Gillian Welch Comes Down From The Mountain

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

“When I hear her music,” Williams adds, “I hear authenticity, the art of story, I hear the South, I hear beauty… and that special something only Gillian could bring to the table. There are no frills, no smoke and mirrors. Just raw emotion.”

Despite the years of writer’s dissatisfaction that preceded it, The Harrow & The Harvest is ultimately the result of four inspired months. After spending the fall of 2010 finalizing the tracklist, Rawlings and Welch began recording in February 2011. The sessions were quick, with Rawlings pulling double-duty as producer and performer. By March, the album was finished.

“I was sick of all the time we’d taken to write the record,” Welch says frankly, “and I’m really happy that we didn’t release any kind of hodgepodge effort that spans the years. It really represents a concise, creative chunk of time. I think people might be expecting something that’s more strung out over the gap, something that was overly careful or overwrought. But this couldn’t be further from that. The songs are mostly first and second takes, and Dave composed some of the music spontaneously in the studio. It was very freeing. We learned to accept mistakes and rough edges, because those didn’t impede what the heart of the matter was.”

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Two days after their transcontinental drive, Welch and Rawlings are back at home, where Rawlings has already pulled out a map to prepare for their next road trip. This time, they’ll be touring America in support of The Harrow & The Harvest. On the agenda are six shows with Buffalo Springfield and a primo timeslot at the Newport Folk Festival. Welch is enjoying the calm before the storm, happy with her newest album and ready to tour “quite a mighty amount” behind its ten songs. Before calling it a night, she lets her thoughts drift to the early 1990s, when she and Rawlings – two recent Berklee grads who’d moved south after graduation, drawn to Nashville by its legacy of country, folk, and bluegrass icons – got their start in noisy bars. Even then, people always seemed to stop to listen.

“Sometimes, the earliest gigs are the hardest,” she muses. “You’re playing over there by the pool table and there’s all kinds of loud stuff going on. But we’ve always had a certain punk attitude about it. Like, what else are you gonna do, man? This is how we choose to play. I never felt like we had any other option. And somehow in our craziness, our quietness, our unwillingness to ever try to overpower, we usually did okay.

“People would just stop and look at us dumbfounded, like, ‘What are these people doing? Singing songs about nails through hands and dead sharecropper’s babies? Singing about looking back longingly on the blissful days of morphine addiction? This is weird shit.’ But we’re really lucky. We’re in this weird place that no one else seems to inhabit, and we like it here.”

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