CUP — the musical partnership between husband and wife Nels Cline and Yuka C. Honda — is an exercise in opposites. Cline, the experimental guitarist known for his longstanding membership in Wilco, “works really fast,” while Honda, of Cibo Matto, “is a lot more methodical,” he says.
“I think I just wanted to have both aspects be fully present,” Cline says of CUP’s debut album, “Spinning Creature,” out Friday. “So there’s Yuka’s meticulous and sort of visionary mixing or remixing of what we played in the moment live. … I think that’s why there’s probably stylistically a lot of vastness to this record.”
The New York-based couple recorded the basic tracks in Brooklyn in about three days. Then, Cline jokes, he went off on tour and left Honda to her devices. While they had played together live before, this was their first collaborative record.
“I’ve seen her work this way when she worked on the last Cibo Matto record, ‘Hotel Valentine,'” Cline says. “Her process was really painstaking, very meticulous. Also the records she produced with Martha Wainwright and Plastic Ono Band. As far as our music together, we’d only done live performances. We started out being FIG and changed the name to CUP a couple years ago.”
Cline, who chatted with us before a recent Wilco show, wasn’t sure how Friday’s CUP album-release show at Nu Blu (151 Avenue C, New York) would play out.
“Nope,” he says with a laugh when asked if they’d worked out a setlist. “I get home on the 28th, which gives us a couple days. At this point I don’t know what the song sequence will be. I’m confident we’ll open with ‘Every Moment.'”
Cline had been recording since the late ’70s when he joined Wilco in 2004.
“From the beginning, Wilco’s infrastructure offered a way to assist me in getting my own work more noticed and more realized,” he says. “So it’s a pretty awesome situation.”
He says his job with the Chicago band is to “make Jeff’s dreams come true,” referring to bandleader Jeff Tweedy, but adds a major part of his role is to improvise within the arrangements of Wilco’s songs.
“The thing that’s different about CUP is quite often we’re playing to a track, because Yuka has these tracks, which she can mix and change in the moment, but she can’t do a lot of that stuff just on keyboard, so she has all that gear, and that’s why soundchecks are so crucial with CUP. Yuka’s really got a lot of balls in the air when we perform. In my case, I have to rely much more heavily on having a monitor, which I don’t really need so much even in Wilco. … So that aspect is different, but the rest of it is just sort of trusting our instincts. And I’m doing some singing; I’m not trying to make any kind of mark as a singer with CUP, I think it’s just how we decided to express ourselves. It’s fun to try.”
Cline recently sat in with the Tedeschi Trucks Band at the Beacon Theatre, playing on the band’s version of Derek and the Dominos’ “Bell Bottom Blues” and “Idle Wind.” Cline’s initial connection to the band was made when the Allman Brothers Band’s Warren Haynes invited him to sit in with the Allmans, of which Derek Trucks was a member, at the Beacon a few times. He later spoke to Trucks and Susan Tedeschi at a Lockn’ Festival, where both Wilco and TTB were on the bill, which led to TTB asking Cline to play with them a few years ago.
“It was incredibly exciting,” Cline says. “I’m a huge fan and find Derek’s playing to be utterly profound. … So they know I live in New York, so they wanted to know if I was around. A few nights before [Wilco] had done the Stephen Colbert show and I just came from taping of a Seth Meyers Wilco thing and went straight to the Beacon. So that’s it. It’s incredibly fun and inspiring to be around them.”
Cline describes his upcoming projects as “a combination of random and planned.” He’s finished an album with the 6-piece Nels Cline Singers Unlimited, and he’s starting a new quartet because the Nels Cline 4 “is just too hard to get together.”
He’d also like to release a recording of a piece he wrote for a residency, which he calls “fairly improvised,” that uses the love letters from John Cage to Merce Cunningham as text.
“I want to record that, just for whatever, for myself,” says Cline. “It’s all pretty random.”
Photo by Olivia Locher