From Wilco to Uncle Tupelo and Golden Smog to Tweedy (the project he formed with his son Spencer) Jeff Tweedy has become the darling of contemporary Americana. But it’s not just a product of his own musical prowess -- it’s about the musicians with which he surrounds himself.
One of those musicians is James Elkington, a British-born guitarist now residing in Chicago. Aside from having his latest album, “Wintres Woma,” engineered by Mark Greenberg in Wilco’s illustrious Loft studio, Elkington has also played in Tweedy and with various other tangential acts of Chicago’s tight-knit community.
But before that he was a London musician. He was playing drums in a noisy British band and playing guitar in a “country-influenced morose rock band.” Chicago was something of a distant, Neverland for him.
According to Elkington, with whom I spoke over the phone earlier this month, Chicago had always been a mythic place in his mind.
“All of my favorite bands and record labels were here, and it seemed very exotic,” Elkington said.
So, after being invited over for a wedding, he just kind of ended up staying.
“Quite quickly I met people that were like-minded musicians -- things just happened very naturally in Chicago,” he said.
Though he’s been in the United States for nearly two decades now, he’s still unable to escape the vibrations of England’s ancient energy, to which “Wintres Woma” serves as a testament.
“So much of the lyrical content [from the album] is made up of memories that are so old they are dreamlike in a way. They’re tied up in the immediate scenery that I grew up in. Because I’ve lived in a foreign country for almost 20 years, the otherness of that and the further remove of my childhood years adds to the dreamlike quality of it. It feels like an English dream,” Elkington explained.
The album title is Old English for “the sound of winter,” and his harp-like approach to guitar -- “as many strings ringing as you can at any one time” -- combined with the surreal turn his poetry sometimes takes add up to nothing short of an impressionistic dreamscape of winter imbued with an otherworldly knowledge.
With his virtuosic yet innovative style, it’s no wonder he’s in Tweedy’s inner sanctum.
Rutger Rosenborg was almost a Stanford neuroscientist before he formed Ed Ghost Tucker. He now plays in the Lulls and makes music on his own when he's not writing. Follow his updates on Facebook or contact him directly.