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Interview: Gill Landry (Part 2)

 
By on Wednesday, 15th November 2017 at 11:00 am
 

If you missed part 1 of TGTF’s interview with Gill Landry, you can find it back here.

After discussing the production of his new album ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’, Landry touches on the vocals, which were recorded quickly, once he had established the sound he wanted to achieve. “I have a pretty deep voice,” he tells me, in case I hadn’t already noticed. “For most of my career, I’ve keyed everything up as high as I can, for [the] immediacy and intensity that comes with that. But it also loses subtlety and it can definitely lose emotion. So with this one, I brought everything back so that it was closer to my speaking voice.

“I sang [each song] like maybe twice”, he continues. “And that was the take, because I was really feeling it, and [because] I feel like when I get too into re-recording again and again, I start to lose the essence of what I’m saying. Now I’m just worried about technicalities and over-perfection. You know, some of the most beautiful singers in the world bore me to tears. I’m unmoved and I start to think something’s broken in me when I listen, because I’m like, ‘Why do I not feel this? I mean, everything’s perfect.’ And that’s why I don’t feel it, because nothing’s really perfect.” “So”, I ask him, “is it safe for me to assume that when you sing these [songs] live, that’s the kind of take we’re going to get? Essentially, what we hear on the record is what you’ll sing?”

“I think I sing them better live”, he answers without hesitation. “Generally when I record an album, I wrote the songs not too long before. [But] the more you become familiar with them, the better they become and [the better] you become at putting it across. I feel like my singing live is better in many ways because the words, and the feel, and all that are now embedded in me.” I can almost hear him smile over the phone as he talks about a particular favourite. “‘Denver Girls’ is a song I feel like I could sing for years and not get bored of.”

I mention that my parents had liked ‘Denver Girls’ when they listened to it, and Landry laughs. “I just said this the other day, I don’t know if it’s true. But I make ‘adult music’ or I try. Like, there’s kids that dig what I do, but certainly there’s a lot of, I mean, up to octogenarians that are like, ‘Oh, that’s so great.’ I love that.” [I must note, for the record, that my parents are not octogenarians. Yet. -CC]

After talking about that generational shift, we naturally fall into mourning the demise of the album as a format, which seems a particular shame after hearing one as beautiful and cohesive as ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’. “It’s definitely going away”, Landry says. “And we’ll probably have to change with it. Which I’m actually fine with, because there’s a lot of songs that you write that just don’t belong on albums. Like, I wrote half a dozen more that just don’t fit with these. And I’ve got piles from before, and a lot of them are good but they haven’t fit with any specific record.” “That will be your collection of b-sides someday,” I suggest.

“Yeah, I like those. I always loved b-sides. Actually, that’s kind of my favorite thing. I was never really a ‘hit’ guy, which actually says a lot about my writing. I always liked the hidden gems. They’re more subtle, but they’re really powerful. That’s my usual jam.” He laughs. “I just recently kind of realized that maybe that’s why I don’t write any hits. If I had been listening to nothing but hits my whole life, then I’d probably be a completely different writer.

“I’m a slow burner”, he explains. “That’s my game. I’m not here to make a million dollars next year and then quit. Up till I’m dead, I want to be doing this. All the people that I worship and love as artists, I mean, they had hits early in their career that probably helped them have a long career. But it’s the body of work that just doesn’t get old and continues to stay true to their life. That’s always been my aspiration. I would be happy if when I’m 50, I could have 300 people sitting down with me in a room, in any city in this country, enjoying what I’m doing.”

I’m not sure how close Landry is to 50 (and I didn’t ask!), but I suspect that 300 people in a room isn’t an unreasonable goal for him. His upcoming live schedule includes playing support slots in America, Scandinavia, and the UK, with the goal of getting his music out to people who aren’t already familiar. I ask how well that works for him, and he answers candidly: “I personally don’t know. You never can tell, until the next time you come through.”

He mentions the possibility of booking a headline tour next year, possibly with a full band. “It depends,” he says cautiously. “It’s really all about money. At this point, the people that I want to hire cost money, as opposed to, when you’re 21, and it’s your mates and you just go out and it’s all-for-one, Musketeers-style. That’s a great time. Once you’re past 30, you gotta start paying people. And if they’re not busy, they’re hopefully getting paid enough that they’re enjoying their life. So it really has to be worth it, they have to really love your music. There’s only so many tours you can go out and lose your savings on and keep going, period. So, it’s survival.”

