the unofficial uncle tupelo archives
Uncle Tupelo No Longer Primitive
By Steve Pick
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 28, 1988
Once upon a time, there was a fairly popular local rock 'n' roll band called the Primitives. Part of the band's charm was based on the fact that almost every song the members performed was originally recorded between 1964 and 1966 - before the musicians were born.
Three of the four Primitives are now in a new band called Uncle Tupelo. Part of this band's charm is that many of its best numbers are original, and the cover songs now encompass a wider scope, chronologically and stylistically.
"We broke up for awhile," said bassist Jeff Tweedy, "because Mike Heidorn, our drummer, had broken his collarbone. When we got back together, we decided to try a different approach, to go about it in almost the opposite way."
"We had grown bored doing the same old thing," said guitarist Jay Farrar, who, with Tweedy, now shares the lead vocal chores.
"As a result," Tweedy said, "it's kind of hard for us to do the '60's songs. It could be that we don't like them as much. Whatever the reason, we made a conscious decision to abandon the '60's image.
"Near the end of the Primitives, we began to realize that it was a lot easier for us to play Bachman-Turner Overdrive songs and Neil Young songs because they were in our blood."
This makes sense, as the members of Uncle Tupelo, all in their early 20s, are from the last generation of musicians reared on the kind of Top 40 radio that died out in the late '70s. But Uncle Tupelo also has differentiated itself from the Primitives by playing original material.
"In the Primitives," Tweedy said, "we didn't work on originals so much because we were so successful playing cover songs. At the end, we weren't practicing even though we continued to work. Now, we practice a lot."
"It takes a lot of time for us to write," Farrar continued. "One person might come up with an idea, but by the time it's finished, everybody will have put something into it."
"Lyrics are definitely the hardest thing for us to come up with," Tweedy said.
"We don't write music and then just slap lyrics on," Farrar added. "In fact, a lot of times we start with the lyrics. Truthfully, however, it is hard for us to pull everything together."
"Once we do finish a song," Tweedy said, "we feel the lyrics have to fit. I think we have more unfinished music than unfinished lyrics."
The original music of Uncle Tupelo reveals and even more diverse range of influences than its choice of cover songs.
"We probably have more influences than we know what to do with," Tweedy said. "We have two main styles that have been influences. For instance, we like Black Flag as much as early Bob Dylan and Dinosaur Jr. as much as Hank Williams."
This interest in loud rock and roll as well as quieter forms is manifested in an unusual way. Uncle Tupelo, like a few rock bands around the country - Husker Du being the most famous - has worked up acoustic versions of many of its originals.
Ironically, the main problem the band has with playing these songs in shows is a lack of technology to properly amplify its acoustic guitars. The group, however, is planning to acquire the necessary equipment.
"To us," Tweedy said, "hard-core punk is also folk music. We draw a close parallel between the two. We'll play both in the same set if we get a chance. We don't have any biases as far as music is concerned.
"We have just as much fun playing acoustic guitars with a whole bunch of people singing along, as we do playing a noisy instrumental."
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