Nels Cline has spent the last nine years playing with one of the most respected rock bands out there, but simply calling him Wilco’s guitarist wouldn’t do him justice. Cline is one of the most versatile guitarists around, flourishing in a variety of musical spaces from jazz and punk to straight up rock ‘n’ roll. Wilco might be taking a break at the moment, but Cline sure isn’t. We caught up with him earlier this week to discuss this Sunday’s Guitar Mash event, as well as Wilco’s time on the AmericanaramA tour, his recent project with Medeski, Martin and Wood, the Complete Last Waltz show, Nels Cline Singers and more.
You’ll be at Guitar Mash in New York City this weekend? What is Guitar Mash, exactly? What can we look forward to?
It’s funny. In a way it’s hard to explain. I got asked to guest perform last year at Guitar Mash. I didn’t really know anything about it. On the surface it’s a little dorky, which it is, in a cool way. It was so much cooler than I expected. It’s basically a benefit event for New York City education, particularly music in the schools. Music programs for kids, rock for kids, kind of thing. In which, the great guitarists, multi-instrumentalists and music director Mark Stewart leads a group backing band. He gets people, kids, their parents and whoever else wants to come down.They are mostly guitar hobbyists or youngsters who are aspiring to be guitarists. They come down to share an afternoon of listening to people play, playing along with them, playing songs and singing songs.
Last year, they showed lyrics and chord changes on a big screen, so people can look up there and play along. The whole idea of it is innocent fun. It’s to get people into playing guitar and get them to participate in an event that will raise money. They have an auction with a bunch of guitars that people will buy, hopefully making money that way.
It’s pretty heartwarming. I participated last year and I performed a free jazz piece by Jimmy Giuffre. I tried to get people to freely improvise and sort of lose their fear of hitting wrong notes. It was kind of an anything goes lesson. I also played a simple three chord Sonic Youth song called “Mildred Pierce.” It just got everybody to think of overtones and rock out without having to worry about being “virtuosy.”Other participants were Larry Campbell, Stefan Grossman, Kaki King, Vernon Reid and Lenny Kaye. It was really fun. Just hearing a bunch of people singing and playing Patti Smith’s “Ghost Dance” was incredibly heartwarming for me.
This year they are going to have Julian Lage and Jorma Kaukonen, which kind of blows my mind. That’s somebody I idolized when I was 15, 14 years old. I can’t remember who else. There will be a bunch of people. It’s going to be fun.
Wilco have been touring heavily lately, even though the last album was released in 2011. Is there anything—a new studio release—on the horizon?
Eventually. We are still thinking about at this point. We are taking a little bit of a break because we toured for almost three years on that last record. I think we are going to take a little break before we jump back into it. I wouldn’t say you’ll see anything tomorrow.
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