"I swear to god,"DiceDavid Rawling, "we could talk about this album for a week."
RawlingeGillian WalchI would be the first to admit that it's hard to talk about their historic third album.Time (The Revealer)without digressing to a thousand tangents. Each of their 10 songs, each raw emotion the duo channeled into the album, each of their failed attempts to record the album, each could be the subject of a lengthy interview of its own. Each background has its own background, its wheel within the wheel.
Here's the basics: Most of the songs were written between 1999 and 2000, amid the collaborators' terrible decision to start their own label. After two failed attempts to record the album in Los Angeles, first with T Bone Burnett, then a brief two-week stint at Jon Brion's studio, the duo returned home to Nashville disheveled and disappointed. Some time later, Rawlings was driving around town in search of a studio, as he tells the story, and came across RCA's Studio B. The door was open and Rawlings entered.
"I heard the sound of my feet and thought, 'Wow, this is one of the most beautiful sound spaces I've ever heard,'" he says. Welch and Rawlings eventually secured the historic studio space and ended up recording and producing the album there with the help of sound engineer Matt Andrews.
For his part, Welch calls the album "pre-apocalyptic". She thinks about the moment it happened: the sense of helplessness she and Rawlings felt as artists whose souls were at stake as they navigated a catastrophically changing music industry (Napster, which Welch talks about in Everything Is Free" sings had just been introduced). . He's also thinking about the next two decades of aggressive development that changed the ghost town of Nashville forever in the late '90s.
twenty years laterTime (The Revealer)stands out in the duo's work as the most consistent afterlife album, the album that channeled their innermost thoughts, fears and anxieties, and the purest distillation of the miniature grow-bigger sound that emerges when the both perform as a duo. "It's a special kind of watermark," says Rawlings of the album. "It's my favorite piece in many ways."
Robert Plant put it even better: after its release, he told Welch and Rawlings soTime (The Revealer)it was "a masterpiece of infinity".
Welch's third album lived its own second, third, and fourth lives over the next 20 years. "Everything is free" became amodern patternin the age of streaming alienation; "April 14, Part 1" has its owngloomy historical holidayamong the duo's devoted fans; "Red Clay Halo" is the name of the backing band of Australian singer-songwriter Emily Barker; and "Elvis Presley Blues" has been covered by everyone from Joan Baez to Jimmy Buffett, from Grace Potter to Tom Jones.
To get a sense of the deeply personal impact the album has had on its coalition of megafans over the past two decades, just check out the YouTube comments for the album's closing masterpiece, "I Dream a Highway."
The soulful ballad exists in its own private universe. It is not and is not recommended by any streaming algorithm. Welch and Rawlings have performed it live only a few times since its release. And yet he transformed legions of fans.
"My now husband sent this to me years ago when I was in Afghanistan. I listened until I believed him... We always dreamed of a way back to each other," read one comment. "Vivid memories of listening to this song with my love in a beach parking lot in Galicia, Spain on a dark winter night in 2008 and we both knew that despite our love we wouldn't last," says another. Another: “This song hurts a lot. Life hurts a lot."
It's been a long time since the tumultuous period that produced his ultimate masterpiece. Most of the wounds and scars have healed, but both Welch and Rawlings can easily look back on each one with a renewed sense of clarity and perspective. Because while the two are still singing on stage, time is guessing.
This interview was compiled and edited from two separate conversations with Welch and Rawlings.
Where do your thoughts go first when you think about making this album?
Rawlinge:Robyn Hitchcock once told us something. We did a record with him and he said something about what we were doing like it was like a kid's drawing of a recording session. Everything in our career and our music happened on a small scale. Our band is very small and the music we make is very chilled. If you come to one of our shows, we will make these sounds very quiet on stage, but they will come out of the speakers very loudly. Once you enter the mirror and diorama everything is full size.
There was a time when a song that we had been working on for a long time [“April the 14th Part 1”] failed in many ways, but the concept behind it was really interesting. It didn't work one way, so we tried another way, and there were other ways in between. There was a point where the lyrics to it became "I Dream a Highway" and there was a point where I was like, 'okay, this is going to be our little concept album. this will be ourstommy.” I thought we could do something like that because the themes and in some cases the words in one song trigger things in other songs. I was excited. It's funny to think that we somehow made it in the end.
Gillian, you wrote Everything Is Free in your little office in Sylvan Park, Nashville that you call The Cubby. Were many of these songs written there?
Walch:They are. I'm sure "Everything Is Free" and "Revelator" did it. There was also a point during the writing process where Dave suggested to me that losing wasn't an option, so there was a point where every time I went into Cubby I should release a song, and I knew it in the Reason not. He figured he had to. leave without a song "Dear Someone" was one of them. To be honest, I was really tired and wanted to go to bed, but I didn't have a song, so I was like, "okay, something sung, almost a lullaby, almost a lullaby." That was "Dear Someone".
