Steve Gunn

STEVE GUNN “WAY OUT WEATHER” from KT Auleta on Vimeo.

Steve Gunn’s new album, Way Out Weather, is a radical widescreen evolution, featuring a larger band and lusher arrangements, this is the virtuosic guitarist and songwriter’s career-defining statement to date. Lightning changes things; the soul burns. Out now on Mistletone Records, via Inertia Music.

  • “A panoramic effect that speaks of an unbroken horizon and the hypnotic rhythm of a car being driven towards it… (Gunn) delivers hard earned wisdom with a poetic precision” – SYDNEY MORNING HERALD  (★★★★ 4 stars)
  • “MERCURY RISING: Former Kurt Vile compadre completes full transformation into majestic American singer-songwriter” — MOJO ★★★★★  [5 stars]
  • “How does a questing psychedelic guitarist transform themselves into classic singer-songwriter? By compromising, in many cases. Brooklyn’s Steve Gunn, however, is managing the transition with uncanny elegance” — Uncut [8/10]
  • Way Out Weather marks the completion of Gunn’s transformation from a master guitarist into a songwriter who can trust in his own voice and arrangements as much as his spectacular fretwork. He’s thrown open the windows and let the light in, as he embraces pristine, lush production that makes guitars sparkle and drums crack.” – NPR Music
  • “ALBUM OF THE YEAR” — STEPHEN “THE GHOST” WALKER, 3RRR-FM

Steve Gunn is a New York-based guitarist and songwriter. With a career spanning nearly fifteen years, Steve has produced volumes of critically acclaimed solo, duo, and ensemble recordings. His astounding solo albums, as well as his work with GHQ and longtime collaborating drummer John Truscinski, represent milestones of contemporary guitar-driven, forward music. A voracious schedule of international performances has cultivated a fervent fanbase for Steve Gunn’s music throughout the world. These days you can find him playing with his band as well as sometimes serving as guitarist in fellow Philadelphia-bred troubadour Kurt Vile’s band, the Violators.

Mining the catalogues of Basho, Bull, Chapman, and Sharrock, among other titans of stringed-things and record-session royalty, Steve has steadily processed these inspirations into a singular, virtuosic stream. Friendships and collaborations with Jack Rose, Tom Carter, Meg Baird, Mike Cooper, and Michael Chapman colored the disciplined evolution of the discursive, deconstructed blues sound, at once transcendent and methodical, that is now Steve Gunn’s signature. Close listening reveals the influence of Delta and Piedmont country blues, ecstatic free jazz, and psych, as well as Gnawa and Carnatic music, on the continually unfolding compositions.

Steve Gunn’s 2009 solo album for Three Lobed Records, Boerum Palace, demonstrated a fully realized power for songcraft; Steve started to sing more and developed a commanding vocal style equal to his guitar practice. His acclaimed instrumental duo recordings with Truscinski, Sand City (2010) and Ocean Parkway (2012), cemented his place among the top of his peers, both present and past. These documents display Steve Gunn’s compositional penchant for charting musical travelogues that ramble through city and wilderness alike. Dispatches home are not merely descriptive but corporeal; the evocative, rhythmic power of his writing and phrasing carries the listener along bodily. Steve builds songs as exploratory vessels, opens them up for mechanical tinkering, and lives in them through ceaseless improvisatory permutations.

In 2013, the excellent North Carolina-based indie label Paradise of Bachelors released Time Off, his first album as leader of a trio including longtime friends John Truscinski on drums and Justin Tripp on bass, and a record on which Steve’s compelling singing features more prominently than ever before. The album features his oblique character sketches and story-songs about friends, acquaintances, and denizens of his Brooklyn neighborhood, using the trio band format to launch his compositions into new, luminous strata. This is Steve Gunn at the top of his game, writing his most memorable tunes and lyrics, utterly unique but steeped in traditions both vernacular and avant-garde.

A heady and elliptical travelogue, Way Out Weather demonstrates a radical widescreen evolution, featuring a larger band and lighting out for lusher, more expansive, and impressionistic territories than Time Off. This is the virtuosic guitarist and songwriter’s career-defining statement to date, a self-assured masterpiece.

