As Wilco hibernates, The Autumn Defense hits the road

The Autumn Defense offers a window into the musical minds of Patrick Sansone, left, and John Stirratt outside of Wilco. (Chloe Afte)
The Autumn Defense offers a window into the musical minds of Patrick Sansone, left, and John Stirratt outside of Wilco. (Chloe Afte)

When you’ve spent 20 years on the road playing in a popular rock ’n’ roll band, sometimes there really is no place like home. Perhaps that’s why Wilco bassist John Stirratt finds he’s at his most creative in the first two days after he comes home to Chicago from touring.

“The road writing has gotten harder and harder,” Stirratt says. “You’re just not in the right mindset, for whatever reason. There’s this release when you come home about writing that, for me, works really well. … There’s a hole when you come home, there’s a certain musical hole, and you try to fill it.”

It’s in those brief stretches that Stirratt writes some of the songs for his side project, The Autumn Defense, a ’60s-style power-pop group he and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Sansone formed in 1999. (Sansone joined Wilco full-time in 2004.) The Autumn Defense has released five albums since 2001 — the latest, “Fifth,” came out last month — and tours sporadically, when Wilco’s off the road. (The band headlines Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis on Thursday and The Hamilton in D.C. on Saturday.)

But even when Stirratt and Sansone are on tour with Wilco, you won’t necessarily find the pair on the bus or in a hotel room writing songs together.

“We probably should take more advantage of that,” Stirratt says. “We have written separately a lot more over the last two records. …We’re on quite different schedules, even when we’re on the road.”

“Fifth” was recorded in spurts over the course of three years, he says. Early sessions began in the summer of 2010, with a big bulk of the recording taking place in January 2013.

Not that you would be able to tell.

While both musicians often write separately, trading off lead vocals, the sound is always cohesive. The synergy can be credited to the pair’s shared influences — Big Star and Badfinger, in particular — the chemistry that comes from playing together in two bands, and the fact that, for the first time, The Autumn Defense’s core live band recorded with Stirratt and Sansone in the studio.

“There was a certain sonic consistency with it, which is nice,” Stirratt says. “It got everyone’s musical DNA on most of the tracks.”

Where’s Wilco?

Wilco recently announced it would take this year off from hosting the Solid Sound Music Festival in Massachusetts. That, coupled with singer Jeff Tweedy’s solo dates and The Autumn Defense’s tour, suggests this may be an off-year for the enduring rock band. Shows are possible, but the priority is to get back in the studio to record LP No. 9. Wilco will be in “recording mode later in the year and maybe over the summer,” bassist John Stirratt says.

Rams Head On Stage, 33 West St., Annapolis; Thu., 8 p.m., $18.50; 410-268-4545.

Hamilton, 600 14th St. NW; Sat., 8:30 p.m., $15-18; 202-787-1000. (Metro Center)

NOTE: The Autumn Defense’s show at Rams Head On Stage on Thursday has been postponed.

Rudi Greenberg is Express' Weekend Pass editor and comedy columnist.
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