Copyright ©2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

I want to thank Dave Davies for hosting while I was on vacation last week. I picked a good day to return because we have a great performance by Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, who are music partners and life partners.

They perform original songs inspired by bluegrass, folk, classic country and hymns. Although they work as a duo, they perform and record under the name Gillian Welch. Rawlings has one album under the name The Dave Rawlings Machine.

There's a new Gillian Welch album called "The Harrow and the Harvest." Many listeners were introduced to Welch by her performances on the Grammy Award-winning soundtrack "O Brother Where Art Thou." Her music is steeped in Southern tradition, but she was born in New York. Her family moved to L.A. when she was three, when her parents got a job writing music for "The Carol Burnett Show."

Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings now live in Nashville. She sings and plays guitar and banjo; he sings and plays lead guitar.

Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings, welcome to FRESH AIR. Thank you so much for coming. I'd like you to start by playing the song "The Way It Goes" from your new album, "The Harrow and the Harvest." Gillian, would you introduce it for us?

Ms. GILLIAN WELCH (Musician): Yeah, this is - well, definitely the fastest song on the record.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WELCH: Perhaps the only song with real tempo, and it goes like this:

(Soundbite of song, "The Way It Goes")

GILLIAN WELCH (Music Duo): (Singing) Becky Johnson bought the farm, put a needle in her arm. That's the way that it goes, that's the way. And her brother laid her down in the cold Kentucky ground. That's the way that it goes, that's the way. That's the way that it goes. Everybody's buying little baby clothes. That's the way that it ends, though there was a time when she and I were friends.

Well, Miranda ran away, took her cat and left L.A. That's the way that it goes, that's the way. She was busted, broke and flat, had to sell that pussy cat. That's the way that it goes, that's the way. That's the way that it goes. Everybody's buying little baby clothes. That's the way that it ends, though there was a time when he and I were friends.

See the brightest ones of all, early in October fall. That's the way that it goes, that's the way. While the dark ones go to bed with good whiskey in their head, that's the way that it goes, that's the way.

Now Billy Joe's back in the tank. You tell Russo, I'll tell Frank. That's the way that it goes, that's the way. Did he throw her down a well? Did she leave him for that swell? That's the way that it goes, that's the way. That's the way that it goes. Everybody's buying little baby clothes. That's the way that it ends, though there was a time when all of us were friends.

When you lay me down to rest, leave a pistol in my vest. That's the way that it goes, that's the way. Do you miss my gentle touch? Did I hurt you very much? That's the way that it goes, that's the way.

That's the way that it goes. Everybody's buying little baby clothes. That's the way that it ends, though there was a time when you and I were friends.

GROSS: That's Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, performing at NPR West; their song "The Way It Goes" from the new Gillian Welch album "The Harrow and the Harvest." That really sounded great.

You know, listening to that song, of course you have to think: Gee, do they know a lot of drug addicts?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Do you write songs that are biographical or songs that are just, like, based on characters or genres? Like the song that we just heard, what inspired the song?

Ms. WELCH: Huh. That, that song, the first verse just kind of popped out of my mouth, kind of in the same way that "Ms. Ohio," another song of ours, just kind of tumbled out of my mouth almost like a nursery rhyme, really kind of on that edge between stuff that you understand and stuff you don't understand.

I'm not sure I completely understand what everybody's buying little baby clothes means.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WELCH: You know, but...

GROSS: Right, yeah.

Ms. WELCH: I mean, as much as...

GROSS: I'm laughing because I've been trying to - you know, I wanted to know, I was thinking of asking you that, and I gave it a meaning in my head.

Ms. WELCH: It has a meaning in my head, as well. It has to do with, you know, the passage of time, the circle of life, as you mention. There's a lot of...

GROSS: The expectations that sometimes get defeated.

Ms. WELCH: There's a lot of stuff on this record about dealing with unfulfilled expectations and when things don't exactly go as you had thought or wished they would and the true kind of adult nature of dealing with that.

GROSS: Now, even a line like when they lay me down to rest, leave a pistol in my vest, now I know that you really aren't going to ask for a pistol when you die. But it strikes me as a real genre line.

