The new issue of Uncut is out sometime this week, and among many other things it contains an interview I did a few weeks back with Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings in Nashville.

The new issue of Uncut is out sometime this week, and among many other things it contains an interview I did a few weeks back with Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings in Nashville.

As part of my preparation, I contacted Colin Meloy of The Decemberists to talk about Welch and her music; here are his answers in full, as a kind of prelude to the feature. Meloy’s comment about how “their love of simplicity and clarity comes from a kind of insanely finicky place,” is especially perceptive, and turned out to be a key theme in the piece, I think.

Thanks for all your comments on “The Harrow And The Harvest” blog, by the way. As more of you finally get to hear the album, please let me know what you think, not least about how it fits into the Welch/Rawlings canon…

When did you first become aware of Gillian’s music?

I was introduced to Gillian at Rockin’ Rudy’s, a very fine record store in Missoula, MT. I think a friend turned me on to her first record right after it came out. I was immediately smitten. It happens that I also spent the summer of ’97 working in the vineyards of the Willamette Valley in Oregon and the song “One More Dollar” felt particularly auspicious.

How did she come to be involved with your record?

Tucker Martine and I were wanting to create a kind of vibe that we had always loved in old country records – the idea of pairing a male and female vocal really hot in the mix, like every song was a duet. I’d always loved Neil Young’s record, Comes A Time, and was really taken by the fact that the late, great Nicolette Larson sang on nearly every song, lending a tone and tenor to the record that just wouldn’t exist without her voice. We wanted to do something similar with The King Is Dead.

Can you describe her input to The King Is Dead?

She and Tucker worked very closely for a few days in LA, sending rough mixes of all their passes to me via e-mail. When it comes down to it, harmony can be a very personal, subjective thing. Even though it might seem like a simple sort of prospect, I’ve found that everybody brings their own form and sensibility to it. Gillian and Dave have such a natural talent for finding the most compelling harmony vocal that we ended up giving very little feedback – they just took it and ran with it.

How does she work as a collaborator? When an artist doesn’t make a record for eight years, it’s usually critical shorthand to describe them as in some way ‘reclusive’. But as a collaborator, she’s been highly visible throughout that period. Do you have any insights as to why that might be?

Gill and Dave very clearly work in a completely different way than many people I know. I get the feeling for all their love of simplicity and clarity comes from a kind of insanely finicky place. Which is funny; so many of her songs feel so off the cuff, so underthought. But there’s a lot of thinking that goes on, I think, to get to that place.

Why do you think her music’s appeal seems to transcend the usual roots/Americana boundaries? I find it fascinating that, besides The Decemberists, her recent guest appearances were on Tom Jones and Jerry Lee Lewis albums; it’s quite a span.

Like all great artists and musicians, she and Dave, as far as I can tell, are just great lovers of music — of all sorts. Their collective voice tends toward the Americana/country side of things, but their hearts don’t necessarily hew to just one thing. And it all makes perfect sense to me — they are the bridge between Robyn Hitchcock and the Louvin Brothers. And if you think about it, that bridge isn’t necessarily that long.

What is it about her voice, her songs, her persona, her character, that’s so appealing to you?

You get the sense that there’s, like, a direct channel between her heart and her lips. I don’t think the girl has an oesophagus; she’s got a some kind of weird, fleshy soul-conduit.