L.A.'s Anti- has won the respect of Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, whose band just happens to be a free agent
Like asking Yankees chief Joe Girardi if he would be willing to leave New York to manage the Chicago Cubs, peppering a famous musician with inquiries as to where his band may or may not sign is a line of interrogation that's sure to be met with vagaries (warning: this post has them). Yet Wilco's Jeff Tweedy knows the questions will come his way, and understands that speculation could point the daring Chicago pop band to a certain L.A. indie.
On Tuesday, Epitaph's multi-genre imprint Anti- Records will release "You Are Not Alone" from Chicago soul luminary Mavis Staples, a refined collection of gospel-tinged folk and blues that was produced by Tweedy in Wilco's Windy City studio. As detailed in Sunday's Calendar story, Staples is experiencing a late-career rejuvenation. The 71-year-old and 60-year-recording vet is now on her third album from Anti-, and the artist said she's noticed a boost in attention since linking with the respected label, where legends (Roky Erickson) stand alongside the elegant (Neko Case) and the out-and-out weird (Man Man).
The label's multi-genre approach is not too different from that of Warner Music Group imprint Nonesuch Records, where Wilco has just completed its recording contract. With Tweedy recently telling Billboard that it "seems unlikely that we will be under the umbrella of a major label" for future albums, has his experience working with Anti- on the Staples album put the Silver Lake-based label in the running as a future Wilco home?
"I like labels like Anti-," Tweedy said. "I obviously have a lot of respect for their roster, and I’ve had a good experience working on this record with Mavis. So we do have a lot of different things to weigh. We’ll see what happens."
Pop & Hiss will indulge in some pure speculation here, but some recent maneuvers by Epitaph could even make the label more appealing to a band like Wilco, a veteran act that's notched seven studio albums and is a safe bet to sell into the six figures. Epitaph will on Tuesday release Weezer's "Hurley," the pop act's first venture outside of the major label system. As Weezer leader Rivers Cuomo recently told Pop & Hiss, "Hurley" is technically being released on the band's own W Records, and is licensed to Epitaph.
In the case of Wilco, which does the bulk of its promotion and marketing in-house, and recently staged its own multi-day festival in Massachusetts, such an arrangement gives the artist more control while still providing the infrastructure and retail reach a label can offer (Epitaph/Anti- releases are distributed via the Warner Music Group's Alternative Distribution Alliance).
"It doesn't make sense for us to pay somebody three-quarters of the pie for a lot of things that we've been doing ourselves," Tweedy told Billboard in July. "On the other hand, I don't know if it makes a lot of sense for a label to upend their entire historical precedent to make things work for us when a lot of other bands really do need a lot of the things that a label provides."
Wilco hasn't yet recorded its follow-up to last year's "Wilco (The Album)," and the band has tour dates into the fall, after which it will begin work on the forthcoming set. The act, like Radiohead, Weezer and Nine Inch Nails, has the luxury of time and the brand recognition to strike out on its own and land a less conventional label deal, should it want it. If Wilco does indeed work outside of the "umbrella" of a major, as Tweedy hinted, it may not be Anti-, but the Sunset Boulevard-housed label certainly has Tweedy's respect.
"I think they’re pretty smart," Tweedy said. "I think they’re music lovers. I really respond to it. It’s very similar to the way I am. It’s a lot more like the way the world exists now than when I was growing up. There are less lines drawn in the sand between genres. Punk rock was a line in the sand for a lot of kids when I was growing up. So what those guys are doing is smart."
-- Todd Martens
- Mavis Staples' second act: With a new album — the Jeff Tweedy-produced 'You Are Not Alone' — and a new label, the gospel and soul veteran is having the time of her life. 'I am just so happy,' she says.
Photo: Wilco's Jeff Tweedy. Credit: Los Angeles Times