The universe is making music all the time

Chosen One: Steve Gunn

leave a comment »

Interview with Steve Gunn.

“Writing the words to songs has been a bit challenging, but I really enjoy the process, and look forward to doing more. To me singing is another instrument, so it adds a bit more to some of the guitar pieces that I’ve come up with.”

—Steve Gunn

Words: Mark & Craig Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry


The Brooklyn-based guitarist, Steve Gunn is one of independent music’s true treasures, having released a plethora of records through various guises and collaborative projects over the past decade. Gunn’s guitar prowess is revelatory that ceaselessly inspires and illuminates. To think of Gunn’s masterful musicianship, an array of guitarists spring to mind – Dirty Three’s Mick Turner, Glenn Jones, Michael Hurley, William Tyler and Jack Rose – that lovingly embodies the spirit of an age-old tradition with which a dedication to the artist’s craft lies at the heart of all the creator’s works. If you were to listen to these gifted guitarist’s career-spanning works, one feels a journey evolving which traverses vast plains of sound, styles, emotion and possibilities. Steve Gunn’s latest masterpiece, ‘Time Off’ – released on the North-Carolina based independent label Paradise Of Bachelors – conveys the guitarist’s most affecting collection of songs thus far.

‘Time Off’ was recorded at Black Dirt Studio, Westtown New York and produced by Jason Meagher. The personnel include Gunn (vocals and guitar) aided by the gifted talents of John Truscinski (drums), Justin Tripp (bass), Helena Espvall (cello), Jason Meagher (flute) and Tyson Lewis (piano). The album feels a culmination of all Gunn’s previous incarnations that have come before; Gunn’s solo works, sometime-guitarist in Kurt Vile’s Violators, one half of the Gunn-Truscinski Duo and a member of GHQ. A new emphasis is drawn to Gunn’s use of vocals here that makes ‘Time Off’ a richly absorbing body of work that encompasses both the art of song-writing and the power of unrivaled musicianship. This deep musical telepathy that exists between the trio of Tripp (bass), Truscinski (drums) and Gunn (guitars/vocals) serves the blood-flow to ‘Time Off’s resolutely unique world of sound.

‘Lurker’ – the album’s second track – perfectly embodies the spirit of ‘Time Off’ as Gunn’s central guitar motif conjures up the sound of an utterly timeless psych folk exploration. The hypnotic bassline supplied by Tripp and Truscinski’s soaring beat serves the ideal backdrop to the song’s vivid sense of searching and longing that permeates throughout. The refrain of “Found a spot to kill time and look around” invites the listener to explore the Brooklyn neighbourhood and city streets and in turn, lose yourself to the multitude of senses and flavours that surround you. A brooding mood develops as a beguiling guitar interlude comes to the forefront of the mix some five minutes in. A towering crescendo is reached that gradually comes to a resolution. Before too long, the gloriously meditative guitar motif returns like the arrival of a long-lost friend.

‘Old Strange’ is the album’s centerpiece. The song’s sprawling canvas is a joy to savour that serves a celebration to Gunn’s dear departed friend and muse, Jack Rose. At a recent Glenn Jones show, it was strikingly clear what a presence Rose has had – and continues to have – on the guitarist’s life and music, as a prevailing sense of loss was etched across the face, and indeed the music of Jones. Similarly, the spirit of Rose is wonderfully portrayed throughout the shape-shifting eleven minutes of Gunn’s ode to a dear friend. A cathartic energy is released by Truscinski’s majestic drum-work that serves the heartbeat and pulse to Gunn’s swirling rock rhythms. A symphony is formed where raw emotion exudes from the player’s trusted instruments. Elsewhere, Gunn’s twelve-string guitar-based ‘Trailways Ramble’ contains an Eastern – near cosmic – feel as an irresistible groove is formed by the rhythm section of Tripp and Truscinski. The soothing melodies of ‘Water Wheel’ serves the perfect opening of the enriching voyage. ‘Time Off’ is a marvel of a record that will long serve my trusted companion for many years to come.


‘Time Off’ is available now on Paradise Of Bachelors.



Interview with Steve Gunn.

Firstly, congratulations, Steve, on the absolutely incredible ‘Time Off’, it’s been on constantly since I first listened to it during the summer and it is such a breathtaking record. It feels like such an enriching journey – a sort of cross-country road trip of an album – and the songs form such a beautiful, cohesive whole which linger for such a long time afterwards.

SG: Thanks so much for the kind words on the album. I’m really happy to hear that it provided a bit of a soundtrack to your summer this past year.


What I’d be really interested in hearing about, firstly, is that ‘Time Off’ is your first album with a “band”, featuring the wonderful talents of both John Truscinski on drums and Justin Tripp on bass. Of course, you also have been heavily involved with many collaborations over the years, not least as half of the magnificent Gunn-Truscinski Duo (alongside John), as a member of The Violators and numerous other bands and records. Did recording as a band mean a departure for you in how you approached ‘Time Off’? When did the writing and recording of ‘Time Off’ begin?

SG: Recording as a band was a bit of a departure, because it wasn’t just me recording alone anymore. We worked on the songs on ‘Time Off’ for a while in a band setting before going into the studio. This was the first time I took songs into a studio with a band. It was a long time coming, but a bit of a departure for sure.

