and a lot of people showed up. I don't know, the pandemic really made me feel like the distance that might be between, say, a performer and an audience wasn't there anymore. And it felt nice to invite people in a little bit.

YouTube

Sammy and Spencer, did your parents have to twist your arms on this? I'm imagining a lot of kids would not be immediately psyched at the idea of doing a livestream with their family on Instagram every night.

Spencer Tweedy: I can't say that I was excited to be in the bathroom while my dad was in a bathtub, but that was just the first night. And since then, no arm twisting on my end, because when we play music on the show and it's just this simple drum kit in the living room and guitars and whatnot, that's just what Sammy, my dad and I do for fun on other nights of the week. It's not a hard ask.

Jeff, tell me how all of this has fit into the origins of the new album.

Jeff: Well, songwriting for me, music in general for me, is my most surefire coping strategy. I think I got inspired, initially, to just distract myself with trying to write. I wanted to write songs that I felt like I could get in a time machine and go pitch to George Jones or something. I was picturing '50s, '60s country radio. Like "Natural Disaster" — classic country. You could tell somebody about the song in one sentence. I look at that as a sign of a really good country song.

Give me the sentence. What's the song about?

Jeff: I've never been in a natural disaster, but I've fallen in love.

Sammy, you sing on this record. Talk to me about how that unfolded.

Sammy: Well, because I was home from college, we started trying to come up with some harmony parts for my voice. We just ended up making something where my dad and I's voices were kind of — I just sound like a younger version of him, in many ways. That was really beautiful to us, and we started doing that more and more.

Jeff: You sound like a more adorable version of me.

Spencer, talk to us about your role here. What's it like playing with your dad and brother?

Spencer: It's the most effortless musical relationship that I have in my life. My dad and I have been making records together for about eight years now. and it's simply my favorite thing to do.

Where's Mom on this album by the way? Or was she like, "They're busy — finally, I get the bathroom."

Jeff: She always says she has debilitating stage fright, but she's the most confident person I know. ... I think there was an element of just wanting for us to give her a break.

There is one song, "Even I Can See," that read to me kind of like a love letter to your wife, Jeff.

Jeff: I think there are a lot of love letters to my wife on all my records, to be honest. But it definitely felt more explicit on this record just because, how can you not take stock when things are so devastating? I think it would be a wasted moment not to use that for some reevaluation of your good fortune, in spite of the darkness.

YouTube

If I might stick with the darkness, just for a second: Because we're all still in quarantine and we're heading into a cold winter — especially there where you are in Chicago — is there a winter pandemic album coming? How are you thinking about getting through this time as a family?

Jeff: At the best of times, for me personally, the autumn-into-winter season is challenging — so you're asking me at a particularly precarious moment what my coping strategy might be. But I inevitably will find some comfort in the spirit of creation: this idea that the world is always unfolding toward something you can't predict but you have the ability, through your creativity and your imagination, to contribute something beautiful, at the very least not tear anything down that needs to be intact for other people. At the same time, I think making things helps you identify things that should be torn down. I think that it actually gives you a little bit more license to figure out where things have outlasted their usefulness.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

No shows, no tours, but Jeff Tweedy has found plenty to keep him busy during the pandemic. Tweedy, frontman for the rock band Wilco, has a new solo album out - it's called "Love Is The King" - on which he has traded his Wilco bandmates for people he's been quarantining with, his sons - Spencer, who's 24, and Sammy, who's 20. He's also been livestreaming their evenings at home. Tune in via Instagram, and you might hear an impromptu family cover of a beloved song.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFF TWEEDY AND SAMMY TWEEDY: (Singing) And it's 4 o'clock in the morning, and all the people have gone away. Just you and your mind and Lake Shore Drive - tomorrow is another day.

KELLY: Or you might hear his wife Susie lay into their son Sammy over his taste in movies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUSIE TWEEDY: You don't like Alfred Hitchcock. You know what? You haven't watched the right Alfred Hitchcock.

SAMMY TWEEDY: I've watched a lot of them.

S TWEEDY: You know, Sammy...

JEFF TWEEDY: (Laughter).

S TWEEDY: ...I can't do this. I can't make everyone hate you.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: We are in for a treat because we are joined now by Jeff and Spencer and Sammy Tweedy. They all join us from Chicago. Welcome, all three of you.

J TWEEDY: Hello.

SAMMY TWEEDY: Hello.

SPENCER TWEEDY: Thank you.

SAMMY TWEEDY: Thank you.

KELLY: I have to start by saying I'm totally with mom on this one. Hitchcock is great.

SAMMY TWEEDY: I apologize to everyone...

(LAUGHTER)

SAMMY TWEEDY: ...In the world.

KELLY: You clearly have not watched the right one yet. But tell me, how did this come to be, The Tweedy Show, because I'm thinking the idea of livestreaming some of my family evenings at home during quarantine is frankly horrifying. Which of you decided this would be a good idea?

J TWEEDY: I think it was my wife's idea. You know, she suggested that it would be nice to reach out to the fans that were so disappointed when our tour got canceled. And one day I got my wife to laugh quite a bit at the notion of me just taking a bath and her coming in there and livestreaming it.