Ms. WELCH: I feel like that line is kind of typical of when Dave and I will use cowboy language or folk language just to let people know - you know, there's an understood toughness in that line to me. You understand how this person went through life, you know.

Mr. DAVID RAWLINGS (Musician): And I also, I definitely feel, when I think about that line and where it came from or what it meant personally to me, you know, I don't know that that line expresses a sentiment that I disagree with.

I mean, it had to - you know, in my mind, that had to do with not knowing what's coming, and I thought that that was a - I thought that was sort of an elegant way to put you don't know what's coming after the grave, and you might want to be prepared in one way or another.

GROSS: (Unintelligible).

Ms. WELCH: It also had to do with...

Mr. RAWLINGS: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WELCH: It also had to do with whether or not you knew that our narrator, or I'll say me, whatever, had gone through life with a hidden pistol in their coat. Now you do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Nice, okay, that's good. That's good. Now, you said something when you were profiled in the New Yorker a few years ago that I really loved, that when you started performing, you said everything about the way I look says pay no attention to me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I love that.

Ms. WELCH: That's right.

GROSS: Yeah, I love that, and - but when you're onstage, you have to be saying, in some way, pay attention to me, this is important, you're going to like it, this is good. Did you have to find a stage presence for yourself?

Ms. WELCH: Yeah, I'm sure that I did. The main thing was finding some kind of a confidence that this voice that I had interest in, which is the - what I'll call sort of the quiet, yet stoic voice that's very quiet yet very strong voice, that I developed confidence, you know, that people would want to hear and that it was worth paying attention to because I've never been the kind of person who would get up and wave my arms and scream and shout and say, hey, listen to this, listen to this, you know.

I'm sort of very easily trampled out in the, you know, loud and busy world.

Mr. RAWLINGS: In the bustling world, on the street with passer-bys. It's not the - but, I mean, I think when Gillian plays onstage, there's a kind of inscrutability when you're - it's very difficult to read exactly what you're thinking. And I know that at least for my part, that's something that holds my attention.

I think that holds a lot of people's attention if someone seems to have some mystery in their delivery and in their thoughts. And I think that's part of what I would consider your stage persona in this world, in this moment.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. The new Gillian Welch album is called "The Harrow and the Harvest." Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more, and they'll play some more music. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. And they perform together under the name Gillian Welch, but Dave Rawlings also has his own album as Dave Rawlings Machine. And the new Gillian Welch album is called "The Harrow and the Harvest."

You've brought your instruments with you. Can I ask you to do a song from the new album? And this one is "Hard Times." Gillian, would you introduce it?

Ms. WELCH: Yeah.

GROSS: And I'll ask you to do an excerpt from the song because we want to squeeze in a bunch of songs. So that's going to mean doing excerpts as opposed to whole versions.

Ms. WELCH: Sure. So we won't give you the culmination, the big wrap-up of this one. But, you know, this is another - we've kind of half-jokingly said that this record is 10 different kinds of sad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WELCH: And there being 10 songs on it.

Mr. RAWLINGS: So this is sadness numbers six.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WELCH: This is sadness number six, kind of dealing with loss, a particular kind of loss, when you lose something you didn't even realize you were losing and not realizing the value of it until it's gone. So here you go, "Hard Times Ain't Gonna Rule My Mind No More."

(Soundbite of song, "Hard Times")

GILLIAN WELCH: (Singing) There was a Camptown man, used to plow and sing. And he loved that mule, and the mule loved him. When the day got long, as it does about now, I'd hear him singing to his mule cow, calling: Come on, my sweet old girl, and I'd bet the whole damn world that we're gonna make it yet to the end of the road.

Singing hard times ain't gonna rule my mind. Hard times ain't gonna rule my mind, Bessie. Hard times ain't gonna rule my mind no more.

Said it's a mean old world, heavy in need, that big machine is just a-picking up speed. They were supping on tears, they were supping on wine. We all get to heaven in our own sweet time.

