Chicago rockers Wilco are nearing completion on their fourth full-length album (sixth if you include the two Woody Guthrie tributes recorded with Billy Bragg), which they have tentatively titled, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.”
On the release docket for July 10th, frontman Jeff Tweedy says the self-produced album finds the band moving even deeper into the rich textures and lush pop of 1999’s Summer Teeth. “It’s hard to describe,” Tweedy says of the forthcoming release. “It’s definitely different. Hopefully there’s a lot more space on the record. It sounds like one of the really dense pop songs from Summer Teeth exploded into ten songs.”
If Wilco’s experimental nature remains in tact, their original lineup does not. Drummer Ken Coomer, whose tenure with Tweedy dates back to Uncle Tupelo’s 1993 swan song Anodyne, is no longer the band’s beat keeper. Asked if he saw Coomer’s departure coming, Tweedy clarifies things a little. “It wasn’t really Ken’s decision so yeah, we did see it coming.” Regardless of the circumstances however, Tweedy says the decision to let Coomer loose was not an easy one. “It was a difficult thing to digest, but there’s a real excitement about playing with somebody new.”
That “somebody new” is Chicago-area staple Glenn Kotche, a mercenary skinsman whose worked with Paul K. and the Weatherman as well as tweaky noise advocate and recent Tweedy collaborator Jim O’Rourke. Once Kotche signed on, the band virtually re-cut its new album, meaning, in all likelihood, none of Coomer’s drum tracks will find their way onto the final cut.
“I think we made the transition about as well as you can make the transition from playing with somebody eight years and moving on to a new drummer,” Tweedy says. “All the good things that happen when you play with somebody new have kind of re-invigorated the band.” Kotche also worked with Tweedy for his score of the forthcoming Ethan Hawke film, Chelsea Walls. Due later this year, Tweedy describes that music as sounding like “someone falling asleep at the piano.”
“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” refers to the phonetic alphabet as used in radio transmissions. Tweedy was uncertain if the moniker would stick and offered up the current runners-up, “Here Comes Everybody” and “Boogie in the Argone Box.” He said the first single will likely be a track called, “I’m Trying to Break Your Heart.”
Asked if any one epiphany or life-altering event over the past years inspired or runs thematically through Wilco’s new songs (the band will pare twenty new tunes down to twelve or fifteen for the album), Tweedy paints things ambiguous. “Wilco just keeps making music,” he says. “We keep recording and writing and every once in a while we have to stop and compile it into a record. It’s hard for me to tell when this record started happening — it doesn’t feel like it had a beginning.”
As for his collaboration with O’Rourke, Tweedy says the two have finished an album but that he has “no idea when it’s coming out, or if it’s coming out.” On the nature of that record, he says folks might be surprised to find he and O’Rourke went the traditional route for a least a handful of numbers. “It has more guitar on it than [Wilco’s new] record,” Tweedy said. “There’s actually a few very pretty folk songs on the O’Rourke record.”