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Gillian Welch & David Rawlings: The Fresh Air Interview.

Welch and Rawlings perform an in-studio concert featuring several songs from The Harrow and the Harvest, and talk about many of the lyrics they've written over the years.

This week on Fresh Air, we're marking the year's end by revisiting some of the most memorable conversations we've had in 2011. This interview was originally broadcast on July 18, 2011.

27:10

Other segments from the episode on December 28, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 28, 2012: Interview with David Carr; Interview with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. During this holiday week, we're featuring a retrospective of some of our favorite entertainment and pop culture interviews of the year. Up next, we have David Carr. He writes a weekly column in the New York Times about developments in all forms of media, including print, digital, film, radio and television.

He also writes about popular culture for the Times' culture section. He told a more personal story about his addiction to drugs and alcohol, and his recovery, in his 2008 memoir "The Night of the Gun."

This year, Carr was prominently featured in the documentary "Page One," which followed the Times media for a year. The film will have its TV premiere New Year's Eve at 6 o'clock Eastern on The History Channel. My interview with David Carr was recorded in October.

At the beginning of the film, at the beginning of the documentary "Page One," you're on the phone with a source, and you're saying to your source: I see this as a big story. I could probably get significant space. What do you think the story is that I should tell?

I thought that was such a really interesting way of putting it. Do you say that a lot to sources: What's the story you think I should tell?

DAVID CARR: You know, we're people who just show up and declare ourselves as instant experts on all manner of stories. And we often are only taking a very sort of blunt-force guess about what's going on, and I think it always behooves us just to ask the people, especially if you're aspiring to do something good: What do you think is going on? What do you think this is about?

GROSS: And do you use that question especially when you know there's going to be conflicting points of view on a story, and you're talking to representatives of those different points of view?

CARR: Well, I strive for congruence. And by that, I mean there's an interview near the end of the movie with officials at the Tribune Company. It's far less friendly. It's far more declarative. And I'm telling the person at the other end of the phone what I think the story is about.

I don't want to be sort of a poodle dog when I'm out there and a friendly sort of presence in people's lives, and then come back and do something that's really mean or aggressive.

And if it's going to be a hard story, one of the things I always say is: This is going to be a really serious story, and I'm asking very serious questions. And it behooves you to think it through and really work on answering and defending yourself because this is not a friendly story.

And if they don't engage, I just tell them: Well, you know what? You better put the nut-cup on, because this isn't going to be pleasant for anybody.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CARR: I worked at a weekly with a lot of young reporters, and I would hear them pouring on the honey on the phone and being real sweet and nice with the people that they talked to. And then they would turn in these stories that were scabrous and really mean.

And I said: Well, you're just - you're setting this up so the phone call's going to come to me, not you. And you haven't done these people the privilege of giving them an opportunity to defend themselves.

I don't think people who read your work, who are involved as sources, should be surprised. I often read significant parts of the story to the people that are involved, because I don't want to sit up in the middle of the night and wonder whether I was fundamentally unfair to the person, that I didn't communicate to them what is coming and that they - that they'll be genuinely surprised.

I don't want anybody to open up one of my stories and have their nose broken by what they read - although, you know, I do have to say, at the beginning of the week, I wrote a really mean column, and I didn't tell anybody involved. So I guess that's not always true.

GROSS: You had a story that was headlined: "Why Not Occupy Newsrooms?" And you were basically asking how come there isn't an occupy movement in newspapers because newspaper executives are guilty of some of the same things that bank executives are. Make the analogy for us.

CARR: Well, in the instance of Gannett - Gannett is a publicly held company that owns 82 newspapers across America, in towns big and small, dailies and weeklies. And in the past six years, they've gone from 52,000 employees to 32,000 employees.

Their stock price, which is the general metric of publicly held companies' health, went from $70 a share to about - or $75 a share to about $10 a share. The guy who oversaw it, the CEO, Craig Dubow, when he left, received $37 million in health, compensation and disability benefits.