So come all you Asheville boys, and turn up your old-time noise, and kick till the dust comes up from the cracks in the floor. Singing hard times ain't gonna rule my mind, brother, hard times ain't gonna rule my mind. Hard times ain't gonna rule my mind no more.

GROSS: Nice. That's Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings doing "Hard Times" from the new Gillian Welch album, "The Harrow and the Harvest." Thanks so much for playing that for us. Is there a story behind the song, about like what inspired the images in it?

Ms. WELCH: Hmm. I've got to think back. That's probably the second-oldest song on the record. I mean, I know we - I started writing that one at the end of working on Dave's record, the Dave Rawlings Machine "Friend of a Friend" record. And Levon Helm was going to be coming in to play some drums on the record.

So I was thinking about Levon, and it's always been very inspiring for me to think about other musicians and trying to write songs that they would like. And so I know that song got started me thinking, well, what kind of song would Levon like when he came in? And that's how it started.

GROSS: So were you almost writing it as if it would be a song that he could sing?

Ms. WELCH: Almost, yeah. I've kind of done this before. That's - "Orphan Girl" got started with a very similar train of thought. I was driving, and I was thinking what kind of song would Ralph Stanley like? Like, that was me trying to write a song with nothing in it that would be a deal-breaker for Ralph Stanley to like - you know what I mean? That it was that sort of legitimate.

GROSS: I'm glad you brought up that song because I love that song. Would you mind if I asked you to do a chorus of that song?

Ms. WELCH: We can do a little bit of that, yeah. It's a very short system. Let's do just a little burst in the chorus, yeah.

(Soundbite of song, "Orphan Girl")

GILLIAN WELCH: (Singing) I am an orphan on God's highway, but I'll share my troubles while you go my way. I have no mother, no father, no sister, no brother. I am an orphan girl.

I have had friendships pure and golden, but the ties of kinship I have not known them. I know no mother, no father, no sister no brother. I am an orphan girl. I am an orphan girl.

GROSS: That's Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings performing their song "Orphan Girl." You said that wrote that with Ralph Stanley in mind. Like, you wouldn't want to disappoint him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And Gillian, you're not an orphan, but you were adopted, and you know very little about your birth parents. And I'm thinking, you know, since you write in so many different styles and voices, like for different characters and stuff, does having a mystery within your own life and lacking information about something essential about your origins make it more inviting, in a way, to write in different voices and different styles and leave yourself open to different identities as the singer of the song?

Ms. WELCH: Yeah, I do think that the abiding mystery of my origins has definitely had a profound effect upon my writing. I do think there is that little - at least when you're talking about blood and genealogy, you know, there is always that thing in the back of my mind where I don't really know who I am.

And it may make it a little easier for me to shift around in my narrative voice. I'm not really sure exactly, but I do recognize that it's had a pretty deep effect upon my writing.

GROSS: You do have a song that's very autobiographical called "No One Knows My Name."

Ms. WELCH: Yeah, that probably has the most factual information about, you know, about my being adopted just because it has, you know, my mother was a girl of 17, and my dad was passing through, doing things a man will do when my mother was just a girl of 17.

So that - you know, and that's about all I know, really. You know, that's about the long and short of what I know about them.

GROSS: Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings will be back to perform more songs in the second half of the show. Their new album, under the name Gillian Welch, is called "The Harrow and the Harvest." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Im Terry Gross back with Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, who are performing some songs for us.

They're a duo but perform and record under the name Gillian Welch. Their new album is called "The Harrow and the Harvest." Their music is inspired by bluegrass, folk, classic country and hymns. Welch sings and plays guitar and banjo. Rawlings sings and plays lead guitar.

Can I ask you to do an excerpt of your song "By the Mark," which is about, you know, the nails in the cross?

Ms. WELCH: Yeah.

GROSS: And it sounds like it could be a very old song but it's actually one of your originals. Maybe you want to say a few words about writing it before you play some of it?

