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Gillian Welch: An analog artist living in a digital era



When Gillian Welch talks about records, she tends to wax philosophical.


“I didn’t realize how much, in my heart, that the music that really matters to me was always playing off a turntable,” Welch tells the Daily News ahead of her performance at the Beacon Theatre Wednesday.


Despite her love of analog, Welch, who received acclaim for her contributions to the 2000 film “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” was never able to enjoy her own albums as part of her personal record collection. Along with her musical partner Dave Rawlings, Welch made the decision to never release an LP unless she could be in control of the record’s production from start to finish.


Over $100,000 and nearly four years of tinkering later, the duo cut their own lacquer and released a re-issue of their Grammy-nominated album, “The Harrow & The Harvest” for the first time as a phonograph on July 28.

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Producer T Bone Burnett, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings pictured with their American Masters Awards in 2016.

(Rick Diamond/Getty Images)


While vinyl is a form of analog technology, a majority of new and re-issued vinyl records produced today starts from digital files. That means that even if you’re listening to music on a turntable, there’s a good chance it’s inferior to the quality of a CD or mp3.


Welch admits that she and Rawlings could never “go down an easier path” when it came to releasing their music.


In fact, Welch shares that she’s only ever recorded on tape, going all the way back to when she was 10 years old and recording herself singing on cassette.

Gillian Welch released a vinyl re-issue of her 2011 album “The Harrow & The Harvest” on July 28.

Gillian Welch released a vinyl re-issue of her 2011 album “The Harrow & The Harvest” on July 28.

(Acony Records)


“[Digital] never offered me anything,” Welch says. “People tout its convenience and its affordability. But I never wanted to hear something from an artist that they did in the most convenient or affordable way.”


She compares manufacturing vinyl records to a painter choosing their materials.


“Do I want to hear that a painter is using the most affordable paints?” Welch asks. “Or that it was more convenient? No. I want to know it was the best medium for the job.”

Gillian Welch met Dave Rawlings during her time as a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Gillian Welch met Dave Rawlings during her time as a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

(Acony Records)


While she concedes that louder music tends to be captured better digitally, her brand of hushed, sometimes haunting Americana just sounds better on analog.


But why does analog sound so superior to digital in Welch’s opinion?


“It’s like the difference between looking at a negative and looking at a master print,” Welch explains. “[Analog tape] just shifts things a tiny bit more from reality. It pushes it a tiny bit more into art.”


Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings will continue to tour North America this year in support of “The Harrow & The Harvest,” as well as play separate dates in August as Dave Rawlings Machine.

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