Wilco is an American alternative rock band based in Chicago, Illinois. The band was formed in 1994 by the remaining members of alternative country group Uncle Tupelo following singer Jay Farrar's departure. Wilco's lineup has changed frequently, with only singer Jeff Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt remaining from the original incarnation. Since early 2004, the other current members are guitarist Nels Cline, multi-instrumentalists Pat Sansone and Mikael Jorgensen, and drummer Glenn Kotche. Wilco has released seven studio albums, a live double album, and three collaborations: two with Billy Bragg, and one with The Minus 5.
Wilco's music has been inspired by a wide variety of artists and styles, including Bill Fay and Television, and has in turn influenced music by a number of modern alternative rock acts. The band continued in the alternative country of Uncle Tupelo on its debut album A.M. (1995), but has since introduced more experimental aspects to their music, including elements of alternative rock, and classic pop.
Wilco garnered media attention for its fourth album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002), and the controversy surrounding it. After the recording sessions were complete, Reprise Records rejected the album and dismissed Wilco from the label. As part of a buy-out deal, Reprise gave Wilco the rights to the album for free. After streaming Foxtrot on its website, Wilco sold the album to Nonesuch Records in 2002. Both record labels are subsidiaries of Warner Music Group, leading one critic to say the album showed "how screwed up the music business is in the early twenty-first century." Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is Wilco's most successful release to date, selling over 670,000 copies. Wilco won two Grammy Awards for their fifth studio album, 2004's A Ghost Is Born, including Best Alternative Music Album. Wilco released their seventh studio album, Wilco (The Album), on June 30, 2009; as of July 2010, it had sold 271,000 copies.
Wilco's music is typically categorized as alternative rock and alternative country. Despite their career-long association with a major record label, they are generally associated with indie rock. Wilco draws influence from bands from a variety of musical genres, but primarily from music created between 1966 and 1974. John Cale's Paris 1919 was credited by the band as providing a musical parallel. According to Tweedy, "It was eye-opening that I wasn't the only person that felt like these worlds had a lot more in common than they'd been given credit for—that experimentation and avant-garde theory was not directly opposed to beauty, y'know?"
Other recording artists from that timespan appreciated by the band include John Lennon, Neil Young, and Brian Wilson. For his thirty-fourth birthday, Tweedy received a private guitar lesson from Richard Lloyd of Television; Tweedy was a big fan of the group and was particularly fond of the guitar work, which he wanted to incorporate into his music. Uncle Tupelo was inspired by bands such as Jason & the Scorchers and The Minutemen, influencing the recording of Wilco's A.M.. Tweedy and O'Rourke enjoyed free jazz artists such as Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, and Derek Bailey; they also listen to mainstream jazz by artists such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The lyrical structure of Wilco's songs was dictated by classic literature and cadavre exquis—an exercise where band members take turns writing lines on a typewriter, but are only allowed to see the previously written line. Among the books that the band has cited as being stylistically influential include William H. Gass's In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, and Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry.
Some critics have dubbed Wilco the "American Radiohead", due to their stylistically diverse catalog. A critic from the New York Times argues that Wilco has a "roots-rock...[sound which] reached back to proven materials: the twang of country, the steady chug of 1960s rock, the undulating sheen of the Beach Boys, the honky-tonk hymns of the Band and the melodic symmetries of pop."
Rolling Stone described Wilco as "one of America's most consistently interesting bands" and "America's foremost rock impressionists." Bands that have been influenced by Wilco include Derek Webb (of Caedmon's Call), The National, and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. English indie rock band Cherry Ghost took its name from a lyric from the Wilco song "Theologians" (from A Ghost Is Born)—lead singer Simon Aldred is a self-proclaimed "massive Wilco fan". Other notable artists who have covered Wilco live include Norah Jones performing "Jesus, Etc." which took place at the 2008 Bridge School Benefit where they both performed, a version of which was released as a bonus track on her 2009 release The Fall, and Counting Crows and the Wallflowers performing "California Stars."