Ms. WELCH: That was a - it's a song from our first record. And it was written in a very productive time, right when Dave and I had moved to Nashville. And we're just, you know, Tennessee and Nashville is really kind of the cradle of our creative life. And at that time we were in the first flesh(ph) of really just immersing ourselves in it and discovering that we had great passion for this type of music. You know, we were really finding our feet.

And I would listen to a lot of gospel music at the time, both like black and white and string band, and rural and urban. And I remember thinking, well, I bet I could write one of those. And we had so few songs when we moved to Nashville. I moved there were three songs. And in so each song was like a new food group. You know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WELCH: Which really, it was - we were just hungry for, you know - oh, we don't have any gospel songs. Let's write a gospel song. And so this is the one we wrote. This is "By the Mark."

(Soundbite of song, "By the Mark")

GILLIAN WELCH: (Singing) When I cross over, I will shout and sing. I will know my savior by the mark where the nails have been. By the mark, by the mark where the nails have been, by the sign upon his precious skin, I will know my savior when I come to him by the mark where the nails have been.

GROSS: So that's a great song written by my guest Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. And they are performing for us today, talking about their music.

And - I mean you could've told me that was written like, you know, decades ago. And I'd say, of course.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But you wrote it recently. And your harmonies are really interesting too. You know, I know that you've been very inspired by the Stanley Brothers and Bill Monroe and the Louvin Brothers. And those are all like male harmony groups and you're, you know, a man and a woman singing harmony together.

Can you talk about working out your harmonies for songs like the one we just heard?

Ms. WELCH: Yeah. Well, first of all, you've touched upon something. We are incredibly lucky that coming out of the kind of rural American duet tradition, which is mostly, you know, two men, we're so lucky...

Mr. RAWLINGS: Generally brothers.

Ms. WELCH: Generally brothers, yeah, that we are necessarily different than that. You know, we're never going to sound - nothing we do is ever going to sound like the Stanley Brothers or the Blue Sky Boys. It's necessarily going to be different, because we've got a woman singing lead and then a man singing baritone.

Mr. RAWLINGS: Yeah, most of those groups all had the - the melody was on the bottom and the harmony was sung above. And so when we started emulating that music, we by, you know, by necessity and by definition, had to sort of figure out a slightly different way to do it. And I think I know when we worked out the harmonies to that song, you know, the song had been written and it was very plain. And it seemed like it was going to be a little too plain to entertain.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WELCH: Wow, could be our new bumper sticker.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RAWLINGS: So I remember we sat down and I thought, well, I'd like to sing something that was like a call and response, because there are a lot of that music that had that sort of, you know, call and response vocal in it. And so we sat and we, you know, worked it out. And I know, you know, to this day we'll sit down and I'll try to sing through pretty much any note you can think of, for any part of it, and look for things that I think are interesting or that -you know, that tickle my ear.

And then once I found a little part that I'm committed to, sort of build on it on either side.

Ms. WELCH: Yeah.

Mr. RAWLINGS: And...

Ms. WELCH: Happily, we're incredibly like-minded with this stuff. We'll be working out of part and Dave's ear and his mind is so facile that he will run through many, many note choices. And he'll hit one and it'll have that special kind of little wiggle and little buzz. And both of us will look up and say, okay, that one there's one. You know, there is one keeper note. And then we'll just keep going and he'll construct the part.

You know, I know a number of singers who call Dave their hands-down favorite harmony singer. And it's...

Mr. RAWLINGS: I'm so red right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RAWLINGS: I'm so glad this is radio.

Ms. WELCH: So embarrassed, yeah.

GROSS: Gillian, is there note that you can think of, like a passage or note in that song or another song that gives you one of those, like, that's-it kind of moments, in terms of his harmony?

Ms. WELCH: The entrance to the third verse.

Mr. RAWLINGS: Did you want an example?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Yeah. Yes, I do.

Ms. WELCH: We don't need to get up. But so do you want to show them what a normal person would do?

Mr. RAWLINGS: I don't know. It's all normal to me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: What note, what word are we listening for in the line?

Mr. RAWLINGS: It's the entrance. It's "On Calvary's Mountain."

Ms. WELCH: It's the first syllable...