And I mean, to me, the Occupy movement is - a lot of people tag it as socialist or communist. I just think it's people who are angry about capitalism not working. If you make bad choices, you pay the price.

In this instance - and at the Tribune Company, which I also wrote about - the chief executives made choices that resulted in a lot of people getting rolled out of the back of the truck. Now, it was a very challenging environment for newspapers, but I don't think that people should benefit in the tens of millions of dollars for just firing people.

There's no innovation there. There's no magic to that, and I don't think that sort of thinking and strategy should be rewarded. So I just wrote what was basically a screed.

And oddly enough, I was writing about newspapers, and it totally connected on Twitter. And I thought: Well, Twitter does not care about newspapers, and yet this thing is rolling over and over again, being re-tweeted thousands of times. I got probably 300 emails. What it is, it's about the trashing of once-great American institutions. And that's a story that the general public never tires of.

GROSS: Now, when you started talking about this, you describe the article as - was mean the word you used?

CARR: It was mean.

GROSS: So what was different in terms of how you handled this article and how you typically handle articles that are investigative or critical of the organization that you're writing about?

CARR: Well, I had done a story a few months ago about Gannett's bonuses, and I spent four days trying to get the company to comment on what they did. And on Sunday night, just before deadline, they said: We're not going to comment on these bonuses.

And I just said: Really? You're a newspaper company. You're a publicly held company. These bonuses are a matter of public record, and you have nothing to say about them? And I just found that appalling. And I think some of that was sort of reflected in the fact that: A, I didn't bother to call them; and B, that I was angry after I'd written about their last set of bonuses, that they clearly were a life beyond consequence, and they just stepped up and did it again and gave this guy a huge bag of money on the way out the door.

GROSS: What's your typical media diet in the course of a day or a week?

CARR: When I wake up in the morning and the gun goes off, I'm checking Twitter. I'm checking RSS feeds, and I get four newspapers at my house every day. I get the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the Star Ledger - because I live in New Jersey - and, of course, the New York Times.

And the reason I do is because the day before this, all this stuff has gone whizzing past me, and I seem to know a lot. But I don't really know what part of it is important. And I used to think it was so silly that newspapers would - like, I'd go to our page one meeting, and they'd be organizing the hierarchy of the six or seven most important stories in Western civilization.

Meanwhile, the Web is above them, pivoting and alighting, and all these stories are morphing and changing. And I thought: Well, how silly is this?

But you know what? I came to want that resting place, where someone yelled stop and decided, look, this is stuff you need to know about going forward. Newspapers have become a kind of magazine experience for me, where they're - where it's a way to look back at what has happened.

GROSS: Do you ever feel like your brain isn't really equipped to sort through and synthesize all the information that you're inputting into your brain?

CARR: I'm sorry, what was the question? I'm kidding, Terry. Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CARR: I worry about it constantly, because number one, in writing terms, if I become good on Twitter, will I lose my ability to think long thoughts? Number two, my nightstand is groaning with Netflix, with an iPad, with books that, you know, my friends have written about things I'm interested in, and I haven't gotten to them.

So it's sort of implicates me. Meanwhile, you know, I walk through Times Square and I see messages on the zipper. I go to buy groceries, there's more messages. I ride the elevator up here, there's more messages. And I think that it does sort of paralyze you.

My more sort of persistent concern is that I will become so busy producing media that I won't consume enough of it, so that what I produce becomes less and less rich over time. When you're in the middle of things and pushing out a lot of information, you really have no idea what's going on because you have no time to watch or listen or consume. That's my problem at 55 years old. I don't notice it among my younger colleagues.