Speaking of headline shows, I ask Landry how a solo headline show would be different for him than playing a support slot, as I saw him do back in January. “I talk a lot more,” he says with a laugh. “Which can sound boring, but hopefully it’s not. Since a lot of [my show] is narrative songwriting, there’s a lot of stories. I started this in Sweden, if you want the whole story …” 

Landry continues, “I was in Sweden and I was doing a tour, like 15 shows in these little towns, and I’d never been to Sweden. I did the first gig, and I played through the songs, and it was a good response. They dug it, I played well, all that. But at the end, the promoter was like, ‘Everybody here understands English pretty well, but sung, it’s a bit different. You should talk, tell them what the song [is about]. They’d like that.’ So that whole tour, I mean, I got to the point where I would be talking for like five minutes before I played a three minute song. And it seemed very engaging, and people started commenting on songs, like with some information [that] gave it more depth.

“So, it’s much more personal”, he says of his solo shows, “which I feel like, with these types of songs, because they’re not pop songs, because they are stories in their own way, actually enriches the experience [more] than if I just got up with a band and hit song after song after song. They’re both fine, but I really enjoy the intimacy of solo.” You can get a taste of Landry in a recent solo performance just below, courtesy of One on One Cellar Sessions.

At press time, Gill Landry is on tour in Europe, playing dates in Sweden and Norway supporting The Americans. Readers on the UK side of the pond can see Landry very soon, supporting his Loose Music label mate Ian Felice on a run of UK dates starting on the 22nd of November in Manchester. You can find a complete listing of Landry’s upcoming live shows on his official Web site. TGTF’s previous coverage of Gill Landry is collected through this link. Special thanks to Kevin, who helped to arrange this interview.

 

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.

 

Album Review: Gill Landry – Love Rides a Dark Horse

 
By on Wednesday, 4th October 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Gill Landry LRADH coverWe at TGTF encountered American folk singer/songwriter Gill Landry earlier this year when he played support for alt-folk duo Bear’s Den. At the time, I was unaware of Landry’s credentials as part of bluegrass collective Old Crow Medicine Show, with whom he won two Grammy awards. Landry has since left the group to focus on his solo work, which includes three previous LPs and a brand new album, titled ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’.

Landry himself has written an extensive press release for ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’, which provides unique insight into the inspiration behind this collection of songs. Landry says he found himself at a difficult crossroads, as his departure from Old Crow coincided with the end of a long-term romance. “The future was looking like an exhaustingly long walk through a knee-deep tunnel of shit ending in death,” he explains, “but I wanted to find a light in the darkness. This album is more of a map out of the darkness than an invitation to it.”

The record is concise and tightly woven in its narrative, but its individual songs unfold slowly and deliberately, brimming with sentimentality and heartbreak. Landry avoids becoming entirely maudlin with a generous dose of dry humour in his lyrics and richly expressive instrumental gestures in otherwise straightforward folk rock arrangements. Early single ‘Denver Girls’ takes advantage of Landry’s deep baritone vocal timbre, setting a shadowy tone around the question “if it’s not paradise now, tell me what you’re waiting for / don’t you know, there is no evermore?”

Landry has enlisted a full cadre of collaborators on this album, including female singers Karen Elson and Odessa,, who contribute tangibly to the overall colour of the songs. The refrain of impressive recent single ‘Berlin’ features particularly effective backing harmonies from Klara Soderberg of First Aid Kit, but Landry’s own velvety delivery in the line “after all you put me through, maybe it’s you, maybe it’s you” makes the strongest emotional impact.

Jaded tales of failed romance dominate the body of the tracklisting, most notably slow-burning ballads ‘Broken Hearts’ and ‘Scripted Love’. Landry describes the latter as the centerpiece of the album, as it “reveal(s) characters trapped in scenes they didn’t create as much as rehearsed”. These tender tracks are balanced by the stronger tempo and pervasive brass in ‘The One Who Won the War’, where he sings of “defeated expectations hiding in your pain / like every hopeful dreamer you left screaming in the rain”.

A scattering of lighter moments keeps the album from being altogether grim. Strategically placed in the middle of the sequence, ‘The Only Game in Town’ opens with a gently cynical rejoinder: “we just met / I appreciate your enthusiasm, but don’t fall in love just yet”. Nearer to the end of the album, ‘The Woman I Love’ is both romantic and shrewdly genuine as its protagonist’s lover whispers “get me the fuck out of here” ahead of the song’s deftly harmonised chorus. The album finishes with a pensive moment in the instrumental intro to ‘The Real Deal Died’, which though soft-spoken is biting in its editorial commentary. The song’s mournful lyrics lament the superficiality of the music industry and the loss of true artistry in the ubiquitous quest for commercial success.

Landry unquestionably meets his own high standards of artistry and authenticity with ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’. The record is a beautiful combination of evocative storytelling and aural cinematography, with subtly graceful instrumental elements and Landry’s exquisite baritone hitting their emotional targets throughout. Emerging from the darkness of professional and romantic disillusionment, Gill Landry has created a triumphant album that singularly fits his definition of “dark horse” – “a candidate or competitor about whom little is known, but who unexpectedly wins or succeeds.”

