Gill Landry: ‘I Don’t Know How to Not Be Honest’
As a member of the Grand Ole Opry and proud owner of a Grammy award, Gill Landry has spent a significant amount of time in the spotlight. That spotlight, though, is shared with his bandmates in Old Crow Medicine Show. That's not a bad thing -- we love Old Crow -- but it finds Landry assuming the role of "sideman" in a very collaborative environment.
Fortunately, in addition to Old Crow, Landry has been able to find the means to express himself in a solo setting, first with 2007's The Ballad of Lawless Soirez, then with 2011's Piety & Desire. Those efforts have all led to his masterpiece, his recently released self-titled LP (read our Editors' Pick album review).
Taking some time out of his busy schedule, Landry caught up with us about the new album, as well as what it's like balancing his Old Crow life with his solo duties. Check out our exclusive chat below:
I was really excited about this album as soon as I heard the opening notes. I’m a big Old Crow fan, but this definitely has a different feel to it.
Did you say you aren’t a big Old Crow fan?
[Laughs] No, I am!
Okay. I was going to say, that’d be an interesting way to start this conversation. That’s hilarious.
So, I’m a big fan, but this is different than what the band does. I think it stands on its own from start to finish. How does it feel to have it wrapped up?
Liberating. It feels really good.
How long have you been working on it?
I just started writing and recording bits sometime in 2011. So it’s kind of been a long process. I was on tour for part of the time, so I could only work on it in between that. It wasn’t like I just spent a few weeks in the studio and that was it. Since I made it myself, I was able to take my time.
Did you approach this one differently than your first two solo albums?
Yes, and in exactly in that way. The first two, I was given some money and I thought I should take the traditional route and get a producer and get a great studio and use up all the money. I’d go in for two weeks, hire musicians and do it all like that. The second one was similar, time was money. With this one, I had the gear. In fact, I bought the gear so I could buy myself time and actually experience making it.
And you produced it, too. What was that experience like, handling both sides of the album?
I would say the most frustrating thing is that you don’t know when to stop yourself. A producer will tell you, “Alright, we’re done.” I can go on forever, neurotically, about something I probably should’ve let go of earlier on. But it’s all a learning process which was really enjoyable.
It’s your third solo album, but it’s self-titled. There isn’t anything that says you can’t have a self-titled album in the middle of your career, but I’m curious if this means something to you. Does calling it Gill Landry have a deeper meaning to it for you?
The general idea is that I wanted to keep it from being judged by its cover. I didn’t want people to get a preconceived idea about what it should sound like. You know, if I put “love” in the title, then people might think it’s just all love songs. In a lot of ways, I’m starting new mid-career. It’s still always a new process for me. This is an opportunity to breathe.
You’ve been with Old Crow for over a decade. Is it tough to shift gears and focus on your solo material?
It’s definitely two different mentalities. The main thing is that it’s a tremendous amount of work, what I was doing in the middle of touring with Old Crow. You know, they’re a well-oiled machine. It just kicks ass. The crew is great, everybody is great. But this, it’s just me. I’m a sideman in Old Crow, so the pressure is minimal. Just show up and play. This requires a lot more from me, but in some ways that gives me a whole new set of rewards I can’t achieve in Old Crow. It’s good.
You were touring with Old Crow and you even put out a new album [2014's Remedy], all the while working on your solo album. Do you share you stuff with the other guys in the band?
Generally, I brought maybe a couple of songs to them, but there are certain things that are just not the type of writing for Old Crow. I would say that band definitely has a personality. And I think this record is in far left field compared to Old Crow. It’s not shocking, but there is a contrast. All of these songs, too, are very personal, they’re very much me. Old Crow is a band of brothers in a way, writing together, writing more in a collection type of way. Does that make sense?
With my solo album, these songs are singular visions. Old Crow has a lot of cooks in the kitchen, which can definitely be a good thing.
When you say your songs are very personal, I think that rings truest during “Take This Body,” which also happens to be my favorite track on the album.
The first time I heard it, it stopped me in my tracks.
How did you get hooked up with Laura Marling for that song?
I met Laura in Scotland about four years ago. We were both there at the same time. Old Crow were in the same town and her sound engineer introduced us at like three in the morning. It was great. We just became friends. She’s a brilliant lady, so I asked if she was interested and she said yes. I sent her two songs and she picked that one.
What was the inspiration behind “Take This Body”?
When I was writing it, I was single, living in a pretty s---ty apartment in Nashville. What sort of inspired it ... you know, I don’t know if I have enough time to get totally into it. It’s tough, it’s deep. But, it pretty much says it in the chorus. I know exactly what the song is about, but I don’t know how to define it outside of the poetry. [Laughs] I don’t mean to say it’s so mind-blowing that I can't explain it, but I think the lyrics kind of speak for themselves. It’s like sex without true human connection, “Give me more than flesh and bone,” you know, show me something more than this simple copulation.
When you write your songs, are they all very personal to you, in the sense that they're first-person accounts? Or do you find yourself taking on the role of narrator at times and creating the stories from scratch?
I’m not a fiction writer. I've seen these things before. Whether they’re directly connected to my own personal life or not, that gets kind of blurry I guess. Friends, lovers, whatever -- it might not just be one friend or one lover, but ultimately, I use those experiences, those friendships to get the point across. They’re personal in that way, but maybe they aren’t factual.
That makes sense.
Does it take some of the joy out of it for me to explain it like that?
No, I don't think so.
I don’t know how to not be honest, that’s the thing. You ask me a question, I’ll tell you the answer. I don’t know the rules, and I don’t really care if there are rules. But I would like to keep as much magic alive as possible.
The biggest appeal to your music is the authenticity, so I wouldn’t expect anything other than honesty.
I don’t know how to be anything else.