When I was 19 or 20, my favorite band was Uncle Tupleo. I remember shaking Jeff Tweedy’s hand before a show at Club Babyhead in Providence, Rhode Island some 30 years ago. I’m sure I thanked him for the music and the inspriration. I went on to become a giant fan of Wilco of course, and the Tweedy’s in general. Their impression on my musical universe is significant.
Later, I would come to know Spencer Tweedy through the magic of the internet and the design community. I still use his Fjord Audio cable he Kickstarted years ago, and it’s been so fun to watch his drumming career skyrocket, playing seemingly nightly all over the world with various artsits.
Through Spencer, I was able to work on my favorite project to date. A dream collaboration, really. Today we introduce Wilco Loft Sans, a high contrast sans serif typeface created specifically for the band, but available to all. The story behind how these fonts came to be is rather meaningful.
“Hey, does Wilco need a font?”
I half-jokingly asked Spencer earlier this year. But it turns out, well…sort of! One of the concepts Spencer suggested early on was a giant, orange, blow-molded GUITAR sign that hangs in The Loft — Wilco’s famed recording studio in Chicago (which, coincidentally, also has an account dedicated to fonts found on its vintage equipment). The letters immediately grabbed me and, like other past type projects, I could see how fun it would be to expand the vintage sign into a full alphabet that the band could use as a cool tie-in to the place much of their incredble music is made.
How the sign made its way to The Loft is a also a fun bit of Wilconian Chicago lore. Studio Manager, Mark Greenberg, recounted where the sign was found and how it was ultimately installed in the studio:
“Guitar Fun Inc was a small guitar shop in a Chicago suburb that had a few instruments hanging on the wall but was more a place to take lessons and buy sheet music. Our engineer Tom Schick lives near the store and one day noticed that the shop seemed to have closed and they appeared to be moving out of the space. We contacted the owners about the sign and they said if we would hire the electrician to remove it and fill in the holes in the brick facade, it was ours for a very small fee. WHA?!?!? We were out front with an electrician 24 hours later!
Amazingly, the store was on a corner and the sign went west to east as well as south to north and even had a matching clock at the corner. We got it all and now one of the GUITAR FUN’s has a new life with new interior lights and lives on the wall at the Loft, Wilco’s recording studio. It was installed as a surprise for Jeff Tweedy’s birthday about 10 years ago.”
After imagining how the rest of the alphabet might fill out, we also created a custom icon for each band member based on a favorite instrument they play at The Loft — in the style of the lefty acoustic found on the original sign. The icons are alternate characters triggered by the members’ names. Consider them easter eggs :) Jeff’s signature Martin, Nels’ Gibson SG, John’s early 70s Fender Precision bass, Glenn’s Ludwig duco kick, Pat’s Mellotron, and Mikael’s early 80s Concertmate MG-1 synth.
Wilco Loft Sans includes 4 weights: Treble (based on the GUITAR sign), Midrange, Low End, and Bass. It’s all caps, with numurals, punctuation, diacritics, and additional European language support.
Working with the Wilco team over the last several months on this has been a true joy. A very special thanks to Spencer, Crystal Myers, and Mark Greenberg for collaborating on what I think is a fun homage to a beloved band, city, musical heritage, and type. You can purchase the fonts in the SimpleBits Shop or over at the Wilco Store.
Now go cue up Cousin (the band’s latest album — which is stellar) or any one of their dozen other incredible records and start making cool stuff with this new typeface!