Archival Pigment Print
Signed and Numbered by the artist
Edition of 50
11x14", 16x20" or 20x24"
I remember the first time I ever laid eyes on Wilco’s loft, in Chicago. I had flown out to meet Jeff Tweedy and talk about a potential documentary I wanted to make on the band. We had dinner in an Italian restaurant, and afterwards, Jeff drove me around Lake Shore Drive playing early demos of songs that would end up on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It was a cold night in November, and there were light flakes of snow dancing on the windshield as the songs filled the car. I was filled with excitement over the material, and also over Jeff’s enthusiasm for my pitch, which was to make a definitive documentary about the creative process of being a musician.
“Well, if you want to film the creative process, I guess you should see the loft,” Jeff said. It was late—maybe 2 AM at this point. We drove from downtown out to the loft, and Jeff led me up the stairs of a fairly typical and fairly ugly industrial building. But when he opened the door and switched on the lights, the effect was nothing less beautiful to me than the scene where Gene Wilder, as Willy Wonka, first throws open the doors to his factory. There was no river of chocolate in the Wilco loft, but there were rows and rows of vintage guitars, amplifiers, drums, organs, pianos, and recording gear. Posters of past Wilco shows adorned every wall, and couches, oriental rugs, and desks created little pockets of creativity around the room. To someone like me, who grew up infatuated with every aspect of rock and roll, this was a feast for the senses.
As Jeff gave me the tour, the entire documentary started to take shape in my mind. I was already picturing how to light the room, and where I could put cameras. This loft would become the main location and set piece of the film, and would allow me to show the creative process of this DIY band in a setting that reflected their love and commitment to their art.
I signed on immediately to the project, and for the next 14 months, spent many hours in this loft making my first film. The loft started out as a laboratory and recording studio, and we filmed the band creating their masterpiece record track by track with the enthusiasm of kids in a candy store. Then, in the summer, the loft was transformed into a rehearsal space, as the band figured out how to play these sonically complex songs for an audience.
This picture was taken during the rehearsals for the first tour supporting Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The band had never played these songs live, and they were discovering the power of the songs for the first time. I kept a still camera with me the whole time I was filming, and would do my best to change hats every now and then and try to make a still image that captured what the documentary was about. But when I look back through the archives, I realize how few pictures I took. At the time I remember it being really hard to go from making moving images to finding a photograph in the room. The motion picture cameras were heavy, and made my back hurt. Plus, every time I picked up a still camera, I had the fear that I was missing a film-able moment.
I am so glad I caught this moment. To the best of my memory, Jeff is singing the song “Kamera.” He is playing a ’59 Fender Jazzmaster, which is a beautiful instrument and his mainstay electric guitar during that period. I remember they were rehearsing in the middle of the day so that Jeff could take a break at 3pm and go pick up his son Spencer from school. In the background is Leroy Bach on keyboards, who is sadly no longer with the band, and Jason Tobias, Wilco’s tech. Taped to the column is a giant list of Wilco songs that the band was considering playing on tour, and I got the great pleasure of hearing them attempt almost every song on that list.
In the foreground, dating the picture, is a cd boom box with which the band used to remind them of the new songs’ chord changes and lyrics, and a bottle of Diet Coke. Jeff would drink between 12-15 of those a day back then, and even immortalized his habit in the song “Ashes of American Flags.” As for those lights above Jeff? Well, I have to claim responsibility for those. The loft was never the brightest place, even on a sunny day. And Chicago is not known for its sunny days. When I first saw the loft I realized we were going to have to light the whole room if we had any chance of making a film in there. Having absolutely no money, I ended up going to a Pier One Imports and buying cheap Chinese lanterns. We put 500-watt bulbs inside, which got insanely hot, and then put the whole system on a dimmer. That was our 63-dollar lighting solution for “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” and I have to say, it worked pretty well. Funny enough, Jeff must have gotten used to seeing those lights, because the band started using them as stage lighting on tour. Or maybe they didn’t have any money either!
There is something sacred and really cool about band practice. I have played in bands all my life, and there is a feeling that happens between four or five individuals when guitars and drums are being played at loud volume in a small room with no audience. It bonds you together, and reminds you why you love music in the first place. This picture evokes that feeling for me, and is one of my favorite memories from that year I spent with the band. I was right there, with no audience, and experiencing the birth of some really unique and special songs. And I didn’t wear earplugs, either.
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