Thompson is a longtime Lowden user. This cedar-topped Richard Thompson Signature Series is his main flattop onstage and in the studio. He amplifies it via a Sunrise magnetic soundhole pickup.
Did he record differently than Buddy did?
It was similar. Buddy has a studio in his house. The drums occupy a lot of the main room. The guitar amps were in a cupboard, the vocalist was in the kitchen, and the bass player was in the main room with the drums. We had good sightlines, but were a bit separated. It’s a funky way of recording, but very effective. Jeff’s loft is a space about 100-feet long, stuffed with instruments: hundreds of guitars, maybe 50 basses, dozens of drum kits, keyboards, and endless amps. The studio is in a corner of this space. The drums are slightly baffled, but within that open space. You’re singing on the basic tracks. It’s a different kind of relaxed environment. Again, it’s not a real “studio” studio where everything is more separate, but a creative space—a nice relaxed atmosphere in which to record.
How much of this record was laid down live?
Pretty much everything. Select vocals and guitars were redone or patched, and some guitars were layered. Even on “Guitar Heroes,” which goes through five separate quotes from other guitarists while changing tempo and feel frequently, we decided the best way to record it was to do it live in one go. If we wanted to change the guitar texture, I could overdub different guitars. If I wanted to sound like Hank Marvin, I could play on a Strat, and for James Burton I could go with a mid-’50s, Telecaster—all of which are hanging on the wall at the Wilco loft. For the Les Paul section, there was a row of Les Pauls to select from, which was fun. There were lots of amps to play through as well. I played through so many amps I can’t remember what they all were. I did use a Morgan, a Vox-like amp that sounds really good. I used a couple of old Fender Princetons and an old Deluxe. There were lots of toys to play with.
Did Elkington or Tweedy play on tracks with you?
Yeah. On the road, we’re a trio, but sometimes in the studio you need more harmonic information. Your trusty trios like Cream or Hendrix would overdub rhythm guitars to make a fuller sound in the studio. It was really nice to have a second guitar player to play something live that I’d often overdub afterwards anyway. Jim could pick up on my style very quickly—being English probably helped. Jeff played live guitar and keyboards on some things.
On “Josephine,” there are two beautiful intertwining acoustic parts. Are they both you?
That is all me. There’s a strange genesis to that track: I originally put down a clawhammer rhythm guitar part and live vocals at the same time. I overdubbed two more guitars as counterpoint to the original guitar and for the solo. At some point Jeff said, “Look what happens if I turn the original guitar track off.” Miraculously, there was no spill between the voice and the guitar. Without the original guitar, it took on this other strange interpretation. We liked it more than with the original guitar, so we just left it like that.
Did you use different acoustic guitars for the different tracks?
I think all those tracks are my Lowden signature guitar.
Do you mic it or go direct?
It’s miked. I can’t remember exactly what we used, but it was a Neumann 84-style mic.
Which electrics did you use?
Predominantly the red Stratocaster I use onstage, which is the most comfortable instrument for me. I pulled other guitars off the wall for various sounds. To sound like Chuck Berry, I pulled down a big-bodied ’50s Gibson.
What year is the red Strat?
It looks about 100 years old, but it’s probably two years old. It’s different bodies and necks that have been assembled by my guitar tech. The pickups are all different—I can’t remember what they are. It’s an amalgamation of bits, but they’re all Fender bits.
Was the body pre-distressed, or did it get that way through use?
Using it on tour has not helped its condition, but I think it was left out in the sun for a couple of years to get the color right. It started out as Fiesta Red and is now something like coral. It’s had a hard life so far.
Are you using amp tremolo or a pedal?
I use amp tremolo if I can. It just sounds a little warmer. But I also use pedals that can pretty much do the same thing. On the record I probably used both. There are hundreds of pedals at the Wilco loft space.
What pedals are you using on tour?
I use a Fulltone tremolo and OCD overdrive. I use a Carl Martin Vintage Series Red Repeat delay—it’s digital, but it sounds very warm.
This record seems to sound drier than some of your others. Was that something Tweedy encouraged?
If a studio doesn’t have a really good echo plate or live chamber, I’m reluctant to use too much digital reverb instead. I can hear the difference, and I don’t like it to sound too shiny. It’s nicer to have it in your face and stripped-down—a more realistic sound. That was our shared aesthetic for this record.