They don't - Brian Stelter, who is also in the film, the act of producing media and consuming media, those are not discrete things to him. He does both at the same time in a way I don't. I can remember when bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces, about the time I was going, maybe we should do a blog post about this, I opened up the media blog that I work on, and Brian Stelter, my colleague, already had 700 words up there. And so...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CARR: I'm like, you know, it's like I'm working through Jell-O and he's not. He's in a different sort of universe. But I'm familiar with all the platforms, have engaged in them. I mean, I set up a fully equipped studio in my basement and wrote and edited video and sent it out to the world every day. They ended up looking like hostage videos. They were horrible.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CARR: You could almost smell the dead bodies. But still, I got the experience, and I learned to do it. And I never understood some of my colleagues saying, oh, that crap's for someone else. It's, like, that maybe would have worked five years ago, but that isn't going to work anymore.

GROSS: My guest is David Carr. He writes a weekly media column for the New York Times, and he's featured in the documentary "Page One" about the New York Times media desk. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is David Carr, and he writes about the business of media and about popular culture for the New York Times. His media column is Mondays in the business section.

A few years ago, you wrote a very personal memoir about being addicted and recovering from the addictions. And the addictions were coke and crack, and you had alcohol problems, too. The book is called "Night of the Gun."

And, you know, I'm just wondering, like, did the New York Times, when you got your job after you were clean, after you were sober and you got your job with the New York Times, how much did they know about the addiction part of your past? I mean, it's not the kind of thing you put on your resume.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: But did you talk to them or tell them that...

CARR: I think I actually did in terms of...

GROSS: Did you really?

CARR: ...of like my communication to them. I mean, part of - I didn't want there to be any surprises about, sort of, who I am and what I've done. But what I tried to emphasize is, you know, I was a very low-bottom, poly-addicted crack head, drunk, whatever you want to call it, number of misdemeanor arrests, violence against all sorts of people.

And what I wanted to point out is that since then, you know, I've been a single parent, I had gotten off of welfare, that I had taken any number of the assignments and done a good job, that I had run newspapers, that I'd done a few things since then.

But still, when I did the book, you know, I went to my boss, Sam Sifton at the time, and he said I'll walk the book down there, but I think you probably should do it. And I said, well, do you have a pair of tongs or oven mitts or something that I can use to hand it over? Because it was a very - it's kind of a dark book.

And when I gave it to him, Bill Keller said, you know what? We don't hire nuns. We have no problem with your book. You know, they said they were proud of the book. But...

GROSS: But getting back to them hiring you, you know, before the book existed. They were OK with it? Like, you told them your story, and they had faith that you would remain sober and do a good job.

CARR: Yeah. It's not something that we committed to directly. I mean, I didn't, in fact, remain sober. So - and I don't think that that's part of the contract. I did try drinking again. It didn't go very well. My work never suffered, per se. My work rarely did. It's always the last thing to go. But if you took all of the functioning alcoholics and addicts out of the American economy, you'd be taking out a lot of firepower and a lot of talent.

In the main, while I've been at the New York Times, I have been completely sober, highly productive, true to my word, doing my best, like everyone else there, to get it right. But they don't - I've seen people at the Times tumble and get in personal trouble.

And you know what? That place, it's weird, but it will pick you up and accommodate all manner of human frailties because people are pushed to the limit at the place. And when somebody stumbles, it's an incredibly humane place.

And I know that sounds gooey and horrible, and I never really needed it or required it, but I've seen - it's like when you're on deadline there, and you really can't quite get it done and there's not enough room, and somehow, everyone around you will sort of lift you up and throw you across the goal line.

And then you're the one who stands up the next day and puts your arms above your head because you made a touchdown. Everybody there is working very hard to make it better.

GROSS: So this question is probably way too personal, so just...

CARR: I bet not.

GROSS: Well, just tell me if it is, because I don't want to be intrusive. For a lot of people who are giving up an addiction, they're encouraged to, like, find a higher power that they can, you know, turn to and believe in, whether it's religion or something else that will function in that way. Was there such a thing for you?

CARR: You know, it's funny you should mention that because I'm in the middle of sort of a struggle with that. And it's not that - I am a churchgoing Catholic, and I do that as a matter of - it's good to stand with my family. It's good that I didn't have to come up with my own creation myth for my children.

