Gillian Welch '92, celebrated for her spare but beautiful voice and lyrics expressed in Americana, bluegrass, and Appalachian music, has singled out the rewards of a simple exercise she learned at Berklee. Asked the most important takeaway, she answered without hesitation: “Object writing, no question.” A 10-minute morning exercise as a tool to stimulate creativity helped this acclaimed singer-songwriter find her unique voice.
Welch, born in 1967 in New York City, grew up in California with adoptive parents who wrote music for the Carol Burnett Show. After obtaining a photography degree at University of California—Santa Cruz, she studied songwriting at Berklee. While there in the early ‘90s, she met her music partner, David Rawlings. After graduation, they moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and began to explore the music she loved, such as Bill Monroe, Bob Dylan, and the Stanley Brothers. Her first two albums with Rawlings in the ‘90s—Revival and Time (The Revelator)—received Grammy nominations, as did a 2011 album, The Harrow and the Harvest. Welch was an associate producer on two songs of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack that won a Grammy in 2002.
Welch, who sings and plays acoustic guitar, banjo, and drums, often explores dark themes—poverty, drug addiction, and death. She and Rawlings give a slow and sometimes lulling cadence to their songs, until a revelation draws out their theme. The duo has performed at the Newport Folk Festival, the Coachella Festival, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, the New Orleans Jazz Festival, and the Austin City Limits Festival in addition to touring Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Welch, who has performed under the name Gillian Welch as well as the Dave Rawlings Machine, continues to explore her voice in a rich and active musical life.