Several years ago, Americana artist Gillian Welch and musical partner David Rawlings got hold of an early vinyl copy of Van Morrison’s 1968 album “Astral Weeks.” As soon as Welch dropped the needle, she was taken aback.
“It was an astounding experience because this is a record I would have told you I knew intimately,” she says. “For the first time, I could actually see Van singing into the microphone, I could visualize what he was doing. I could see all of it. And just after that moment of revelation, we were both instantaneously furious — just furious that this sonic information had been eradicated by the CD.”
That led the duo to pursue putting their music (made under each of their names) on vinyl for the first time. Frustrated by the inferior quality of many modern-day pressings, they spent $100,000 on a record lathe in 2013 so they could cut LPs and release them on their label, Acony Records. On Friday, the pair releases a vinyl edition of Welch’s 2011 album “The Harrow & The Harvest,” which they’ll perform in full Monday at the Kennedy Center.
When you heard “The Harrow & The Harvest” on vinyl, what did it bring out in the music?
I can hear how we’re playing what we’re playing more clearly on a phonograph record than on any other format on earth. … Also, I have this interesting thing now. I look around my living room and I see all my records stacked against the baseboards. It’s always made me feel weird that the music we make was never a part of that and so I feel like now, if people actually buy this thing and take it home, then we might actually be part of that pile of records.
What do you hope that you — and your fans — get out of these shows where you’re performing the album in full?
I don’t know. It will be a curious thing for them and for us. We’ve never done a full album performance before.
Will you be doing the album as a set, then a set of other songs?
That seems like a solid plan. The album is a bit introspective. We wouldn’t end the entire show with it so I think the natural thing is to play it as an uninterrupted first set, take an intermission and then come back and play something that balances it out. I’m hoping people will be able to sit back and enjoy something that they know in a live performance. There’s no other instrumentation on that record — we are the people that are making every sound on that record. And that’s how we tour.
You jump into Dave Rawlings Machine’s tour after this (and release his new album, “Poor David’s Almanack,” on Aug. 11), then go back to “Harvest” shows.
We’ve never done this much ping-ponging before.
With each project, you trade off who has the leading role. Is it strange to go back and forth?
It’s not that strange. We just need to kind of readjust. Our jobs are a little different in both iterations and it takes us just a few hours of playing, honestly, to kind of recalibrate but I guess we find it enjoyable or we wouldn’t do it. I like what it’s precipitating musically. I feel like it’s enriching both bands.
You’ve been looking back of late, first with last year’s demos album, “Boots No. 1: The Official Revival Bootleg,” and now the vinyl releases. You haven’t put out a new record since 2011. Where’s the next Gillian Welch album?
It’s in my notebook on my coffee table, somewhere in there. That’s the next door to be opened. It’s so hard after all these years. I wish I could have figured out a way to be an artistic multitasker but I’m not. When I do something, I turn my attention to it fully. So are the vinyl reissues to blame? Yes, certainly partially, but is it worth doing? I hope so. I know if I went to my grave without putting out a phonograph record, it would be a sad thing.
Will we see more vinyl releases?
We’re kind of working our way backwards [through Welch and Rawlings’ discographies], so you can figure it out. … We have to see how the world embraces the stuff.
It’s admirable that you’re doing it yourself.
Well, you could say that. You could call us crazy.
Short of Jack White, musicians don’t cut their own vinyl records.
I hate to tell you this but I think we’re crazier than Jack because we actually cut this. If you look at the scribe — those are the initials of the cutting engineer scribed into the inner ring — the initials on “Harrow” are Brent Bishop, who’s an assistant engineer of ours, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings and [mastering engineer] Stephen Marcussen. We are the cutting engineers on “Harrow.” I don’t know if Jack has ever scribed his name onto the lacquer.
Did you stick the records into the sleeves, too?
I would if I had to. The sad truth is we only do the things we have to. We bought the lathe because we had to. We’re cutting engineers because we had to be. We formed our own label because we had to. I remember reading a quote from Sam Phillips, who started Sun Records, and I’ve never felt such kinship. He basically said, “I didn’t want to start a record label — I had to.” And that’s exactly how I feel. I had no desire to start a record label — I had to. That’s always what we do: Whatever we have to so no one can stop us.
Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW; Mon., 8 p.m., $38.