The music of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings has always been rooted in wry storytelling, with tales of dusty backroads and the colorful, good-natured characters who live there. In their latest video, for the previously unreleased song "Dry Town (Demo)," this world comes to life in a delightfully animated film using good old fashioned stop motion, a few plastic dolls and some anthropomorphized shot glasses. "It's a dry town," sings Welch, "No beer, no liquor for miles around / I'd give a nickel for a sip or two to wash me down / Outta this dry town." Even without the booze, it's a playful and sweetly captivating place to escape (if only for a moment).
"'Dry Town' came from a live experience I had on a road trip when I was just out of college," Welch tells NPR Music in an email. "David and I wrote the song shortly after moving to Nashville, after a show where we opened for Johnny Cash. We were so inspired to meet Johnny and see him in the flesh that we wanted to capture some of that narrative swagger and humor in a song of our own. Since the story is front and center, it seemed like a great chance to bring the song to life with stop motion animation."
Welch said she gave the toy '71 Buick featured prominently in the video to animator Rachel Blumberg (a former drummer for The Decemberists and Bright Eyes). It soon became the foundation for the video's whole aesthetic.
"Gillian had seen [the stop motion sketch comedy] Robot Chicken recently and thusly had the idea in her head of using action figures to tell the story in the song," says Blumberg. "There were a lot of moments when I was inspired by the rhythm of a line, from the phrasing and melody, about how the characters should move, or what little moment was happening. Besides the music, the lyrics have a great visual quality and rhythm and it made sense to interpret things in a very literal way, which I think adds to the humor of the piece."
"Dry Town (Demo)" is from Gillian Welch's Boots No. 1: The Official Revival Bootleg, released last fall.