Wilco’s Nels Cline looks back on his musical life ahead of the band’s show at the Hard Rock Live

‘I don’t wanna get all weird and morbid, but oops, it might be’

click to enlarge Wilco (Nels Cline at far left) plays the Hard Rock Live on Tuesday - Photo by Annabel Mehran
Photo by Annabel Mehran
Wilco (Nels Cline at far left) plays the Hard Rock Live on Tuesday

Formidable guitar virtuoso Nels Cline has been an axe-slinger for Americana stars Wilco for 18 years, but that's only one part of his eclectic musical life.

Cline has been making music for four decades, playing with everyone from Thurston Moore to Lydia Lunch to Mike Watt, as well as leading his own ensembles. The current tour schedule posted on his website reveals a life attached to Wilco but with plenty of room for CUP, Le Poisson and likely pop-ups that aren’t scheduled yet. He continues to release music independently and with other artists, such that the quality and quantity of his discography is dizzying.

Cline is humble about that.

“People ask me to do stuff and I just go and do it for laughs or we play music and somebody records it and asks if they can put it out. So it looks like I did something active, but all I did was play the gig,” Cline says on a phone call that he took from his upstate New York rental home.

Cline insinuated that his discography is stuffed with accidental recordings, but in truth he is prolific. An album with The Nels Cline Singers dropped in 2020, the seventh with that group. There are also releases with The Nels Cline 4 and a four-sided solo effort, Lovers. This only scratches the surface. There is so much more.

As Cline told stories about his life in music — which he never thinks of as a career, per se — he surprised himself pondering his creative community.

“I'm friends with a lot of musicians, so we must like each other and like playing together. I'm very fortunate in that my instrument has a lot of versatility and also a lot of general acceptance by the populace. I walk in various realms and have cherished relationships and … wow! Yeah, they're almost all musicians.”

The seemingly endless points of connection in his extended music family are what led him to Wilco.

Back in 2004, Wilco released A Ghost Is Born. Leroy Bach had left the band, and Wilco maestro Jeff Tweedy wanted to go on tour with the music from the album. He had another guitarist in mind but hadn’t settled on a decision.

“For some reason [he] was looking for something, which I guess was potentially me. I had opened for Wilco with Carla Bozulich on a few shows in the Midwest. Carla and I, along with the Geraldine Fibbers, met Jeff in 1996 when we were out opening for Golden Smog. I was playing with the Geraldine Fibbers as a sub-guitar player and having a marvelous experience. So that's how it all kind of strangely came together.”

At age 67 — he’s the senior member of Wilco — Cline is looking back now more than ever.

“I don't wanna get all weird and morbid, but oops, it might be. I am thinking a little differently about certain things because of my age. Yeah. There is that icy chill that comes over one periodically when the mortal coil shudders in proximity to good old death, you know?

But Cline’s thoughts aren't overtaken by the chill, because he’s now deep into a world tour that kicked off last month in the band’s hometown of Chicago. Wilco bounced over to Iceland last week, and stops in Orlando's Hard Rock Live on Tuesday, April 18. This tour demands a lot of physical and mental attention.

And it won’t be Cline’s first visit to Orlando by far. He has fond memories of a show at Sapphire Supper Club in 1996 when he played with Mike Watt, Geraldine Fibbers and T.J. Kirk. This time he’ll be at Hard Rock Live. Expect a lot of material from Wilco’s latest album, Cruel Country.

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