Guitarist Nels Cline On 'Lovers,' An Album 25 Years In The Making Known for the avant-garde sound he brings to Wilco, Cline turns to ballads and jazz standards on his new album. He describes it as a "mood-music record" that isn't "cheesy."

Guitarist Nels Cline On 'Lovers,' An Album 25 Years In The Making

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Nels Cline, is best known as a guitarist in the indie rock band Wilco. He brought a more experimental sound to the band, adding the kind of feedback, distortion and noise that he's explored in the avant-guard groups he's led.

In 2007, Rolling Stone named him one of 20 new guitar gods. And in 2011, he made the magazine's list of the hundred greatest guitarists of all time. Nels Cline's new album is a departure. It's a collection of lushly arranged versions of American popular songs, covers of more recent songs, including one by Sonic Youth, and originals.

The album is called "Lovers." The arrangements are by Michael Leonhart, and the album features 23 musicians, including Cline's wife, Yuka Honda, who's in the band Cibo Matto, and his twin brother, drummer Alex Cline.

Let's start with a track from the new album. This is "Glad To Be Unhappy."

(SOUNDBITE OF NELS CLINE SONG, "GLAD TO BE UNHAPPY")

GROSS: Nels Cline, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let me ask you to describe the concept of your new album, "Lovers."

NELS CLINE: Well, it's something that I've been pondering and dreaming about for, well, maybe over 25 years, certainly. It's about maybe my idea of a mood music record but not a cheesy one. It's an attempt to show feelings, update and be more thorough the idea of romance, sexuality, intimacy and how that relates to songs. Not to say that I have achieved that (laughter), but I am aspiring to that.

GROSS: So you said it's kind of like your take on mood music but not the cheesy kind. In my mind, mood music was always considered cheesy. (Laughter) You know, it's not about just - you know, to me, like, beautiful music you could say ballads. But mood music always implied this kind of cheesy thing for swinging bachelors or for like - there's always, like, a picture on the album cover of like a beautiful woman in - lying in front of the fire or woman lying on - with her head on her lover's lap or something, you know (laughter)? You're supposed to, like, put it on to get in the mood (laughter).

CLINE: Right.

GROSS: And so that's the cheesy part. Why are you thinking of it in terms of mood music? Why not just come out and say they're beautiful ballads?

CLINE: Well, I think it has something to do with how I initially thought of the record because I was working for almost 10 years in a record store in West Los Angeles called Rhino Records. And we had all those $1 mood music records, many of which I put up on the bathroom wall were the covers that you're describing. But I also discovered later that some of them weren't cheesy. And I also felt that it would be interesting to update the idea of this record and make it darker in terms of the emotional and artistic content.

GROSS: So you are best known for more, like, free jazz kind of stuff and for adding distortion and feedback and noise to Wilco with your guitar and all the gizmos or whatever that you have that you can attach...

CLINE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...To it. And in this, like, you're playing on a lot of it much more straightforwardly and much more melodically. And I'm wondering if melody is starting to take on new meaning for you as a musician.

CLINE: Well, I mean, I think it's always been there. But maybe you're correct in that there is a, I guess, continued interest that it has taken on new meaning and - and maybe a certain kind of relevance as I've hit age 60 (laughter).

GROSS: The age when melody sets in (laughter).

CLINE: But it's always been there, to be honest. I just feel that in my own work, there have been, I guess, more extremes. But every one of my records pretty much has some kind of at least floaty ballad on it that I consider to be melodic. But they might be at least a little abstract.

GROSS: I think one of my favorite tracks on here is "Beautiful Love," which is a Victor Young song. And he wrote some great songs - "My Foolish Heart," "When I Fall In Love," "Street Of Dreams," "I Don't Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You" and the theme for "Johnny Guitar," which is - which Peggy Lee sings in the movie and is really great.

CLINE: Wow, I forgot about that.

GROSS: Yeah, and this is not one of his, you know, best-known songs, but it's a beautiful song. So tell us why you chose it. And I'd also like you to describe the instrumentation work in - here in the opening because it's very ear catching. And I recognize some of the instruments, but I don't know exactly what's going on.

CLINE: Well, we've got a reference at the beginning of "Beautiful Love" to its original appearance, as far as I understand it, which is in the Boris Karloff movie "The Mummy." And in that iteration, it's in three-four time, which our introduction is. And I asked Kenny Wolleson, who plays vibraphone on this, to put the motor on very fast, which is a sound that I associate with the 1930s and '40s, and a sound that one does not hear so much these days.

