Arts and Entertainment

Mustang Tracks: Generations of Tweedy

A boyish grin adorns the high-cheekboned face. Tall and a bit lanky, his attention is quietly commanded. Unkempt, chestnut colored hair, like of a child’s bedhead, lies tousled on his head. He has practiced manners; they’re genuine, but still recited in a youthful, “this is required of me” manner. He’s the type of person whose…
<a href="" target="_self">Connor Layden</a>

Connor Layden

March 30, 2015

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A boyish grin adorns the high-cheekboned face. Tall and a bit lanky, his attention is quietly commanded. Unkempt, chestnut colored hair, like of a child’s bedhead, lies tousled on his head. He has practiced manners; they’re genuine, but still recited in a youthful, “this is required of me” manner. He’s the type of person whose name resembles what they look like. He’s Tweedy. Spencer Tweedy, to be exact.

Spencer is far from the kid who tags along with the band. He is the drummer and the backbone of the group, the one whose presence tends to be visually shadowed, but audibly exposed. This backbone is just eighteen years old, yet has solidified a growing status as a talented and relevant musician. As a Chi-Town kid with a hard-earned diploma from Northside College Preparatory High School, Spencer has completed an education, and is in the process of another: music. The difference? The latter education isn’t confined to a four-year university.

His musical education began at an early age with The Blisters, as a source to channel his musical endearment, and will continue as long as his the passion flows in his blood, pumping heavily during every drum session. Tweedy and The Blisters frequented Chicago shows, playing festivals at Millennium Park meant for young, innocent audience. The band had an effective means to gain immediate attention: the cute factor. A few prepubescent kids holding guitars and banging drums, trying to make good music? The concept was an instant crowd-pleaser. They were young, barely even teenagers, but there came a point in time where the gawking, adoring stares of how cute these kids with guitars and drums were became…  annoying.

“We used to play those [Chicago’s Millennium Park festivals] and sing AC/DC covers – ‘Highway to Hell’ became ‘Highway to Ice Cream’,” said Tweedy. “[As we grew older], we consciously tried to rebel against this idea because we wanted to be taken more seriously.”

As The Blisters began to deny requests for toddler and elementary school events, they began performing covers of relevant bands. This exposure to “rock, folk, whatever you want to call it” led to an intense personal growth during a time of, well, growth in nearly every aspect of Tweedy’s life. An avid fan of modern contemporary drummers such as Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier and Wilco’s very own Glen Kotche, the still-teenage Tweedy also has an appreciation for influential 70’s session drummers – think Jim Keltner and Dave Maddux.

As a young musician, Tweedy had his foot in the door early, having the opportunity to work with and witness greatness. Luckily, when this greatness wasn’t around, it just a phone call away. Calling father in Tweedy’s case meant just a normal talk with dad. Anyone else calling that number would be on the other end of the line with a musical luminary in Jeff Tweedy, a member of Wilco. Despite the elder Tweedy’s frequent travels during his son’s childhood years, the younger Tweedy insists his childhood or musical development hasn’t skipped a beat. Void of any of bitterness or spite, Spencer has always embodied a maturity exceeding his age.

“I have been very proud of the fact that my dad is in Wilco and of that heritage,” said Tweedy. “My dad was gone a pretty good amount when I was a little kid. That was a part of my life, but not in a way where I felt like I was cheated of a childhood or cheated of having a dad because he was totally there for me and my brother when he was home.”

Tweedy’s familial support and appreciation are a clear guide of his personality. Many are told they’re special, but only a few believe it. Jeff and Sue have instilled the value of self-appreciation into their son who, now as an adult, can begin to leave his mark upon the world. And in case no one has realized it, Spencer Tweedy’s world is music.

“From a very early age, both my parents have fostered a sense of worth and creativity in me and my brother. It’s one of the things I feel most grateful for,” said Tweedy. “When people talk about privilege they talk about material privilege. I think that maybe the more important privilege is growing up within a culture of belief where you’re told, ‘You can do that, and it’s worth doing that and expressing yourself is not a vain way to spend your life’.”

The Tweedy family “raised him right.” Jeff’s career was inspired by, and now is, Spencer’s. Jeff’s musical collection is Spencer’s. Jeff’s ideals and idiosyncrasies are Spencer’s. Now Jeff’s relatively new band is Spencer’s too. Titled Tweedy, the band features Dad as the lead singer, with son right behind him, displaying his prodigal talent with two drumsticks that wave across the drumset, blurring across his head pounding to the rhythm. The two have collaborated in the studio producing “Sukirae”, a double album that marks the next phase in the father-son duo’s relationship. “Sukirae” refers to Sue Miller, wife of Jeff and mother to Spencer, whose diagnosis with non-Hodgkin’s  lymphoma has prompted further close relations between the Tweedys.

“They’re just songs that talk a lot about the health issues that my mom faced while we were making the record and over the past year and a half,” said Tweedy. “So, I think some of the lyrical content has undeniably been colored by that a little bit.”

A gifted drummer with an aptitude for musical expression, Spencer Tweedy has traveled long and far from his days at Northside, where he toiled day and night, completing work he didn’t need or find interesting. He’s shown an admirable amount of maturity, handling situations some adults struggle with. But he’s not fully grown by any means. Spencer is after all, just eighteen. Amidst his packed, bustling agenda, he notes a distinct difference between the the high school life and the music industry life.

“I pretty much get to wake up as late as I want.”

He has traveled across the United States, participated in meet and greets with musical legends, and performed in front of packed crowds. He did so this past Sunday, March 22 at the Ace Hotel. Jeff’s verse finished with a descending croon. He took a step back, staring at his son as he rapidly battered the drum set for thirty seconds, forty-five seconds, a minute, even longer; the audience could feel the holes Dad was drilling into his son – he was almost testing him, seeing how long Spencer could keep up the speeding pace. The wild whirlwind of drumsticks flurrying about was just an inconceivable talent to those watching. Each hit to the drum was full of a fiery, yet calm and collected love from Spencer’s heart. The solo was finished. The drum beats had ceased. The heart beats had not.

– Connor Layden and Jimmy Shaw

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