Gillian Welch and David Rawlings: Welcome To The Machine

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GW: Right. Like, for instance, I’m kind of happy when you say the thing about hearing a soul influence in there, because I love soul music. I listened to a ton of it. It’s never really seemed like it’s informed my work. You know what I mean? And so, if it’s finally trickled through, if it took me 10 years to digest and, finally, I’m able to use the minerals, the soul minerals, that’s really cool. But I do think it takes longer than you’d think to have the stuff that influences you come out in an organic way. Because it takes a long time. It’s funny, you know. I mean, the other little flash of it before was the day Buddy Miller called us and he was like, “You don’t have any country-soul songs, do you?” And I’m like, “Well, actually, yeah.”

DR: He was making that Solomon Burke record [Nashville].

GW: ‘There are some. We just don’t know what to do with them.’ [Burke recorded her song “Valley of Tears.”]

On past projects, you’ve done very few covers. Just a couple of traditionals on Soul Journey. On the new album, not only are you doing covers of Bright Eyes and Neil Young songs, you’re doing songs identified with other contemporary performers, like Ryan Adams and Old Crow. I wondered how that change in selecting material came about.

DR: Particularly, “I Hear Them All” was a song that Ketch [Secor of Old Crow] and I worked on for a long time. I’d sung it a lot while we were writing it. As soon as we started doing any shows under my name, I’d started singing that. I was going to say about the Conor [Oberst] song, a few years ago…Conor called me to play guitar on this tour. “Method Acting” was one of the tunes that we played every night. Playing it every night sort of cemented the words in my head. And then one day I was sitting around and I happened to sing it. …I thought, “Oh, I’ll try that live sometime and see how that goes.” Because Conor had talked about the fact that not that many people had covered his songs. And I thought, “Man, I’ll cover a dozen of your songs. I love your songs.”

I don’t know if this was a sequencing thing, but on the copy I have that song runs straight into Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer.”

DR: Right. That’s how we played it in the studio. I had done that live a couple times and I sort of liked the way they went together.

Was there something that inspired that?

DR: Just two songs that have always meant a lot to me. I don’t know that it was anything more than that.

GW: The feel of the harmony.

DR: We’ve always done dirges fairly well. So I sort of turned Conor’s song into a dirge.

It’s also the only track on there where you stretched out on guitar.

GW: It’s true. It was funny. His album started to become song-based. Like, it’s not the typical record that the guitarist makes. It didn’t have that much guitar playing on it. It’s kind of weird. And so the “Method Acting”and “Cortez the Killer” jam became really important to the guitar aspect of the record.


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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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