As Wilco head ever deeper into sessions for their fourth album proper (sixth counting the two Woody Guthrie records with Billy Bragg), the band members are somehow finding time to branch out into an eclectic array of side projects.
Frontman Jeff Tweedy has begun recording an album with producer/guitarist/feedback composer Jim O'Rourke and Chicago drum whiz Glenn Kotche. Best known as a boardman for all manner of sonic tweakers (Sonic Youth, Brainiac) and aural manipulator for Kentucky-based math rockersGastr del Sol, O'Rourke has also collaborated with a disparate batch of musicians from six-string fusionist Henry Kaiser to the avant-garde jazz players in the Kronos Quartet. At last year's Noisepop Festival in Chicago, Tweedy and O'Rourke puzzled and delighted folks in a live collaboration of edgy noise at local venue the Double Door. The as yet-untitled collaboration, on which Tweedy and O'Rourke will swap vocal duties, should see a late 2001 release.
Tweedy is also scoring the forthcoming flick from actor turned director Ethan Hawke, an Independent Film Channel sponsored film called Chelsea Walls (formerly entitled "Last Word On Paradise"). The project marks the Wilco leader's second foray into film score work, the first being director Allison Maclean's Jesus' Son, from 1999, to which Wilco also lent a few tunes ("She's A Jar" and "Airline to Heaven").
Supposedly inspired by Welsh playwright Dylan Thomas' "Under Milkwood," the film takes place in large part inside New York's famed Chelsea Hotel. Starring Marisa Tomei, Kris Kristofferson and Hawke's significant other, Uma Thurman, the film will do the festival circuit early next year with a theatrical release likely afterwards. Wilco themselves appear in the film, playing house band in the hotel bar for cult jazz icon Little Jimmy Scott's reading of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" as well as backing actor Frank Whalley for a monologue.
In addition, Wilco manager Tony Margherita claims that there will be a scene in which several of the film's characters sit around trying to figure out Wilco's "The Lonely 1" (from 1996's Being There) on acoustic guitars. Margherita also said that Wilco's label, Reprise Records, is looking to release the soundtrack to Chelsea Walls sometime around the summer of 2001. Wilco will be contributing two previously hard-to-find gems to the record: "When The Roses Bloom Again" (previously found on the Oxford American's 2000 Southern Sampler compilation) and "Promising" (previously found on Wilco's 1997 promo-only, vinyl-only, All Over The Place EP). Portions of Tweedy's original score, which he's already completed, should turn up on the soundtrack as well.
As if all this wasn't enough to titillate avid Wilcoists, the balance of the band (Jay Bennett, Ken Coomer and John Stirratt) has been asked to back Louisiana rockabilly legend Dale Hawkins for a forthcoming album. Best known for penning 1957's "Suzy Q," a song Credence Clearwater Revival would ride to stardom a decade later, Hawkins is hoping to lay down tracks with the guys in the coming months for an independent album to be released in early 2001.
As for the new Wilco album, Margherita says the band is "three quarters of the way done" with it. Self-producing at their own Chicago studio, the Loft, the boys have tracked upwards of twenty songs for the still untitled release. Among those committed to tape thus far are two songs, "Reservations" and "I'm The Man Who Loves You," that fans might recognize from the Wilco's recent string of dates in the Midwest. The band is shooting for an early summer of 2001 release.
Between now and then, look for Tweedy to play a series of bi-coastal solo gigs, sometime around late February. Fans of the band will have a direct conduit for all things Wilco come Dec. 15 when their official Web site, wilcoworld.net, launches with news and exclusive, downloadable live tracks.