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You've both made albums on your own. Now it seems like you're committed to working together. What do you think working with the other brings to it?
Sarah Lee Guthrie: Johnny had made several records before I met him. He had a lot of experience, whereas I didn't. He knew a lot about making records. I just made one solo record, stopped there. I decided it probably came too soon for me, and I never really enjoyed it. Johnny just has these songs I love; it's what I fell in love with back in 1997. So he's always been the main contributor and songwriter of our group. He's always said he wants to be able to sit in the same song circle as guys like Willie Nelson, Jackson Browne, Jeff Tweedy, and he works really hard at that. What I think I bring is a sense of simplicity. I tend to try to stay big-picture with Johnny's songs. I think I have more to lend there. I think because of the way I've grown up, knowing the insides and outsides of music in general, it's given me a really good sense of what's good and what could be better. I tend to trust that.
Do you ever feel like your relationship with music is almost, I don't know, mystical or something, because of the musical tradition in your family?
SLG: I don't think it's a mistake that I'm here doing what I'm doing. I think there's a reason why I play music and why I fell in love with a songwriter. I mean, gosh, I hope it's for something!
I'll give you an example that makes me think that this record was — that fate had a hand in it. The third day we were at the Wilco studio, there was a package delivered to Jeff, and it was Mermaid Avenue 3, which had just come out and which I didn't even know existed. And Jeff hands it to me, and I'm looking through it, looking at pictures of my family that I've never even seen. My aunt Kathy, who died when she was 4 in a horrible fire. I'd never even seen a picture of her, and I'm reading the liner notes, and it says it's her.
And there's Woody articles on the wall of their loft. And, you know, Jeff has written all these songs where he put music to my grandfather's lyrics. So days like that make you think it's about more than just you. I'm not just me, I'm a part of the Guthrie family. And I think we kind of think of Jeff in some way as part of our family, as part of the Guthrie family. And I try to carry on and honor it and embrace it and treat it as part of my responsibility. It's this awesome connection that brings me to music and people who make great music.
Saturday, June 8, at Davey's Uptown Ramblers Club.