It was kind of, I guess, deemed uncool at some point. I don't know what happened there. And we've got the bassoon, and we've got flute. And it's just very charming at the beginning.

And then we go into what I could, I guess, generally describe as a jazz guitar, bass, drums trio with Devin Hoff and my brother, Alex Cline. So it's a kind of combination in my mind of a retro tribute and then an update relating to my love of jazz music.

GROSS: Well, let's hear it. This is a great track. It's called "Beautiful Love," and this is from my guest Nels Cline's new album "Lovers."

(SOUNDBITE OF NELS CLINE PERFORMANCE OF "BEAUTIFUL LOVE")

GROSS: That's "Beautiful Love" from Nels Cline's new album "Lovers." But you're playing there - in your more solo part - sounds almost inspired by Wes Montgomery.

CLINE: Oh, yeah, absolutely and, you know, many great jazz guitarists I could name. I have to say that Jim Hall is a huge inspiration and a touchstone for much of this record for me. And Jim and I were sort of getting to know each other not long before he passed away. And while I was making this record, there were certain pieces that I really couldn't wait to play for him (laughter). But he passed away in the last day of tracking in his sleep, in his apartment a block from where I've been living in Manhattan.

And "Secret Love" on the record is actually an homage to him directly because we play it in the key of A flat major that he enjoyed playing it in. And I always thought that the polyrhythmic heartbeat polychord that I came up with would really, really kind of bring a smile to his face (laughter).

But certainly Wes - I love George Benson, and I think that Django Reinhardt when he went electric in the '50s is very underrated. And I really love that sound. So certain aspects of guitar are part of the sort of layered homage on much of this record.

GROSS: You know, you mention Jim Hall, and I think of him as being one of the most spare guitarists. And I think of you as just kind of multilayered, very almost dense guitarist 'cause there's so many layers of sound and distortion in some of your work. So it's interesting to me that you would feel such a connection to his music.

CLINE: Jim was a genius. And he was also, yes, as you point out, really a master of understatement. And I think maybe in this case my deep love of him is not merely aesthetic and musical, but also there's that kind of love of the other - you know? - because, yes, I'm - I have a million notes buzzing in my head, and when you hear "Lady Gabor" on the "Lovers" record, you hear me doing live looping and all these kinds of things that I enjoy doing that are - that are, I guess, part of my style, I guess - you know, I don't know. But I do aspire to growing up some day to being more like Jim.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINE: I wish.

GROSS: Why don't we take a short break here and then we'll talk some more? My guest is guitarist Nels Cline. He plays with Wilco, and he leads his own groups. And now he has a new album of ballads, covers and originals called "Lovers." We'll be right back after this break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is guitarist Nels Cline. He's best known for his work with Wilco. But he also plays avant-garde jazz and leads his own group. And now he has an album that's kind of out of character. It's an album of ballads, covers and originals called "Lovers."

So let's talk about your work with Wilco. I know there's a lot of Wilco fans in our audience. You joined the band in 2004. What stage was the band in, you know, musically and personally when you joined?

CLINE: Well, I didn't know personally anything about these guys. And I could say that when I joined Wilco, there was some drama. Jeff was, unbeknownst to me, going through some real problems with prescription painkiller addiction. So right when I joined we were going to go on tour, he went into a hospital and basically got clean. And tour was canceled and people really worried that I had hitched my wagon to some sort of dysfunctional vehicle.

But in reality, it's quite the opposite. I had total faith in Jeff, and my faith was well-placed. You know, we soldiered on. He's been completely cool. He even quit smoking many, many years ago. And 12 years have gone by of solid music making with the same six dudes. It's really, really been amazing.

GROSS: Yeah, you mentioned that Jeff Tweedy went to rehab for prescription painkiller addiction. You know, I know he's had to deal with depression, panic attacks and stage fright, too. And I'm wondering if he still has - I don't know if you're comfortable talking about this - but if he still has to deal with stage fright and what's that like for you because everybody probably gets a little bit nervous at least before a big performance. But, you know...

CLINE: Well, Jeff...

GROSS: ...He's the front-man, so you want him to be in a good space.

