Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2016 Jan-Feb Contents cover
The album’s title Nashville Obsolete, has a lot of
connotations and even the album cover seems to mirror the
“Yeah, it does,” agrees David. “That’s why we liked it as a title.
It came out of something sort of whimsical. A lot of the way
that we record records and the equipment that we use and
the studio... I mean, recording studios in their way are fairly
obsolete in and of themselves, never mind the equipment
that’s fifty years old that’s around. We’re forever having to
figure out some way to re-machine some little part or do
something to keep things running.
“We had thought at some point there was a little basement
space we don’t use and we thought, ‘We should open a little
shop down there called Nashville Obsolete and we should
just sell things that no one needs. You know, typewriter
ribbons or buggy whips or little tiny retaining clips...”
“Cassette tapes!” says Gillian.
“Yeah, exactly,” laughs David, “and have it just be all mail
order. Send out catalogues like they used to.”
“No internet presence at all,” says Gillian, “just street address,
“Once in a while when something would happen, we’d go,
‘Oh, we got to remember to put that on the list to sell at
Nashville Obsolete’,” adds
“I got a list going. I got a list
in my pocket,” says Gillian
and she produces her phone
and peers at it and recites
“Roller blind pulls, videotape
typewriter ribbon, paper
packing tape. A lot of tape,
you might notice. I’m very
into tape. 45 inserts, tubes,
newspapers, pencils, pencil
sharpeners, carbon paper,
printed service manuals, file folders, Rolodex, Rolodex cards,
overhead projector bulbs, rubber stamps.
“You left out Betamax,” I add.
“Yeah, there you go!” laughs David.
“Betamax!” says Gillian. “Please, if you have anything to add
to our list, I still want to open this store.”
I ask about the intent of sepia-toned cover of the album,
which harks back to an era in which the Nashville Obsolete
store would be thriving.
“With the tin type,” replies David. “It spoke a little bit of the
change in Nashville. I mean the word ‘obsolete’ rings well
with the word ‘machine’. It speaks to a feeling like we’ve
been doing this long enough that we may be obsolete
ourselves and not being sure about that, so I don’t know. I
like the way it connected.”
“Also it addresses the whole music world,” says Gillian. “The
whole music industry is in a precariously obsolete position
right now in a way.”
There’s an interesting juxtaposition between the word
‘obsolete’ and the fact that the music Rawlings and Welch
make seems timeless.
“It was obsolete to begin with!” laughs David and he turns to
Gillian. “We had a conversation yesterday about that word
and some things ... You had a point about obsolescence.”
“I see a connection between obsolescence and perfection,”
“In other words,” she continues, “because we were talking
about this, for instance, there was an old tape dispenser
made for dispensing paper packing tape.”
“We’re back to tape,” interjects Dave.
“I’m sorry,” replies Gillian. “My mind revolves around tape. R .
Crumb made this tape dispenser quite famous. People knew
he was crazy about this thing. It weighs about fifty pounds.
It’s made of cast iron. It’s perfect. It will never break. This is
the only paper tape dispenser you will ever need in your life
but it’s also completely obsolete though it’s perfect: a very
green product, it dispenses paper tape, no use of plastics.
It’s a plant-based adhesive.
“All that to say there is this idea of obsolescence and
perfection. They rub right up against each other.”
Welch confesses that she does not currently own one of
these tape dispensers, “but I hope to some day”.
I mention that the duo also stubbornly continues to record
on tape, a medium that many musicians are returning to and
“That’s right, which is
quite obsolete,” he
replies. “I sometimes have
reasonably good powers of
prognostication and before
tape disappeared, there
was a company that we use
their audiotape and I figured
that they would go out of
business at some point, so
towards the end when the
quality got a little spotty, I
said, ‘Next time you guys
make a batch, send up a reel
and I’ll test it out and if I like
it, I’ll buy a lot’. We ended
up buying a huge amount. We had gone on tour a couple
times and we basically took out a loan and bought a lot of
audiotape and put it in a vault. We’re still working through it
but there’s not a lot left.”
A lot of people would say they can the difference between
vinyl and a CD. Can they tell the difference between
recording on Pro Tools and recording on tape?
“Oh, there’s an enormous difference,” responds Rawlings.
“Oh my goodness!” exclaims Welch, as if I have asked the
day’s most stupid question!
“Yeah. I mean it’s a completely different sound,” states
“It’s to the point where I can’t even stand working hearing
what we do off Pro Tools,” adds Welch. “It’s very rare for us
to be recorded that way but every now and again someone
will ask us to contribute to a project and it never does that
magical thing where it takes what you did and turns it into
art for me. For me there’s some sound I’m looking for, I’m
waiting for. I’m waiting for that magic moment when it comes
back magnetised and that never happens.
“There’s just a basic, if you’re working on it, tape machine,”
explains Rawlings to me patiently. “There’s a button you
can press where you can hear the audio going through it
and you’re not listening to it recorded on tape. You’re just
“For me there’s some sound
I’m looking for, I’m waiting
for. I’m waiting for that magic
moment when it comes back
magnetised.” Gillian Welch
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