It's a wonderful group of people that I go to church with, and it's community. It's not really where I find God. And sort of what the accommodation I've reached is a very jerry-rigged one, which is: All along the way, in recovery, I've been helped - without getting into the names of specific groups - by all of these strangers, you know, who get in a room and do a form of group-talk therapy and live by certain rules in their life.

And one of the rules is that you help everyone who needs help. And I think to myself: Well, that seems remarkable. And not only is that not a general human impulse, but it's not an impulse of mine. And yet I found myself doing that over and over again.

So, am I underneath all things, just a really wonderful, giving person? Or is there a force greater than myself that is leading me to act in ways that are altruistic and not self-interested and lead to the greater good?

And so that's - that's sort of as far as I've gotten with a higher power thing, is I'm - you know, I'm kind of a pirate, kind of a thug. I mean, I've done a bunch of terrible things, and yet I'm able to, for the most part, be a decent person. How is that? Do I have some inner strength of character? I think not. I think something else is working on me.

You know, I think it's okay to sort of like have a superstitious belief in God and not really have thought it through. I think it's okay to just - I think there's freedom in allowing for the possibility of it. Like, I don't have a presence. I don't have some idea in my mind of a woman or a man figure or anything like that.

But I find the spaces between people, whether I'm making a newspaper with them or in recovery or living with them as family or friends or - I find something really godly in that. I don't have trouble acknowledging that.

GROSS: So your voice has a kind of hoarseness to it.

CARR: Right.

GROSS: A little raspy. Was it always that way or is that related to the drugs that you did back then or to the cancer that you had after that?

CARR: You know, it's a little tough to pin down because I smoked on and on all my life, tobacco. A lot of people who smoke tobacco sound like me. When you smoke cocaine you're taking in vapors that are coming into your lungs at a really high temperature, Could that have made a problem?

I had Hodgkin's lymphoma, and I took a lot of radiation to the mouth and throat, so could it have been that? I mean I have, I walk around and you can see in the movie, "Page One," I walk around with my neck bent, that's from the muscles sort of getting shot out by all the radiation.

I will tell you something interesting though. I spent a couple weeks working 9/11, you know, working the pile, just my job was to cover firemen. I never had a hoarse voice before that.

GROSS: Really?

CARR: Yeah. So I think that's when it declared itself. And it sort of comes and goes based on the amount of fatigue I have. I could have surgery to remove the vocal nodes but I've had a lot of surgeries. I've had a very medicalized life. I have no spleen. I have one kidney. I have no gallbladder. I have half a pancreas. And the idea of sort of willingly allowing people to cut into me, I'm probably not for that. I'll just deal with the hoarseness of the voice.

GROSS: Well, David Carr, it's really been great to talk with you. Thank you so much.

CARR: Oh, it was a pleasure to speak with you, Terry.

GROSS: My interview with David Carr was recorded in October. He writes a media column for the New York Times published Mondays in the business section, and he's prominently featured in the documentary "Page One" about the Times' media desk. It will have its TV premiere Saturday on the History Channel. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. This week, we're featuring a retrospective of some of our favorite entertainment and pop culture interviews of the year.

Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings performed a few songs for us in July after the release of their album "The Harrow and the Harvest." Welch and Rawlings are music partners and life partners.

They perform original songs inspired by bluegrass, folk, classic country and hymns. Although they work as a duo, they perform and record under the name Gillian Welch. Rawlings has one album under the name The Dave Rawlings Machine.

Many listeners were introduced to Welch by her performances on the Grammy Award-winning soundtrack "O Brother Where Art Thou." Her music is steeped in Southern tradition, but she was born in New York. Her family moved to L.A. when she was three, when her parents got a job writing music for "The Carol Burnett Show."

Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings now live in Nashville. She sings and plays guitar and banjo; he sings and plays lead guitar.

Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings, welcome to FRESH AIR. Thank you so much for coming. I'd like you to start by playing the song "The Way it Goes" from your new album, "The Harrow and the Harvest." Gillian, would you introduce it for us?

GILLIAN WELCH: Yeah, this is - well, definitely the fastest song on the record.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WELCH: Perhaps the only song with real tempo, and it goes like this...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WAY IT GOES")

WELCH: (Singing) Becky Johnson bought the farm, put a needle in her arm. That's the way that it goes, that's the way. And her brother laid her down in the cold Kentucky ground. That's the way that it goes, that's the way. That's the way that it goes. Everybody's buying little baby clothes. That's the way that it ends, though there was a time when she and I were friends.

(Singing) Well, Miranda ran away, took her cat and left L.A. That's the way that it goes, that's the way. She was busted, broke and flat, had to sell that pussy cat. That's the way that it goes, that's the way. That's the way that it goes. Everybody's buying little baby clothes. That's the way that it ends, though there was a time when he and I were friends.

(Singing) See the brightest ones of all, early in October fall. That's the way that it goes, that's the way. While the dark ones go to bed with good whiskey in their head, that's the way that it goes, that's the way.

(Singing) Now Billy Joe's back in the tank. You tell Russo, I'll tell Frank. That's the way that it goes, that's the way. Did he throw her down a well? Did she leave him for that swell? That's the way that it goes, that's the way. That's the way that it goes. Everybody's buying little baby clothes. That's the way that it ends, though there was a time when all of us were friends.

(Singing) And when you lay me down to rest, leave a pistol in my vest. That's the way that it goes, that's the way. Do you miss my gentle touch? Did I hurt you very much? That's the way that it goes, that's the way.

(Singing) That's the way that it goes. Everybody's buying little baby clothes. That's the way that it ends, though there was a time when you and I were friends.

GROSS: That's Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, performing at NPR West their song "The Way it Goes" from the new Gillian Welch album "The Harrow and the Harvest." That really sounded great.

You know, listening to that song, of course you have to think: Gee, do they know a lot of drug addicts?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So, do you write songs that are biographical or songs that are just, like, based on characters or genres? Even a line like when they lay me down to rest, leave a pistol in my vest, now I know that you really aren't going to ask for a pistol when you die. But it strikes me as a real genre line.

WELCH: I feel like that line is kind of typical of when Dave and I will use cowboy language or folk language just to let people know - you know, there's an understood toughness in that line to me. You understand how this person went through life, you know.

DAVID RAWLINGS: You know, in my mind, that had to do with not knowing what's coming, and I thought that that was a - I thought that was sort of an elegant way to put you don't know what's coming after the grave, and you might want to be prepared in one way or another.

GROSS: Can I ask you to do a song from the new album? And this one is "Hard Times." Gillian, would you introduce it?

WELCH: Yeah. This is another - we've kind of half-jokingly said that this record is 10 different kinds of sad.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WELCH: And there being 10 songs on it.

RAWLINGS: So this is sadness numbers six.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WELCH: This is sadness number six, kind of dealing with loss, a particular kind of loss, when you lose something you didn't even realize you were losing and not realizing the value of it until it's gone. So here you go, "Hard Times Ain't Gonna Rule My Mind No More."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARD TIMES")

WELCH: (Singing) There was a Camptown man, used to plow and sing. And he loved that mule, and the mule loved him. When the day got long, as it does about now, I'd hear him singing to his mule cow, calling: Come on, my sweet old girl, and I'd bet the whole damn world that we're gonna make it yet to the end of the road.

(Singing) Singing hard times ain't gonna rule my mind. Hard times ain't gonna rule my mind, Bessie. Hard times ain't gonna rule my mind no more.

(Singing) Said it's a mean old world, heavy in need, that big machine is just a-picking up speed. They were supping on tears, they were supping on wine. We all get to heaven in our own sweet time.

(Singing) So come all you Asheville boys, and turn up your old-time noise, and kick till the dust comes up from the cracks in the floor. Singing hard times ain't gonna rule my mind, brother, hard times ain't gonna rule my mind. Hard times ain't gonna rule my mind no more.