Mr. RAWLINGS: (Singing) On Cal...

(Speaking) Yeah, he it's that thing.

Ms. WELCH: So over the chords, that's a bit odd. It's like a suspension. Not many people would open a verse that way.

GROSS: So we're listening to the entrance right now.

Ms. WELCH: Yes.

GROSS: Okay.

(Soundbite of song, "On Calvary's Mountain")

GILLIAN WELSH: (Singing) On Calvary's Mountain where they made him suffer some(ph). All my sin was paid for a long, long, time ago.

Ms. WELCH: So there you go. The really funny thing was some choir - I think it was a Methodist choir - sent us a tape of them doing the song. And of course all the baritone - the whole baritone section, however many of them there were, eight, 10 guys - had to sing that note.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WELCH: You know.

GROSS: So you're so well suited to each other, you know, in terms of performance and songwriting. How did you find each other?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WELCH: We met at an audition up at Berklee College of Music in Boston, which is really a jazz school. But there was one country group, sort of class group ensemble, in the whole school. And we were both auditioning to get into it, and that's where we met. We both got in. Dave was in as a lead guitar, telly picker. And I got in as a singer. And that's when we met.

GROSS: And did you know that you would end up being a duo? I mean because you were in a larger context.

Ms. WELCH: No. We - then as a subset of those people who knew and liked country music, then within that group there was a smaller group who knew and liked bluegrass and old-time music. And then we all sort of banded together. There were maybe five or six of us and we would pick bluegrass and...

Mr. RAWLINGS: Then a number of those folks all moved to Nashville. And we would all get together and sort of sit in a circle of, you know, one of these sort of bluegrass circles of 10 or 12 friends and play songs. And at some moment we might try to work out a song or something - just playing, the two of us. And we recognized that we liked that feeling of trying to create something that was a whole picture with just two instruments and two voices. And that came partially because of a love of, you know, a lot of duet music that we - from the '30s that we both were fond of and listening to a ton of it at the moment.

Ms. WELCH: Duet music is so funny because you're both very free; you're very free vocally to have the harmony move through all these interesting notes. There's a lot of room to move around and you find in the brother team stuff a broader palette of harmony singing. You know, not just the straight third above - just a lot of interesting stuff.

So there's this great freedom. And at the same time it's some of the most highly-arranged music on the planet because you're trying to convey like this complete the band's sound with only two instruments. It's wildly different than a solo performer, where it's sort of understood that it's not supposed to be a complete sound.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are songwriters, singers and guitarists Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. And they performed together as a duo, often under the name Gillian Welch. And the new Gillian Welch album is called "The Harrow and the Harvest."

Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more, and they'll play some more music.

This is FRESH AIR.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. And they performed together under the name Gillian Welch. They have a new album called "The Harrow and the Harvest." And Dave Rawlings also has his own album under the name "Dave Rawlings Machine."

You know, I'd like you to do another song. I should mention to our listeners that Gillian and Dave have brought their instruments.

I'd like you to do another song from the new album, "The Harrow and the Harvest." And this is a song called "Dark Turn of Mind."

Now, earlier you said that you thought of the album of 10 different kinds of sad. And this is one of those 10 kinds of sad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I think it's a terrific song. Gillian, would you introduce it for us? Tell us about writing it?

Ms. WELCH: Yeah. This song got started, oh, in the early winter of last year, 2010; right when most of these songs are getting written. And...

Mr. RAWLINGS: It started out more as a - the title is there. I know Gillian had written the title, "Dark Turn of Mind," and the music setting was more of like almost like a country two-step...

Ms. WELCH: A little more country, yeah.

Mr. RAWLINGS: It was a major sort of happy-sounding song in its way when it got written. And...

Ms. WELCH: But still with the same sort of...

Mr. RAWLINGS: Yeah, the lyrical

Ms. WELCH: ...lonesome message, yeah.

Mr. RAWLINGS: So at some point I think I got a hold of it and reset the music to sort of try to make it match the sentiment. And then we worked on the lyrics for a while. It actually came together pretty quickly. I think it was maybe a week or a week and a half, which for us is light speed.

