the unofficial uncle tupelo archives 

Uncle Tupelo's songs convey their idea of real country

By Steve Beaven

Chicago Sun-Times, March 4, 1992

No one will confuse Uncle Tupelo's Jeff Tweedy with a Chamber of Commerce president. Tweedy calls his Downstate Belleville hometown "oppressive and weird."

"It's really conservative," Tweedy said of the blue-collar town east of St. Louis. But for Tweedy and the other members of Uncle Tupelo, which ends its current tour at Lounge Ax Saturday night (with Ween as the opening act), Belleville is still home.

It's also a fertile backdrop for many of the songs on the band's two records: 1990's "No Depression" and last year's "Still Feel Gone," on the Rockville label. But, says Tweedy, the boozy, working class yearning in those songs isn't the result of a conscious effort to tap into the local psyche.

"It just happened," he said. "I guess those lyrics felt real to us. I know if I'm singing this it's not a lie because it's here every day."

Tweedy, who plays bass, guitar and sings; singer-guitarist Jay Farrar, and drummer Mike Heidorn grew up in and around Belleville and started playing together about 10 years ago in high school. They've called themselves Uncle Tupelo for about four years, and lived together the last three.

The band plays a curious mixture of plaintive country-folk and bursts of feedback and guitar grunge.

For Farrar and Tweedy, the introduction to country music came at a young age, when relatives picked up guitars, banjos and harmonicas at gatherings. But through high school they listened to a steady stream of punk, from the Clash to Black Flag. They didn't get interested in country music, which Tweedy says "is so totally 'un-young,' " until about four years ago.

"No Depression" featured songs by country and folk legends A.P. Carter and Leadbelly. But that music will figure more prominently when the band goes into the studio March 16 to record folk songs for an entirely acoustic record. About half the songs will be originals, Tweedy said, and half will be covers of public domain recordings collected in the '60s.

"It's a really pure form of expression. Nobody's footing the bill for these people to write songs," he said.

Rather, they're "singing to express themselves. That to me is pretty powerful."

Uncle Tupelo Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln $8 at the door (312) 525-6620

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