GROSS: Nice. That's Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings doing "Hard Times" from the new Gillian Welch album, "The Harrow and the Harvest." Thanks so much for playing that for us. Is there a story behind the song, about like what inspired the images in it?

WELCH: I started writing that one at the end of working on Dave's record, the Dave Rawlings Machine "Friend of a Friend" record. And Levon Helm was going to be coming in to play some drums on the record.

So I was thinking about Levon, and it's always been very inspiring for me to think about other musicians and trying to write songs that they would like. And so I know that song got started me thinking, well, what kind of song would Levon like when he came in?

I mean, I've kind of done this before. That's - "Orphan Girl" got started with a very similar train of thought. I was driving, and I was thinking: What kind of song would Ralph Stanley like? Like, that was me trying to write a song with nothing in it that would be a deal-breaker for Ralph Stanley to like - you know what I mean? That it was that sort of legitimate.

GROSS: I'm glad you brought up that song because I love that song. Would you mind if I asked you to do a chorus of that song?

WELCH: We can do a little bit of that, yeah.

RAWLINGS: Yeah.

WELCH: It's a very short system. Let's do just a little burst in the chorus.

RAWLINGS: Pick up on the verses or something? Yeah.

WELCH: Yeah. Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ORPHAN GIRL")

WELCH: (Singing) I am an orphan on God's highway, but I'll share my troubles while you go my way. I have no mother, no father, no sister, no brother. I am an orphan girl.

(Singing) I have had friendships pure and golden, but the ties of kinship I have not known them. I know no mother, no father, no sister no brother. I am an orphan girl. I am an orphan girl.

GROSS: My guests are Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. We'll hear them perform more songs after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: My guests are songwriters and musicians Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. Their latest album is called "The Harrow and the Harvest." They're performing some songs for us.

Can I ask you to do an excerpt of your song "By the Mark," which is about, you know, the nails in the cross?

WELCH: Yeah.

GROSS: And it sounds like it could be a very old song, but it's actually one of your originals.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BY THE MARK")

WELCH: (Singing) When I cross over, I will shout and sing. I will know my savior by the mark where the nails have been. By the mark, by the mark where the nails have been, by the sign upon his precious skin. I will know my savior when I come to him by the mark where the nails have been.

GROSS: So that's a great song written by my guest Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. And they are performing for us today, talking about their music. I know that you've been very inspired by the Stanley Brothers and Bill Monroe and the Louvin Brothers. And those are all like male harmony groups and you're, you know, a man and a woman singing harmony together. Can you talk about working out your harmonies for songs like the one we just heard?

WELCH: Yeah. Well, first of all, you've touched upon something. We are incredibly lucky that coming out of the kind of rural American duet tradition, which is mostly, you know, two men, we're so lucky...

RAWLINGS: Generally brothers.

WELCH: Generally brothers, yeah, we are necessarily different than that. You know, we're never going to sound - nothing we do is ever going to sound like the Stanley Brothers or the Blue Sky Boys. It's necessarily going to be different, because we've got a woman singing lead and then a man singing baritone.

RAWLINGS: Yeah, most of those groups all had the - the melody was on the bottom and the harmony was sung above. And so when we started emulating that music, we had to sort of figure out a slightly different way to do it. And, you know, to this day we'll sit down and try to sing through pretty much any note you can think of and look for things that I think are interesting or that, you know, that tickle my ear. And then once I found a little part that I'm committed to, sort of build on it on either side.

WELCH: Yeah. And Dave's ear and his mind is so facile that he will run through many, many note choices. And he'll hit one and it'll have that special kind of little wiggle and little buzz. And both of us will look up and say, okay, that one. There's one. You know, there is one keeper note. And then we'll just keep going and he'll construct the part. You know, I know a number of singers who call Dave their hands-down favorite harmony singer. And it's been...

