Back to Rockville

David Rawlings on importance of albums: ‘You can’t miss something you’ve never heard’

David Rawlings (left) and the Dave Rawlings Machine played at the Folly Theater in 2016. They return for a concert on Friday, Aug. 18.
David Rawlings (left) and the Dave Rawlings Machine played at the Folly Theater in 2016. They return for a concert on Friday, Aug. 18. Special to The Star

David Rawlings was initially known as the music sidekick to singer/songwriter Gillian Welch, who brought her rustic, old-school, country-folk songs into the music world in the mid-1990s.

In 2009, Rawlings formed the Dave Rawlings Machine and released “A Friend of a Friend,” his debut solo album. He has since released two more solo albums, including “Poor David’s Almanack,” which came out Aug. 11.

Friday night, the Dave Rawlings Machine, which includes Welch, performs at the Folly Theater. He recently talked to The Star about the new album, about the role albums play in a music career and about his impressions of Glen Campbell.

Q: You’re about to release “Poor David’s Almanack,” your third solo album. What can you tell us about it?

A: I had a little downtime in the middle of 2016, and I started a new batch of songs that were a little simpler in structure than songs on the previous record, maybe flew a little closer to the sun of folk music that we all revolve around.

Once they were finished, we started putting them in the shows, and people really responded to them, even though they hadn’t heard them before. So we went into the studio and recorded them this winter, and here it is now coming out. It’s the fastest I’ve ever put a record together.

Q: Who is on the record with you?

A: A lot of the record has the same band you’ll see at the show. Paul Kowert, who people may know from his work with Punch Brothers; he’s an incredibly talented upright bass player, especially his bowing of the bass. Then there’s Brittany Haas, a really renowned fiddle player. Willie Watson, of course, an incredible musician and singer who cut his teeth in the early days with Old Crow Medicine Show. They form the core of the band with Gillian Welch and me.

There were some special guests. Taylor Goldsmith and Griffin Goldsmith from the band Dawes; they came by and played some organ and drums on tracks that had more of a rock-and-roll feel. And Ketch Secor from Old Crow Medicine show added some vocals.

Q: Touring has become so paramount for musicians, what with the way recorded music is being sold these days. Where do albums fit into your career?

A: We’ve had to endure about 20 years of the music industry being shifted or turned upside-down to where for most musicians, playing live shows is how they make their living. Making records is the way to get new songs out to people.

But I don’t think anyone wants their favorite band to endlessly spin in circles and play shows and not take the time to develop new music. Albums are still very important. You get music into a recorded form so people can enjoy it, and when they come to the shows they know the music. That’s the paramount thing.

Most musicians spend more time on the road than maybe they should, in terms of the creative process. I can’t name anyone who says, “I write best on the road.” There might be a few out there.

People will gradually realize that nothing stays the same forever. Gradually, maybe the model will change back, and people will see their favorite artists will make more music that they like. Back when the music was emphasized over the touring, we’d see more records.

If there’s some young guy who puts out a record that maybe draws parallels to Bob Dylan’s “Bringing It All Back Home” and it becomes a hit, then, whenever it is, say six months later, he releases “Highway 61 Revisited.” And then nine months later puts out a double album called “Blonde on Blonde.” And it’s some of his finest work.

But in this world, he’d put out “Bringing It All Back Home” and then tour for three years, and we never would have had any of that other music. That’s just the way it is. I don’t know if people realize that, because you can’t miss something you’ve never heard.

I’m not shaking my fist or anything. The world is the way it is. I’m happy to go around and play shows because I love entertaining and getting in front of people and playing music. It’s an honor to be able to do that and make it your living.

But from a fan perspective, when I discover a musician who is in a creatively fertile period of life, I just want to hear everything they have to say. I don’t want them to be too busy to take four months off to create new music because there’s no money in albums.

Q: What music are you listening to these days?

A: Lately I’ve been listening to some live compilations of Ralph Stanley’s band from around 1970, right around when Ricky Skaggs was really young. That is some of my favorite bluegrass.

I’m always looking for new things, too, or things that are new to me. I’ve been listening to the Felice Brothers lately. And I just discovered this singer/songwriter from the ’60s named Gordon Bok. He’s from Maine. He sings like these whaling songs or maritime-based folk music. It’s pretty cool.

It feels like you can’t stop discovering music even if you tried to. The other thing that has been interesting is satellite radio, which is great if you’re a traveling musician. There’s a lot of stations where you can tune into an Americana station and keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in that world.

Q: What are your thoughts on Glen Campbell? Did you ever meet him?

A: Well, he goes way back. When I was 4 or 5 years old, “Rhinestone Cowboy” was my favorite song. I loved the story songs and his way of putting them across. He had an amazing gift at choosing and finding songs that got on pop radio but had a lot of folk influence and country heart to them.

We did a show with Glen in Ireland about 10 years ago. It was one of the biggest shows we’d ever been booked for. It was a big country music festival. Their idea of country music is a little more inclusive. The stuff we do is a little more folk-based or bluegrass singer/songwriter-based and they’re more supportive of that. We were second-to-last, and Glen was last.

We got to say hello to Glen. He was so sweet. And we watched him perform. He put on an incredibly great, polished show. It was a wonderful thing to see him perform. When you get to listen to someone of that stature who goes so far back into your music memories, and see him step up to the microphone and start these songs I’d known all my life, it was an amazing experience.

He was a consummate musician and entertainer. You couldn’t help but think, “Boy, I hope I have that kind of longevity where I can be entertaining people at this level that many years down the line.”

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain


The David Rawlings Machine performs Friday at the Folly Theater. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $24.50 to $37.50.