The Yankee Foxtrot Hotel: How Wilco Created a Masterpiece Amidst Their Studio Chaos

Half a decade before Spotify was founded, and years before music ‘streaming’ entered the dictionary, Wilco did something remarkable and completely novel. On September 18, 2001, the Chicago band made their fourth album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, available to listen for free on their website.

His decision was not taken lightly. Jeff Tweedy and a diverse group of musicians had been preparing for the album during the best time of the year, and the meetings, which had witnessed the departures of two members, had become so intense that it felt as if it will never be released.

It’s almost not. When Tweedy presented the complete copy to their record label, Reprise, the album was rejected. This is one of America’s best bands, and a respected record label says the record is a huge disappointment and that they won’t devote any resources to releasing or promoting it.

That’s when Tweedy decided to spread the word carefully and put it online – in the hopes that it would find an audience. Social media still has a long way to go and Google has only been around for three years, so the guarantee that a large audience will discover it is not there.

But found it they did. Before long, appeared from that Yankee Foxtrot Hotel is an album that any serious music lover must listen to. The ears of the executives at Nonesuch were also ringing and the label officially released the album on April 23, 2002. Ironically, Nonesuch and Reprise shared the same parent record company, leading to suggestions It is not entirely accurate that Warner Music paid for the same album twice.


Cover of Wilco’s Yankee Foxtrot Hotel depicting the towers of Marina City in Chicago

What is without a doubt is the masterpiece that Wilco created despite, or perhaps because of, the chaos of its creation. But more later.

The album received a luxurious re-release treatment this month – a fascinating document revealing how the songs evolved from their demo state. But even without this new version, the album’s place in the American alternative rock scene was long ago secured.

It remains Tweedy’s greatest work in a vast and extraordinary career. And he was expected a lot from the very beginning. A founding member of Uncle Tupelo, the Illinois native was at the forefront of an influential movement in the early 90s that included both alternative rock and original music that was later dubbed alt-country.

In his next band, he wants to experiment more. Wilco – short for ‘will comply’ – is the means by which his ambitions can be fully realized. And the hiring of former math teacher Jay Bennett in 1996 really boosted the band’s growth.

Their sonic palate expanded throughout the three albums: AM, I’m there and Summerteeth. The last of these, which was released to near worldwide acclaim in March 1999, still stuns with the sweep and glory of its songs, including that of the acclaimed favorite fan Via Chicago. The Windy City has long proven to be an inspiration for Tweedy and it is sure to succeed on the album that will become Yankee Foxtrot Hotel.

By the time the group convened in a rehearsal and loft studio in Chicago in late 2000 to perform, Tweedy was determined to let his creativity explode. So does Bennett, but trouble is brewing. Their desire to create bold and brilliant songs is matched by an unshakable belief that their way and their only way is right. Most legends about Yankee Foxtrot Hotel was struck by the fact that its creation was captured in Sam Jones’s documentary flying over the wall I’m trying to break your heart. The film, named after the album’s opening track, shows a band breaking up. The Los Angeles-based photographer thought he was going to shoot a relatively conventional band movie, but when problems arose, he stayed until the money ran out to record it all, shooting 80 hours of footage. film.

Video of the day

Jones’ movies are something of a classic in their own right. Right from the start, we have a band in crisis. Vulnerabilities are exposed, disagreements are brutally exposed, and hostile acts take place. However, the inspiration to make a special album is always present.

Changes come soon. Drummer Ken Coomer was ousted in the first few weeks of recording, replaced by percussionist Glenn Kotche, whose improvisational style leans more towards jazz than rock and is the perfect accompaniment to unconventional ideas. by Tweedy about songcraft.

Jim O’Rourke, Chicago’s pioneering musician and producer, was invited to help with the sessions – it was he who suggested Kotche to Tweedy – and while Bennett initially supported the idea by O’Rourke, he began to feel that his own contribution had been marginalized.

O’Rourke will play an important role in helping decipher songs like I’m trying to break your heart and recreate them into challenging, artistic works.

That’s not to say that all races give convention a wide berth. Heavy Metal Drummer reveling in its straight rock – it remains one of Wilco’s most played live songs – while the soft soundtrack is beautifully God, etc found Tweedy to be his best poet. Additional strings for the latter were arranged by Wilco bassist John Stirratt.

The original plan was for the album to be released on September 11, 2001 – the infamous date in recent American history – and some have pointed out the lyrics are somewhat quaint, especially on God, etc with the eye-catching lines “tall buildings shake” and “skyscrapers are scratching each other”.

New York Times nailed the album’s impact: “Yankee is a work of both closeness and totality: a record that sounds, oddly, like being in someone else’s headache, while also prefigured the pervasive existential unrest that occurs in days and years after 9/11. “

Tweedy fired Bennett before the album was completed, insisting he couldn’t work with him again. Revealing like a Sam Jones documentary, it’s perhaps unfair to Bennett, who has a somewhat stubborn and feisty appearance. A more recent documentary, last year Where are you, Jay Bennett?attempts to provide a more comprehensive view of a musician who died of a Fentanyl overdose at the age of 45 in 2009. His significant contributions to Wilco up to and include Yankee Foxtrot Hotel should not be discounted.

In the new boxset’s liner notes, Tweedy writes about what he hopes to achieve on the album. “I tried to put that into perspective: how is it possible to have all the good things that I love about America, along with all these things that I am ashamed of? And that’s also an internal question; I think I felt the same way about myself.”

The title, incidentally, came from an album that Tweedy was later obsessed with, Project Conet, a collection of eerie recordings from shortwave radio stations believed to transmit espionage. A piece of music features a woman’s voice saying “Yankee… hotel… foxtrot.”

The special cover image depicts the towers of Marina City, one of Chicago’s architectural wonders, and designed by rebellious architect Bertrand Goldberg in 1959 and completed in 1964. until 1968. One of the city’s most photographed buildings, the impressive black and white photo above Yankee Foxtrot Hotel by Sam Jones.

The deluxe version of ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ is now available The Yankee Foxtrot Hotel: How Wilco Created a Masterpiece Amidst Their Studio Chaos

Fry Electronics Team

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