When did you start writing this record?
Rawlinge:There was a moment [after he bought his own recording equipment] where I thought, "Okay, if we get fired now, we can keep recording." Two weeks later, we learned that our label, Almo Sounds, was going to be sold to Interscope. We knew it wouldn't be a good home for us. We had written "Revelator" and "April 14th" and a few other songs. A lot of these songs felt very different from the songs we wrote for Hell Among the Yearlings. They felt it again because we live in this miniature world, further away than they really are. But for us it seemed like a great game. And we thought, "We can't play this acoustically, it has to have a backbeat. Drums must be."
So I think in 1999 we played those songs in every possible configuration. We worked with our friend David Steele and he played electric bass. Gill played electric guitar and she's incredibly skilled and a good drummer, so she played drums with her feet and a brush in her hand and could also play electric guitar at the same time. I have recordings of these things. It's very interesting. It's closer to something like Bauhaus or the slower Depeche Mode than you might think. Once you take these songs and separate them from the acoustic stuff, they get heavy pretty quickly.
Gillian, in 2019 you said:"We felt really threatened throughout the album."When you think about the album today, is that sense of menace one of the first things that hit you?
Walch:It's an important theme on the record. I don't consider it a "threat" but rather a danger. We felt like our ability to be an artist, like our career, was really in jeopardy. I felt really raw and alone. There was a strong sense that it was just me and Dave against the world. [We] just feel incredibly alienated and separated. People talk a lot about post-apocalyptic art. In a strange way I thinkdeveloperIt's pre-apocalyptic art. We had already felt the tremors and seen the foundations being swept away. We saw it coming. It's like when a tsunami comes and you see the water coming out, coming out, coming out. Such was that time. We just watched the water come out, come out, come out. The entire infrastructure of the music business faltered and crumbled, and we see what it has produced today.
She and Dave have talked and talked a lot about the erasure of Nashville history and the way the city has changed.
Walch:It was literally and figuratively a ghost town. There were still so many undercurrents of old Nashville. Many of these royal residences in this city have been destroyed. We used to walk the streets at midnight. There was nothing to do. I think we could have been in a bar but that wasn't our thing. That would have been too loud. So we walked these empty streets and never saw people. Very few lights were on. Every now and then you could see the flickering blue light of a television. It was a good environment to think your thoughts. Very little penetrated. But he really didn't feel safe. We were not financially secure. It seemed like my discus throwing ability wasn't safe. My relationship with my manager was not safe. Everything, as I said, was disappearing.
Did you have any idea what that would sound like once you knew you wanted to do it yourself?
Walch:That was the task: how to stream these songs with just the two of us. It's always difficult. RCA B fits perfectly. It is an extraordinary space, of beautiful clarity, beautiful in its harmonious tones. He helped us take these miniature panoramas. There is a great sense of landscape on this record, which is fun because I was trained as a photographer and am a landscape photographer. I think I definitely appreciate the horizon. There's a real panoramic feel and something very wintry, something fragile about this album. It's not a lush and fruitful album. It's like making Christmas dinner from leftovers.
The leaves are not on the trees on this plate.
Walch:the leaves areNOin the trees.
Do you remember how "I Dream a Highway" began?
Rawlinge:It's very difficult to write this song. We could talk about this for an hour. It starts out with a lick, a little tune I play on the guitar that Gill hears me play and remembers and writes the chorus, but at this point it's a fast song in a major key. The choir is very nice, but we can't do anything with the music. He's very sing-sang or something. And then when it's all absolute crap, I remember going into the back room of the old house that we lived in and I just played the minor chords and sang a little bit of this tune and I was like, 'Man, That's the best." Depressing thing I've ever heard in my life." It's one of those moments that's still so clear to me.
And Gillian was doing all that very intense, caffeinated free writing that was out there because of a lot of personal stuff. I started putting everything together in this song. I would try to write a verse, take a line from here, take a line from there and sit there for hours until I had all these pages of this song. Because the song was so long and weird I had it in my head that I didn't want [Gillian] ever to sing it until we recorded it.
How do you remember the reception of the album when it was released?
Walch:We were defined more as artists and therefore as people, although that's the problem. I put more deep thought into this record than any other. Dave had done the same. We both really got into it, partly because we were so, I don't know how to put it, raw. We saw the world in such a unique way and saw the connections of the story so far and it all came together, all those threads seem to connect everything, which is why "I Dream a Highway" was so important because it was the only song that expressed that what we felt the most, if that makes sense. It's kinda hard to talk about, isn't it? That's one of the beautiful things about art, which is why art is so important: some things are hard to talk about.