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Q&A: Jeff Tweedy

Wilco’s leader was snubbed by the Grammys, but that’s all right, because he owns the perfect guitar and jams with his kids

Jeff Tweedy, Wilco

Jeff Tweedy

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

“It’s never been one of my dreams to win a Grammy,” says Jeff Tweedy, whose band Wilco got zero Grammy nominations for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, perhaps the most acclaimed album of 2002. “I don’t think the Grammys have anything to do with artistic merit.” This has been a busy year for Tweedy, who has just released a record with his experimental side project, Loose Fur; prepared a six-song EP with outtakes from YHF; and broken ground on the next Wilco album. “I’d like to see it out before the end of the year,” says Tweedy, phoning in from the band’s first Australian tour.

What’s your first musical memory?
My dad playing “It’s Hard to Be Humble,” by Mac Davis, like, a thousand times in a row [laughs]. That’s the way my dad would listen to music – he’d fall in love with one song, like Glen Campbell’s “Southern Nights” or Leo Sayer’s “Long Tall Glasses (I Can Dance),” and that’s all we would hear for an entire summer.

Did your older brothers and sisters turn you on to music?
They were mostly gone by the time I was getting into music. They left their records behind, so I had my sister’s Herman’s Hermits and Monkees and Beatles and Stones records. Later, I had my brother’s crazy art-rock college records, like Tangerine Dream, things like that.

The first record you bought?
The first singles I bought were Pilot’s “Magic” and “Dream On,” by Aerosmith. The first album I bought was [Blondie’s] Parallel Lines. I bought it on vacation with my sister in Mexico. A Spanish version. I think I was eleven.

How did you get your first guitar?
I begged and begged for a guitar when I was six. I got one and took a couple of lessons in a totally horrible, hot, radiator-steam-heat upstairs room at some downtown apartment. It felt more like going to the dentist than what I pictured it to be. I just wanted to be immediately rockin’.

What was the name of the first song you wrote?
“Your Little World.” It wasn’t very good. Yes, it was about a girl.

Did you have “relationship” songs – like, you and your girlfriend’s favorite song?
I listened to a lot of garage bands, which were really snotty toward girls, so I think all my relationship songs were all like, “I don’t need you” [laughs]. Emotionally immature stuff like that.

Do you remember your first time onstage?
I remember going nuts. Being a total spaz. Jumping around and getting out twelve years of fantasizing in half an hour. I remember thinking that I was a huge part of the band, and then looking back and realizing my amp was turned down. Then I turned it back up, jumped around some more and looked back, realizing that my amp was turned down again. It was the bass player. Afterward, I was mortified.

What, in your opinion, is the coolest instrument in the world?
I have it. I have a Gibson Barney Kessel guitar. It has two cutaways that look like devil horns, but it’s this huge hollow-body from the Sixties. My wife bought it for me for Christmas. It’s cool.

Do you have a favorite TV theme song?
Um . . . let’s see. No, but I think that they really should change that one for King of Queens. It needs some reworking.

What’s wrong with it?
I don’t know; it goes something like, “My back is getting tight/I’m stuck on the Queensboro Bridge tonight” [laughs]. Wait! I know what my favorite theme song is: The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. [Sings] “People, let me tell you about my best friend!” It’s just a pretty melody.

What artists can you not stand?
There are some current artists that I find to be, you know, abysmal. It’s mostly a singing style that has become very, very prominent and popular with a lot of rock singers. This hee-yaw, talking-mule thing.

You mean like Creed?
It’s not worth it to mention their names.

Do you listen to any, say, MTV bands?
Yeah. I don’t go outta my way to find it, but there’s some stuff I really enjoy. I heard some Eminem songs that are really interesting and really cool, some Nelly songs that I think are classic.

What’s the music scene like at home? Do you and your wife fight over the stereo?
We actually play music more than we listen to it. My son Spencer plays drums, and he’s really good – a lot better than I am. More often than not, we just sit around in the family room, get out the box of tambourines and shakers and toy trumpets, and jam. He made a record at home the other day by himself, on a cassette player, of him and my younger son, Sam, both singing “Yellow Submarine.” He’s got a little ways to go as an engineer, but it’s awesome.


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