'Revival' Revisited: Gillian Welch Reflects on Her Debut with 'Boots No. 1'

'Revival' Revisited: Gillian Welch Reflects on Her Debut with 'Boots No. 1'
Photo: John Patrick Salisbury
It's been 20 years since Gillian Welch and her partner David Rawlings released their debut album Revival. The anniversary was the impetus for them to rummage through old tapes and computer files they've been accumulating. "We tape all these things, and then… what?" Welch asks. "What were we going to do with them? If we didn't do it for this, then what?"
 
The alternate versions, outtakes, demos and live radio performances that make up Boots No. 1: The Official Revival Bootleg (out now on Acony) cover the time from Welch's arrival in Nashville in the summer of 1992 to late 1995, when Revival was mixed. Aside from radio performances, live cuts were left off, possibly for release later in a different context. Gillian Welch tells Exclaim! about some other notable considerations that went into Boots No. 1.

 Gillian Welch's Boots No. 1 Reflections:
 
1. The two-disc package doesn't include Revival, in whole or in part.
 
"David and I are pretty anti amending or appending the original album, 'cause I just want the album to stay the album, you know? It would be like if you made a painting, and 20 years later you put some Post-it Notes on it and said, 'Here, this too.' I find it very challenging when a record I know so well, say the Band's Brown Album, is playing at someone's house and the record's over, and I know it's over, and then some other thing comes on."
 
2. Boots No. 1 reveals their playful side.
 
Over 21 tracks, Boots No. 1 showcases all the musicians playing songs in different styles, speeds and subgenres, from traditional Grand Ole Opry country to freewheeling rockabilly, gospel and bluegrass, including an early version of "Red Clay Halo," a song that would eventually appear on 2001's Time (The Revelator).
 
"I like that you can sort of tell [that] the studio wasn't all drudgery and melancholy," Welch laughs. "You can tell that there are days where we're goofing around, playing around. Because there's so many ways to get what I call 'a master' — you can luck into them, you can sweat over them, or you can get them when you're just goofing around. That's what the master cut of 'Revelator' is — that's a mic test."
 
3. Welch wasn't keen on the band approach to the album, and it won't happen again.
 
"I wasn't as interested in putting the band on tracks, 'cause David and I were already playing as a duet — the duet was what we loved and what we felt was the most original and closest to our vision. So I guess I'd say, I wish that [producer] T Bone [Burnett] and the record label felt that our duet version of, say, 'One More Dollar,' was interesting enough that you wouldn't have to put the band on it. But I also find it interesting as a collaboration. By the next record, we just wouldn't really let it happen. [Revival] was the first time we would let someone else do stuff, so it stands really as [our] only artistic collaboration. What you're hearing is a collaboration between myself, David Rawlings, and T Bone Burnett. From that point, you're never really going to get that again."
 
4. Nashville didn't recognize Welch's genius…
 
"I got to town a month before Dave and as soon as he got to town, he prodded me to go play. He said, 'you should be playing writers nights every other night.' Usually what would happen is you'd play your couple songs, and then some publisher would come up to me and say, 'Hey, I liked your stuff. Do you have more?' You say, 'Yes,' he'd say, 'Well, come and see me Wednesday.' I'd go in, bring my guitar and play the guy a couple songs, and he would invariably say, 'Don't you have any happy love songs?' I would say, 'No' and that would be that."
 
5. …Until someone finally got it.
 
"When I finally sat down in front of the man who would give me my first job in this town, David Conrad, my first publisher, he was the first one who didn't ask me that question: 'Don't you have any happy love songs?' He heard 'Orphan Girl' and he says [now] that in that one song he knew he was going to sign me. Without knowing what he would do with the songs, he felt like, because of their quality, they would find a place in the world."
 
Welch and Rawlings plan on putting out more bootleg compilations, and have a specific time period in mind, but all Welch will reveal is that "it won't be chronological." Time is, after all, a revelator.