Ms. WELCH: Light speed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WELCH: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: All right. Okay. Well, would you play it for us?

Ms. WELCH: Yeah, "Dark Turn of Mind."

(Soundbite of song, "Dark Turn of Mind")

GILLIAN WELSH: (Singing) Take me and love me if you want me. Don't ever treat me unkind, 'cause I had that trouble already. And it left me with a dark turn of mind. I see the bones in the river. And I've seen the wind through the pine. And I hear the shadows a-calling to a girl with a dark turn of mind. But oh, ain't the nighttime so lovely to see? Don't all the night birds sing sweetly? You'll never know how happy I'll be when the sun's going down. And leave me if I'm feeling too lonely, full as the fruit on the vine. You know some girls are bright as the morning, and some have a dark turn of mind.

You know some girls are bright as the morning, and some girls are blessed with a dark turn of mind.

GROSS: That's Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings performing "Dark Turn of Mind," which is no their new album, "The Harrow and the Harvest."

That's one of my favorite songs on the album. That's such a good song. And...

Ms. WELCH: Thank you.

GROSS: ...Gillian, Dave, did you come up with that phrase, "Dark Turn of Mind"? Because it sounds like it should be an old phrase that I'm familiar with. I can't say that I am. Is that a phrase you came up with?

Ms. WELCH: You know, I had the same reaction when it occurred to me. I thought, oh, "Dark Turn of Mind." And I immediately got on the computer and tried to reference it and was shocked at the lack of entries that came up. You know, this same, exact thing happened when I came up with "Dream a Highway." I'm like, oh, that already exists. That song may exist.

Mr. RAWLINGS: Yeah. We were sure there was a song "I Dream a Highway" written.

Ms. WELCH: So, same thing. Straight to the reference sources, you know, and then realize, oh, no. That didn't - that doesn't exist. So I think someone has said that before me, but I couldn't really tell you where.

GROSS: And apparently, neither could Google.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WELCH: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: So I also really liked the line: Some girls are bright as the morning. Some have a dark turn of mind.

As you've said, your songs on the new album are 10 kinds of sad. There's 10 songs on them. Is it easier to write sad songs than happier songs for you both?

Ms. WELCH: It is for me, I think. That's just - when I sit down and kind of find myself in that frame of mind where I'm likely to make something up, it's the slower, sadder songs that seem to come more readily for me.

GROSS: Now, Dave, when you're doing songs with Gillian for your own album...

Mr. RAWLINGS: Yes.

GROSS: ...are they as necessarily sad as Gillian's are likely to be?

Mr. RAWLINGS: No. I'm...

Ms. WELCH: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WELCH: No, they're not.

Mr. RAWLINGS: I mean - and it's funny because, you know, here's an example of -maybe I have a little more mercurial vocal style and delivery, and, you know, I do still stick to the story songs a lot, but I could - I play some happier songs, I think.

GROSS: So, Dave, I'm going to ask you and Gillian to perform one of the songs from your album, which is under the name Dave Rawlings Machine. And you want to do the song "Sweet Tooth," which - why don't you describe the song and how it fits into the emotional spectrum?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RAWLINGS: Well, this is a rambling narrative about a sweet tooth. I have a - I think the song speaks for itself, are at least the part that you'll will speak for itself, and you'll have to maybe, you know, tune in later or find the song elsewhere for the exciting conclusion.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RAWLINGS: But we'll give you a little bit of it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: OK.

(Soundbite of song, "Sweet Tooth")

Mr. RAWLINGS: (Singing) Sweet tooth, crying shame. Sweet tooth, crying shame. Sweet tooth, it's a crying shame. Gotta feed a sweet tooth 10 times a day just to hear the wind blowing on a windy day.

Now, Cairo is a mean old town. Cairo is a mean old town. Cairo is a mean old town. That's what my Uncle John told me when the sweet tooth got him down.

And it's a slow ride on the Santa Fe. It's a slow ride on the Santa Fe. It's a slow ride on the Santa Fe. Crawling like a bear underneath the chair, looking for the sweet tooth.

