What To Know About Solid Sound 2024, According To Jeff Tweedy

Peter Crosby

What To Know About Solid Sound 2024, According To Jeff Tweedy

Peter Crosby

The Wilco-curated festival returns to Mass MOCA for the eighth time June 28-30

Solid Sound is not like other festivals. It’s at an art museum: the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, in North Adams, MA. It’s relatively small, with a capacity of about 8,000 people per day. And it’s entirely centered around Wilco – not just as the headliners, but as hosts and curators. It’s a festival as a sonic dinner party, with the band giving its fans not just its own music but other artists its members want to share with everyone. This year that includes Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit as the second headliner, as well as such bands as Dry Cleaning, Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets, Ratboys, Iris Dement and Water From Your Eyes.

Regardless of the year you’ll almost always find a mix of experimental music and jazz, both up-and-coming and veteran singer-songwriters, African sounds, comedy, late ’80s college radio faves and Chicago indie-rockers. Solid Sound also promises a festival schedule with no *completely* overlapping sets, so you can see almost everything you want, at least for 20 minutes. And the Mass MoCA setting offers not just the museum’s art exhibits, but indoor pop-up performances by festival acts, usually including some surprises (including members of Wilco. And also, if someone in one of the festival bands is known for another band or solo work, that might be a tell).

As for Wilco themselves, they are celebrating the 20th anniversary of their current six-piece line-up, the 20th anniversary of A Ghost Is Born (which came out 20 years ago this Saturday), and the imminent release of a new EP, Hot Sun Cool Shroud — all while still promoting and touring behind last year’s Cousin, preparing a special Solid Sound set of “deep cuts,” and, in Jeff Tweedy’s case, working on new material with his solo band (which headlines the festival on Sunday).

Stereogum spoke to Tweedy via Zoom before Wilco headed off on its current stretch of dates, which finds them in New York City for three nights before heading up to North Adams for the festival.

The New Wilco Record

A six-song EP, Hot Sun Cool Shroud, comes out on the same day that the festival begins, June 28. The first physical release will only be available at Solid Sound, where fans can make their own album cover using ink stamps and stickers from artist Kathleen Ryan’s “Bad Fruit” series. One fan’s design will ultimately become the cover art for the more widespread physical release (on both LP and CD).

So was the material on this new EP more of a mixing job and adding “fairy dust,” or did you actually do any new recording?

JEFF TWEEDY: It was stuff that we had mostly finished. Tracks from different periods, kind of tied together with a little bit of over-dubbing, and picking different mixes that worked. There were some mixes that would have been more appropriate for Cousin; there were some mixes that would have been more appropriate for Ode To Joy. So we made them all a little bit more compatible.

I got kind of a Star Wars vibe off it, both from the surprise announcement and because of the stuff you described as “more aggressive and angular than anything we’ve put out in a while.” Where do you think that came from?

TWEEDY: It’s just something the band does when we get together. The second track is basically a workout in the studio, improvised mostly I think. We just kind of blow it out some times, and then don’t really find a place for it in the context of a record. This is a shorter play, [which] allows it to be a little bit more of a wild ride. We had fun with allowing it to be sort of unpredictable.

There Will Be Deep Cuts

The Friday night Wilco set at Solid Sound is always something special and often by-request, from all-covers (2013) and all-acoustic (2015) to command performances of albums (in 2019 the fans selected Being There ahead of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and wound up hearing the second album in full as the encore; in 2022 the band premiered its double-album Cruel Country front-to-back).

Tweedy says that before settling on “Deep Cuts” for this year Wilco also considered doing “The Late Greats” (all covers of departed musicians) or an all-Bob Dylan show.

So what constitutes a deep cut? How did you guys hash that out?

TWEEDY: Well, there’s raw data. From [our] archives, and the databases that are available online, like Setlist. I don’t think they’re completely accurate, but you can print out. the songs you’ve played the least, and you disregard the songs that are from the last few years, because they’re obviously going to not be played as much as the songs from 30 years ago.

And then compare that with the requests from the fans, and say, “Oh yeah, they’re right. This one’s been played hardly at all. Throw that in the mix.”

And then of course there are things like, can we do a good job? Is it going to be something a bunch of people in a field are gonna want to sit through without totally losing the energy of the show? It’s a leap of faith to put together a whole deep cut set for any audience. But if we’re gonna do it, this is the place to do it.

There must have been some requests where you’re like, “That’s not really a deep cut.”

TWEEDY: It’s sort of puzzling. Like, “Passenger Side” doesn’t feel like a deep cut to me. It got a lot of votes. I guess it kind of makes sense because we probably haven’t played it as much since a newer group of fans emerged.

You’ve previewed some of the contenders with acoustic versions on your Starship Casual Substack. Even with some of those the range is pretty high. Like, according to Setlist “Bob Dylan’s 49th Beard” [a Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era outtake] has been played 55 times, whereas “Open Mind” [from 2011’s The Whole Love], just four.

TWEEDY: Yeah. That middle period of records, like Wilco: The Album and The Whole Love, that’s where the band’s setlist started getting solidified a bit more, [with] a bigger group of songs that we felt like we had to play. So there was less room to put new songs in the setlist on any given night.

