Richard Thompson and Jeff Tweedy on Working Together: ‘We Don’t Talk’
Neither Richard Thompson nor Jeff Tweedy is a stranger to prolonged, torturous studio sessions leading to albums that reflect deeper turmoil. Still, Thompson’s 40th LP, is not one of them. The singer-songwriter connected with Tweedy on the Americanarama tour in 2013, and almost immediately thereafter, his latest search for a producer coincided with Tweedy’s recent emergence as one. Their experience working together at the Loft, Wilco’s Chicago studio-base, sounds downright pleasant.
“It’s a very relaxed place to record,” Thompson says. “It feels like you’re just sitting around with friends playing, and there’s no red light that goes on – or none that I saw, anyway. It’s easy to sit there and play a couple of takes and suddenly you’ve achieved something in the studio without really thinking about it.”
The resultant Still, recorded with Thompson’s long-running trio and a handful of Tweedy’s Chicago regulars, is a trip through the 66-year-old’s fascinations, from the sly electric groove of “All Buttoned Up” to the spacious haunt of “Josephine.” “Broken Doll” benefits from some Tweedy-abetted atmospherics, and a nearly eight-minute finale, “Guitar Heroes,” paraphrases from the books of Django Reinhardt, Chuck Berry and Les Paul.
Reunited on the phone a few months after the nine-day sessions in early January, Thompson and Tweedy complement each other nicely, a pair of bemused folk-rock vets getting the job done with some caustic riffs on the side.
Richard, what made you think Jeff would be a good producer to work with?
Richard Thompson: I’d long thought it’d be interesting to do something with Jeff, but it was something I’d never voiced. But then certain people in my band said, “Wouldn’t he be a good producer for the record?” I think that was the genesis of the idea. I’m not quite sure how it actually happened! The record he did with Mavis Staples, I just thought was fantastic. I thought he did a very sympathetic job, and really put the artist front and center of the project. Everything I like about a producer, I think he really demonstrates on that record.
How much prep work was there with Jeff before you got to Chicago?
Thompson: I like to turn up with everything finished if I can. That just seems to me something I should do as a recording artist. I should have my shit together. I only brought 12 songs, I think. I did home demos and then we also did a band rehearsal demo, which was pretty rough stuff. Jeff heard all that stuff, and he placed his opinions and his variations on what he heard.
Jeff Tweedy: I don’t feel like there was a whole lot of conversation going in. I got the demos and felt like, “I’m such a huge fan, I wonder what he wants me to do because these are great songs, they sound great.” The only conversation we really had going in was – based on that feeling – asking about how much input was really expected. Would I be stepping on anyone’s toes to make suggestions? And Richard was reassuring in that he wanted it to be all of the above. Some songs, he thought he’d have some strong opinions about. Other songs, some other perspective would be welcome.