This week, Intermission sat down with Glenn Kotche, the drummer for the alternative rock band Wilco. Promoting their recently released album “The Whole Love”, Wilco is bringing their tour to the Bay Area with four sold-out performances in San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland and Davis over the next week. Trained in classical percussion, Kotche has played with Wilco for more than 10 years and has also released several solo works. He talked to us about the new album, touring in the Bay Area and future performances at Stanford.
Intermission: The album is structured with the seven-minute “Art of Almost” at the beginning and the 12-minute acoustic ballad “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)” at the end, with 10 average-length songs in the middle. Did you go in with the intention of doing that?
Kotche: Usually with any record we’ll mess with the sequences, listen to them and see what seems to flow the best. With this last record, it was pretty obvious when we finished “Art of Almost” that [it] was an opening track. Where else would we put it? And the same thing with “One Sunday Morning”…it has such a great feel to it of closing everything up, it’s almost too long and too quiet to go first, and I think anywhere else in the record it would just kill the flow. Those two were the obvious bookends, so then it came to filling everything else.
Would you say that this album is more experimental than the last two Wilco has put out?
Well, we always experiment in the studio; that’s just the way we work because most of the time [recording is] done in our studio, and so we have the luxury of time. I would say [with] this record more than the last few, we really did make a point to try any idea that anyone had. Since we were setting up our own label, we had a lot of time, and we were going to be off the road, we weren’t just fitting it in between tours…We’ve made a lot of solid records with this lineup, it seemed right to entertain any idea that came up, and that’s how a lot of songs came together…I think [The Whole Love] had more freedom in the studio than necessarily an intent for it to sound experimental.
Wilco is known for putting on amazing live performances. Does touring ever get exhausting or grueling, or can you find every night a renewed sense of energy?
We’ve all been touring for a long, long time, in various bands and in this band, and this band tours pretty much as much as any band out there. And we play places a lot of bands our size never go near; multiple cities in Montana and Arkansas, you know, places like that that a lot of bands just skip over. So we are playing a lot, we’re playing a lot of countries, which can get grueling. Four of the six guys have families, five of us are married, so it’s always tough to leave your kids. But at the same time, I think we all believe in what we’re doing enough to where, when it gets to the show and onstage, we definitely give it our all. And I think that’s where, as you said that reputation of being a good live band, I think it’s because we don’t hold it in. Every night we’re emotionally invested in the performance, even if it’s in the middle of nowhere, and I think that translates to the audience as part of the show.
Do you change the types of songs depending on the venue?
Of course, we’re now supporting a new record, so a lot of those songs are going to be on there regardless. But no, it’s dependent on the venue as well, like last night we played a place that was mostly standing; it was very big, and you could tell it was going to be loud, it was going to be more of a rock type of show, and so we left some of the more intimate, quiet acoustic numbers off the set list…Definitely the venue, we’ve just done this enough to learn that you can’t fight the venue.
Is the Bay Area special to Wilco in any way?
Yeah, actually, it is. It’s always been. Early on it was one of the places where we were most popular. There was always Chicago because we’re based there, and then the San Francisco Bay Area. Starting out at the Fillmore, the American Music Hall, places like those, we’ve always had a really great showing and could sell out shows there a lot faster than other places. So yeah, it’s always been a special area for us…in ’98 after we were married, my wife got transferred and we lived in Palo Alto for a little spell there right up the street from Stanford, so that was cool. I love that area.
Favorite song off the new album?
For me it’s “Art of Almost.” I like that one because that was one when we were recording in the studio and I was doing a drum pass, and at the end I was just messing around after the song was over and played that beat that happens throughout the song. When the guys heard it, they said “Wait, hold on!” and Jeff [Tweedy] tried to see if he could sing over it. He could, so I re-tracked, and played that over the whole song, and then John [Stirratt] changed his bass, and Mike [Jorgensen] changed the synth part and then came up with the whole ending. So that’s one that was extremely collaborative in the way it sounds on the record…That one’s really fun for all of us to play live, and it’s a big workout, and it’s challenging, so I’d say that’s my favorite to play from the new record.
Glenn, thanks so much for your time; do you have anything else to add?
In early 2013 I’ll be out at Stanford for a week doing a residency premiering a new piece by the Alaskan composer John Luther Adams. He’s my favorite composer, and he wrote a 50-minute solo percussion piece that I’m going to be playing, and I’m also going to be doing the “Monkey Chant,” one of my solo pieces…I’ll be there giving some workshops, hanging out with students and then doing the concert.