CLINE: Jeff has, I think, found a proper way to deal with things with some kind of medication - I don't know what it is - that's very effective. And I think the stage fright thing is not such a big deal. But then again, maybe he just makes it look easy because we really just are very relaxed before the shows and he's doing great. I think even the migraines, which I think was a really big problem for him, only rear their ugly head once in a while at this point. And that can be, of course, debilitating. But overall, he's a really functional and very solid and at this point insanely prolific artist.

GROSS: So let's play something from the new Wilco album, "Wilco Schmilco (ph)." Who came up with that title?

CLINE: Jeff.

GROSS: OK.

CLINE: That's very Jeff.

GROSS: What inspired that? Do you know?

CLINE: Well, I guess it's "Nilsson Schmilsson." But, you know, I really was surprised - that was the working title all along working on the record. But I was pretty surprised that it stuck (laughter). You know, I mean, the previous record is "Star Wars," which is another hilarious Jeff title.

GROSS: I want to play a track from the new album "Wilco Schmilco." And you and Jeff Tweedy are both playing guitar on this. So tell us what to listen for, like which parts you, which parts Jeff Tweedy. And what are you doing? Because it sounds like the guitar is, like, detuned on it.

CLINE: Yes. I'm not exactly sure what the original first piece of this song was because - or where it originated, I should say, because a lot of times Jeff records stuff on his phone when he's on tour. And I think this possibly is one of the tracks that emerged from his iPhone. And then we start playing along with it.

And quite often, as you'll hear on other tracks from "Wilco Schmilco," we're not in 440 or 442 pitch because Jeff was - he hadn't tuned his guitar to that when he recorded some idea that he had. And I think this is an example of that, where there are many textures from the guitars, acoustic and electric. I'm playing a prepared acoustic guitar with alligator clips.

I believe that it was an acoustic guitar with a pickup in it. So we amplified it through the through a small guitar amp and recorded it acoustically in order to bring out some of the microtonal overtones. And this way you could probably liken it to maybe Fred Frith's work in the '70s or even John Cage prepared piano with the erasers and whatnot.

GROSS: Yeah, and just to clarify for people who don't know when you're - if - the prepared piano and erasers means you're sticking the erasers in the piano strings to...

CLINE: Correct.

GROSS: ...Distort the sound. When you're preparing your guitar with the alligator clips, where are the alligator clips?

CLINE: You can put them anywhere they sound good. But I generally prefer to start over the sound hole area of an acoustic guitar, clip right on the strings. So that's what you're hearing me do on this. There is electric guitar where you hear the fast tremolo picking guitar in the middle with the weird handclaps and all that stuff, that's me and Jeff just going kind of crazy.

I'm not sure that we were thinking about the harmonic content at that point. I think we were just kind of moving around, and I was following his lead. And Glenn, I think, is doing some kind of strange - some sort of stick technique where he's vibrating a thin stick against the rim of one of his drums. There's a lot going on there, Terry (laughter). We haven't figured out how to play this song live yet.

GROSS: Wait, I want to get back to the phone. So Jeff Tweedy plays his - records something on his phone. And then you're playing with a phone recording that he's made while he was on the road?

CLINE: Yes, sometimes.

GROSS: So part of what we're hearing is what he recorded on his phone?

CLINE: I think on this track, as I recall, it's probably from a phone recording initially, and we play along with it in the loft - in the recording facility, in the loft.

GROSS: So you're listening to it on headphones as you play.

CLINE: Mmhm.

GROSS: Cool, OK (laughter).

CLINE: Yeah, you never know how we're going to - how a song is going to come together with Wilco, I'll tell you.

GROSS: OK, so let's hear how it came together. This is from the new Wilco album, "Wilco Schmilco." This is "Common Sense."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COMMON SENSE")

WILCO: (Singing) I slam my finger in the door of love. God damn, the judging, strangers judge. All I want, all I want a burning bush, oh, a button to push, a chance encounter, a common sense, a common sense.

GROSS: My guest is guitarist Nels Cline. He plays in the indie rock band Wilco as well as in avant-garde jazz groups. His new album of ballads, covers and originals is called "Lovers." After a break, we'll talk more about his music and about growing up with a twin brother, Alex Cline. They played together as kids, and Alex is on Nels' new album. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF WILCO SONG, "COMMON SENSE")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with guitarist Nels Cline. He's best known for his work with the indie rock band Wilco. He also leads avant-garde jazz groups. His new album is a collection of lushly arranged jazz ballads, covers and originals. It's called "Lovers." When we left off, we were talking about his work with Wilco and how he brought an experimental sound to the group.

