WILCO's TEETH
GOLDMINE|January 2021
THE MAKING OF WILCO’S SUMMERTEETH: LOOKING TO THE PAST POINTED THE WAY TO THE FUTURE.
BILL KOPP

Released in 1999, Wilco’s third album, Summerteeth, represented a turning point for the band. The first album from the group to sell in excess of 200,000 copies, Summerteeth — a musical departure from the band’s original alt-country origins — ended up on many publications’ best-of lists for that year. Pitchfork ranked Summerteeth No. 31 among all albums released in the final decade of the 20th century. And the album’s success spurred the band onto more critical successes and even greater commercial heights.

In celebration of the album’s importance, Rhino Entertainment is releasing a significantly expanded 4-CD version of the landmark record. Available November 6, Summerteeth Expanded Edition appends the original album with related studio outtakes, alternate versions, demos and a complete recording of a 1999 concert.

By the time Wilco began work on their third album in late 1997, the band had undergone significant shifts. Begun in 1994 from the ashes of alt-country band Uncle Tupelo, Wilco were led by guitarist and songwriter Jeff Tweedy and originally featured the entire Uncle Tupelo lineup minus songwriter Jay Farrar. Wilco’s 1995 debut album, A.M., didn’t represent a major departure from the style of Tweedy’s previous group. Wilco’s second album, Being There (1996), found Tweedy writing more finely tuned songs, and in contrast to the band’s debut, the arrangements featured keyboards, trumpets, saxophones and violins in addition to the kind of standard acoustic and electric instrumentation most readily associated with alt-country.

As Wilco convened to begin recording Summerteeth, the band looked very different from two years prior. In fact, only Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt remained from the lineup that made A.M. And according to reports at the time, the balance of power and influence within the band had shifted as well: Multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett — who had joined the band shortly after A.M. was released — took on a larger role in the making of what would become Summerteeth.

But Stirratt — who, along with Tweedy, remains a member of Wilco today — suggests that reports of the band’s rhythm section being frozen out of sessions are a bit overblown. All four musicians were involved when initial sessions began. Stirratt recalls that two members of the band had recently discovered just how good Willie Nelson’s studio in Spicewood, Texas, was. “Jay Bennett and (Wilco drummer) Ken Coomer had done a session there with a songwriter named Jeff Black,” Stirratt says. “So we told Jeff (Tweedy) about it, enthusiastically.”

Stirratt says that the “core” of Summerteeth was made in that studio. “We started fleshing out songs and (doing) basic tracking sessions,” he explains. A number of demo recordings had already been made, and those provided at least some direction regarding how the finished songs would sound. Eleven of those demos — including songs that didn’t make it onto Summerteeth — are featured on the second disc of Rhino’s new expanded release.

“I remember the arrangements being tight going in,” Stirratt says. “Jeff and Jay really (had) a good grasp on that.” He says that some tweaking of the songs was done during those sessions, but recalls there wasn’t “a lot of just flat-out writing going on in the studio.”

And Stirratt recalls that some of the album’s signature sounds had their beginnings at the Texas sessions. “We were digging around the studio, looking at what they had,” he says. “And they had a few pieces of gear there that were inspiring. I remember in particular the Maestro Rover guitar effect that Jay used on ‘She’s a Jar.’ ”

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