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Time reveals all for Gillian Welch

By Clarissa Sansone, September 2001

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"You can sense that a lot of records were made in there," Welch says of the place - "Nothing creepy, no ghosts...It's just very alive." "Chet (Atkins) built such a wonderful studio space," she goes on. In Welch's opinion it is "the greatest room of its size anywhere" and "great for small ensemble work."

"We just wanna be in there some more," she says, adding that she and Rawlings do in fact plan to go back into the studio soon.

As head of Acony Records, that's a decision she's free to make. The label, named for a hardy flower (oconee) for which Welch used her own phonetic "folk spelling," is just over a year old. "I guess we got serious about itÉlast summer," Welch explains. She decided to start her own label when her previous label, Almo Sounds, was sold to Interscope, and the prospect of working for a major didn't appeal to her.

"The major labelsÉdon't appear to be a very exciting place to be," she explains.

Welch is able to fund Acony after purchasing, from Almo, the rights to her previous albums. "I was able to get them" from former label head Jerry Moss, Welch says. "He was very gentlemanly about his retirement," she adds as explanation for Moss' generous decision.

Once Almo was sold to Interscope, Welch says, "This was my fear: that if I didn't manage to make my case now...once in that system...they (her songs) would get away forever."

So, she says, "I made a case for being custodian of my own work." "Who would do a better job: Interscope, or me?" Welch asked herself, knowing full well the answer.

Welch is frank about the price she paid for creative freedom. To purchase the rights to her first two albums "was very difficult, financially, for me to pull off," but "that's really what's enabled us to start the label."

Sales of the earlier albums still "putter along" at "400 to 500 per week," providing an adequate financial base from which to build Acony.

Welch credits Moss and Almo for giving her the chance to purchase her songs' rights.

When Moss retired, says Welch, she "mourned the loss of a record man." She is careful to distinguish between "label executives," who make the music industry commercially driven and artistically vapid, and "record men," who care about artist development and creative autonomy, and of whom Moss was, in Welch's view, the last one.

"The record industry is so... conglomerated these days," says Welch, searching for the right word. It's "hard for an artist, even a successful artist" to have stability at a label. It's not just the recording artists who have recoiled from the corporate sting, either. "On every level, there are just people who" - she pauses - "it's not fun for them anymore."

"So, we started our own label and, funnily enough, are working with the same people," Welch says of Acony's staff.

With her own label, Welch feels she has "more security," giving her time to concentrate on making music instead of wondering, like those on major labels might, whether her label is about to be incorporated or dissolved. In those areas of record-making where she has the least experience - publicity and sales - Welch took on other refugees from the major labels. Their competence helped make Welch's first excursion into album-making a "very, very" comfortable process.

Putting together Acony's first release "was quicker becauseÉthere's a much smaller governing body" and because "the chain of command is very short" at the label, says Welch. "We turned in our most economical and our quickest album yet," she remarks.

Although the label doesn't have the marketing budget of a major, there was, in Welch's opinion, "less waste" in publicizing the album.

Time spent in the studio was equally efficient, even though this is Welch's and Rawlings' first self-produced album (T-Bone Burnett produced Welch's previous two). "It was very organic," says Welch. "We've been recording stuff on our own for a number of years."

She adds that three tracks off her previous albums were recorded at home, so "it wasn't completely new territory," and recording the tracks "went very smoothly."

Another one of Welch's "executive decisions" was to release "Time" on vinyl. Its length is enough to qualify it for double-album status, Welch eagerly points out, with a gatefold sleeve and "I Dream a Highway" as "a side unto itself."

This autonomy places Welch and Rawlings in a precarious position: "If the whole thing goes haywire, it's completely our fault," admits Welch, but the encouraging flipside to this is that a successful album is "likewise" all their doing.

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