9/10

Gill Landry’s fourth solo album ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’ is due out on Friday the 6th of October via ATO (U.S.) / Loose Music (UK). Landry will be on tour for the remainder of 2017, supporting Rising Appalachia on the American West Coast before heading to the UK in November with Ian Felice. December will find Landry back in California, Oregon and Washington with Valerie June. A full list of Landry’s live dates can be found on his official Facebook.

 

Live Review: Bear’s Den with Gill Landry at Doug Fir Lounge, Portland – 20th January 2017

 
By on Wednesday, 25th January 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

My first live review of 2017 took me north to Portland, Oregon, where the cold and rainy weather was a shock to my system, coming from the fairly mild winter we’ve had at home in Tucson. However, Portland’s Doug Fir Lounge proved to be a cozy place to catch a show, with a lovely log-cabin themed bar and restaurant upstairs and a small, but sonically spectacular, music venue nestled below. As it turned out, the venue’s crisp, clear sound was perfectly suited to the new FM-radio rock-leaning sound of last Friday evening’s headline act, London alt-folk duo Bear’s Den.

Gill Landry

Bear’s Den were preceded on the Doug Fir Lounge stage by singer/songwriter Gill Landry, with whom they had shared a bond years earlier on Communion Music’s Austin to Boston tour. Formerly a member of the Americana collective Old Crow Medicine Show, Landry also has three solo albums under his belt. The most recent of those is a self-titled LP released in 2015, which, interestingly, includes a duet with Laura Marling called ‘Take This Body’.

Landry started his set with a couple of relatively uptempo numbers, even dedicating one song to the newly inaugurated American president (in a less-than-complimentary fashion, it must be said). But it soon became clear that Landry’s catalogue of bluesy folk rock leans to the self-described “tender” side, and the chatter of the still-gathering Doug Fir Lounge audience became a bit of a distraction from his subdued and somber acoustic balladry. Those of us near the front of the stage, though, got the full effect of Landry’s warm baritone in feminine muse-inspired songs like ‘Emily’ and Old Crow Medicine Show cover ‘Genevieve’.

The restless crowd had filled to capacity by the time Bear’s Den made their dramatic entrance to the stage, opening with the first two tracks from their recent album ‘Red Earth & Pouring Rain’. Officially pared down from a trio to a duo consisting of Andrew Davie and Kev Jones, the band presented here as a six-piece, and their arrangements of the new songs were immediately lush and full, true to the recorded album versions.

Davie Jones photo
The band made a subtle change of course mid-set with an interlude of older songs, including a pair of tracks from their 2014 album ‘Islands’. ‘Stubborn Beast’ was a particular treat, as it’s been a mainstay of the band’s repertoire for several years now. (We at TGTF featured this live version of it back in 2011.) Also thrown in for good measure was the poignant ‘Don’t Let the Sun Steal You Away’, which I hadn’t heard since the band released it on their EP ‘Without/Within’ back in 2013.

Naturally, Bear’s Den’s newer songs dominated the setlist, with ‘Roses on a Breeze’ and ‘Dew on the Vine’ making an especially strong impact. But Davie and Jones also took full advantage of their four touring members in expansive live orchestrations of ‘The Love that We Stole’ and ‘When You Break’, which fit seamlessly into their recently modernised sonic milieu. Their drummer and keyboard player even pulled double duty on several songs, taking on brass arrangements in addition to their primary instruments.

brass photo

After closing the set proper with a singalong chorus in ‘Above the Clouds of Pompeii’, Bear’s Den played a generous four-song encore, starting with ‘Napoleon’. Davie and Jones briefly descended into the crowd, along with touring bandmate Christof, for a fully acoustic rendering of ‘Gabriel’, then returned to the stage for a well-chosen cover of ‘Paul’s Song’, originally by M. Ward, in reference to the pervasive “Portland rain.” Cementing their warm reception in chilly Portland, the band closed with their instantly recognisable alternative radio hit ‘Agape’.

Friday evening marked Bear’s Den’s third appearance at the Doug Fir Lounge, but their first time selling it out, and they were clearly quite pleased by their audience’s positive response. The attention is well-deserved for a band who have spent most of the past five years on the road, cultivating and evolving their sound, whilst never losing track of the quality musicianship and songwriting that got them started in the first place. Bear’s Den are a band very decisively coming into their own, and this live performance bore full witness to their confidence and capability. A pure joy to behold.

Bear’s Den will be on tour in North America through mid-February. They will play a run of live dates in Ireland and the UK later this spring; you can find the details for those shows right back here. TGTF’s archived past coverage of Bear’s Den is through here.

After the cut: Bear’s Den’s set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Bear’s Den with Gill Landry at Doug Fir Lounge, Portland – 20th January 2017

 
 
 

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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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