I never really knew that I was writing for the album per say. I realized that it was time to make an album because I had enough songs and felt that they were ready to be put together. It was a span of a few years that I got all of these songs together. Some of them developed over a long period of time and playing them live, other songs were writing pretty quickly and not played live. It was mix of different times I suppose.


I would love if you could talk a little about the playing of both John Truscinski and Justin Tripp on the album. Together with your own incredible guitar playing (and vocals), the musicianship on the whole is so breathtaking – the sense of rhythm and in particular how everything combines so organically is such a delight to behold. How and when did you first meet both John and Justin?

SG: I met John in New York City about seven years ago through mutual friends who played music. We were jamming together here and there with different people, and we decided to start collaborating as a duo. We’ve played together a lot and developed a real sense of each other musically.
Justin is a close friend that I first met in Philadelphia. We’ve known each other for a long time and have played in all different kinds of bands, and share a similar sense of and appreciation for many types of music.
Both John and Justin have had a lot of experience in studio settings, which has been really valuable. I look forward to working with them on this next record.


I get the impression that the six pieces on the album must have been such a long time in coming together, they really feel like a culmination of a particularly long time. How did these songs come to light? Additionally, were they the result of improvisations or were they carefully assembled and imagined from the outset between yourself, John and Justin?

SG: I wrote these songs and played most of them quite a bit as a soloist. I intended to try them with a band, but it took a while. John and I had been working on duo instrumental recordings for a few years, and I was doing my solo stuff separately. Finally it was the right time for me to incorporate John into my songs. Justin was a logical fit as well, because we go way back and have an acute understanding of what we wanna try to do in the studio and when we play live. I also have to mention Jason Meagher, who is the engineer at Black Dirt Studios, where I’ve worked on a many recordings. He’s also been a big help when I try to figure out what to do with the songs and question how to incorporate different instruments, etc. He knows how to set the scene and vibe perfectly in the studio.


When did you realize you wanted to record vocals on your album? I love how your voice adds such a beautiful new dimension to your music. The imagery in the lyrics also add another realm to the feel and mood of the album (for example “the sun goes down / the dogs will sound” from ‘Water Wheel’). I imagine it must have proved a challenge in the sense you were adding another “layer” to the process, so to speak?

SG: Thanks. I always wanted to sing, but it took a while for me to get used to it. Touring as a solo performer was a real learning experience for me and I’ve grown more comfortable singing live. I’m still working on it.
Writing the words to songs has been a bit challenging, but I really enjoy the process, and look forward to doing more. To me singing is another instrument, so it adds a bit more to some of the guitar pieces that I’ve come up with.


There’s such a natural and stunning unfolding to each song – whether in particular arrangements or subtle shifts in tempo and so on – I imagine the album must have been challenging not only to write but also to capture to tape in a manner you were satisfied with?

SG: With these songs, we’d rehearsed and played them out live quite a bit before going into the studio to record them. That made the process easier when we finally got into the studio. The album was mostly recorded live, and we’d already developed what we wanted to do before going in to record.


Where does the title ‘Time Off’ originate from?

SG: It comes from me taking a long time to make a record.


My current favourite is the magnificent ‘Old Strange.’ It’s got such an expansive, hypnotic and meditative quality to it. The visceral quality (as well as those wonderful strings) reminds me of Dirty Three or Velvet Underground recordings. Also, the lyrics are beautiful, I particularly love the “what was real” and “it’s strange coming back around” lyrics. How did this song emerge for you? Did it stem from that repeated guitar phrase at the beginning?

SG: The song did stem from a repeated guitar phrase at first. I guess that’s how all of my songs come about, really. This song was a dedication to a friend, Jack Rose. I wrote this song for him.


In terms of musical styles and traditions, you seem to be able to draw inspiration from so many diverse avenues, yet you can distill them so beautifully into your own distinctive sound (blues, country, psychedelia, free jazz and spiritual jazz, German Krautrock and so on), and call to mind many musicians (Jansch, Cooder, Chapman, Thompson, Dylan, for example). I would love to know the albums that, for you, hold the most resonance as both a musician and as a songwriter?

SG: Here is a short list of some of my favorites:

Michael Chapman – Rainmaker
Sonny Sharrock – Black Woman
Richard & Linda Thompson – Pour Down Like Silver
Bob Dylan – Basement Tapes
Sun Ra – Lanquidity
Moby Grape – 1969


Can you remember the moment you first realized music was going to be your true path in life? What were your formative influences to be a musician when growing up?

SG: I got really interested in music in middle school, and starting playing guitar in high school. First I was into skateboarding and punk rock stuff. Later I discovered jazz and older rock records and my whole world opened up.


In terms of your own guitar playing; I would love if you could talk about your development as a guitarist over the years?
There is also such a richly diverse number of guitarists making such wonderful music today – William Tyler, Glenn Jones, Daniel Bachman and Cian Nugent to name just a few – it must be an exciting time for you to be able to receive the attention and acclaim from audiences that you so much deserve?

SG: I started getting serious about playing the guitar in college, more than fifteen years ago now. That’s when I started practicing a lot, started listening to and drawing from a wide range of music. I still try to practice often and make time for it. I am mostly inspired by my friends who play music and those who are generous with their playing and listening, those for whom it’s always about the music itself. I’m fortunate to know a lot of really talented and dedicated musicians, and I’m humbled by the attention I’ve received, inspired to keep working at it.


‘Time Off’ is available now on Paradise Of Bachelors.


Written by admin

January 20, 2014 at 10:14 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: