Wilco's bassist gets geared up ahead of Bluesfest.
John Stirratt is delighted by the suggestion that, on the basis of the last couple of Australian tours, Wilco have turned into less of an earnest alt.country band and more of a rollicking travelling soul revue. “Oh, that’s awesome,” he says, laughing. “I like to hear that!”
He’s particularly glad to do so, since the band are about to really get into some serious road work in support of last year’s The Whole Love. They’ve taken an uncharacteristically long time away from touring and are just getting their road legs back.
“The first show was funny – there’s definitely a feeling of ‘wow, what am I doing?’ It feels a little completely out of body for the first half an hour and then you’re like ‘OK, OK, I’m fine.' And just the walking on stage does remind you what an unorthodox profession this is, you still don’t really get used to it.”
Stirratt and frontman Jeff Tweedy are the only remaining founding members of the band, and he admits that things are a good deal easier now in Wilco than they were for a long time – especially in terms of making records.
“Thinking back in terms of pressure, I think the one that stands out is A Ghost Is Born, just coming off [the 2002 breakthrough] Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” he explains. “It was like, ‘This is the first time people are really going to be paying attention to the record.' We had a much smaller audience at the time, but in a way we had been zigzagging with records, you know, sort of disappointing people with previous records, some people were disappointed and wanted country or something.”
A Ghost is Born gave the band a Grammy win for Best Alternative Album and was the highest-charting album of their career, but the main thing it gave the band was the ability to go with their guts. “It’s a good exercise to not make you really worry about it, just trust your band and trust what you’re doing, and trust that if we make a record we’re all really excited about then other people will enjoy it, you know?”
It helps that the band have had a pretty solid line-up for almost a decade now. “Oh, I love it, there’s so much empathy onstage. I’ve never been in a position of playing with people of that ability, of that stature, who also have that wonderful empathy and communication. The different people in the band’s history definitely weren’t like that. It didn’t feel like there was communication on stage the way it was, so it’s been marvellous to have that, I feel really fortunate to still be a part of it.”