BiographyJeff Tweedy's odyssey from smart (and smart ass) alt-country pioneer to avant-rocker who also happens to sell a lot of records demonstrates his gift for wide-ranging musical-cultural wrinkles. His early work with Uncle Tupelo helped define the alt country movement -- their No Depression inspired the magazine's name -- before his tenure in Wilco saw the band move from a similar pickup-truck aesthetic to increasingly offbeat records that suggested an American Radiohead.
Co-fronted by Tweedy and Jay Farrar, Uncle Tupelo was a mighty force that wasn't built to last. After the release of their fourth (and first major label) album, Anodyne (1993), a schism between the two split the band. With the remaining members, Tweedy founded Wilco and soon released A.M. Filled with catchy rockers ("Box Full of Letters") and a few moodier tracks (the ever-so-slightly experimental "Dash 7"), it was a fine, if unsurprising, album.
Wilco took a left turn with its follow-up, Being There, which once again boasted some tunes that radio might've embraced but also moved knowingly toward the lost, bewildered ambience of records like Big Star's Sister Lovers. Summerteeth continued this trend while failing to gain commercial ground. The next record tore it. Reprise turned down Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the most daring album Tweedy and co. had yet handed in. Rather than imperiling a career, however, the rejection turned into a triumph. Ultimately, Yankee was issued through another arm of Warner Music Group, the arty Nonesuch subsidiary of Atlantic. The combination of intriguing music and a Davey-and-Goliath back story was irresistible; the album debuted at No. 13 in Billboard and has since gone gold (as has Being There.)
After the record's success and a lengthy round of touring, Tweedy announced in April 2004 that he was entering treatment for chemical dependency and depression. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot's sequel, A Ghost Is Born, appeared in June 2004, debuting in the Top 10. Jeff Tweedy is now in rude health, and Wilco are able to count on a large audience for even their most adventurous work. The man has redefined rock stardom -- or at least his own -- on his own idiosyncratic terms.