So what did Wilco bring out in your playing, like, how did you adjust yourself to find the right sound for Wilco?

CLINE: It's actually kind of interesting that - I think primarily my goal was not to bring my personality as a whatever - you know, jazz-type, soundscape-type person to the band, but that kind of ended up happening. I feel that mostly it - the Wilco songbook kind of brought out my sort of 14-year-old aesthetic self, the rock ’n’ roll obsessive that was listening ardently to Buffalo Springfield and The Byrds and, you know, The Beatles and Rolling Stones - that music that I grew up with. And interestingly, I think trying to channel either my initial idol Jimi Hendrix or trying to fake some Clarence White - or (laughter), you know what I mean? - some great Glen Campbell stuff or something.

And then Jeff has to tell me sometimes, you know, you're being too reverent to this material. And sometimes I think he wants me to destroy the song as he did on a song like "Dawned On Me" where I think I was trying to come up with some little jingle-jangly thing. And while I was messing around, I was strangulating my '60s guitar and with an amp that was - basically, I blew up the amp doing this. And he said that's the sound that should be in the solo section, so I mean that would not have been my first impulse. And I think that people think it is, that my whole raison d'etre is to bring some sort of chaotic sound design to Wilco's ensemble sound, but it wasn't.

I really enjoy addressing this more classicist aspect of popular music, whether it's country, folk or rock ’n’ roll and just trying to make the songs sound like the song should sound. You know what I mean? It's not all about some kind of avant-garde mindset or about changing the sound of the band or bringing whatever my thing is into it because I really don't think I have a thing when it comes to music. I think I want the music to sound like it should sound to everyone in the band and then particularly to Jeff if he wrote the song. That's what's successful to me.

GROSS: Did you have to find not only, like, a music space for yourself within the band Wilco, but also like an onstage personality to have? Because let's face it, the smaller, more avant-garde groups that you play with probably play in, like, small clubs and small performance spaces, where everybody's wearing a T-shirt and - granted you all wear T-shirts onstage anyways. But, you know, what I mean?

CLINE: Not me.

GROSS: Oh, not you?

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: But those small spaces, I mean - it's just different than being in like a really big theater or an arena.

CLINE: It's sort of - this is going to sound maybe a little like I'm kind of not telling the truth, but I am telling the truth. I don't really care how many people are there, and I kind of play the same no matter what. But, yes, rock ’n’ roll has pageantry, I like to call it.

GROSS: Yeah. Exactly. Right.

CLINE: In Wilco - yeah - we have lights. We have atmosphere. We have, you know, fake smoke - all that stuff that rock bands do.

GROSS: You do the fake smoke thing?

CLINE: Well, light designers insist on it, so they get definition from the way the lights look. It's just a thing. We don't do, like, fog, like dry-ice fog like The Cure or something. But, you know, I was playing rock ’n’ roll with Mike Watt in the '90s with the Geraldine Fibbers, and I - when I play rock ’n’ roll, I move around a lot, and I just do, you know? And when I play with Julian Lage, I'm sitting down, you know.

I just like to do all these different things, and my concentration and my - I have to say, my dedication to the moment and to the sound is the same no matter what I'm doing. And I think without sounding disingenuous, I get a kind of fundamental, if not moronic pleasure, from sound as soon as it starts. So even in soundchecks, once we start playing, I'm in the zone. I'm happy, you know, because I like playing, and I like sound. And I like all different kinds of sounds, and that is what drives me. And that's what's probably saved me.

GROSS: So when you're soloing is there a time limit on your solo, like, especially for recordings? You know, did you have Tweedy say, OK, like, no more than 35 seconds?

CLINE: Well, the song form is usually kind of set except on "Art Of Almost" from the record "The Whole Love," where he basically created a coda that we played separately and added it onto the end of the song, so I would, as he put it, shred. So he asked me to shred, and I think that the length of that was determined prior to my shredding (laughter). But it could have been longer or shorter, if I'd wanted it to be, you know.

