“You don’t gain anything, being precious about making records,” says Jeff Tweedy. Then he laughs. “I think this is a pretty irritated record. I sort of gave myself permission to complain.”
Schmilco, Wilco’s tenth studio album and the fifth by the current sextet lineup, began to percolate at around the same time as its predecessor, 2015’s Star Wars. As the songs Wilco developed during that period progressed from musical snippets to fuller structures, and then to lyrical composition, the band began blocking the music into two general album ideas—the first louder and harder, the second more modest in volume and expression.
“I liked the idea of releasing Star Wars the way we did,” says Tweedy, “with very little advance notice. The music on that album felt irreverent in a very electric-rock way, but the other music felt irreverent in a quieter, less layered way. Some of the songs could have been made to work on either album, really, but the alternative to making two records would have been to spend another year really honing everything, all of it, getting it all right for that kind of release. It just gradually became clear that Star Wars was going to be the easier project to finish first. Those songs were a lot farther along than the ones on Schmilco.”
Where Star Wars finally coalesced into a boisterous, glam-rocking showcase of Wilco’s variable styles, Schmilco is something of its quieter mirror counterpart—more intimate and candid, executed in modest arrangements and instrumentation.