Before Wilco was topping critics' lists and stirring up controversy, guitarist Jay Bennett was making waves in the small but potent Champaign, Illinois scene. While Bennett was with Titanic Love Affair, he met guitarist Edward Burch, and soon the pair began an informal songwriting collaboration that became a time-share proposition: Bennett joined Blood Kin and then Jeff Tweedy's Wilco while squeezing in massive amounts of session work; Burch formed the Kennett Brothers and found work with the Handsome Family and many others. Since then, Bennett and Burch have written nearly 50 songs together, at every opportunity they could wring from their schedules.
After wrapping Wilco's stunning Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Bennett parted ways with the band to pursue his long-standing project with Burch. "At various points in my time in Wilco, these feelings came up: 'Am I denying myself the ability to do what I really want?'" says Bennett. "The thought crossed my mind early on, but there was always enough reward to push the idea into the background. That has nothing to do with personalities; it was knowing that I had this material piling up at home."
Bennett and Burch's collaboration has finally yielded The Palace at 4am, the first of three albums planned for the next 18 months. The duo's initial installment, which will inspire shivers of moody pop delight for anyone entranced by Wilco's Summerteeth, the Pernice Brothers, or Beulah, was planned as an acoustic presentation, but spiraled into a dense pop studio exercise. "There was just too much shit flying through my head: countermelodies and harmonies and keyboard parts," says Bennett with a laugh. "I said, 'Let's just go for it.'"