Other songs - I know I just mentioned "Dawned On Me." That solo section which is just shrill noise at this point on the recording is of a set length. And I find that this is a huge challenge for me. I start thinking about people like George Harrison when I'm given this little space of maybe 10 seconds or 15 seconds to do something, you know, beautiful, coherent, exciting, whatever is required because I am not good at self-editing. So it's a - really, really a great challenge, and it's - it varies from song to song.

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear the song that you were referring to "Dawned On Me?" So this is Wilco with my guest Nels Cline on guitar.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DAWNED ON ME")

WILCO: (Singing) Every night is a test to the East from the West. The sun rises and sets. That's the sun at its best. I forget, then I know I'd regret letting you go. Sometimes I can't believe how dark it can be. But I can't help it if I fall in love with you again. I'm calling just to let you know it dawned on me, dawned on me. So on...

GROSS: That was Wilco with my guest Nels Cline on guitar. Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. My guest is Nels Cline. He has a new album of his own called "Lovers." It's an album of ballads, covers and originals, and, of course, he also plays guitar with Wilco. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is guitarist Nels Cline. He's best known for his work with Wilco. He also plays a lot of avant-garde music. His new album, "Lovers," is kind of a change of pace for him. It's an album of lushly arranged ballads, covers and originals. So you started playing guitar when you were 12. And your twin brother, Alex, I think started playing drums at about the same time.

CLINE: Yeah.

GROSS: So that must have been pretty great, to have a twin brother who you could play with.

CLINE: Absolutely amazing 'cause not only did we do everything together, including obsess about rock 'n' roll and then later jazz and improvised music, but he was always really good (laughter). So I always had this really amazing drummer to play with. And then without getting all mystical and weird, there is kind of a psychic thing with twins which I can't deny.

And so there was this kind of communication that is absolutely unique and really kind of a seamless kind of, like, bonding consciousness that I experienced playing with him for really up until my - into my 30s, I guess. Then we stopped playing together a lot because I was on another path. And he's a very serious retiring kind of person and never endeavored to make a living playing music. So he plays all the time in Southern California or on the West Coast but works at UCLA in the oral history program.

GROSS: But he plays on your new album.

CLINE: Yeah, he was the only person I ever wanted on this project from the very beginning. And it's because of his - he has a lot of big band experience from all his playing in high school and beyond. And it's his use of color, his ability to use cymbals in a certain way, his ability to phrase, to keep the band really together and his feel and sound - everything about it. I just knew he was the guy. And so far - you know, I flew him and his family out to New York to make the record. And we performed some of the music at the Newport Jazz Festival several weeks ago, and I could fly him out for that. And we're performing it in California next year, so he'll be able to do those. So so far, I've been able to have Alex on this music every time we try it.

GROSS: Are you identical twins?

CLINE: Yeah. We're actually a type of identical twin called mirror twins.

GROSS: What does that mean?

CLINE: From what I understand, it's a type of twin where the egg separates at a very, very late stage in development. And he's right-handed. I'm left-handed. We're opposite personalities in - to a great extent. His hair parts naturally on an opposite side from mine. We're - well, if you - we're called mirror twins because if you look at - if you come up behind me and I'm looking at myself in the mirror, I look like my brother and vice versa.

GROSS: Wow, that's really - I didn't know there was such a phenomenon.

CLINE: Yeah, it's weird (laughter).

GROSS: So did that ever make you feel like you were half a person (laughter) when you weren't together?

CLINE: No, but people would make you feel like that. You know, like, when you're a kid they say, like, where's your other half? So my brother and I spent a lot of energy differentiating ourselves from each other and asserting our individuality in the world, I think, so that we would be seen as individuals and not one - part of a two-unit whole, you know?

GROSS: So what did you do to differentiate yourself from your brother?

CLINE: Well, it's actually humorous probably to think about it. But, for example, music, since we're talking about music. We liked all the same music for the most part. But there were certain bands that were - they were my bands and there were other bands that were his bands. And even though we listened to everything at the same time, together - for example, you know, Frank Zappa, The Mothers of Invention, that was an obsession of my brother's. Well, he was always going to be the Zappa guy or he was always going to be the Jethro Tull guy or - I mean, he tormented me with Black Sabbath at the time, but - and rarely did we switch over.

So for example, like, he loved the Grateful Dead when they were psychedelic. And then when "Workingman's Dead" came out, I loved that and I became the Grateful Dead listener. That was a rare event. The same thing happened with Joni Mitchell where I was listening to Joni Mitchell. And then when she started playing the "Hejira" era stuff with Jaco Pastorius and whatnot, he became obsessed with that music. And I said, hey, man, it's a great record. But go for it. You know, you can have the Joni records now (laughter).

