Last week we featured the "Classic" Wilco, the band that still maintained (sometimes) tenuous ties to its alt.country lineage. This week we veer with the band into the more adventurous, undefined territory that dovetails nicely with the story of the band as well.
We left off at Wilco's SUMMERTEETH album, a lush, dense record that left the band at the "What now?" point that all bands seem to reach at some point in their careers. Given the chance to write a fresh batch of songs to match with more Woody Guthrie lyrics, the band then contributed a number of songs to the second MERMAID AVENUE record, one of which ("Someday Some Morning Sometime") was a key signpost to the path the band would take. Leaving the denseness of SUMMERTEETH behind, the sometimes-ghostly, ethereal "Someday Some Morning Sometime" was the first hint towards a more atmospheric, moody path the band would often revisit, refine and expand in the 2000s.
Then everything went berserk.
Band starts writing songs for their next record, and starts recording them in their own loft studio space with their own Jay Bennett (guitars/keyboards/songwriting) engineering the sessions.
Band agrees to be filmed during the recording sessions, for a future feature-length film on the band and the making of this record.
Band then fires their original drummer Ken Coomer, replacing him with (admittedly superior) Glenn Kotche. This happened the very same day filmmaker Sam Jones showed up with all his gear to start making the film.
Band finishes the record (after a long, drawn-out mixing process pitting multi-talented Jay Bennett against Tweedy's choice to mix, avante-gardeist Jim O'Rourke, in which what was initially sounding like SUMMERTEETH Part II became much more intimate, experimental and unique), turns it in to their label Reprise (an arm of Warner Bros Records), and promptly gets dropped from the label. This conversation - where Reprise drops the band, and tells manager Tony Margherita so - is caught by Sam Jones' cameras. Initially the band was to pay $50,000 to get the rights to the new record back for themselves, but eventually Reprise lets them go for free.
Before signing a new deal, band fires the aforementioned Bennett - losing a key songwriter, guitarist, and superb keyboardist. They're now down to a four-piece: Jeff Tweedy (songwriter/guitars/vocals), John Stirratt (bass), Leroy Bach (keyboards/guitars) and Glenn Kotche (drums/percussion).
Band then signs to another Warner Bros imprint Nonesuch, essentially getting Warners to pay twice for the new record - which eventually sees release in April 2002 entitled YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT.
This post was initially to feature your humble blogger's favorite Wilco tracks from the immediate post-SUMMERTEETH era through today - but after writing the above, I've decided to go a bit more out there.
We will be recompiling the said YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT record, but from the various demo/engineering sample versions that leaked out shortly after the record's release. I'm excited to do this post, because this record (as it was released) is easily my favorite Jeff Tweedy-related record, by a country mile.
Taken from two unique demo/engineering leaks, and the final record versions as well, this is a fascinating listen - especially if you compare the "befores" to the "afters". The befores often feature the track as it sounded with former drummer Ken Coomer, while the afters feature Glenn Kotche. Furthermore, if you sequence the record including the tracks that ultimately were dropped from the final running order, you really do have what could have been SUMMERTEETH Part II - which, obviously, Jeff Tweedy had no interest in making.
In fact, I'll make it easy. I'll compile 'em all here - including the versions on the record as it was finally released.
So on with it, links down there somewhere....
"Demo" - taken from the 21-track leaked demo CD, supposedly from tracks recorded before drummer Ken Coomer was fired and replaced by Glenn Kotche. The drumming, to me, is much more Ken-ish than Glenn-ish, which is hard to explain beyond that the drums are less, say, nuanced than Glenn's drumming.
"Engineer Reference" - taken from an unknown-lineage leaked CD that supposedly was used as a mixing reference during the final mixdown sessions with Jim O'Rourke. It is unknown who the drummer was on these tracks, I suspect it's Glenn but I have nothing to back that up - though the drums do sound more Glenn-ish than Ken-ish, and they sound far closer to the final mix versions than the earlier demo versions. Please note that these are taken as-is, and that the Engineer Reference disc did feature some glitches as initially leaked (and no better source has turned up). I present these tracks warts-and-all, including the tape spinup sounds you hear at the beginning of some of the Engineer Reference tracks.
- - - - - -
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
02 Engineer Reference
03 Final album track
04 Demo, take 1
05 Demo, take 2
06 Engineer Reference
07 Final album track
08 Engineer Reference - vocal, entitled "Corduroy Cutoff Girl"
09 Final album track
War On War
10 Engineer Reference
11 Final album track
12 Final album track
(no known demo version has leaked)
Ashes of American Flags
14 Engineer Reference (Glenn drums?)
15 Final album track (Jay Bennett drums - it's been confirmed Jay's rough-mix drums were used on the final album track)
Heavy Metal Drummer
17 Engineer Reference
18 Final album track
I'm The Man Who Loves You
20 Engineer Reference
21 Final album track
Pot Kettle Black
22 Engineer Reference
23 Final album track
25 Engineer Reference
26 Final album track
28 Engineer Reference
29 Final album track
* * * * Bonus "unreleased" (see note below) * * * *
A Magazine Called Sunset
30 Demo, take 1
31 Demo, take 2
32 Engineer Reference
Not For The Season
33 Demo, take 1
34 Demo, take 2
35 Demo, take 1
36 Demo, take 2
37 Engineer Reference
Nothing Up My Sleeve
39 Engineer Reference
Venus Stop The Train
Cars Can't Escape
42 Engineer Reference
43 wilcoworld.net Roadcase official download version
Won't Let You Down
45 Engineer Reference
The Good Part
46 Engineer Reference
47 B-side to "War On War" released track
Corduroy Cutoff Girl
48 Demo - instrumental, take 1
49 Demo - instrumental, take 2
Let Me Come Home
50 Demo - instrumental
51 Engineer Reference - vocal
Split into 5 RAR files, as usual, you must download all of them....
- - - - - -
Tracks 6 and 32 saw official release on the More Like The Moon EP (extra CD with some versions of YHF, also freely downloadable from the band's website)
Track 51 was released on the benefit CD Amos House Collection Vol. 3
"Not For The Season" was remade as a Loose Fur track (Tweedy/O'Rourke/Kotche) and retitled "Laminated Cat", with a much sparser sound
"Shakin' Sugar" and "Venus Stop The Train" were re-recorded and released by Jay Bennett on his debut solo release The Palace at 4 AM
- - - - - -
Jim O'Rourke's final mixes - as heard on the final album track songs - are clearly more defined, less sprawling, and, frankly, better than the original demo versions or the Engineer Reference variants. Just compare the three versions of "Poor Places" - the upbeat, honky-tonk Demo variant is miles away from the final album track - and it's much better for Jim O'Rourke's involvement.
Next posting will address the rest of Wilco's career to date. Enjoy!