And there's a poor little bean in the diner car. There's a poor little bean in the diner car. There's a poor little bean in the diner car. Said it's so hard to wait sittin' on a plate. I wish I was a candy bar

Said the little brother to sister Sue, said the little brother to sister Sue, said little brother to sister Sue: Ah, I got a sweet tooth for the tooth fairy, and I'm workin' on a cavity.

Well, I want to be your honey, but I got a sweet tooth. I want to be your honey, but I got a sweet tooth. I want to be your honey, but I got a sweet tooth.

I want to be your honey, but I got a sweet tooth. I want to be your honey, but I got a sweet tooth. I want to be your honey, but I got a sweet tooth. I asked you once, I won't ask you twice. Come and be my sugar daddy, I'll treat you nice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RAWLINGS: That's part of it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That was great. So that's a song from the Dave Rawlings Machine album, "A Friend of a Friend," a song co-written, yes...

Ms. WELCH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...by Dave and Gillian Welch.

Ms. WELCH: And, actually, our friend Morgan Nagler who happened to be staying at our house at that time. And so we wrote that one, the three of us.

GROSS: And it starts off like it's going to be a really nice, little kid song about sweets. And you get kind of deeper and deeper into cravings and addictions of various sorts in there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WELCH: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But it sounds upbeat.

Mr. RAWLINGS: Yup. Tra, la, la, la, la.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RAWLINGS: Welcome to our world.

Ms. WELCH: Yeah.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are songwriters, singers and guitarists Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, and they perform together as a duo often under the name Gillian Welch. And the new Gillian Welch album is called "The Harrow and the Harvest."

Let's take a short break, here, and then we'll talk some more, and they'll play some more music.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Joining us for some performance and conversation are Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. They perform together as a duo, usually under the name Gillian Welch, but Dave Rawlings also has an album under his own name, Dave Rawlings Machine. And the new Gillian Welch album is called "The Harrow and the Harvest."

Before we end, you know, what I often do at the end of interviews with performers is ask them to surprise us with a song that we might not thing that they like or that isn't typical for them, and to perform it and tell us why they love. Would you be up for doing that?

Ms. WELCH: Yeah, sure. You want us to just pick the song?

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. WELCH: OK. We'll do "White Rabbit." How's that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's surprising.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WELCH: OK.

GROSS: Very surprising. And why are you doing this?

Ms. WELCH: We discovered one day, accidentally, in sound check, that we were doing our sound at this club, and the reverb was kind of broken, or the wrong setting was on, and I started singing. And I was just drenched in reverb. And it immediately put in me in mind of Grace Slick, and I started singing "White Rabbit."

And all the guys - Dave and our soundman, everyone - just died. So we've actually done it live a couple times. We did it on the - we just finished a tour with - a Buffalo Springfield reunion tour, and we actually played it.

Mr. RAWLINGS: Yeah. We pulled it out a couple times.

Ms. WELCH: Yeah.

Mr. RAWLINGS: So we'll give you (technical difficulties) little gem, little shot of that here.

GROSS: Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings, it's been so much fun to have you in the studio. Thank you so much for performing for us and talking with us, and thanks to the engineers at NPR West, where you are right now. It's really been a pleasure. Thank you so very much.

Ms. WELCH: Thanks, Terry. We really - we had a good time, and thanks for having us on the show.

Mr. RAWLINGS: Yes. Thank you.

(Soundbite of song "White Rabbit")

Ms. WELCH: (Singing) One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small. And the ones that mother gives you don't do anything at all. Go ask Alice when she's 10 feet tall.

And if you go chasing rabbits, and you know you're going to fall. Tell 'em a hookah-smoking caterpillar has given you the call. Call Alice when she was just small.

GROSS: If you wanted to hear the entire version of the Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" as recorded for FRESH AIR by Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, it's available as a download on iTunes. The new Gillian Welch album is called "The Harrow and the Harvest." We're streaming one song from it this week, the song "The Way it Goes," on nprmusic.org.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.