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Has there ever been a song that you guys all thought it’d be a great idea to cover that you just couldn’t crack?
Yeah, most of 'em. (laughs) Other people’s songs can be really hard to play. We just played at the Solid Sound Festival which is the Wilco festival up in Massachusetts. They played two sets. One Saturday night they played a really long set of their songs, but on the opening night of the festival, Friday night, Wilco played like a 30 song set of all cover songs, and you know, those guys are really good at playing their instruments. Reeeeeeeeally good at playing their instruments. All of them. So watching them say, “OK, ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ let’s do it. Every guitar part, breakdowns, the whole middle section, everything.” Wow, there it is. There’s a nearly note perfect version of “Marquee Moon” with Nils Cline on the entire song. And it’s like “Oh My God.” They were basically replicating these songs which was blowing my mind. And you could hear them in it as well. It wasn’t like they were just being imitators. I like that a lot.
I think that’s what kind of appeals to us more. If we can’t crack it than it kind of remains uncracked. I think of the group Half Japanese, who, you know, couldn’t play their instruments, quite literally. Could not play there instruments. And yet there’s a cover of “Tangled Up in Blue” or “10th Avenue Freeze Out” and it’s like, I can’t wait to hear this. It creates this sort of weird, shared feeling between these two sort of disparate groups. That might be at the heart of the happiness in playing cover songs. Even if you can’t do it exactly like Thin Lizzy did it. You do it like yourself, and that’s great too.
Some of your early albums as Dump were just reissued. Was that the first time you’d revisited that stuff in a while?
I had not listened to it in a very long time before I was approached about doing the reissues. I play every now and again, maybe once a year on average. So, I still remember a lot of the songs, but I don’t listen to the recordings that often. I’ve listened to them quite a bit over the last year.
Do you have new feelings about that stuff now?
I still like it. It’s a very weird experience, but it was pleasurable and ultimately I did feel happy with it all. Even if I don’t agree 100% with some of the execution I still felt good about the ideas and I could sort of see growth, I think. See where certain ideas had their beginnings, some of them are still with me. And it informs how I write and how I collaborate now. I feel great about the reissues, I think they did a really fantastic job.
This wasn’t one of the recent ones, but I just wanted to ask you about “International Airport,” because I love that song...
The patience involved in it is kind of mind-boggling, and I have trouble even wrapping my head around how you wrote that.
I’m a huge fans of songs that go on forever and maybe don’t end. I remember having that thought when I was really little, when songs would fade out on the radio. When you hear the closing chord and a cymbal ring out you know they’re done. But like when they are still playing that really kinda bothered me a little bit. I didn’t know what was happening. “Where did they go?”
Again with “Marquee Moon”, you know, maybe it might not end? I love things that are ridiculously long. There were a lot of songs in my life at the time that were like that that were really important to me. I just wanted to try it. And it would be a nice surprise all of a sudden for there to be some singing. You should put “Spoiler Alert” before that, I guess.
It was kind of a songwriting and recording experiment. That was maybe my proudest achievement as far as bouncing tracks down. I can’t even remember how many tracks were involved in the recording. I did it all on a 4-track, standing in front of my home stereo plugged into my receiver trying to balance it. It was as scientific as I ever got back then.