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Interview: Dave Rawlings

Interview: Dave Rawlings

Eloquent but not florid, equal parts ’30s Appalachia and Laurel Canyon circa 1971, Rawlings’ Americana is as haunted and expansive as the sound he conjures from his 1935 Epiphone Olympic guitar.


There’s a specific musical landscape inhabited by the likes of Dave Rawlings. Eloquent but not florid, equal parts ’30s Appalachia and Laurel Canyon circa 1971, Rawlings’ Americana is as haunted and expansive as the sound he conjures from his 1935 Epiphone Olympic guitar.

DaveRawlings-Gillian WelchAn award-winning guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer, Rawlings is best little-known as the typically un-billed half of indie star Gillian Welch’s work; he also has worked with Old Crow Medicine Show and Ryan Adams. In 2009, Dave Rawlings Machine debuted with the album “A Friend of a Friend,” featuring Welch, John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) and Punch Brothers members.

This past September, Dave Rawlings Machine released “Nashville Obsolete,” a manifesto for a new generation of contemporary country artists. Crowned by acclaimed single “The Weekend” and sprawling epic “The Trip,” “Nashville Obsolete” boasts Gillian Welch on guitar and vocals and outstanding fiddle work by young virtuoso Brittany Haas.

Rawlings, Welch and company are slated to appear at the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s Journal Theater (1701 Fourth St. SW) at 8 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 11. Rawlings chatted by phone with ABQ Free Press about the making of “Nashville Obsolete,” the “Frown Tour” and longtime songwriting and performance partner Gillian Welch.

ABQ Free Press: So how’s the tour going?

Dave Rawlings: We started in Santa Barbara in October. Then we played our way north, went to New York City, then played our way down to Knoxville and Nashville. We covered a lot of miles. In fact, on a map, it looks like a big frown. We call it the Frown Tour. [laughs]

Have y’all ever played The Duke City?

I don’t think we’ve ever played Albuquerque proper. We played the Paramount in Santa Fe in 1999, probably to support Gillian’s album “Hell Among the Yearlings.” Then we played the Lensic in 2012.

What went into the creation of “Nashville Obsolete”?

I guess it started with the shows we did in 2014. I was really surprised to see that our audience had expanded even though we hadn’t been touring very much. More people were coming to the shows, and we were having a great time playing together.

Once we got back off the road and were still working on songs, we thought it would be fun if I sang them. “The Trip” was one of the first songs that was fairly complete, so that was a little bit of a signpost for the rest of the material. “The Trip” is the lyrical heart of this record — or at least it touched on a lot of things that the other songs touch on in smaller ways.

The song “Bodysnatchers” reminds me of the 1955 film “Night of the Hunter.” How do you imagine the narratives for your songs?

When we’re working on songs, we don’t necessarily know the first line … that is really gonna connect with you. A lot of times, you’re working on something and just spinning things out. At some point, maybe you hit upon one small piece of lyric that really has a connection. You can kind of see that spider web start to spin out. The most important thing for me is to keep the narrative flowing.

Is there less pressure on this group than say, Gillian Welch as an artist?

I don’t know. I can say it’s nice that people were willing to listen to the first record because of the work that we do together. [In terms of Dave Rawlings Machine,] we might let different things through. I think there’s a different filter as far as what we think is going to work for each project, and that’s part of the fun of it for us.

Your dynamic with Gillian remains authentic and powerful after all these years. What’s your secret to working successfully together long-term?

We came in on the same page about things. It was fun for us when we were starting out because we didn’t know anybody else who was interested in some of the country duos — the brother teams as they were called from the 1930s and ’40s. I didn’t know anybody else that listened to that kind of stuff.

We were both interested in the sounds that we could make with a couple of instruments and a couple of vocals. I think that with any writing relationship, it’s not something that is very smooth. Even though that happens when Gillian and I write together, I don’t think we’ve ever put out a song that one of us liked and the other one didn’t.

Please tell Gillian that I love singing “Orphan Girl” and “The Way It Goes.

We’re happy when the songs find homes. The Americana Music Association gave us a Lifetime Achievement Award. The thing that was so interesting about it was realizing that, as much as we go around and play, that award basically exists because so many other people have taken our songs and done stuff with them, spread them all out a lot further than we could. It;s an honor when anybody learns a song of ours, so thank you for that.

M. Brianna Stallings writes so you don’t have to.

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Johnny Vizcaino is an editorial intern at ABQ Free Press Weekly.

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