On July 16th, Wilco shocked their fans in the best way possible: by releasing Star Wars, the band’s first album in four years, for free on their website, with no advance warning. The album is Wilco’s best in at least a decade, full of loose, poppy rockers like “Random Name Generator” and “The Joke Explained.” After recording the basic tracks himself in the Wilco loft in Chicago, frontman Jeff Tweedy brought in the other members of the band separately to play on them. The process has proved so productive that Tweedy says he’s already halfway finished with the next Wilco album. “I have a whole lot of material,” he says. “[The next album] is very different.”
First off, your new album is called Star Wars, and there‘s a cat on the cover. Please explain.
It’s kind of an extension of the thought process behind, I don’t know, staying in touch with some sort of wild energy as much as possible and some sort of an irreverence. But that painting of that cat hangs in the kitchen at the [Wilco] loft, and every day I’d look at it and go, “You know, that should just be the album cover.” Then I started thinking about the phrase “Star Wars” recontextualized against that painting — it was beautiful and jarring. The album has nothing to do with Star Wars. It just makes me feel good. It makes me feel limitless and like there’s still possibilities and still surprise in the world, you know?
Are you even a Star Wars fan?
No! In fact, I didn’t know there was a new Star Wars movie coming out until my lawyer told me.
Was there any problem there?
Everybody advised me against it, because there is a heavily protected trademark involved. But I think from our point of view, it was clearly recontextualized, clearly did not have any of the look and feel of what would be protected under law. So, you know, we’ll see. They haven’t said anything so far. I know that the nature of it is that it’s likely that somebody would just because you kinda have to protect trademarks, I guess — you know, otherwise you lose them. But we didn’t see it as that as all. I actually don’t think of that movie at all, and that was kind of the point. You can still take something and make it your own. Everybody feels like we’re kind of, I don’t know, getting into this artistic malaise and this sort of existential malaise… “Everything’s been done.” And I think that’s a bullshit dead-end that’s pretty self-manufactured usually. I’m making it sound like it’s really fucking heavy. It’s not. Like I said, I just felt good.