Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2016 Jan-Feb Contents listening through the machine. Then there’s another button
you can press where all of a sudden you hear what you did
coming back off the tape. I wish we had an example. I wish
we were sitting there and you could hear, ‘Okay, this is what
we call input. This is what we did,’ and you’d be like, ‘Oh, that
sounds nice,’ and this is it coming back off tape and you’d
go, ‘Oh, that sounds like a record that I’d like to listen to for
a long time.’ It’s amazing when you work digitally. There’s a
lot of ways people make great records digitally. I just don’t
know how but the fact is when you do that, when you don’t
have that little step...”
“That moment,” says Welch. “That yeah, that little magic.”
“I can kind of understand now why your albums take so long
to come out,” I reply, noting that this is only the seventh
album they have made together.
As for the songs on Nashville Obsolete, some of them
I think I’ve heard before. I am certain that I’ve heard
them perform ‘Candy’ and maybe even ‘The Last
Pharaoh’ in concert in America over recent years.
“No, ‘Candy’ is the only one that was around for a little bit
of time,” David says gently correcting me. “That got written
onstage during one of the Machine tours. That’s the oldest
song on there. Everything else is fairly new.”
“If you think you’ve heard ‘Pharaoh’ it’s just because it’s a
song that sounds like you’ve heard it before, I think,” laughs
“That was a very fun one to cut. You used to see Johnny Cash
and he did this trick with his guitar where he would turn his
guitar into more of a snare drum. He’d weave a dollar bill
through his strings and it would get that feeling and I did
that on ‘Pharaoh.’ I got a hamburger receipt woven through
my strings on that one and it’s a neat little trick. If anyone’s
wondering, if they hear the record and wondering, ‘What is
that?’ That’s what that is.”
“I’m sure many people are going to be emulating that almost
immediately,” I suggest.
“I stole that from Johnny Cash so take it,” laughs Gillian.
I wasn’t sure what reaction ‘Short Haired Woman Blues’
would cause, but when they performed the song at the
Americana Awards ceremony the audience saw the humour
in it. “Don’t go lovin’ short haired women / They gonna leave
you cryin’ / After thinkin’ it was all in fun,” he sings.
“We had started writing that a year or two ago and it didn’t
have that title,” explains Rawlings. “It had a slightly different
slant to it.”
“It was a little bit more about the ponies and a little bit less
about the short-haired woman,” adds Welch, “and then it
became more and more about the short-haired woman.”
“Then as we as we thought about the story and the things
that connected to it and where the story was coming from,”
continues Dave, “all of a sudden we are working on the
last verse and those words spilled out. There’s a Lightnin’
Hopkins song that Townes Van Zandt covered called ‘Short
Haired Woman Blues’. So the title I’d always known and I
always thought it was a very funny title. I also thought it a
very funny song – the song that Lightnin’ wrote – because
you can’t really tell why he has any problem with short-haired
women. I did find out recently, one of the things he says, ‘I
don’t want no woman with hair no longer than mine. Nothing
but bad luck and trouble. Have you buying rats all the time.’ I
always thought, ‘Well, that’s strange’.”
“Yeah, that’s fascinating,” says Gillian.
“I found out recently that there was something called the
Hair Rat that you put up under a wig to make your hairdo a
little taller,” adds Dave.
“Or under your own hair,” adds Gillian. “Put it under your
own hair to make certain hairdos if you want a little height or
bangs, that ‘40s look where the woman’s bangs kind of poof
out. It would often have a rat under the bangs.”
“This is something we’ll probably be selling at Nashville
Obsolete,” laughs Rawlings. “I always liked in that song
that there was a sort of a truth to people who have this
experience with a person who then makes generalisations or
just be like, ‘I don’t mess with short-haired women anymore.
They’re trouble.’ Even though it doesn’t make sense.”
“People say, ‘No, not the redheads!’” notes Welch.
Finally, there is, of course, an epic track on the album. “There
has to be an epic, doesn’t there?” I say.
“’The Trip’,” says Welch.
“Turned out there was one,” agrees Rawlings. “I don’t know if
they’re necessary but we do like long songs sometimes.”
“I love getting to write a story, a lyric, that isn’t necessarily
linear,” agrees Welch. “I like the way ‘The Trip’ functions in
that it just starts to gang up, kind of like a snowball. It just
gets bigger and bigger. At least that’s my hope. If people
like the song and if it is successful, it just gains weight and
by the end of the song, hopefully it seems to have said
“I wanted something that had a sort of hypnotic quality
that kept moving forward,” adds Rawlings, “There’s a Bob
Dylan song called ‘Billy’ that we used to play sometimes
that sort of had chords like that and had that feeling. I like
to have something that can sort of move through a number
of moods. I was really glad that the day that we cut it with
Brittany Haas playing fiddle and Jordan playing mandolin,
Paul who was on bass, and Gil and I had tried to cut it a few
times as a trio and we thought, ‘We probably need to try this
with a few other instruments.’ It was great when we got...”
“We couldn’t quite get liftoff,” adds Welch.
“When we got done and we were like, ‘Well, that was 11
minutes,’ and they didn’t think that it was,” laughs Rawlings.
“They were like, “Really? Seems really short.”
“They had no idea,” says Welch.
“I was like, ‘Oh, maybe that’s a good sign’,” notes Rawlings.
And that seems to sum up Nashville Obsolete. It is full of
beautifully crafted songs, complete with that epic ‘The Trip’ –
songs that are timeless that they fit perfectly into the Gillian
Welch / David Rawlings continuum, which can never be
Nashville Obsolete is out on
Gillian Welch and The Dave Rawlings
Machine tour nationally through
January/February, full dates in the
Gig Guide on p58.
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