June 23, 2013


She'll Take You There (JOHN JURGENSEN, 6/20/13, WSJ)

Through her continuing collaboration with producer Jeff Tweedy, the lead singer and songwriter of the rock band Wilco, she has found a fresh audience and a fresh sound.

After meeting five years ago at the Hideout, a humble live-music landmark in their mutual hometown of Chicago, they recorded a Grammy-winning album, 2010's "You Are Not Alone." Their second release together, "One True Vine," is due Tuesday. The title track is one of three compositions by Mr. Tweedy. He also played most of the instruments, except for drums, handled by his 17-year-old son, Spencer. [...]

How do you two decide what songs to record?

I go over to the Wilco loft [the band's headquarters and recording studio] and we sit on the couch and call off songs. Sometimes he plays me a record and looks over to see how I'll take it. "What Are They Doing in Heaven Today." I said, "Man, you went way back on me." The first time I heard this song, I was in Mississippi with my grandmother. We went to church three times a week. Wednesday night, Friday night and Sunday morning. We lived in Mound Bayou, but walked down the highway to Merigold. Jerusalem Baptist Church. Wooden floors, wooden benches, no organ, no piano. That was the best sound I've ever heard.

How important is it to you that listeners digest the message, and not just enjoy a pretty song?

Pops used to tell me, "Mavis, make it plain. You want the people to get what you're saying." I won't wear rings and jewelry on the stage because I don't want you looking at my hands. I want you hearing what I'm saying. I don't want the band to play too loud. I'm singing these songs to inspire you, to keep you going, to lift you up and give you a reason to get up in the morning. These aren't just songs I'm singing to be moving my lips. I mean this.

What's your relationship with Tweedy like in the studio?

Sometimes I get upset up with him because he'll tell me, "OK, Mavis, you can go home now." Go home? I'm not ready to go home. "No, Mavis, you've done enough." See, he wants me to go so he can work with the music and do his background stuff. "Mavis, it'll be dark soon." I drive 45 minutes from the loft, which is on the North Side, to my house on the South Side. I write the songs down that I'm going to take home and study. See, because my father passed and I still don't know what key I sing in. Tweedy gets his guitar and plays up and down until we find the right spot. What key is that? "Mavis, that's G." OK, write it down for me in case I have to tell somebody else. I have to do that with every producer now that Pops is gone, but now Tweedy has gotten to know me.

Does he remind you of any of your other collaborators over the years?

Ry Cooder. Prince. Curtis Mayfield. [Stax Records guitarist and producer] Steve Cropper. Jeff Tweedy is the different one, the most intimate one. He feels what I feel. He's putting something up under me that complements me so well. He likes for me to sing in low keys. If I try to take a song up too high, he says, "Mavis, don't do that." He likes to keep it roughed up and dark. I'm OK with that.

Posted by at June 23, 2013 6:31 AM

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