KELLY: (Laughter) OK.

J TWEEDY: And a lot of people showed up. And I don't know. The pandemic really made me feel like the distance that might be between, say, a performer and an audience weren't there anymore. And I kind of - I don't know. It just felt nice to invite people in a little bit.

KELLY: Sammy and Spencer, did your parents have to twist your arms on this? I'm imagining a lot of kids would not be immediately psyched at the idea of doing a livestream on Instagram with their parents every night.

SPENCER TWEEDY: This is Spencer. And I can't say that I was excited to be in the bathroom while my dad was...

KELLY: (Laughter).

SPENCER TWEEDY: ...In a bathtub that first night. But that was just the first night. And since then, no arm twisting on my end because when we played music on the show and it's just this simple drum kit in the living room and guitars and whatnot, that's just what Sammy, my dad and I do for fun on other nights of the week. So it's not a hard ask.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

J TWEEDY AND SAMMY TWEEDY: (Singing) At the end of the end of this beautiful dream we're in I wake up again, a robin or a wren.

KELLY: Tell me about how all of this has fit into the origins of the new album.

J TWEEDY: Well, you know, songwriting for me, music in general for me is my most surefire coping strategy. So I think I got inspired initially to just distract myself with trying to write. I wanted to write songs that I felt like I could get in a time machine and go pitch to George Jones or something, you know? I was, like, picturing '50s, '60s country radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NATURAL DISASTER")

J TWEEDY: (Singing) I've seen a twister that tear across the plains.

Like "Natural Disaster," that classic country, you know, like you could tell somebody about the song in one sentence - I look at that as a sign of a really good country song.

KELLY: Give me the sentence. What's the song about?

J TWEEDY: I've never been in a natural disaster, but I've fallen in love.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NATURAL DISASTER")

J TWEEDY: (Singing) And that's enough of a natural disaster for me.

KELLY: Sammy, you sing on this record. You don't play any instruments, but you're singing. Talk to me about how that unfolded.

SAMMY TWEEDY: Well, because I was home from college naturally for this one, we started trying to come up with some harmony parts for my voice. And we just ended up making something where my dad and I's voices were just kind of - I just sound like a younger version of him in many ways. And that was really beautiful to us. And we started doing that more and more.

J TWEEDY: You sound like a more adorable version of me.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: So sweet.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAVE IT FOR ME")

J TWEEDY: (Singing) When the world falls apart, I can say with certainty there's a reason, a light left on in an empty room.

KELLY: And, Spencer, talk to us about your role here. What's it like playing with dad and brother?

SPENCER TWEEDY: It's the most effortless musical relationship that I have in my life. My dad and I have been making records together for about eight years now, and it's simply my favorite thing to do.

KELLY: Where's mom on this album, by the way? Or was she like, OK, finally I get the bathroom. They're busy (laughter).

J TWEEDY: I think there was an element of just wanting for us to give her a break and all get out of the house (laughter).

SPENCER TWEEDY: She doesn't like to be in front of the camera or in front of the microphone or anything like that.

J TWEEDY: She always says she has debilitating stage fright, but she's the most confident person I know (laughter).

KELLY: There is a - there is one song on this that read to me, like, kind of like a love letter to your wife, Jeff Tweedy. It's "Even I Can See."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVEN I CAN SEE")

J TWEEDY: (Singing) If I may have your attention please. I'll tell you about my wife and what she means to me, how fiercely she believes what she believes.

J TWEEDY: I think there are a lot of love letters to my wife on all my records, to be honest. But it definitely felt more explicit on this record just because how can you not take stock when things are so devastating? I think it would be a wasted moment not to use that for some reevaluation of your good fortune in spite of the darkness.

KELLY: If I might stick with the darkness just for a second - because we're all still in quarantine and we're heading into a cold winter, especially there where y'all are in Chicago. Is there another - a winter pandemic album, or how are you thinking about getting through this time as a family?

J TWEEDY: At the best of times, for me, personally, the autumn into winter season is challenging. So you're asking me at a particularly precarious moment (laughter) what my coping strategy might be. But I inevitably will find some comfort in the spirit of creation, this - the idea that the world is always unfolding towards something that you don't - you can't predict. But you have the ability through your creativity and your imagination to contribute something beautiful or, at the very least, not tear anything down that needs to be intact for other people. At the same time, I think making things helps you identify things that should be torn down. I think that it actually gives you a little bit more license to figure out where things have outlasted their usefulness.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF TWEEDY SONG, "TROUBLED")

KELLY: That is Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and his sons, Sammy and Spencer Tweedy. Thank you so much to all three of you.

J TWEEDY: Thank you.

SAMMY TWEEDY: Thank you.

SPENCER TWEEDY: Thank you.

J TWEEDY: Nice talking to you.

KELLY: Jeff Tweedy's new album is "Love Is The King." His new book is "How To Write One Song."

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF TWEEDY SONG, "TROUBLED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.