GROSS: So you were mirroring with your tastes in the Grateful Dead and Joni Mitchell (laughter).

CLINE: Yeah. We just - that was the only sort of crossover from the sovereign record universe that we lived in. But, you know, I mean, I didn't love everything Alex listened to. And, you know, I tortured him with Johnny Winter And live and he tortured me with Blue Cheer. But we still sat and listened to this music together all the time and talked about it. And that was one way. The other way was, of course, clothing. We didn't dress alike. But it was an amazing and magical connection, you know? And I know that it's frustrating when people can't tell you apart and you think you look completely different from this other guy (laughter), but that's just a tiny irritant in what is really a kind of really special and marvelous existence.

GROSS: So what did - how did you dress to set yourself apart from your brother? And is that reflected in how you dress on stage today?

CLINE: (Laughter) Interestingly, Alex was a very flamboyant dresser in terms of color when he was really young. And then when puberty hit, he became really - he started dressing really drably. My brother now, he's been a vegetarian for most of his - well, his entire adult life as far as I recall and now vegan. And he's kind of one of these kind of hemp pants and Croc-wearing kind of people.

And I think my initial look was based more on kind of drab hippie stuff, like in school I was wearing a lot of denim work shirts and football jerseys to imitate my idol Leon Russell, you know? And I don't dress much like that anymore, although it would probably work really well with Wilco. But I went into a whole polyester thrift store phase, so...

GROSS: (Laughter).

CLINE: You know, and I started wearing really outlandish clothes, especially with the Geraldine Fibbers, where I was encouraged to do this. And they had - Carla Bozulich had such an amazing sense of style. And so...

GROSS: Wait, wait, wait are we talking, like - those, like, '70s and '80s wide-lapel polyester suits?

CLINE: Well...

GROSS: I hope not.

CLINE: ...I didn't have any suits, but I did have some crazy shirts. My favorite crazy pants at that time were what I called my Gumby pants, which I had bought in, I believe, Cincinnati. And they were low-rise bell bottoms, green bell bottoms with really, really wide - they were elephant bells I guess you would call them. And I would wear these with a women's pajama top and a big, wide vinyl - red vinyl belt and work boots.

GROSS: Wow, what a combo (laughter).

CLINE: Yeah, I was really skinny then, too, Terry. I mean, it's - things have...

GROSS: You still are.

CLINE: Sort of. Well, no, not like I was, though. I was - my brother and I were alarmingly thin, and it was not cool. It was sort of the object of ridicule, you know?

GROSS: So how did you first discover jazz - because when you were growing up, jazz was no longer the popular music of its time. And you had to find it.

CLINE: It's a pretty cool story, actually, Terry. My brother, as I mentioned before, was really into The Mothers of Invention and Captain Beefheart and some of the - the more forward-looking artists of those days. And a friend of ours, who's no longer on the planet, named David Hirschman was asked to buy for his father, Jack Hirschman, who's the very avant-garde and renowned poet from the San Francisco area - these days I think he lives in Italy now - he was asked to buy John Coltrane's "Greatest Years Vol. 1" for his dad's birthday. His dad just said, here's what I want. Go get it for me. And when David heard it, he loaned it to Alex, my brother, saying, I think you might like this record. It's reminding me of some of that instrumental Frank Zappa stuff you like.

So I'm still not sure why we were in our friend Bill Watts' (ph) apartment at the time without him or anyone else in his family being there. But we were sitting in his apartment in West Los Angeles and put on "Africa," which is an edited version on that record. And that was the moment that I decided that I needed to know everything about what might have been happening with so-called jazz music. And I became a Coltrane obsessive. And also the piece on that record "After The Rain" and "Alabama" are utterly profound and changed my whole way of thinking about music.

GROSS: Well, it's been great to talk with you. Thank you so much.

CLINE: Thank you, Terry. This is a real pleasure. You drag some things out of me that I'm kind of surprised I got to talk about. And it's really, really cool. Thank you.

GROSS: Nels Clines' new album is called "Lovers." He's also on the new album "Wilco Schmilco." Coming up, book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews Jonathan Safran Foer's new novel. This is FRESH AIR.

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