While he is in the country at the moment, playing solo and Wilco songs – see dates below - Jeff Tweedy is helpfully reminding us of his enjoyable and insightful memoir, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) which is the ideal companion for that solo album, Warm.
But long before he settled some speculations on his manner and methods, Tweedy had to deal with idle speculation and some fanciful theories. Like those presented here in this 2007 interview in Sydney. Hey, they weren’t all fanciful – and anyway you were probably thinking the same things. Weren’t you?
IN A NOISY ROOM under the stage at the Enmore Theatre Jeff Tweedy is popping pistachios and washing them down with a Diet Coke. All, or at least mostly, natural.
His eyes which once seemed clouded with something indefinable - but which eventually we realised was a serious lifelong struggle with migraines and then an addiction to the prescription drugs given him to treat the migraines - are clear. And amused.
Some of the amusement which nudges the reddish-brown beard around his mouth is caused by listening to my theories on the music of his band Wilco over six albums where they've moved from country rock and Beatlesque pop, to arty with German influences, and now a mix of those and '70s classic rock.
I tell him that over the years listening and watching Wilco one question had always hovered, when would he stop beating himself up? He chuckles at this but politely lets me go on. However, the most recent Wilco album, Sky Blue Sky, suggests maybe he has grown to like or accept himself a little bit more. Forgiven himself.
"Well, um. Aah. Yeah. I'll always be a restless person you know but I think that there is a certain contentedness with that knowledge now that didn't exist on other records," he says eventually.
What was it about the restlessness that he didn't like?
"I don't know if it was ever something I was conscious of, I just didn't like feeling terrible," he chuckles again. "That's pretty simple."
Beyond the problems he had with the debilitating migraines, there was also the impression of an unhappiness about the way Tweedy did things, about the way he handled personal and professional relationships. Sky Blue Sky sounds like someone who said sure I've made bad calls at times but I'm going to stop thinking I'm a bad person because of those.
"I don't know," he says doubtfully. "I'm just trying to figure out if I agree with your observation. In a lot of ways, I think musically I've been a lot more healthy and lyrically I think I've been able to explore things with more maturity than the rest of my life.
“It's hard for me to look at it and see that there was a lot of apparent unhappiness or dissatisfaction in the music I was making, even before I got healthy. I feel that that was one area I felt pretty good about."
The unhappiness was not with the music but maybe it's what he is calling restlessness, a sense of agitation in how he worked and how he approached life that seemed as if he was moving on constantly, unsatisfied.
"I think it makes more sense to me to think about it in terms of not necessarily being unsatisfied with who I am, just more troubled by the reality of the fact that who we are is pretty ambiguous. Being able to tolerate ambiguity is something that is very difficult to do for anybody and I think you have much more difficult time doing it when you feel terrible and you're struggling with depression and different things. You want things to change and you want things to be black-and-white: this is good, I want to feel like a good person, I want to feel healthy. Nothing ever really is like that. That I can hear in the records.
"I can hear a searching for this idea that you need to figure out who you are and I struggle with that notion. I feel more accurately what this record is saying, and has more of than any other record, is this ease with the idea that okay, it is a struggle, there is ambiguity, but I can handle it. I think this [album] is more intellectually honest than saying I've got it figured out."
Sometimes an audience wants the artist to be black-and-white, to stay the same but the irony in audiences wanting that is that the way we listen and respond to music changes depending on our age and circumstances in life. The way we responded at 20 - optimistic about life, untethered, unknowing - is likely to be quite different to the way we respond at 40 - more seasoned, more encumbered, more wearied.
"I think what happens more often than not is that when people start to have that violent reaction against something, say a band they care about, changing, what they really hate is that they've changed and that they can't stop themselves from changing,” Tweedy says. “People hate the fact that they change, human beings just don't like it. I'm convinced that there is no correct way that we could ever address this problem.
“We couldn't set out to make a record that would make everybody happy because we would never succeed. All you're left with this idea that you make something that you love and that you care about."
Jeff Tweedy plays Brisbane Powerhouse, tonight, May 22; Meeniyan Town Hall, May 24; The Athenaeum, Melbourne, May 25; Howler, Melbourne, May 26; The Governor Hindmarsh, Adelaide, May 28.