Interview: Gill Landry (Part 1)

By on Tuesday, 14th November 2017 at 11:00 am
 

American alt-country singer/songwriter Gill Landry has kept a steady schedule of live shows and studio appearances since the release of his excellent 4th solo LP ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’ at the beginning of October. He was just coming off a tour of the American West Coast with Rising Appalachia and was enjoying brief period of downtime before hitting the road again when I caught up with him for an enlightening, if somewhat rambling, chat about the new album.

Landry is currently hanging his hat in Los Angeles, which seems at first glance like an odd choice for an artist with clear stylistic leanings toward country and folk. “I’m just kind of over Nashville”, he says, “and this is the first place that grabbed me. I mean, the city itself, [and] the people. I know a lot of people here, and it just felt right. I don’t view anything as permanent, [so] I don’t know how long I’ll stay. That’s how I sort of go through life.”

The Nashville reference goes back to the recording of ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’, as Landry explains. “I rented a house in the countryside in a town called White’s Creek, for a month, and I just set up a studio in there. It was in the country, about 20 miles outside of Nashville, so I could be loud, I could play until 4 in the morning, you know?”

Despite the volume of the recording process, the songs on the album are decidedly intimate and reserved in tone, and Landry played most of the instrumental parts himself. “I played everything but the fiddle, drums, and horns. And some keys”, he confirms. But he also taught himself a new instrument in the process of making the new record. “A lot of what brought this [album] together was the pedal steel, which I hadn’t played on a record before. I’ve had it for about five years, but I didn’t really get decent at it until like a year or so before this [record]. I love the sound of it. It’s the glue, I think, it sort of binds it.”

The tangible presence of the pedal steel lends a distinct folk or Americana flavour to ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’, but I mention that I still had trouble putting the album squarely into a single genre category. “That’s the way that I feel about it too”, Landry says. “I think genre is really for other people to decide. Because obviously I have my limitations and I have my influences, but I’m not trying to make a folk album. I don’t even know what that means, exactly. I always did like the name alt-country. It’s country-sounding but it’s not mainstream, you know? [But] when you get to a song like ‘Broken Hearts’ or to ‘The Only Game in Town’, [this album] sounds pretty country.”

The vocal harmonies on the record also have a distinctly country twang, though the three female backing vocalists joining Landry aren’t necessarily country singers themselves. I had been particularly taken with the album’s lead single ‘Berlin’, which features a duet in the chorus with Klara Söderberg of Swedish sister duo First Aid Kit. “I met her at a Laura Marling show I was playing in Manchester”, Landry tells me. “That’s how we became pals, or you know, rough pals. And then [later] I was in Sweden, and I just called her up. I said, ‘Hey, you want to sing?’ And I went over to her house and she sang on [‘Berlin’]. She also does the banshee bit on ‘Denver Girls’. She’s an amazing harmony singer,” he says. “She has an amazing voice. Both those girls do.”

Landry’s friend Odessa Jorgensen sings backing vocals on two album tracks, ‘The One Who Won the War’ and ‘Scripted Love’, and TGTF alum Karen Elson sings harmonies in the album versions of ‘Bird in a Cage’ and ‘The Woman I Love’. Being familiar with Elson’s voice, I observe that she might be particularly easy to harmonise with, and Landry concurs. “Oh, yeah, absolutely. [She has] a very specific voice, very supportive. She’s also a great lead singer, it’s just that she has a great voice for harmony, too, I think.”

This discussion allows me to backtrack slightly to Landry’s previous album, a self-titled LP released in 2015, which featured a duet with the aforementioned Laura Marling called ‘Take This Body’. I speculate that Marling’s voice might be a little more difficult to blend with, and Landry laughs. “I think that would be up to Laura, because she has such a strong voice, period. A dynamic voice. I think if she wanted to choose a supporting role in harmony, she could nail it. She’s got a lot of tricks up her sleeve. [But] I really like songs where the harmony voices are distinct, you know?”

We take another moment to chat about ‘Gill Landry’, because its character is, to my ear, very distinct from what Landry has done on ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’. “That one was like a three-year chipping away,” he says, “because I was still in another band and just figuring out what I was doing.” He’s referring to his former role in Americana band Old Crow Medicine Show, but he is emphatic about that band’s influence on his solo work. “I didn’t come from the same place creatively that they do,” he says. “Like, that might as well be like an ex-wife, you know, and it’s informing your new wife, which it should not and can’t. They are separate, in my mind.” I see his point, but I feel compelled to mention that Landry’s solo work isn’t entirely unrelated to Old Crow’s musical style. “It’s not like you made an EDM record or anything”, I quip. Without missing a beat, he replies, “No, that’s my next album.”

We laugh at the idea of Landry writing songs filled with dance beats and synthesisers, but he takes the opportunity to talk about the progression of his songwriting leading into his potential next record. “I write the types of songs that I would want to hear, today, in relation to all the things that I’ve already heard and know. I don’t like beating people over the head with sound, I like being more subtle and seductive. There’s a serious lack of silence in a lot of modern music, which drives me nuts, because it’s like it’s a constant fucking party, and it sort of wears me out. And so, dynamics, I’ve always found crucial. For me, it’s what adds the mood and the feeling. I produced [my] last two [records], which has its learning curve. At the end of every one, you know more than when you started, and you apply it to the next. That comes not only with the production and engineering, but with the writing and arrangements, so I can even see the limits on this one, and I’m looking forward to making another one, immediately. I’m already writing it.”

We segue into talking about the production aspect of ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’. “Mainly, I chose to produce my own records because when you hire a producer, it limits everything,” he explains. “There’s only so much money and there’s only so much time. These days, songwriter albums, you know, it’s not a huge advance from labels, so it limits who you can pick. Then it’s going to be nailed down [to a] particular amount of time, like two weeks [or] a month. And then if the person doesn’t love [the songs] like you love your children, you know, they’ll [only] put in as much time as they’re interested in.”

At this point, he seems to realise his own cynicism. “That’s just how it goes”, he concedes. “So the easy solution is [to] figure out how to record things and make your own record. This is not to speak against producers, because I think [they’re] invaluable. I’d be curious to hear what would have been different about both my last records if I’d hired somebody to do them. They would be completely different things.” He talks specifically about taking extra time to record the aforementioned pedal steel parts on ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’. “I would spend, you know, sometimes hours [on those]. Without a producer, I can sit in my room for hours on end, whereas when you’re in a studio, the clock’s running. I don’t view my [own] time in a monetary sense at all in working on these things.”

Keep an eye on TGTF tomorrow for part 2 of this interview. In the meantime, you can read our previous coverage of Gill Landry right back here.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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