Nels Cline: Guitar Mash, Dylan, MMW and More
You guys were out on the AmericanaramA tour with My Morning Jacket and Bob Dylan. Can you talk a bit about that? How was that experience?
I could talk a lot about that. It was really a trip. It was really, really fun. Especially because as Wilco, we weren’t headlining. We didn’t have to play our big show and we didn’t have to play as long. We basically could play a lot of deep cuts and play a lot of cover songs we learned spur of the moment. Most importantly I think we got to collaborate with some amazing guests, which also kept us on our toes. I think that ultimately it was really good for the band to fly by the seat of our pants and take some risks with new material, having it pay off in a really big way.
At least for me personally, it was very rewarding. To play a bunch of songs with Bob Weir was amazing. Richard Thompson and I got into playing “Sloth” by Fairport Convention six or seven times. If I had done that once on the tour that would have made the whole tour exciting. I’m a Richard Thompson fanatic. I’d say Wilco felt the same way about Richard. We also had guests who weren’t on the tour, besides having the My Morning Jacket guys and Bob and Richard and members of his electric trio, we also had Leslie Feist. That was amazing in Toronto with Richard Thompson and Leslie Feist doing “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen, the Fairport Convention arrangement. We had John Doe, Nancy Sinatra, Sean Lennon, Duma and Timo from Cibo Matto, Warren Haynes and Ian Hunter. It was amazing. Jeff Tweedy decided early on that we wanted to make the spirit of the tour clear, that we were going to have loose fun and try to make some special things happen. I think the My Morning Jacket guys did the same thing.
I never met Bob Dylan, nor did anyone in the band other than Jeff, who had met him before. Other than socially, there was no interaction with members of Bob’s band. They didn’t sit in with us. I don’t know if they were allowed to, I don’t know how that works. But they’re an amazing band, magnificent players and great, great guys. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if they played with us, but I’m not complaining. It was pretty phenomenal and a great way to spend a summer.
Some photos surfaced of you with Medeski, Martin and Wood in the studio. What are you guys up to?
That was amazing. We recorded two sets of improvised music at big barn studio called Applehead, near Woodstock and Saugerties. I’m not sure what town it is in. I had jammed with those guys on a couple of occasions. For me it’s kind of like being on a planet that I can understand and feel at home on. I’m not sure who decided, but they wanted to do some recording with me. They invited 40-50 friends and friends of their friends in that area to come down. We just improvised two sets and recorded everything.
Ultimately, they will edit and mix it and release it by spring time. I basically told them that whatever they like, I like. However they wanted to engineer it was fine with me. And then we’re going to tour Europe in March.
I was talking to Marco Benevento recently and he said he went out to that and it was great.
It was really enjoyable. I was glad my hand was working because I was having some trouble with my left shoulder and arm due to a gnarly nerve tension. That was one of the first things I did where my hand had started to move normally. It was really nice that I could do it.
I heard you have another release coming out next year with the Nels Cline Singers?
That is true. I’m going to have a bunch of records out next year. The first one will be called Macroscope. It will be the first Singers record in a little while and with Trevor Dunn on bass replacing Devin Hoff, who departed a couple years ago. There’s some guests on it. The record is typical is of my records in that it is all over the place aesthetically. It’s got some rocking, power trioish stuff. It’s got some sort of sound painting type writing, more impressionistic. A lot of guests particularly in the percussion area. We have Cyro Baptista, Josh Jones from the Bay Area playing cumbas and bongos, Yuka Honda does some electric piano and Zeena Parkins is on one track playing her electric harp. I hope it will be out by February. It’s getting a little bit delayed in the album art department. Just trying to get it all finished. I’m really excited about it. It was recorded in Berkeley, CA at Fantasy Studios again. Mixed by Jesse Nichols, who is there’s in-house engineer. He’s a young guy. It’s the first time I had heard him do some mixes. He did some mixes on the last Stooges record. He engineered some other stuff I had done there. He did a fantastic job. I’m very happy with it.
It will be out on Cryptogramophone through the Mack Avenue label. Mack Avenue being a jazz/jazz fusion label and Cryptogramophone being the label I’ve done pretty much all my records on for the past 10-15 years.
Before you go, I wanted to ask you about The Complete Last Waltz show at the Capitol Theatre in next couple of weeks. What can we expect from that and how have The Band influenced you?
We did this last year at around the same time in San Francisco. As I understand, most of the same people are going to play that played last year. I don’t think Rob Burger will play keyboards this time. I was amazed, I just didn’t know what the deal was going to be with this. I didn’t know a lot of the players and the ones I did know I knew were really good. The idea of me going up and doing the Eric Clapton stuff, I didn’t know if I was going to be really good at that. I just did my best which meant I had to sing also. What really impressed me about the whole thing was how good everyone sounded playing this music. It sounded so in the spirit of how The Band was playing at that time. Without it being this kind of “slavish” reproduction. I thought it had its own integrity in terms of the performances. Obviously the singers are all different singers and they have different ways of doing their thing. I was really surprised how good it sounded and how effective it was.
This fellow Sam Cohen behind the whole thing, he’s obsessed with The Last Waltz. This is his idea of a good time. It ended up being a good time for everybody. I think things like this are a bit iffy on paper, and then when people can come together, many of whom don’t know each other, and pull off something like this and make it sound as good as it sounds, there’s just something magical about that.
As far as The Band goes, I wasn’t a Band fanatic growing up. I have songs and records by The Band I really like and certain ones I really cherish. For me, The Last Waltz isn’t my idea of pinnacle The Band experience. I really do prefer the Rock of Ages live stuff myself. That said, “Chest Fever” is one of my all-time favorite songs. And Levon Helm is probably one of my favorite drummers and singers inside and outside The Band. As I say, it’s kind of a weird thing to try to and for it to come off as well as it does, it’s kind of magical. I’m flattered to be even asked to participate frankly.
Anything else you want to talk about before you go?
I can say two things. There is one other record that will be out next year, hopefully, with Julian Lage, the great young guitar player. If people like guitar, this will be a great record to hear. I’m looking forward to recording it early next month. Other than that, Sunday afternoon Guitar Mash, come down, have snacks, innocent family fun, meet Mark Stewart, one of the most beautiful, energetic and talent people. I believe Todd Sickafoose is playing in the bass in the backing band this year too. There will be some amazing players. Hopefully Rob Schwimmer will be on piano again.