From rock to country to jazz, Wilco’s Nels Cline says, “I can play all this wonderful music” – InForum
FARGO — Nels Cline is best known for playing guitar in the rock band Wilco. The last 18 years in a band only scratches the surface of the guitarist’s reach and influence.
Since his debut in 1981, he’s performed on over 160 recordings, alongside everyone from Yoko Ono to Ornette Coleman, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Rickie Lee Jones, John Zorn and dozens more. He played punk with Mike Watt, noise rock with Thurston Moore and released more than 40 avant-garde and jazz recordings under his own name and with groups, such as the Nels Cline Singers, Nels Cline Trio and Nels Cline 4.
“I’m the luckiest guy in showbiz,” Cline says. “I can play all this wonderful music.”
He will bring some of this wonderful music to the Fargo Brewing Company on Sunday evening, September 11, when he and Wilco return to town.
The band’s most recent album, “Cruel Country,” is heralded as one of the band’s finest, a double-disc that draws inspiration from traditional country and folk music. While some call it a country album, Cline sees it more as a continuation of the Wilco sound.
“We certainly had no intention of writing a country record,” says the guitarist.
The project began during the COVID-19 pandemic when the band couldn’t all get together at their Chicago recording studio. Jeff Tweedy, the band’s founding singer-songwriter, sent the members one song a day as an exercise in keeping them together musically as a band.
“Jeff was writing a diverse group of songs. Some of them were country and folk songs so incredibly delightful in story and content that I didn’t think they would be Wilco songs,” Cline says.
Instead, he got even more excited thinking about the possibilities of the songs outside of the group.
“I thought, ‘Jeff could do a solo album out of it and I’ll learn mandolin and we’ll have a string orchestra,'” Cline enthuses.
Instead, with so many songs, the ones that worked best together were the ones that formed “Cruel Country,” Cline says, adding that the group could return to the studio early next year with some of the other tracks. from another album.
While some celebrate “Cruel Country,” Wilco’s 12th studio album, for its twang, Cline points out that the band has embraced country sounds in the past.
“‘Being There’ also has country elements,” he says, referring to the band’s second album. “The country strains are a bit stronger here. Pat Sansone plays a badass telecaster everywhere. All of these flavors gel into a more cohesive country album.
Whether it’s country, indie rock, folk or jazz, Cline approaches it the same way.
“I don’t make a difference, although Wilco has a theatrical feel to it with the staging and the lights. I’m comfortable in the pageantry of a rock show,” he says. “Jazz is creative and improvisational. I have a million notes buzzing around in my head at all times, so it’s hard to be specific. My strong point is improvisation.
Now 66, Cline remembers the first times he heard The Byrds and Jimi Hendrix, the music that made him a guitarist.
“It cleared the path of my life,” he says. “My goal wasn’t to be flamboyant like Hendrix. I was on a more sonically modest path and the Allman Brothers became my big love.
So when Allman Brothers guitarist Derek Trucks asked Cline to join his Tedeschi Trucks Band onstage at New York’s legendary Beacon Theater in 2019, Cline jumped at the chance.
“They stir my heart,” Cline says of the Tedeschi Trucks Band. “It was heaven for a guy who grew up with the Allman Brothers.”
The admiration is mutual.
“Nels is one of our favorite people. He’s so unique and multi-dimensional,” Trucks says. “He took a solo to a place I never imagined and ripped the roof off the place. He’s a wizard, man. When you play with Nels, it frees you up and gives you all the possibilities.
Unbeknownst to Trucks, he helped pull Cline out of a depression during the height of the pandemic.
Cline and his wife, Yuka Honda of the band Cibo Matto, moved from Brooklyn to upstate New York at the start of the pandemic and the move paid off as Cline began working on a number of compositions for different groups.
“I was looking forward to getting off the treadmill for a month or two. I wasn’t expecting two years,” he says. “Then it kind of imploded. I started thinking, ‘Why? the hell does the world need to hear more from me?’ I become embarrassed and depressed.
That is until Trucks invited Cline to watch a set at Red Rocks in 2021 that included Allman Brothers’ “Dreams,” “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. “.
“It catapulted me out of my funk. I love them,” Cline says.
The experience helped Cline stay upbeat and focused when he caught COVID earlier this year while Wilco was on the road in Spain. Cline stayed at the hotel until he was healthy and safe to join the group.
“It was a dangerous precedent that they could play four shows without me,” he laughs. “I’m just a guy who likes to play.”
What: Wilco with The Cactus Blossoms opener
When: 6:45 p.m. Sunday, September 11
Where: Outside at Fargo Brewing Co., 610 N. University Drive
Information: Tickets range from $39.50 to $85 for this ID-only show; jadepresents.com