After 11 years as a member of the Grammy-award-winning Old Crow Medicine Show, Gill Landry struck out on his own earlier this year following the release of his third solo, self-titled, album. With his first headline tour recently completed in the US following a support slot on Laura Marling’s UK tour this spring, Landry has come a long way from his early days busking around the north-west of America and across Europe. His relationship with Old Crow was forged during those early busking days, and the band’s infectious, foot-stomping, folksy rock‘n’roll was a product of that environment. But if Old Crow were a rowdy Saturday night on the streets of New Orleans, then Gill Landry’s latest solo album is the Sunday morning that follows. Introspective, laid-back and occasionally beautiful; none more so than on Take This Body, a duet with Marling that starts out as an examination of the angst of loneliness which, by the end, is transformed into a paean to a flowering new love. It’s exquisite stuff. Landry recorded most of the album in his Nashville apartment – which also appears on the album cover – but I Skyped him, while he was taking a break from touring, in the remote Colorado mountains.
CS: Where are are you? It must be pretty remote if there are no mobile phone signals.
GL: I’m in Colorado, up in the White Mountain National Forest. It’s very nice.
Is it a holiday?
I just got done with a whole load of touring and I only have a few days left and then I’m back at it, so I came up here to do some R and R.
It sounds like a nice place, are you doing any writing?
Yeh a bit, although not as much as I would have liked. I’m doing more fishing than writing, but I think it’s getting me where I need to be.
Have you been touring in the US since your UK tour in spring (Landry supported Laura Marling on her tour of the UK and Ireland in April and May)?
I did the UK tour with Laura and then I did a couple of weeks in the States when I got back – my first bout of headline shows.
How did the tour and collaboration with Laura Marling come about?
We’re just pals; I think I asked her. I’ve known her for a while and she was on one of the songs, Take This Body, on the album. Then she give me her whole UK tour, which was quite generous.
How did you find the UK audiences, was this the first time you’ve been over here solo?
I’ve been to the UK loads of times, but this was the first time I’ve been over solo to audiences of that size. I found it wonderful. The only difference that I noticed is that it tends to be much more like a church, silent throughout a tune, but the response at the end is always the same.
Did you play all the new album when you were in the UK?
I played almost nothing but new material, which was great because I’m not really known there. I get to approach it however I like. There is no expectation.
Do you prefer playing in a band or is solo better?
It depends. I did a tour this spring with Justin Townes Earle, he came out basically solo. If Laura had came out solo I would have preferred that, but when you’re playing before someone with a band, it feels like the audience is expecting that.
At the end of the shows I did with Laura, for about the last three quarters of them Laura and her band would come out and back me up on Take This Body and then Bad Love, which was really nice because I much prefer playing with a band, although solo is a lot of fun.
Nick Etwell, the Filthy Six’s bandleader and trumpeter for Mumford and Sons, also plays on the album along with other top musicians such as Robert Ellis, how did those collaborations come about?
They’re all friends, well, I consider them friends, I assume they consider me friends! Nick happened to be in town, Nashville, so I had him do a couple of songs. I made the record in my apartment, so basically when Nick or somebody would come through town, I’d say: “You want to come over?” And they’d be: “Love to” … They’d come over and we’d lay some tracks. I’ve just made a lot of friends.
There’s some great footage of the Old Crow Medicine Show playing This Train Is Bound For Glory with Mumford and Sons and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros on the internet. Mumford and Sons have credited Old Crow in the past as being an influence, it must be good to know you helped inspire such a successful band
They were very forthcoming saying they were big fans of Old Crow and saying they inspired them. It’s always great, it’s the highest compliment. To have inspired anyone is almost greater than anything in the whole world. To be able to share the inspiration that got you going in the first place and see it passed down the line in your own little way is very endearing and encouraging.
Gill Landry: ‘I’m putting my own boots on and taking a walk’did you get going in the first place, I read you were discovered busking, is that true?
