Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications
Singing around the house isn’t anything out of the ordinary for Spencer Tweedy ’19.
He is, after all, part of a very musical family, his father being Jeff Tweedy, founder, singer, and guitarist of Wilco.
But singing with your dad and brother – in the bathroom – for a TV audience of nearly 2 million people? Well, that’s a little different for the young musician not quite a year removed from his Lawrence University commencement.
The 24-year-old Spencer joined his dad and brother, Sam, Monday night on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, singing Evergreen, a song from the elder Tweedy’s 2019 solo album, Warm. It was filmed as the Tweedys – including mom and wife Susan Tweedy – are hunkered down in their Chicago home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and was shared widely by Rolling Stone and other media sites.
Wilco was supposed to appear Monday night on the Kimmel show, but, alas, the band’s tour has been paused and even late-night hosts are self-quarantined. Next best thing? Jeff Tweedy and his boys, live from the bathtub.
“It was super fun,” Spencer said. “We sing at home all the time, and we’ve been doing it even more lately on Instagram. So, it felt the same as any other time we’re singing at home except this video was going to end up in front of a much larger audience.”
The Instagram that Spencer speaks of is The Tweedy Show, a newly launched, quarantine-inspired look at the Tweedy household, filmed and narrated by Spencer’s and Sam’s mom and housed on her already well-followed @stuffinourhouse account. Music and antics from the Tweedy household are now front and center for the world to see on a nightly basis, streaming live at 9:30 p.m. and continuing perhaps as long as the coronavirus lockdown lasts.
“Thankfully, we all get along really well,” Spencer said. “The challenges of living in more or less close quarters aren’t too bad for us. So, I’m really grateful for that.”
A musical life
Spencer has been back in Chicago since graduating from Lawrence, working as a drummer-for-hire on a number of music projects. He released an EP of his own songs a year ago, songs that he worked on while in Appleton. The philosophy major split much of his time at Lawrence between his studies and playing music with friends in the Conservatory.
“One of the really, really cool things about my time at Lawrence was that the boundary between the Conservatory and the college is pretty permeable,” Spencer said. “I was really able to participate in all of the percussion ensembles that I wanted to. (Professor of Music) Dane Richeson was so welcoming. And I think the system is set up that way, where you can mix and match. I majored in philosophy and I was still able to play in things like the drum ensembles and in some of the jazz programs, too.”
Spencer also tapped into the recording facilities at The Refuge Foundation for the Arts in Appleton, which partners with Lawrence on a number of levels.
His philosophy studies, he said, provided him with avenues into his music and other passions. That continues to be true.
“The philosophy program really gave me a lot of skills to understand problems,” he said. “I feel like I really, really grew in my ability, to put it super crudely, to just think about stuff. Philosophy is sort of a big umbrella under which you can put all your other interests and any facet of the world you’re interested in and it gives you these frameworks for understanding them better.”
Initially drawn to Lawrence because of what he calls its “Midwestern humbleness,” Spencer said he walked away four years later with a deeper appreciation for the school’s commitment to its students.
“Everybody who is there cares,” he said. “I wish Lawrence was recognized more for having that quality. Every professor I interacted with was just so extremely dedicated and so extremely caring.”
A spring term like no other
Spencer said he’s thinking a lot about those Lawrence students who are about to embark on a spring term in which they’re living at home and studying from afar amid COVID-19 fears. He’s staying in contact with friends who are still in school as best he can.
“I can’t even begin to relate to some of the challenges people are going through,” he said. “I say this with no intention of paternalism or telling people what to do, but I just think any crisis benefits from people having patience and compassion, and also confidence that things are going to be OK as long as we can have that patience and compassion.
“I think Lawrence students who are being affected by this right now know what to do. They’re going to be able to do their work at home, and in the end, whether or not they get anything out of this weird term at home will depend on the strength of their relationships with their professors. And I have a lot of confidence in that because I know how strong those relationships can be.”
Building a career
In the meantime, Spencer will continue to put the building blocks on his own music career. Besides his dad’s band, he’s already put his drumming skills to work on behalf of Norah Jones, James Elkington, and Amos Pitsch, among others.
“It’s definitely a plus,” he said of entering the music business with a father who is so accomplished. “I’d be a fool to look at it as anything other than a plus. There are definitely challenges sometimes. There are people who struggle to see anything past that and what they know about my family and know about my dad, but that’s really far outweighed by all of the ridiculous privileges of being able to grow up in a family like mine.”
It’s a family you can get to know a little better in the coming days and weeks, one The Tweedy Show Instagram stream at a time.
Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org