As a guitarist, producer, songwriter and the musical partner of neo-traditional country icon Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings has had a busy career in music. But on November 17, he'll add one more credit to his lengthy resume: front-man of his own band, Dave Rawlings Machine.
The band's first release, A Friend of a Friend, due out on Acony Records, features Welch singing back-up on eight of nine tracks and members of the Rawlings-produced string band Old Crow Medicine Show contributing instrumentally. Bright Eyes' Nate Walcott, drummer Karl Himmel and keyboardist Benmont Tench (of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers) also join Rawlings on his debut record, a project that took form despite Rawlings's ambivalence about standing centre stage.
"That was never the role I was most comfortable in, so it wasn't something that I actively pursued," Rawlings says in an interview with Exclaim! But for many Gillian Welch fans, Rawlings's move to the forefront has been a long time coming.
"From the very first time we were playing Gillian's shows, I would always sing a song or two, and every two or three shows, some person, who I would deem insane, would come up and ask me when I was going to make a record," says Rawlings. "And I'd be, like, 'what are you talking about? I sang one song and I think that's about all I'm good for.' So I held off for a long time but I always knew there was some small fringe of people who wanted me to make a record."
And it wasn't only the fans that were angling for a Rawlings release; the music itself was pushing him in that direction.
"Everything Gillian and I have ever done has been driven by songs. The songs have always dictated when it was time to make a new record and the songs have always dictated what that record would sound like," he says. "So, in this case, some songs got written that Gillian and I both liked me singing lead on."
But neither Rawlings nor Welch felt right about putting Rawlings-fronted tracks on a Gillian Welch record. "It seemed like a horrid bait-and-switch to see Gillian's name come up in your iPod and hear my voice," he says.
For a time, Welch and Rawlings toured some of his songs live under Dave Rawlings Machine (a moniker suggested by friend and occasional musical collaborator Ryan Adams). It got to a point, however, when there were too many songs to simply shrug the project off as a lark.
"What prompted it finally to happen was when there were nine songs and it was 40 minutes long," says Rawlings. "It was like, 'well, I guess we'd be fools not to put this out.'"
A Friend of a Friend:
2. "To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)"
3. "I Hear Them All"
4. "Method Acting/Cortez The Killer"
5. "Sweet Tooth"
6. "How's About You"
7. "It's Too Easy"
8. "Monkey And The Engineer"
9. "Bells of Harlem"
11/28 Athens, GA - The Melting Point
11/29 Asheville, NC - The Orange Peel
11/30 Carrboro, NC - Cat's Cradle
12/1 Knoxville, TN - Disc Exchange
12/1 Knoxville, TN - Bijou Theatre
12/3 Nashville, TN - Grimey's
12/3 Nashville, TN - Exit / In
12/4 Louisville, KY - Ear X-Tacy Records
12/4 Louisville, KY - Headliners Music Hall
12/5 Bloomington, IN - Bluebird Nightclub
12/6 Chicago, IL - Abbey Pub
12/7 Madison, WI - High Noon Saloon
12/9 Minneapolis, MN - Cedar Cultural Center
12/9 Minneapolis, MN - Electric Fetus
12/10 Omaha, NE - The Waiting Room
12/11 Lawrence, KS - Granada Theatre
12/13 Austin, TX - The Parish Room
12/13 Austin, TX - Waterloo Records
12/14 Austin, TX - The Parish Room