RAWLINGS: I'm so red right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RAWLINGS: I'm so glad this is radio.

WELCH: So embarrassed, yeah.

GROSS: Gillian, is there note that you can think of, like a passage or note in that song or another song that gives you one of those, like, that's-it kind of moments, in terms of his harmony?

WELCH: The entrance to the third verse.

RAWLINGS: Do you want an example?

GROSS: Yeah. Yes, I do.

WELCH: We don't need to get up. So do you want to show them what a normal person would do?

RAWLINGS: I don't know. It's all normal to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: What note, what word are we listening for in the line?

RAWLINGS: It's the entrance. It's "On Calvary's Mountain."

WELCH: It's the first syllable.

RAWLINGS: (Singing) On - yeah. It's that thing.

WELCH: So over the chords, that's a bit odd. It's like a suspension. Not many people would open a verse that way.

GROSS: So we're listening to the entrance right now.

WELCH: Yes.

GROSS: Okay.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON CALVARY'S MOUNTAIN")

WELCH: (Singing) On Calvary's mountain, where they made him suffer so. All my sin was paid for a long, long, time ago.

So there you go.

GROSS: My guests are Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. They'll play two more songs after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: My guests are Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, songwriters and musicians. They're going to perform another song that's featured on their latest album "The Harrow and the Harvest." The song is called "Dark Turn of Mind."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "DARK TURN OF MIND")

WELCH: (Singing) Take me and love me if you want me. Don't ever treat me unkind, 'cause I had that trouble already. And it left me with a dark turn of mind. I see the bones in the river. And I feel the wind through the pine. And I hear the shadows a-calling to a girl with a dark turn of mind. But oh, ain't the nighttime so lovely to see? Don't all the night birds sing sweetly?

(Singing) You'll never know how happy I'll be when the sun's going down. And leave me if I'm feeling too lonely, full as the fruit on the vine. You know, some girls are bright as the morning, and some have a dark turn of mind. You know, some girls are bright as the morning, and some girls are blessed with a dark turn of mind.

GROSS: That's Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings performing "Dark Turn of Mind," which is on their new album, "The Harrow and the Harvest." Before we end, you know, what I often do at the end of interviews with performers is ask them to surprise us with a song that we might not thing that they like or that isn't typical for them, and to perform it and tell us why they love it. Would you be up for doing that?

WELCH: Yeah, sure. You want us to just pick the song?

GROSS: Yeah.

WELCH: OK. We'll do "White Rabbit." How's that?

GROSS: That's surprising.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WELCH: OK.

GROSS: Very surprising. And why are you doing this?

WELCH: We discovered one day, accidentally, in sound check, that we were doing our sound at this club, and the reverb was kind of broken, or the wrong setting was on, and I started singing. And I was just drenched in reverb. And it immediately put in me in mind of Grace Slick, and I started singing "White Rabbit."

And all the guys - Dave and our soundman, everyone - just died. So we've actually done it live a couple times. We did it on the - we just finished a tour with the Buffalo Springfield reunion tour, and we actually played it.

RAWLINGS: Yeah. We pulled it out a couple times.

WELCH: Yeah.

RAWLINGS: So we'll give you a little gem, little shot of that here.

GROSS: Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings, it's been so much fun to have you in the studio. Thank you so much for performing for us and talking with us, and thanks to the engineers at NPR West, where you are right now. It's really been a pleasure. Thank you so very much.

WELCH: Thanks, Terry. We really - we had a good time, and thanks for having us on the show.

RAWLINGS: Yes. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHITE RABBIT")

WELCH: (Singing) One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small. And the ones that mother gives you don't do anything at all. Go ask Alice when she's 10 feet tall. And if you go chasing rabbits, and you know you're going to fall, tell 'em a hookah-smoking caterpillar has given you the call. Call Alice when she was just small.

GROSS: That's Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, recorded last July. Their FRESH AIR performance of "White Rabbit" is on iTunes. Their latest album is called "The Harrow and the Harvest."

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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