Gillian Welch

Gillian Welch
Gillian Welch Videos

Gillian Welch is an uncompromising musical renegade with four critically acclaimed albums and a Grammy Award under her belt. Writing and performing with her longtime partner, David Rawlings, they present their haunting songs like rock and roll chamber music, with two acoustic guitars and two voices welded together. Their tunes have been covered by such American legends as Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, and Solomon Burke. Their music defies easy categorization -- it embraces, and is in turn embraced by, the pre-eminent ambassadors of folk, bluegrass, R & B, punk, and rock and roll. With its unconventional guitar work, dissonant tones, and forceful simplicity, Welch’s music has a similar spirit to work by other primitive post-moderns. She has said, “I feel a kinship with the Velvet Underground and the Pixies, though it might not hit you over the head.” Though her first two albums, 1996’s debut Revival and 1998’s Hell Among the Yearlings (both produced by T Bone Burnett) captured a reminiscent, earthy Americana, it was her third album, 2001’s Rawlings-produced Time (The Revelator) that marked her divergence towards a skeletal kind of rock and roll. “The songs may have been boiled down and boiled down, and pretty much desiccated, but they’ve always been rock songs in my mind,” she says. “How can I explain it?” Welch continues, warming to her theme. “Let’s say you’re listening to a rock band and they have this whole wall of sound going on, and it’s completely unhinged and it sounds crazy. If you pulled four notes out of that whole mess and played them on acoustic guitars, that’s what Dave and I do. We’re highly selective deconstructionists.” On the other hand, Welch considers her most recent album, 2003’s Soul Journey, as “more like little R&B songs that have been pared down to the bone.” The album, with its elegant flat-picking, languid tempos, and flawless harmonies, recalls the roots-rock of Bob Dylan and The Band, (“Wrecking Ball,” “Wayside/Back In Time”), as well as autobiographical, minimally adorned numbers (“No One Knows My Name,” “One Little Song”). Upon its release, British music bible Mojo praised Soul Journey’s “compelling, mesmerizing quality: somber, mournful, and melodic,” while the Wall Street Journal noted the music’s “depth and mystery that invites many interpretations.” Overall, the Los Angeles Times has summed up Welch’s allure best: “At every turn, she demonstrates a spark and commitment that should endear her to anyone from country and folk to pop and rock fans who appreciate imagination and heart.” It’s not hard to see, however, why the public has perceived Welch as a traditionalist. She has professed her love for bluegrass legends Bill Monroe, The Carter Family, and Ralph Stanley, the latter with whom she appeared on the Grammy-winning multi-platinum soundtrack to the Coen Brothers 2000 film O Brother Where Art Thou? She and Rawlings also served, along with Emmylou Harris, as Elvis Costello’s band for his 2006 debut on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. But the duo’s broader appeal is evidenced by their recent appearances with Norah Jones (as special guests on her latest concert DVD), at premiere rock festivals Coachella and Bonnaroo, and on singer-songwriter Conor Oberst’s 2007 Bright Eyes album, Cassadaga. “We love playing with other musicians,” Welch says. “Our own stuff is so tightly focused and intense that it’s a real pleasure for us to break out once in a while.” Welch has appeared on records by Ryan Adams, Mark Knopfler, Robyn Hitchcock, Sam Phillips, Emmylou Harris, Jay Farrar, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Ani DiFranco, among others, and her songs have been covered by a truly eclectic group of artists that includes the aforementioned Solomon Burke, Emmylou Harris, and Willie Nelson as well as Joan Baez, Nick Cave, David Byrne, David Johansen, Jimmy Buffett, Alison Krauss, and New York alt-rock trio Secret Machines. The stylistic variety of all of the above proves that the timelessness and quality of her songwriting shines, no matter what genre it’s filtered through. Welch and Rawlings have been so busy playing with other musicians that four years have passed since Soul Journey was released. “We’re writing songs for the new album now,” Welch says. “We’ll start recording once we have almost all of them written.” The album will be released on the duo’s own label Acony Records, which they set up in 2001 for Time (The Revelator), as a way to own their master recordings and control their musical output. “We’re very independent musically, and this means that our business can actually be in line with our aesthetic,” Welch says. And what do the new songs sound like? “The stuff is feeling spookier and more panoramic than Soul Journey,” she says. “The bottom line is, we’ll do whatever the music calls for, because we are always slaves and servants of the song.”
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