Last night I watched a documentary about Wilco. It’s called I Am Trying To Break Your Heart and it was filmed while they were recording Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in 2001. I love Wilco, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is one of my favorite albums of all time, so it was really interesting to see the behind-the-scenes of how it was made and Wilco’s creative process. While they were recording, Jeff Tweedy explained that they would first get the song down in its simplest form and then deconstruct it, and see if there was something more interesting or creative they could do with it. Obviously I don’t know very much about songwriting or recording, but I think that’s a really ingenious way to go about things, exploring capabilities through multiple avenues.
Another fascinating part of the film: a senior editor from Rolling Stone posits that the reason why Yankee Hotel Foxtrot wasn’t received well by the record label (Wilco was dropped upon delivering the finished album) is because it didn’t cater to our culture’s mentality of instant gratification. Listening to it didn’t tell the record label who was going to like it and how many albums it was going to sell, and thus they wanted the band to make changes. Which makes sense, to a certain degree. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot isn’t an easy, straightforward record: it has mystery, and melody paired with dissonance, and it takes effort to listen to it and appreciate it for what it is. But I think those kinds of records are often the most rewarding to listen to, and end up sticking with you longer than easy albums.
One thing that was kind of glossed over (I felt like) was the conflict going on between Tweedy and Jay Bennett. It was like, they had one pretty bad argument and then once the record was completed, Tweedy asked Bennett to leave the band, but no one really went into detail about why it happened. Bennett, when interviewed, said that he thought it was because Tweedy felt threatened by him and didn’t want to have to struggle over creative dominance with him. I feel like that’s kind of a cop-out, though.
Seeing the tensions between Tweedy and Bennett reminded me of an article I read about Interpol in Spin a couple years ago, right around the time Our Love To Admire was due to be released. Essentially, the article explained how Paul Banks and Carlos D. hated each other, and how Daniel Kessler was trying to keep everything from falling apart. I found that really shocking at the time, because somehow my subconscious image of a band is a group of friends who hang out a lot and jam together, and I think a good deal of the time, that’s the case. So to think that the members of Interpol didn’t really get along was perplexing. At the same time, I think it’s a real testament to the power and importance of art, that people who don’t like each other and who wouldn’t voluntarily subject themselves to each other’s company would do so for the sake of creating something that they love and believe in. And I think it says a lot about the vision and dedication of both Wilco and Interpol to their music that they continued to make music together for several years while certain members weren’t getting along.
I think about if I were making music with someone that I didn’t get along with, and I think that I would probably stick it out with them as long as it was contributing to the vision we had for our music. But if that person was getting in the way of the vision, I could see myself wanting to part ways. I think it would be incredibly difficult, though, to have three or four people with identical visions of what their music should be, which is probably a big reason why bands break up. With conflicting ideas for musical direction, one person’s vision has to be put first, and the other person’s has to be secondary. And if your vision isn’t being realized, why would you want to stay in the band? I think there are probably a lot of musicians who just want to play music and don’t have any qualms about playing a role and surrendering to someone else’s musical vision. But when you have two people who are creatively driven, like Tweedy and Bennett, or Banks and Carlos D., there is bound to be butting of heads. Making music with other people seems to be so much about compromise, and it makes sense that a person would sometimes not want to compromise on what they think is important for the music they’re making. I just find it interesting that it’s rarely a personal issue that tears bands apart, but is rather an issue of the music.