WILCO with LOW at Massey Hall (178 Victoria), Saturday (June 30). $39.50-$44.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Jeff Tweedy admits he's some thing of a cantankerous grouch when it comes to discussing his band. Really, though, can you blame him?
Wilco is one of the most critically touted, over-scrutinized, written-to-death-about American rock bands, with a cult following no less. They're like Radiohead were in the 90s. And Tweedy is the undisputed voice of the band, so everything Wilco is always on him.
He acknowledges that there are worse fates for a musician than having people give a shit, but listening to him describe the barrage of deconstructive, analytical rigmarole he faces each time Wilco release a record, you feel sorry for the guy even when you're one of his persecutors.
"I just did a whole week of interviews in Europe, and if I'd let it really get to me I probably could have jumped out the hotel window," says Tweedy, behind the wheel in Chicago. "It was driving me nuts - people asking why there aren't any electric guitars on the record, then someone asking, 'Why are the guitars so loud?'
"Sorry if I come across as a grump. I'm not a grump - I like playing music a lot. But sometimes talking about it can be a little more stressful than I like."
One of the reasons Tweedy is subjected to such scrutiny from the press - especially when it comes to his personal battles with addiction - is that he's determined that Wilco be in a constant process of change, keeping fickle fans and critics guessing what he'll do next and why.
No two Wilco albums are alike. Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born, for example, sound like they came from three different bands. Take into account the continuous lineup changes, partially as a result of Tweedy's shifting vision, and that's sort of true.
"At the end of the day it falls on my shoulders to steer the ship or come up with the final say on things," says Tweedy of his role in the group. "But the entire process up to that point is very collective, inclusive and collaborative. It feels like everyone is very invested in what we're doing."
Anyone who's seen Sam Jones's revealing documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (2002), which exposes the strife behind making Yankee and the subsequent dismissal of former member Jay Bennett, might have a different image of Tweedy, who unfairly comes off in the film like an agitated studio dictator.
"I really don't think that's the case at all, but I'm not the person to ask," Tweedy says of the film's version of him. "Ask the people in the band and I think they'll find it laughable - though, if I really am a dictator you'll never know, because they'd be too terrified to answer the question."
Sky Blue Sky is Wilco's sixth studio album and first under a solidified, post-Ghost lineup that includes John Stirratt (bass), Nels Cline (guitar), Glenn Kotche (drums), Pat Sansone (multi-instrumentalist) and Mikael Jorgensen (keys).
Tweedy groans if you try to decipher any of Sky's artistic intentions, but regardless, with its organic-sounding, laid-back 70s vibe, it reflects a far sunnier mood than its predecessor.
Ghost emerged from a dark period in Tweedy's life. Suffering from debilitating depression and panic attacks and addled by a painkiller addiction, he forced himself into rehab, a move he credits for literally saving his life, invigorating his artistic process and perhaps providing the reason his Sky is now so blue.
"If I hadn't gotten help, I don't know if there was any chance I was going to be able to continue to make music," Tweedy says flatly. "Everything in my life [since] has become easier and simpler.
"It's really easy to assume that suffering coincides with creativity. That myth gets perpetuated because it makes a much better story and better ink. Nobody likes to read how happy you were when you made a record.
"That seems to be the dangerous area Wilco is in right now."