When Wilco founder Jeff Tweedy tapped band member Pat Sansone to co-produce the group's latest album, "The Whole Love," with him, it didn't take long to fix on a creative mission for the set.
"Personally, I was really excited about the idea of making a really good 'headphones record,' as I like to call it," says Sansone, a multi-instrumentalist who's been with Wilco since 2004 and also plays with bassist John Stirratt in another band, the Autumn Defense. "I wanted to do a record that creates a real sound world, 'cause I love those kinds of records."
And Sansone doesn't think he's alone in that.
"I think the way people listen to music now, or over the last couple of years, is becoming more and more of an insular, private event," he says. "People are listening to record on headphones more and more, or in their cars. When you're listening to music in your ear buds or headphones or car stereo, you're right in side it.
"So, yeah, I was excited about the idea of us making a record that would be really exciting in that environment."
That's certainly what Sansone, Tweedy and company achieved with "The Whole Love" -- or at least part of it. Coming on the heels of more straightforward efforts such as 2007's "Sky Blue Sky" and 2009's "Wilco (The Album)," the new set -- which came out in September and is nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Album -- has moments of high-production, particularly on the seven-minute opening track "Art of Almost." But there are also what Sansone calls "moody folk numbers...and straight-up pop songs and some rockers." A diverse collection, in other words, drawn from a large pile of material that initially had Wilco thinking about some ambitious possibilities.
"At one time we were considering making two separate records a few months apart from each other," Sansone recalls. "The idea was we'll make our pop-rock record, then a few months later we'll put out our dark, moody piece. But the more we worked on them, the more it became sort of an interesting idea to make them fit together.
"The classic blueprint for this kind of record, which makes a lot of diverse moods and things fit together as a piece, is (the Beatles') 'The White Album.' And a lot of it, too, is sequencing. I think if you have songs that are disparate styles and feelings, then you really have to make sure it flows."
Sansone, 42, got the call to co-produce after helping Tweedy and producer Jim Scott mix "Wilco (the album)." When Tweedy decided to keep "The Whole Love" in-house, recording at the group's own studio, The Loft, in Chicago, he chose Sansone "to fill some holes as far as editing, choosing takes, just kind of helping to direct the process. I'm a studio guy. I do a lot of that work outside of Wilco. It's in my skill set, I guess, so this time it just made sense I would start to help in that role."
Sansone says "The Whole Love" is also a sign of how open Tweedy, who formed Wilco in 1994 after the demise of Uncle Tupelo, has become to letting the rest of the band contribute these days -- especially since this is the third studio album by the group's current lineup.
"This is very much a collaborative effort," Sansone acknowledges. "It seemed like (Tweedy) put a lot of trust in me and the rest of the band to kind of let us explore and experiment and find our own roles in the song and help take them somewhere he didn't even know they were going to go.
"We also, I think, had more time on this record to stretch out and try things. It was very much kind of a laboratory environment on this one, and a lot of fun to do."
"The Whole Love" will keep Wilco touring "on and off for the next year," according to Sansone, who's also working on a new Autumn Defense album he and Stirratt hope to release in 2012. And even though the band didn't worry about the songs being "performable" while recording the album, Sansone says it hasn't been hard to work up live arrangements for the new songs.
"We just try to present the band with all the sort of diversity and kind of show all the colors we can create," Sansone explains. "If it's different live than it is in the studio, that's OK. A lot of the best bands have always done it that way."
Wilco and Nick Lowe perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, at the Fillmore Detroit, 2115 Woodward Ave. Tickets are sold out. Call 313-961-5450 or visit www.livenation.com.
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