“Open Mind” has a lot of competition for that spot in a set list. There’s “Far Far Away,” there’s all kinds of sort of, mid-tempo country songs. And in spite of it being kind of a simple, pretty folk song, that arrangement is actually a little bit complex. So that makes it harder to just pop it in the setlist too.

Yeah, you said on the Substack that it wasn’t that hard for you to relearn the songs, since you wrote them. But what about for the whole band?

TWEEDY: That’s the thing. Something like “Deeper Down,” if you don’t play it all the time, you really have to relearn it as a band because it’s tricky. It doesn’t feel that complicated as a solo acoustic song, but when you think about all the moving parts… Nels Cline has probably six or seven different pedal moves to change the tone of his guitar for that. And I think he’s playing like a mandolin or some sort of [other] instrument on that, too.

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The Wilco Festival Is Actually Booked By Wilco

So what kind of role do you guys take in booking the festival versus Higher Ground [the festival’s Vermont-based promoter) or your manager and agent?

TWEEDY: We’re pretty hands-on about the booking. Everybody in the band submits a wish list, and we go at it. There’s a lot of competition for a festival date compared to when we started this festival, so we have to have a pretty massive list of things that we’d love to see, to get enough people that are available. When somebody’s available, we don’t generally have a tough time getting them on board.

It’s really fun. We have a good time coming up with the lineup, and I think that at the end of the day all of the Solid Sound lineups look like something very curated. The goal is to make it really reflective of the band’s interests, and affinities for different musicians. I don’t think Horse Lords and Iris DeMent are playing many of the same festivals.

Well, I was going to ask you to highlight one of the younger or more experimental bands, so tell me about Horse Lords.

TWEEDY: Just one of my favorite bands out there. I’m mesmerized by how impossible their music seems. I have no idea how they do it. They’re incorporating microtonal elements and all these rhythmic structures, and it’s coming from a lot of different places. It’s not something you see that much anymore, is like, a real band band forging a super-individual language, and they’re one of the only bands that I think are really doing that.

Wilco’s voracious musical taste always makes for a diverse line-up not only in terms of genre, but also age and race and gender. Does that happen pretty naturally, or are you also actively conscious of it?

TWEEDY: Oh, I think it’s important to be conscious of that, and how festivals get put together. We do try and not have it to be dominated by like, you know – white guy bands. That’s kind of modeling how we wish the world worked more often. And it’s not hard to do, because there’s so much great music that isn’t made by people that look like us.

Unless You’re Wilco (Or In Wilco), You Only Get To Play Solid Sound Once In Your Career

Is there in fact an unofficial “no repeat” booking policy?

TWEEDY: Yeah, there really is. I mean, there have been some loopholes. I think Scott McCaughey ends up being there as much as we can figure out how to make that work

Sure. He’s played with the Baseball Project, the Minus Five and now, this year, the Young Fresh Fellows. But he definitely has another two or three bands he could bring if need be.

TWEEDY: I think Scott would probably make a new band just to play Solid Sound if we asked him to. I mean, I’ve known Scott since the ’80s. And he’s really good friends with my wife also.

At some point we might have to lift that as a guideline. But there’s so many bands to get to. Hopefully we’ll have all of our friends come and play eventually. And all of the people that are in bands that we’re excited about that we’ve never met. You get to make new friends.

The one thing you do get to see every festival besides Wilco itself is the way Wilco breaks into other parts, like the Autumn Defense and Mikael Wood solo, or this year, the Saccata Quartet (Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche with Darin Gray and Chris Corsano).

TWEEDY: Yeah, I think one of the initial inspirations for the festival was that all of our side-project bands, and things that we were interested in outside of the band, would never be part of one festival. Wilco gets invited to a lot of different types of festivals. We get invited to folk festivals and new music festivals and experimental festivals. But when you take the band apart and look at the individual side projects there aren’t many festivals that would showcase everything at once.

Tweedy Has Already Covered Several People On The Bill

In your book How To Write One Song you talked about how covering someone else’s song teaches you about them, and about songwriting. What did you take away from covering Iris DeMent and Courtney Marie Andrews, both of whom are playing Solid Sound, for your Substack?

TWEEDY: Well, Iris is such a singular songwriter and talent. I mean, she’s so herself. In spite of being kind of deeply ensconced in a genre, she has a really unique perspective, and that’s what you want in a songwriter. That feeling that you can only get from that person.

And I would say that Courtney’s the same way. A generation or two removed from Iris, but using that form as a way to express herself in a highly individual way.

You do get a little bit closer to them, you know? I have a little bit more access than the typical listener because I’m able to do that. And it’s a way to honor that inspiration.

And in your most recent book, World Within A Song, you told 50 stories about 50 songs that were important to you at certain moments in your life. If you had to write a chapter like that about Nick Lowe, what kind of story would you tell?

TWEEDY: We got to tour with Nick quite a bit and recorded with him a little bit: [We did] a version of “Cruel To Be Kind,” and played “I Love My Label” with him. He’s impossibly charming. One of the most welcoming and charming and just gentlemanly dudes you could ever be around.

I guess I would probably tell the story of one of the first times we played with him. He was opening for us, solo acoustic, and after his set, he came bounding down the stairs into the basement dressing room, and the common area where we were all sitting. It feels like he just bounced into the room off the bottom step, and he said, “Well. Another triumph!” I love him so much.

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