Catching Up With The Autumn Defense
It's rare that you'll find a festival that has the same artists perform multiple times in one weekend, while still providing completely unique and once in a lifetime performances. Enter Eaux Claires, Pat Sansone, and John Stirratt. Sansone and Stirratt performed twice on Friday as The Autumn Defense, before closing out Saturday with Wilco's headlining slot. In the early evening on Saturday before Wilco battled the oncoming storm for the final set of TROIX, the Chicago music veterans talked about their Eaux Claires experience, balancing multiple music projects, and working with other artists. Here are five things we learned while catching up with The Autumn Defense.
They Were Shocked At Their Crowd Turnout
The Autumn Defense got cozy with the crowd in the woods twice during the festival's first day, playing The Oxbeaux Stage, which sits in the middle of the forest as a hidden gem. The pair discuss their favorite part of their two sets. "I enjoyed the fact that there were a lot more people there than I expected. I knew we were gonna be playing on a small stage in the woods. It was very much how I pictured it, but I was pleasantly surprised by how many people came and listened to us. It was a great crowd...a beautiful setting," Pat Sansone reflected.
John Stirratt adds his praise of the festival in general and how great they've done on setting the scene, saying, "I think they’ve done a better job, much like a lot of the smaller European festivals that seem to be more of the trend now. What they do is they really focus on the spaces where people are and try to make some kind of special...lighting gear or nighttime lighting in the woods. You see that at Green Man in England. I think just really concentrating on the spaces and how it looks in the daytime and the nighttime...There’s a magic quality to that, especially in the woods here."
Sansone says he 100 percent agrees with Stiratt's observation, adding, "Yeah, curating such a good feeling, it takes care and it takes vision. The immediate feel of those things when you come here..."
Their Collaboration Wish List is Endless
In addition to the magical and beautiful setting that the team behind Eaux Claires curates, there is a strong focus on collaboration and improvisation between bands on the line up. Wilco alone had multiple spin off groups at Eaux Claires...in addition to Stirratt and Sansone performing as The Autumn Defense, there were also sets from Tweedy and cup, featuring Wilco members. Sansone and Stirratt discuss other possible collaborations between musicians on the lineup and themselves.
"I’ve never played with Jenny Lewis. That would be fun to do something with her," Stirratt says, mentioning that they're friends so it's weird they have yet to collaborate. "I just ran into Leslie Feist, and we worked with her on a Wilco song...she sings on Wilco song. It’d be great to do something with her again. So many great people. Justin [Vernon]," Sansone chimes in. Stirratt also suggests playing with Aaron Dessner before Sansone throws out the possibility of working with Chance. "I think Autumn Defense and Chance The Rapper could really find some common ground. I think we could kind of give him the bump that he needs to get out there, on a bigger platform," he joked. Funnily enough, after the interview, I stopped by the merch booth and noticed they had separated headliners Wilco and Chance The Rapper merch from the rest of the artists' and festival merchandise. Maybe that's a sign that something could work out between the Chicago musicians. After all, anything's possible at Eaux Claires.
Speaking of epic collaborations, Sansone and Stirratt gave their suggestion of a cross between some of the other musicians on the 2017 line up. "It’d be cool to see Paul Simon and John Prine link up. That’d be pretty historic," Sansone says.
They Rely On Muscle Memory For Their Different Projects
Working in multiple active projects has got to be tough to keep up with, but Stirratt says they've got the routines down. "It’s kind of, at least for me, it’s kind of like we’ve played with both entities for so long, there’s a lot of muscle memory there. We bring in the Autumn Defense guys, and really, we’ve played long enough with them, all it takes is one short jam and they’re right back. It’s really wonderful, and quite economical too. So you can do these things without really dedicated rehearsal days and rehearsal spaces. You can make it kind of informal. Wilco sort of does that as well. It’s definitely great to have that history with all those folks," he says.
They're "Looking Towards Looking Towards" A New Album
It's been a minute since the 2014 of The Autumn Defense's fifth album, appropriately titled Fifth, but it might not be too long before a sixth LP is in the works. Sansone talks more about the current status of new music from The Autumn Defense, saying, "We haven’t really started looking towards a new album yet. We’re looking towards looking towards a new album right now. It’s been a busy couple years since we put out our last one. With Wilco, and John and I have other projects that we’ve been consumed with. It’s definitely something that’s close to us, and we’re looking forward to when we can carve out that time." So while the process of the new album isn't really in motion yet, at least it's at the front of Sansone and Stirratt's minds.
As far as their writing process when inspiration does hit, Stirratt says, "I tend to write really for Autumn Defense only. I used to contribute songs for Wilco over time and I realized it wasn’t the best use of my time. For a long time it’s been for The Autumn Defense. That’s the main writing outlet that I have. I personally can’t delineate where it goes."
They're Still In On The Chicago Scene
Although Sansone and Stirratt have been touring the world with Wilco, they still manage to keep up with some hometown musicians. While talking about some of their favorite newer or up and coming Chicago artists, Stirratt says, "Well Whitney is way beyond up and coming, but that record [Light Upon the Lake] was a big record for me last year."
Sansone shares his new local favorites, saying, "There’s a guy named, well the project is named Jagged Jaw, and it’s one guy. His name is Bobby Lord, and he had a record that came out last year. He does everything himself. Self released. It’s really great. I produced a record for his previous band which was called Future Monarchs, and he kind of went off in secret and made this record. I was just completely blown away. I hear he’s working on a new record. He’s keeping it very under the radar."
Although Sansone and Stirratt have been making music professionally for years, they say that newer artists probably have a leg up on them despite all their experience. "It’s a whole new world. I kind of feel like a lot of these musicians and younger bands probably have stuff to teach me," Sansone admits.
Stirratt agrees, saying, "I feel the same way! I feel like things were way easier. Getting a deal was easier back then. It was just--," he pauses before adding, "There’s people with all these different disciplines, you know. The ability to record and produce and arrange and do it all on a really high level."