The return of live music may still be a distant hope, but Jeff Tweedy has found plenty to keep him busy during the pandemic. The leader of Wilco has a new solo album called Love Is the King, on which he’s traded his usual bandmates for people he’s been quarantining with — his sons Spencer, who’s 24, and Sammy, who’s 20. He’s also been livestreaming their evenings at home: Tune in to The Tweedy Show via Instagram and you might hear an impromptu family cover of a beloved song — or Jeff’s wife, Susie, taking Sammy to task for his taste in movies.
Jeff, Spencer and Sammy Tweedy joined NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly to discuss the making of Love Is the King, their very online evenings and the peculiar chemistry of entertaining as a family. Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read on for an edited transcript.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Mary Louise Kelly: I want to ask how The Tweedy Show came to be — because the idea of livestreaming my own family evenings at home during quarantine frankly sounds horrifying. Which of you decided this would be a good idea?
Jeff Tweedy: I think it was my wife’s idea. She suggested that it would be nice to reach out to the fans that were so disappointed when our tour got canceled. One day I got my wife to laugh quite a bit at the notion of me just taking a bath and her coming in there livestreaming it — and a lot of people showed up. I don’t know, the pandemic really made me feel like the distance that might be between, say, a performer and an audience wasn’t there anymore. And it felt nice to invite people in a little bit.
Sammy and Spencer, did your parents have to twist your arms on this? I’m imagining a lot of kids would not be immediately psyched at the idea of doing a livestream with their family on Instagram every night.
Spencer Tweedy: I can’t say that I was excited to be in the bathroom while my dad was in a bathtub, but that was just the first night. And since then, no arm twisting on my end, because when we play music on the show and it’s just this simple drum kit in the living room and guitars and whatnot, that’s just what Sammy, my dad and I do for fun on other nights of the week. It’s not a hard ask.
Jeff, tell me how all of this has fit into the origins of the new album.
Jeff: Well, songwriting for me, music in general for me, is my most surefire coping strategy. I think I got inspired, initially, to just distract myself with trying to write. I wanted to write songs that I felt like I could get in a time machine and go pitch to George Jones or something. I was picturing ’50s, ’60s country radio. Like “Natural Disaster” — classic country. You could tell somebody about the song in one sentence. I look at that as a sign of a really good country song.
Give me the sentence. What’s the song about?
Jeff: I’ve never been in a natural disaster, but I’ve fallen in love.
Sammy, you sing on this record. Talk to me about how that unfolded.
Sammy: Well, because I was home from college, we started trying to come up with some harmony parts for my voice. We just ended up making something where my dad and I’s voices were kind of — I just sound like a younger version of him, in many ways. That was really beautiful to us, and we started doing that more and more.
Jeff: You sound like a more adorable version of me.
Spencer, talk to us about your role here. What’s it like playing with your dad and brother?
Spencer: It’s the most effortless musical relationship that I have in my life. My dad and I have been making records together for about eight years now. and it’s simply my favorite thing to do.
Where’s Mom on this album by the way? Or was she like, “They’re busy — finally, I get the bathroom.”
Jeff: She always says she has debilitating stage fright, but she’s the most confident person I know. … I think there was an element of just wanting for us to give her a break.
There is one song, “Even I Can See,” that read to me kind of like a love letter to your wife, Jeff.
Jeff: I think there are a lot of love letters to my wife on all my records, to be honest. But it definitely felt more explicit on this record just because, how can you not take stock when things are so devastating? I think it would be a wasted moment not to use that for some reevaluation of your good fortune, in spite of the darkness.
If I might stick with the darkness, just for a second: Because we’re all still in quarantine and we’re heading into a cold winter — especially there where you are in Chicago — is there a winter pandemic album coming? How are you thinking about getting through this time as a family?
Jeff: At the best of times, for me personally, the autumn-into-winter season is challenging — so you’re asking me at a particularly precarious moment what my coping strategy might be. But I inevitably will find some comfort in the spirit of creation: this idea that the world is always unfolding toward something you can’t predict but you have the ability, through your creativity and your imagination, to contribute something beautiful, at the very least not tear anything down that needs to be intact for other people. At the same time, I think making things helps you identify things that should be torn down. I think that it actually gives you a little bit more license to figure out where things have outlasted their usefulness.