Gillian Welch and David Rawlings: Welcome To The Machine

Are you working on the new Gillian Welch record?

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GW: We kind of started my record a little bit when we were making his record. It was sort of accidental. We were really just trying to work on his record. But I ended up singing a couple things and we recorded them.

I’d imagine there could be a lot of overlap or fluidity in terms of songwriting. Was there a sense that you were writing for this record or writing for that record, or was it more organic than that?

GW: I don’t think it was pre-decided. Well, one of the songs on Dave’s record, I didn’t specifically start it for Dave. …I don’t usually think about who’s going to sing the songs when I start them. It’s more, like, just what type of song I want to start.

How did you determine whether a song ought to be a Dave Rawlings Machine song or a Gillian Welch song?

DR: How do I put it? If we like either of us singing it, we’d be happy, you know. It doesn’t necessarily matter who was more involved with the writing of a song. That doesn’t necessarily correlate with who should sing it—or hasn’t really. I mean, this is the first time I’ve ever recorded any of the songs. So I couldn’t tell ya how it’s going to be.

GW: It was good, though, because there have been songs through the years that we’ve written that I was never able to do, or that I never liked me singing, or we never liked me singing. And so, it’s not like we reached back for all of those. But this has always occurred. We don’t cut everything; I don’t cut everything we write. So it’s really nice to have another outlet. And we’re very different singers.

DR: Yeah, one of us is good.

Dave, you’re a fine singer and frontman. DR: Blah, blah, blah. [Laughs]

I’d read a couple of interviews where you joked about filling those roles.

DR: I think over a little bit of time of doing it, it’s not as bad as it could be. Or maybe it was. [Laughs] I mean, I always sang one song in the show. That usually felt like about the right portion. But, you know, if it’s gotten better I’m really glad of it, because I like to sing. It’s fun.

“Ruby” and “Bells of Harlem,” from a songwriting standpoint, are something I hadn’t really heard from you before. The first time that I heard the melody of “Ruby,” I thought, ‘What is that making me think of?’ And I realized it was the Chi-Lites’ “Oh Girl.” “Bells of Harlem,” with the strings and graceful sway, made me think of Sam Cooke pop-soul. I wondered if soul music inspired where you’re coming from.

GW: You’re not the first one to hear the “Oh Girl” similarity. I actually hadn’t ever heard that song before I [wrote “Ruby”].

Do you think performing with Dave singing lead has taken you somewhere else melodically?

GW: It may be part of it. It may trace back to, like, starting to do the Machine shows, playing different types of songs and, then, it eventually filtering into the writing. That’s a legitimate hypothesis. You know, it’s a pretty mysterious thing still, why you start the songs you start, and the specific flavor of them, the nature of them. I don’t know about other writers, but, for me, it’s still somewhat out of my control. It’s not really a logical process.


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  1. I am a fan of both Gillian and Dave from what I know through the Gillian albums. The new music from the Dave Rawlings Machine is just as captivating and I’m enjoying each listen. Thank you for this interview. I appreciate the look inside the workings at the machine. If you ever come out Montana-way, I sure hope to have the chance to see you in person.

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