I was living out in Oregon and playing music with friends, writing songs, doing the whole bit and we couldn’t get gigs. Then we went out and played at a fair and earned a couple of hundred bucks, never having thought to do it, I guess that would be ‘discovered busking’. At the time when we went to do it, it seemed quite easy. Then that basically became a way of life … I did that for six or seven years, between New Orleans and the north west. I did a bit of busking in Europe, too, and really took it on as a lifestyle. It was wonderful for so many reasons, but mainly the freedom, the freedom to pop up a venue anywhere and make enough cash to get down the road, or to just do what you need to do, and not needing to worry about gigs. Eventually it went to gigs and that’s how I met Old Crow, because they were doing the same thing and even roughly in the same style and genre that I was doing, so that’s how we ended up connecting, through that world. We met at Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
There wasn’t a whole lot of people doing that at the time, or coming up through that route in a way in which we were doing, because we were all in, you know. That was the kindredness that we had, so when we got together it wasn’t too hard to understand where we were coming from. For me to get on board with what they were doing it was quite easy. And I really enjoyed it. Obviously, the type of songs on this record don’t apply to that kind of work, but playing guitars on the street, it’s about as good as it gets. A lot of fun.
You’ve left Old Crow now, is that why the Gill Landry album sounds so personal? Was leaving the band the creative push behind it?
I’m just always writing songs, the push was that: it’s just what I do. The reason I had to leave Old Crow is you’re only allowed to write a certain kind of song in a band like that, with so many writers and singers, so it’s definitely personal in a lot of ways. It’s not about one person in particular. I just had other things to say and they kept coming out. It was a conscious process, but it also is what I do: it just happens.
So it’s not a breakup album? Some of the titles of songs, such as Funeral In My Heart, Last Love, Bad Love, made me think it must have been about a particular relationship gone bad
No, no, not a breakup … it’s definitely seemingly downhearted and I think there’s hopefulness within it. I realised I wrote a lot of love songs; love is such a great topic.
It’s been getting good reviews, do you agree it’s your best work so far?
I think I’m most satisfied with it as a complete body of work, if the album is something that’s still valid as a medium, I’m very pleased with it front to back. My previous albums I’m happy with a large part, although I’ve written songs I don’t like. With this one, there was no wasted words, it was more precise. Also it’s a fresh start, because I’ve left Old Crow. So I’m putting my own boots on and taking a walk. It’s a good clean slate.
Do you feel like you’re now you hitting your stride in your solo work with this being your third solo album?
That’s a fair point, I would say I know more what my approach is. If we’re paying attention to whatever we do, we grow in consciousness, so I feel like I’m more aware now of what I want; how to approach it and how to get it; how I should be. In an line of work you should hopefully be growing and getting better and wiser.
Is that one of the reasons you went solo, are you feeling more comfortable in yourself as an artist?
No, I’ve always felt comfortable in myself as an artist, it’s just really hard to make a living out of it. Old Crow was not my artistic passion, but it was a fun gig and it paid well. Putting music out, even now, it’s a serious hustle just to convince people: “Here, listen to my songs!” But, I’m working on a lot of faith these days, feeling pretty good about it and I don’t really care what happens, I’m just in it and digging it. I feel supremely confident, if I can keep enough grease to keep it rolling, I’m in.
What are you listening to at the moment?
That would be a rather broad range of things. I just saw John Prine play up in Aspen, Colorado, at a place called the Belly Up. I’d forgotten just how many great songs he’s written. I was never a huge fan at any point, just always a fan. We’d even done shows with him with Old Crow and I guess I wasn’t paying enough attention, because I sat up front and watched the whole show and, his delivery, the intelligence and emotional intelligence of the songs, I was moved, massively. So, I’ve been listening to a lot of his hits.
As far as current, that’s always a tough one because a lot of them are just my friends, I guess. There’s this band called The Deslondes out of New Orleans, they’ve recently put a record out I enjoy. The songwriting is really good, it’s raw in the best way. Other than that that, they’re mostly all dead. I’ve been listening to some Miles Davis, he did a soundtrack to a French film in the 50’s, it’s called Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Lift To The Scaffold). The whole thing is in D-Minor, it’s as moody as hell, and I’ve been listening to that quite a bit; that’s a nice morning: get up and put that on.
The list goes on and on, I’m listening to a lot of music these days, more than I have done for a long time, and vinyl, too … I’ve been re-investing. I guess like many people I lost my collection just through moving and all of that, so I’ve been reacquiring.
Is the new album available on vinyl?
It is, and it’s my first album out on vinyl and it was huge for me, I was so excited.
One final question: Are you looking forward to the US elections? Are you voting Trump?
I couldn’t care less! I don’t like anybody … I wish there was more chance for true weirdos to get in the mix – not like Donald Trump! Which is amazing, hahaha – like back in the 60s when they had ‘nobody’ for president, I’d totally vote for nobody.
Thanks Gill, I’ll let you get back to your fishing
Interview by Craig Scott. July 2015