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Biography

  • Born

    2 October 1967 (age 54)

  • Born In

    New York, New York, United States

Gillian Howard Welch (born October 2, 1967) is an American . She performs with her musical partner, guitarist David Rawlings. Their sparse and dark musical style, which combines elements of Appalachian music, bluegrass, country and Americana, is described by The New Yorker as "at once innovative and obliquely reminiscent of past rural forms."

Welch and Rawlings have collaborated on seven critically acclaimed albums, five released under her name, and two released under the name Dave Rawlings Machine. Her 1996 debut, Revival, and the 2001 release Time (The Revelator), received nominations for the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Her 2003 album, Soul Journey, introduced electric guitar, drums, and a more upbeat sound to their body of work. After a gap of eight years, she released a fifth studio album, The Harrow & The Harvest, in 2011, which was also nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album.

Welch was an associate producer and performed on two songs of the soundtrack of the Coen brothers 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a platinum album that won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 2002. She also appeared in the film attempting to buy a Soggy Bottom Boys record. Welch, while not one of the principal actors, did sing and provide additional lyrics to the Sirens song "Didn't Leave Nobody but the Baby." In 2018 she and Rawlings wrote the song "When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings" for the Coens' The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, for which they received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Welch has collaborated and recorded with Alison Krauss, Ryan Adams, Jay Farrar, Emmylou Harris, the Decemberists, Sam Phillips, Conor Oberst, Ani DiFranco, and Robyn Hitchcock.

Gillian Howard Welch was born on October 2, 1967 in New York City, and was adopted by Mitzie Welch (née Marilyn Cottle) and Ken Welch, comedy and music entertainers. Her biological mother was a freshman in college, and her father was a musician visiting New York City. Welch has speculated that her biological father could have been one of her favorite musicians, and she later discovered from her adoptive parents that he was a drummer. Alec Wilkinson of The New Yorker stated that "from an address they had been given, it appeared that her mother … may have grown up in the mountains of North Carolina". When Welch was three, her adoptive parents moved to Los Angeles to write music for The Carol Burnett Show. They also appeared on The Tonight Show.

As a child, Welch was introduced to the music of American folk singers Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Carter Family. She performed folk songs with her peers at the Westland Elementary School in Los Angeles. Welch later attended Crossroads School, a high school in Santa Monica, California. While in high school, a local television program featured her as a student who "excelled at everything she did."

Welch and Rawlings incorporate elements of early twentieth century music such as old time, classic country, gospel and traditional bluegrass with modern elements of rhythm and blues, rock 'n' roll, jazz, and punk rock. The New Yorker's Alec Wilkinson maintained their musical style is "not easily classified—it is at once innovative and obliquely reminiscent of past rural forms".

The instrumentation on their songs is usually a simple arrangement, with Welch and Rawlings accompanying their own vocals with acoustic guitars, banjos, or a mandolin. Welch plays rhythm guitar with a 1956 Gibson J-50 (or banjo), while Rawlings plays lead on a 1935 Epiphone Olympic Guitar.The New Yorker's Wilkinson described Rawlings as a "strikingly inventive guitarist" who plays solos that are "daring melodic leaps". A review in No Depression by Andy Moore observed that Rawlings "squeezes, strokes, chokes and does just about everything but blow into" his guitar.

Many songs performed by Welch and Rawlings contain dark themes about social outcasts struggling against such elements as poverty, drug addiction, death, a disconnection from their family, and an unresponsive God. Despite Welch being the lead singer, several of these characters are male. Welch has commented, "To be commercial, everybody wants happy love songs. People would flat-out ask me, 'Don't you have any happy love songs?' Well, as a matter of fact, I don't. I've got songs about orphans and morphine addicts." To reflect these themes, Welch and Rawlings often employ a slow pace to their songs. Their tempo is compared to a "slow heartbeat", and Cowperthwait of Rolling Stone observed that their songs "can lull you into near-hypnosis and then make your jaw drop with one final revelation".

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