After over two decades of leading Wilco, the influential indie-rock group known for their Pitchfork-perfect record “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy recorded a joint effort with his 19-year-old son and drummer Spencer.
Tweedy and son are in the midst of an international tour behind the album, and before they stop at First Avenue’s Mainroom in March, Spencer chatted with A&E for a minute about his experiences as a teenager on the road.
What’s been the weirdest thing about the tour?
Before this, my only experience was really just tagging along with Wilco, as a little kid. So this is my first time playing on a real tour.
I’ve definitely learned a lot since we started. I didn’t know how much of a difference a venue can make. Prior to this, the only shows I had played were small clubs in Chicago, which don’t really vary from venue to venue. But being in theaters, I learned for the first time that stages can sound completely different night to night, and sometimes it can be a challenge. If you’re playing in a church, which we did a couple times in Europe last fall, it can be kind of hard to hear yourself because everything’s reverberating off the walls.
Do you like the touring life?
I do, I love it. Honestly, the worst part - aside from being away from my little brother [Sam] and mom [Susan Miller Tweedy] - is getting a bunch of acne because you don’t shower every day. [Laughs]. But no, I really like it. I’m having a great time.
Has anything for you, musically, changed? Has the relationship between you and your dad [Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy] taken a different shape since you’ve been on tour?
I’ve definitely grown. I think the biggest change, for me, has been learning how to be a self-assured and confident musician on stages. Especially in my dynamic with the other players in this band. Even Liam [Cunningham, Tweedy’s childhood friend and keyboardist in the band], who’s close to my age - he’s 21 - every single one of the musicians we’re playing with is an elder to me, in age and in experience.
I’ve had to learn how to tell myself, ‘okay, you’re competent, you can play with these people.’ Because - being a drummer - you can’t just follow all the time… A lot of times as a drummer, you really have to lead, and that requires a lot of confidence. That’s something I’ve had to develop since day one last year til now.
What bands are you listening to?
My little brother and I have recently been on an active punk-rock kick. So we’ve been listening to The Germs a lot, and Black Flag. We both really love the Meat Puppets… My dad likes the Meat Puppets too.
We recently discovered that Sam, my brother, looks exactly like Darby Crash. It’s weird how similar they look. So I’ve been digging that stuff.
I’ve got a massive backlog [of music]. I don’t really have expenses, I just spend all of my money on records, and then I don’t listen to them [laughs].
Did you grow up listening to Wilco?
I definitely did, and I still do. I will admit that it is weird sometimes, and for a long while when I was younger, I wouldn’t listen to Wilco while my dad was home… When I was a little kid, my mom [and I] would always have Wilco records on in the car, on the way to school. I have a lot of memories of the “Summerteeth” era.
There’s the moment in that movie, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” [the Wilco documentary] when you’re a little kid and you’re playing the “Heavy Metal Drummer” riff on your thighs with your dad. Do you remember actually doing that? Have you seen that movie?
I haven’t seen it in a really long time, and I don’t remember doing it. Since my dad and I started going on the road this past year, people have brought it up a couple times, and I watched it on Youtube a little while ago… When I look at it now, like, 13 years later, I think it’s hilarious because I cannot decipher at all that that was supposed to be “Heavy Metal Drummer.” But that scene is pretty cute, and I like that people remember it.
Having that insider perspective, is there anything that you get out of Wilco’s lyrics that you can de-mystify, or that you feel is interpreted differently?
On a minute level, I’ve definitely noticed [songs] over the years where I’ve gone, ‘oh, I think I know what that’s about,’ having the perspective that I do. But I just leave it at that, because even if a lyric is based off something factual and you might know what that is, in the end, it became something completely different. It’s part of poetry.
Sometimes a lyric passes by, and I think to myself [that] I’m pretty sure I have an idea of what inspired that. To quote one of my dad’s own lyrics about this, I always think of the Golden Smog song “[I] Can’t Keep From Talking.” The song is written from the perspective of a fan about his favorite artist, and the chorus is about how the artist can’t talk about what his music means. That’s how I feel about it.
You deffered going to college for a year. Are you still planning on going to college next fall?
That’s the plan. My mom has encouraged me a lot to do that… I did well in school, and I think I definitely could benefit from having a taste of a college education. It’ll be difficult going back to that after a year of having no homework and no obligation like that at all.
My mom, she’ll murder me if I don’t go. That’s not a bad problem to have.