Gillian Welch and David Rawlings: Welcome To The Machine

Gillian, it seems much the opposite with you. You’ve written on your own quite a bit and I couldn’t put my finger on many instances, if any at all, that you’ve had a co-writer other than Dave.

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GW: I tried to do it when I first moved to Nashville, because it’s the Nashville thing to do. …I mean, I did successfully write with other people a couple times. But usually what happened is I felt so uncomfortable and so constrained, and on edge and not myself trying to do that, that I would come home and my complete joy at getting to write alone again would make it so that I would dive in with renewed vigor, whatever I was working on. So the funny thing is the main impact…that co-writing had on me was it made my writing by myself better. So it’s really not natural to me to write with other people. Writing with Dave is an exception that, I think, has just grown out of our, you know, this longstanding collaboration.

The fact that you’ve always presented yourselves as a band with a lead singer, rather than as a duo duo like Buddy and Julie Miller, gives you the opportunity to switch roles and do something different.

GW: Which is also a great part of this. Because I feel like we did want to expand what we do, you know, more than we could have if Dave had just, say, sung lead on a couple songs on the next Gillian Welch record. That’s not nearly as much of an expansion as what has happened.

DR: I think both of us ended up feeling, like, that we definitely considered making some sort of a project where we both, you know, where we were splitting the singing duties. There’s never really been any need for that on Gillian’s records, to my mind.

GW: No, it’s kind of better to just sink into that texture and just live in that world for a little while. And I mean, both of us really like B-3, we like horns, we like drums. We don’t use any of that stuff very often on my records.

DR: Well, on Soul Journey, we used a decent amount.

GW: A little, but that in itself was an experiment.

I wondered if you had any sense of what people might be expecting after Soul Journey.

GW: Well, in a way, Dave’s record is a really natural next progression out of that.

DR: Yeah, we’ve been planning this for years and years. You know, we’ve got the next 10 years planned out. There’s a board with pushpins up on the wall. [Laughs] And I mean, we know. It’s just, it’s all mapped out.

Gillian, we’ve talked a lot about where your music isn’t headed. What feels right to you musically now?

GW: It’s been very interesting. Having worked on Dave’s record and done all the problem-solving for that, it’s kind of—I don’t know how to put this—it’s sort of given me renewed interest in our duet recordings. Because we really didn’t do that on our last record. We were looking around for other sounds and other things to sort of put around my voice.… I guess, I just have more of an appreciation for this funny little duet thing that we do. And so, at the moment, I’m just really interested in doing more of that. Because we didn’t do much with Dave either. That was the interesting thing is it didn’t really suit his voice, for the most part. And so that’s why we used other musicians on his record and, you know, had to find other things. It had never really occurred to me that the way we play with the two guitars, it largely developed—I don’t know—just to compliment what I do. I guess what I’m saying is, I thought there were going to be more duet tracks on his record, and it didn’t work out that way. …Now, I feel like I’ve been away from this two-guitar thing that we do, in a recording sense, been away from it for a little while and I’m really excited to do some more of it. [Laughs]

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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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