Gillian Welch is sitting on her couch in Nashville with a wrapped copy of the vinyl version of her 2011 album “The Harrow & the Harvest” resting on her lap.
“I haven’t actually put on the final record. I think I’m a little scared,” she says. “I listened to the test lacquer and the test pressings multiple times. Now it’s finally sitting here.”
After 21 years of releasing music with her partner David Rawlings, one of Welch’s acclaimed albums is available on LP.
“I’m going over to a friend’s house today and we’re going to rip the cellophane off and listen to it,” she says. “Everyone tells me the real pressing is much better than the test pressings. The machines really gets cranking. They’re not made to make 10 copies.”
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Copies of the record hit stores July 28. The duo will play “The Harrow & The Harvest” live in its entirety at Knight Theater Friday to commemorate the release.
So what was the holdup? While vinyl was no longer popular when Welch released her first album in 1996, the industry has changed greatly. LPs are hot. Everyone from Katy Perry to Eric Church to Kendrick Lamaar releases vinyl. But Rawlings and Welch were very particular about the sound. They don’t record digitally like most bands. They record to tape and wanted to capture that warmth and space on LP.
“Our mastering engineer didn’t have a lathe. That’s been the main challenge for a decade,” says Welch of the machine used to cut the grooves in the lacquer master of a record.
“We like our mastering engineer, and he has a tape machine that all our records are made on and sound very good being played off of. We consider it to be a part of the sound of the record,” she explains. The band shopped around, but wasn’t completely happy with other attempts. “We finally had to commit to buying/building our own lathe. It’s not really what we wanted to do, but now we’re over the hurdle and we’ve done it. We have our own custom cutting system set up at a mastering lab in Los Angeles, and that’s where we will cut our lacquers for all our records. Almost anybody else would’ve given up.”
It’s not the couple’s only recent release. Rawlings’ new album “Poor David’s Almanack” is also out in August. The rest of their catalog will follow on vinyl. For Welch, it’s almost like putting it out for the first time.
“When this record comes out as an LP, I think I’m going to feel like it’s finally out in the proper way it was meant to be. The reason we play is because our lives were changed by records on turntables. But at the time when our first records were coming out, vinyl had disappeared. Cassette was still happening. So they were manufactured on CD and cassette but no vinyl. By (2001’s) ‘Revelator,’ it was CD only.”
Even with the convenience of digital media when she’s on the road, Welch still prefers her record player.
“We travel with a portable mono player on the road, so in hotel rooms and backstage at gigs we have vinyl,” she says. “Then at home I have a stereo, multiple vinyl rigs. It’s just the best-sounding format. It’s the best music can sound, I don’t care what anybody says. It does something magical – that last step.”
Gillian Welch: The Harrow & The Harvest in Concert
When: 8 p.m. Friday.
Where: Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St.
Details: 704-372-1000; www.blumenthalarts.org.