If Gillian Welch had her druthers, she’d release her music only on vinyl.
The indie/folk rock icon has been making music with David Rawlings for more than two decades. The singer-songwriter re-released her fourth studio album, “Soul Journey,” on vinyl Aug. 10. The album debuted in 2003 and is one of six that Welch and Rawlings have produced under her name. They’ve also released three as the Dave Rawlings Machine.
“There are people who, if a record doesn’t exist on vinyl, it doesn’t exist for them. So they’re just discovering ‘Soul Journey.’ That’s how it is around my house. I just listen to phonograph records, and in the car I listen to music on cassette,” Welch said during a recent phone interview with The Gazette from her Nashville home.
Cassette players aren’t in new cars, so Welch plugs in an old Sony cassette player to listen to when she drives. Music just sounds better and more cohesive in the analog format, she said.
“The music improves on vinyl. It’s not even a fair contest. It’s not even close. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if after we get the entire catalog onto vinyl, we just kind of hit the scene when vinyl was really and truly dead.”
Welch is gearing up to play Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison on Sept. 17, co-headlining with Punch Brothers, led by “Prairie Home Companion” host Chris Thile. Though Welch, 50, is no stranger to the road, it’ll be her first time performing at the storied outdoor music destination.
As of this writing, tickets still were available through axs.com ($46.50-$79.95).
“David Rawlings and I have never played there, but I have seen a number of shows at Red Rocks, the first one being the Grateful Dead ... and it was absolutely fantastic,” she said. “The only thing that marred the day in any way was I had my money rolled up in my sock, and I spent the whole day there and had the best time. And when the whole thing was over, I went to get my money and it was lost. But I remember it being an extraordinarily beautiful place.”
The co-billed show is unusual for Welch and Rawlings, “on Hank Williams’ birthday, no less,” she said.
“This is kind of a rare thing that we do. We don’t do co-bills. We don’t normally have people open for us. We tend to play shows just us. Some of the bigger places like Red Rocks — we just haven’t played them yet. Just this year, we played the Hollywood Bowl,” Welch said. “Basically, this is going to be a special night. We’ve known these guys for a long time, and we’ve played together a lot. Chris (Thile) has played songs of ours, and Paul Kowert, their bass player, joined our band for a while. We’ve been a pretty tight-knit group for a while, so it certainly makes sense.”
Welch and Rawlings will perform songs from their 20 years together that “are speaking to us right now.” Fans can expect to hear some songs off of “Soul Journey,” which has experienced a resurgence since its re-release.
“A lot of people holler for (the song) ‘Miss Ohio,’ but there’ve been a decent amount asking for ‘Wrecking Ball,’” she said.
Another popular request: “Everything is Free” from her third studio album, 2001’s “Time (The Revelator).”
The song goes, “Everything is free now/ That’s what they say / Everything I ever done/ Gotta give it away/ Someone hit the big score/ They figured it out/ That we’re gonna do it anyway/ Even it doesn’t pay.”
It “is kind of having a moment again. It’s being played a lot by younger bands, almost as a protest or statement about streaming and the state of the music industry,” Welch said.
How they think fans will receive a song is a big factor in whether she and Rawlings choose it for a record.
“We have this private litmus test where every song we put on the record, like on ‘Soul Journey,’ someone’s favorite song could be ‘Lowlands.’ We have to think that a song will be someone’s favorite song ... We won’t put it on the record otherwise,” Welch said. “Then when we’re performing and someone yells out ‘Lowlands,’ it always kind of makes us happy because it proves our supposition.”
Welch was born in New York and raised in Los Angeles by adoptive “hippie” parents Mitzie and Ken Welch, who wrote for television shows including “The Carol Burnett Show.” Welch took to the stage early and started singing folk rock when she was 5, inspired by the likes of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan.
She dabbled in other music genres, playing bass in a goth band while studying photography at University of California, Santa Cruz, but found a shared love of folk and Appalachian music with Rawlings. They met at Berklee College of Music in Boston and moved to Nashville to make music in 1992.
“There was nothing called ‘alt-country’ or ‘Americana’ when we started. I guess we just called it folk songs, but I’m fine with that. Folk songs are songs that last,” Welch told Knox News in a 2016 interview.
She said her favorite song on any record is the saddest song. “I have always fallen into that camp with a John Townes or Steve Earle record,” she said.
She and Rawlings are putting songs together for a new album that “feels like it’s going to be recorded this year.”
“I like the stuff we’ve been writing, so that’s a good thing,” Welch said. “We just keep doing what we do.”