Wednesday, July 3 It's a dirty, four-letter word that begins with "F" and ends in "K." Wrong. It's "folk" and it's a word record companies shy away from because to alterna-consumers -- those who buy the most records -- "folk" is traditional terminology for "boring." To the average ear, Gillian Welch is decidedly folk even though she fancies herself closer to bluegrass. Yet, the f-word scarcely appears in the bio to Welch's Almo/Geffen debut, Revival. Record label paranoia? No, Welch suspects it's she herself who's the culprit.
"That might have come from me," admits Welch. "I also went through and crossed out anytime the words `singer-songwriter' appeared. It's a personal aversion. On one level, that's what I am, but there are connotations with those words that [writing and performing partner] Dave [Rawlings] and I don't fit into. Often, when we go into clubs that are geared for singer-songwriters and old-school folk, things don't really fly and they're usually not good shows for us... I' m trying to be diplomatic because I don't want to upset anybody in case we land in a really hard-core folksy place."
That's an unintentionally apt phrase for Welch to use because, just as "hard-core" and "folk" also name widely separated wavelengths on the musical spectrum, much of what Welch was listening to during college -- Camper Van Beethoven, VU, the Pixies -- differed dramatically from the bluegrass she was playing in clubs. Having disparate interests may explain why Welch is loath to affix labels. But being pigeonholed into a rigid genre isn't just a personal phobia; Welch's low-key disdain for the practice goes beyond describing her music.
"I even prefer record stores where everything is alphabetized because sometimes you don't know where to look. Jimmie Rodgers -- is he in the folk section or is he in country? What about Bob Dylan? Is he in folk or is he in the big pop-rock bin? The big bin..." Welch pauses, admiring her own words.
"That's what [Dave and I] hope for, not `folk,' not `country,' not `bluegrass' -- even though I'd love to be called that. I'd be thrilled because it means we are doing justice to a tradition that we love. But I'd prefer the big bin." -- Michael Bertin