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Wilco's Bennett Out on His Own

Multi-instrumentalist erecting "Palace"

March 1, 2002 12:00 AM ET

Departed Wilco multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett and singer-songwriter Edward Burch will release The Palace at 4 A.M. -- the first of what the former plans to be a minimum of three albums -- on April 23rd. "It's all over the place," says Bennett of the album which consists of eleven new originals and a re-worked version of "My Darlin'," a song he wrote while in Wilco. "Mentally organizing the album, we divided it into some Nick Lowe/Elvis Costello-type pop, John Lennon-esque ballads and some extremely dark, minor-key things. We used those three categories to make sure certain things were equally well-represented out of the selection of the fifty-some-odd songs we're working on."

A full six months have gone by since Bennett left Wilco. "My departure was as amicable as a departure can be," he says, "and I guess what I mean by that is that nothing is perfect. If you leave a job, or you leave a girlfriend or you leave a band, there's always things you'll question, things you'll wish you had done differently things and things you wish other people had done differently. There will always be anger, hurt, fear and regret, but in this case I think most of those negative emotions are really overshadowed by the fact that I still love all those guys and wish them the best. I am very happy to be doing what I'm doing, and in that sense I'm thankful."

Bennett and Burch -- a Chicago native and occasional performer with acts such as Bob Egan and the Handsome Family -- began writing songs nearly seven years ago "on couches with acoustic guitars." That pattern that continued sporadically over the years, with the core of what would become the pair's debut album penned in a particularly productive sitting four years back. According to Bennett, due to "Wilco responsibilities," the time for the sustained sessions necessary to complete an album were previously an impossibility -- a roadblock removed when he left the group in August.

Bennett says his partnership with Burch is a collaboration in the truest sense of the word. "Most of the stuff we've done will originate with me melodically, but Ed has a knack for changing a word here and a word there to make the most of things." Typical of this process he says, is the song "Talk to Me." "It was shit," says Bennett. "It was a really nascent, little, spare, slow thing I would have thrown in the garbage, and he made it catchy. It's an amazing song now. I don't know how he did it."

A regular reader of Smithsonian magazine, Bennett grabbed the title of the album from an Alberto Giacometti sculpture of the same name discussed in an article. "It's the name of a sculpture that's purely in a private collection," he says. "To me, it feels like the studio is the palace where everything is created, working twenty-four straight hours, or straight through a three-day weekend, where you're walking away exhausted and jubilant. It's about treating the studio with a certain reverence."

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