Gill Landry On What He Knows Now
With his new self-titled studio release (out now on ATO Records), singer-songwriter Gill Landry delivers a somber collection of introspective tunes that show just what a sharp songwriter he’s become. Rolling Stone Country describes his new solo album as a “four-way intersection between Dylan-inspired folk-rock, atmospheric Americana, dusty cowboy songs and street busker ballads.” American Songwriter proclaims “these songs, and especially Landry’s honest performance, resonate long after the last note fades. They beckon you back to further absorb his heartfelt, occasionally comforting, musings on the trials and tribulations of romance-gone-sour.” “I tried not to come at this one from the point of how things could or should have been, or should be,” explains Landry in a press release. “But rather I searched for sweet understanding and surrender to what is or was, and moving forward with compassion and kindness without harsh judgment to the reasons for this crime or that misstep.” Laura Marling duets on “Take This Body” and trumpeter Nick Etwell of Mumford & Sons plays on a handful of songs. Odessa also lends harmonies and violin to a number of tunes, including “Emily.” Robert Ellis plays guitar on “Fennario” and “Bad Love.” Landry recently spoke to us from a peninsula in Washington state where he was “writing songs and just hanging out.” “I just finished my year of touring,” he told us. “I thought I’d treat to myself to some time away from people.”
You got his first guitar when you were five?
I had an uncle who played guitar. That’s what made me want one. My grandparents bought me one. Just a little junky parlor guitar. I started with a songbook for “Camptown Ladies” and moved forward from there. This whole mission I’m on now was never a mission. It never started as one. It’s just one thing after another. I didn’t think I’d be playing music for a living for as long as I have. Now, I’m in the game. Back then, it was just the love of playing music.
At what point did you start writing songs?
Probably in high school. I just started doing it. I was listening to a lot of music and I wanted to start a band with my buddies. I didn’t write anything worth listening to until I was 23. It takes a while to figure out how to say something that hasn’t already been said and to write in your own voice or your own perspective.
You spent a number of years busking. What was that like?
Those were the most free and liberated human experiences I’ve ever had. We were doing fine and making enough cash to get down the road and pay our rent or do whatever we were doing. We didn’t have to book through anybody. We were accountable to no one but ourselves and the street itself. There’s no substitute for performance. It was good to get chops going in that way. It was also good to not get too hung up about anything. We would just play and play. We would play for five hours a day. You did it because you loved it. It was a good adventure.
How did you end up in Old Crow Medicine Show?
On the street. I met them in New Orleans in 2000. They were busking on Jackson Square. We were busking on Royal Street. My buddy wanted me to meet those guys. We just hit it off as pals because we were coming from the same place. We were all studying every old recording we could get our hands on. There weren’t a whole lot of guys our age at that moment who were doing whatever the fuck we were doing.
During a 10-year stint as a member of Old Crow Medicine Show, you played guitar, pedal steel and banjo. You also wrote the songs. Reflect on that experience a bit.
It was great. It was slow and steady. It was a long, slow climb, at least it felt that way. For me, you watched the crowds grow a little bit year by year. There was no glittery bullshit at the time.
Talk about the new self-titled album. Talk about that theme of moving forward.
What I would say more than anything after this year of touring and leaving the band and finding my own feet, I know so much more than when I started a year ago. And I’ve been doing this for 20 years so it’s rather ridiculous. The whole idea was that I wanted to self-produce it. I spent tremendous amounts of money on my earlier works for which I didn’t get the results that I wanted. With the current climate, nobody is throwing money around like it’s water. I didn’t want to see how cheap I could make it but if I could get a real quality product exactly like I wanted at a low cost. I recorded it at my apartment. I did it in the shittiest room you can picture. Total dump. Mice crawling under the floor. I feel like a champion, just for that alone. There was nothing modern going on in that scenario.
Did you write “Take This Body” as a duet?
It evolved into one. I sent Laura Marling two songs. I just wanted that to happen. I love her voice and her spirit and everything. That was the one she chose. It could have gone either way. The song was keyed a little low for her. I don’t remember if she was completely comfortable with where the key was. It was almost like a whisper. It was not very forcibly loud but really wonderful. She’s great. Her singing carried a lot of emotion.
I like the arrangement of “Lost Love.” Talk about the concept for the song.
Thanks. That’s the first one where I wrote the music before I wrote the words. I can’t tell you what the song’s about, but it’s really sincere. I want to protect the innocent, or the guilty. Which one is it? The approach was purely fun, which is what I always like to do in the beginning. My first record is all about fun. The label gave me a substantial amount of money. I thought it might be the last time I got that amount of money. We could have gotten weirder, but we did whatever we wanted. We had fun putting the horns on it and fucking around with shakers and things like that. There’s lots of space and we worked with dynamics and letting things die. That one is really just a fun experiment. I really like that song. I’ve been playing music awhile and you get excited but you’re never reinventing the wheel. When I listen back in the end, I’m always like, “eh.” Like with “Emily,” it has all these moving parts and subtle intricacies and I was jumping up and down excited when I achieved that. Then you sit with it for a while and put on popular French music and you think, “There it is and they did that well.”
Talk about the instrumentation on “Long Road.” Is that a synth?
That is an organ. It’s a keyboard. I forget the name of it. It has this weird thing. It’s supposed to symbolize a Hammond. That was the idea. That’s another one that’s totally random. Those are the only two I wrote really quickly.
I can’t believe you’re touring in January.
No worries. Live by the sword, die by the sword, as they say. I’m up for the adventure. Worst-case scenario, you don’t make it. I love the challenge. I got a full band, so it’ll be nice. They’re not afraid either.
Upcoming 2016 Shows
The Dock – Ithaca, NY
Wolf Den at Mohegan Sun – Uncasville, CT
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – Cleveland, OH
Live at the Ludlow Garage – Cincinnati, OH
Schuba’s Tavern – Chicago, IL
River’s Edge Gallery – Muscatine, IA