Gillian Welch: 'A lot of the songs are done in one take. Maybe two' | Music | The Guardian
Old Crow Medicine Show were one of the highlights of this year's MerleFest. Gillian Welch once said that tying her personal relationship with their heart harmonies in the Dave Rawlings Machine magnetized the audience. “Well this is a chipper song,” announces Gillian Welch, a couple of numbers into her set. “It starts off slow and then fizzles out,” quips her partner Dave Rawlings. We hope to pass our goal by early January Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings. Relationship Goals: Wardrobe Edition.
By her late teens, she says, "I was on a constant quest to make the song I write sound more classic. I always want them to be as good as 'Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain'. Welch was an adopted child, born in New York and brought up in Los Angeles. Her adoptive parents — successful TV entertainers and musicians — told her that her biological father had been a musician visiting New York; her birth mother was a first-year college student. The abiding mystery of her parentage is touched upon in several of her songs: Welch says that " Orphan Girl ", one of her best-known songs, is also her most autobiographical.
And, you could say, a classic. It wasn't a hotbed of country music, according to Rawlings "There were a lot of kids whose parents had sent them off to learn heavy metal"but he says there were "enough of us to form a circle".
But while he and Welch were happy to sit jamming with kindred spirits, "there was something we recognised when we just played together that interested us more". That something was what pushed them to try their luck in Nashville, where they eventually attracted the attention of producer T-Bone Burnett now best known for the Grammy-winning O Brother, Where Art Thou?
There was also what Welch calls "a completely romantic attachment to the music that came out of Nashville — though we were 30 years too late," she adds, meaning that the greats had been and gone. But the duo have followed in their heroes' footsteps in so far as they are celebrated in their adoptive town, not only on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry but also for their work with stalwarts such as Emmylou Harris, Alison KraussSteve Earle and indie-folkies including the Decemberists and Conor Oberst.
Their debut album Revival was nominated for a Grammy, as was their third, the magnificent Time The Revelatorreleased in In a page profile of the duo inthe New Yorker described their music as "at once innovative and obliquely reminiscent of past rural forms".
Commentators are apt to read the mood as mournful and as Rawlings observes, "Gill always likes the saddest song on a record"though Welch more accurately identifies it as stoical, and for argument's sake draws their style under the simple umbrella of "acoustic".
Whatever it is, it transcends the sum of its influences and attracts admirers who own no country albums I'm one of themand are drawn as much by its unnerving modern dissonances as its timeless meditations on moral ruin or crop failure and even here you're likely to encounter a lyric such as: The nearest historical model for their sound is the prewar brother teams — duettists such as the Blue Sky Boys and the Monroe Brothers, who rode the American country airwaves between the wars.
But while Welch and Rawlings have set up house in what they see as a largely abandoned musical form, they reject any idea that they are therefore playing "old" music.
I used to stand on stage in a brand-new Dries Van Noten suit and I would see written next day: Rawlings throws up his hands. It's an argument that it is a ghost. You can't hit it because it has no weight. And it's related to something else we don't like — the way some people need backstory to enjoy art. They are happier to talk about the work.Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings - The way it will be (Live @ Jills veranda)
They write wholly together, words and music alike. The songs are highly arranged — interwoven guitars and an ear-defying melding of vocals.
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Sometimes, I say and I speak as someone who sings in the baththeir harmonies are so close you can't see any light between them. I have assumed he works a guitar part to death before committing it to tape, but no, it's all improvised.
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He talks animatedly about a song's picture and the challenge of working within its parameters. Put simply, "there's a lot of things going on to keep it from sounding like guitars banging away". Her songs are never rushed, developing at a pace that is haunting; her albums arrive at a similarly sparse pace, each one commanding the listener's attention as they absorb her finely crafted lyrics and otherworldly tunes. She and partner David Rawlings have released five albums under Welch's name and three under his, including 's Poor David's Almanack, in addition to appearances on a variety of soundtracks and tribute albums.
Established in via the Department of English at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the prize is awarded to writers with "distinguished bodies of work. She recently phoned KMUW to discuss her musical history and the very near future as well. He's your partner 25 years on. What was that initial meeting like? It was around or so. We met at an audition. There was one ensemble, which you had to audition for, which played country and bluegrass music.
We met in the hallway at the audition and both got in. He was auditioning as a lead guitar player, I was just auditioning as a singer.
Gillian Welch - Wikipedia
When we first played together, it was with a whole band of people around us. It wasn't until we moved to Nashville in the summer of '92 that we first sang and played together just the two of us. It was a real revelation. Berklee in those days was the domain of a lot of hard rock and jazz music. Not really the place for roots bands. It was 70 percent jazz, 30 percent heavy metal. The guys playing metal and speed metal needed the proficiency.
That was about the makeup of the school then. I have a very clear memory that there were very few women. Most of my classes had very few women.
There were people and I would be the only girl. And the only person with an acoustic guitar in a guitar class. A couple of my teachers asked me if I had an electric. Everything was supposed to be loud. It was more that I had grown up playing acoustic guitar.
I would come home from school and sit in my bedroom and sing James Taylor songs or Bob Dylan songs or Richard Thompson songs. And all kinds of folk songs.
It's really all I knew how to do and, funnily, it's still all I know how to do. I had that fortitude of spirit of when you have no other choice. It didn't matter how peculiar I felt.
This is all I could do. It's really true, what they always say, that your limitations are often your greatest assets.