I Am Trying To Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco

Talking about Spoon yesterday and how they got Yankee Hotel Foxtrot‘ed before the whole YHF controversy happened reminded me of a movie that I’ve been meaning to watch, but had never found available in Mexico or online. Well, to my surprise I did find a copy of the movie and I ended up watching it last night.

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart is both the first song in Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and also the name of the film that documents the recording process of said album. At the time (2001-2), Wilco was already famous within it’s scene and they had 3 full lengths released and were signed to Reprise Records, a subsidiary of Time Warner. And so, the focus of this film is the recording, mixing and controversy of releasing Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, while also documenting the problems that were going on within the band.

The film starts with the recording sessions of the album and it touches on the at-the-time good relationship between Reprise Records and Wilco, apparently Reprise “blindly” gave them a truck of money to finance the initial stage of the album and the band was surprised about it. But through the recording of it some misunderstandings happen between the front man of the band, Jeff Tweedy, and the multi-instrumentalist (who may R.I.P.), Jay Bennett. Jay wanted more control over the album and Tweedy wouldn’t let him have it. Initially the band was supposed to be self-producing the album but they ended up calling Jim O’Rourke to get the job done.

And so with the album done they pitched it to Reprise, who refused to release it as it was because it “didn’t have a single” and the band ended up without a label, but with their record. They finally signed with another Time Warner subsidiary, Nonesuch Records and released the record to great success. Although the success of the record isn’t documented on the film, the search for their new label was, and so are some people commenting how “any label would be happy to have a band like Wilco”. And it was true, hell came down on Reprise as the whole YHF controversy happened, and so did the fact that YHF ended up being the best selling record Wilco ever made, and one of the best of last decade’s. It was like an alarm; how could a band like Wilco end up being ditched by their record label when they made something as awesome and original as YHF? What has the world come to?  and so forth…

And so, the band found a label, but before the release of the album, it started to leak. And like everybody who has a brain and understands how the internet works would, they decided to put it up streaming for free in their website. That was 2001. We’re in 2010 and there are still labels/bands that don’t understand this. But anyway, everything was ponies and rainbows for Wilco, right? Well, not really. The Bennett-Tweedy-O’Rourke controversy scaled up and after the album was done Tweedy fired Jay Bennett, and the band was like “Oh?”. And Bennett was like “He can’t handle my awesomeness, he’s a selfish mo’fucka”. And Tweedy was like “I fired him because… well, shit, I don’t know”. And that’s basically how the film ends.

Now, I can see this film being boring to anyone who doesn’t understand the background or doesn’t care about the music industry, or doesn’t like Wilco, or doesn’t like good music at all. But I found it very interesting. It’s shot in greyscale, which is interesting and adds to the whole drama and obscureness that surrounded the band at the time. It was directed by Sam Jones, who I’ve never heard of, not before this. And there’s also a lot of live footage in it. There’s Tweedy doing “Misunderstood” solo, then the band playing a bunch of songs from YHF, and there’s also footage of the band recording songs from the studio and some early versions of some YHF songs, like this more rocking version of “Kamera” that I liked a lot more than the album version.

And there’s also Jay Bennett’s famous phrase when referring to the recording of “Poor Places”, “Sometimes when you’re playing if you don’t have a sonic landscape behind you, everything turns into a folk song”.

This year the contract between Wilco and Nonesuch Records ended, and the band is planning to release their own label, just like they have done recently with Wilco (The Festival), Wilco (The Album), Wilco (The Song), Wilco (The Burger Joint), Wilco (The Tour) and now Wilco (The Record Label).

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