Wilco, over and out

JANE STEVENSON

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

The cover of the latest issue of Rolling Stone calls it "the year's first great album." And it's almost May.

It would be Wilco's long-awaited sixth album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, in stores Tuesday.

"Oh well, times must be tough," jokes Jeff Tweedy, frontman for the critically adored Chicago-based roots-rockers, on the line yesterday prior to Wilco's sold-out show tomorrow night at Convocation Hall.

"I've heard about it but I haven't seen it," continues Tweedy of the R.S. proclamation. "I don't feel any pressure. It's the record, not me. I can't do anything to change it any more."

No kidding.

The short version of YHF's crazy journey to release is that it was rejected by the band's former label, Reprise, last summer for not being commerical enough and the group was eventually released from their contract.

"I don't have anything to prove to the people at Reprise who made the decision to let us go," says Tweedy. "I appreciate their decision. I appreciate that they behaved like a company. I wouldn't have asked them to behave any other way. I don't have vendettas."

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Soon after Wilco began encouraging fans to download the album off the band's Web site -- including at a gig last October at the Phoenix -- they found a new label at the avant-pop-leaning Nonesuch. There's even a documentary film about the whole saga called I'm Trying To Break Your Heart (there's no release date yet).

"I don't think I was ever frustrated to the point of being discouraged," says Tweedy. "And honestly, the frustration has been pretty limited because we've been really busy. We've kept ourselves busy doing the things that we should be concerned with and that's writing music, making new songs, practising, learning our old songs better, going out on tour, playing in front of people."

Still, Tweedy -- who also said goodbye to original drummer Ken Coomer and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett over the last year-and-a-half -- will admit closure feels good.

"I'd be lying if I said it's not an extremely nice feeling to finally have the record out," says Tweedy. "But, I don't know, maybe if this had happened when I was 18 or 21 or five years ago even, I might have had a tougher time with it. But if I learned anything playing music and making records for record labels, I guess I've learned a little bit of patience."

Tweedy describes making YHF, which was mixed by Jim O'Rourke (Sonic Youth, Stereolab), as both random and organic, with the main idea "just to make stuff up, put it on tape and be excited by it." Wilco utilized everything from hand-held fans on guitar strings, drum cymbals and piano keys, to floor tiles as makeshift marimbas. But he says too much emphasis has been placed on O'Rourke's influence.

"Jim mixed the record, he didn't put the sounds on the record," says Tweedy. "We did a little bit of recording with Jim and some things are processed, but -- for the most part -- Jim really kind of reeled it in and made it more of a pop album. I think a lot of people were giving credit (to him) for a lot of the electronic noises and stuff like that. And I really honestly can say that that stuff was there before. It was just a really great collaborative time organizing all those sounds with Jim's sensibilities. I think he did more to make it cohesive."

YHF also marks the first Wilco album with new multi-instrumentalist Leroy Bach and drummer Glenn Kotche and Tweedy couldn't be more thrilled with the lineup.

"All the changes that have happened in the last year-and-a-half have been for the better," he says. "We've kept our eyes forward and we've worked really hard. It's more exciting to be a part of the band than it's ever been for me."


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