 

  • “It’s impossible to just talk about Steve. He’s too good! He’s so good; just listen to him. What can I even say about him that touches that? I just want to listen to him. I remember I was so excited when I discovered Jack Rose, someone living in my city who had caught the torch from John Fahey. Hearing Steve, I immediately received that same deep appreciation and was completely blown away, beyond. Just growing up with ‘roots music’ (so to speak) and immediately seeing something that was real and totally pure, no gimmicks. But he takes it further, and on his own terms, and all the while it sounds old, and new, and timeless. Dude’s a head, what can I say? It made me want to be a part of it myself” – KURT VILE
  • “Luminous, blooming, meditative chants. Just beautiful. I can’t really think of anyone who wouldn’t be into this excellent album” – JAMES McNEW, YO LA TENGO

 

SG in Moscow-1
Steve Gunn photo by Constance Mensh.

In Donald Barthelme’s 1982 story “Lightning,” the narrator, a journalist investigating lightning strike survivors, reflects that “lightning changes things; the soul burns, having been struck by lightning.” He wonders about aesthetic (and supernatural) dimensions—is “lightning an attempt at music on the part of God?”

Three decades later, as the catastrophic effects of climate change encroach upon the realms of science fiction, how might our communications and social conventions change, becoming correspondingly weirder and darker? Weather is, after all, both a formulaic conversation starter across cultures and a shared condition that connects us experientially. So what happens when “How about this weather?” becomes a less banal and much more compelling, and dangerous, question?

While ecological unease worries at the edges of Steve Gunn’s bold new full-band album Way Out Weather—the breathing sea of the billowing title track, the bad wind and moon over “Wildwood,” the polluted pyramid and blue bins in “Shadow Bros,” the desert heat sickness of “Atmosphere”—the resonance of the title is primarily metaphorical and oblique. Written largely while on tour, the record is an elliptical but seductive travelogue, more engaged with navigating foreign (“way out”) emotional landscapes, and with grasping at universal threads of language and narrative, than with bemoaning rising sea levels.

Despite the album-opening lyric to the contrary, “Way Out Weather” is an uncommon song in Steve Gunn’s discography. Sonically and lyrically the album demonstrates a radical evolution, lighting out for lusher, more expansive, and impressionistic territories; it’s his first major work as an artist for whom the studio provides a critical context. A more enigmatic and elevated affair than its predecessor, Way Out Weather completes Steve Gunn’s satisfying transformation into a mature songwriter, singer, and bandleader of subtlety and authority. It ranks as most impressive and inviting record yet, an inscrutable but entirely self-assured masterpiece.

The critically acclaimed Time Off (Paradise of Bachelors, 2013), his first full-band album highlighting his vocals, represented the culmination of Steve’s steady fifteen-year migration from the frontier fringes of the guitar avant-garde, where he is regarded as a prodigy, and toward his especial style of more traditionally informed (albeit deconstructed) songcraft. Those songs developed from years of woodshedding and performance, offering a linear, local narrative that mapped the contours of Steve’s Brooklyn neighborhood and a matrix of musical friendships, earning him a broad new following.

Less patently intimate, Way Out Weather angles for something far more cosmic, dynamic, and widescreen in sound and sentiment. In contrast to the interiority of Time Off, these eight decidedly exterior songs aren’t grounded by the specifics of geography, instead inhabiting headier, more rarefied altitudes (see in particular the ethereal “Shadow Bros,” “Fiction,” and “Atmosphere.”) They step beyond home and hover above horizon, unmoored from immediate circumstances and surroundings. Here, Steve Gunn’s discursive, mantric guitar style, at once transcendent and methodical—and as influenced by Western guitarists such as Michael Chapman and Sonny Sharrock as by Ghanaian highlife, Gnawa, and Carnatic forms—maintains its signature helical intricacy and mesmeric propulsion, while buoyed by a bigger crew of musicians, a wider instrumental palette, and higher production values than ever before.

Belying their ambitious new scale and scope, most of these songs arrived at Westtown, New York’s scene-seminal Black Dirt Studio as skeletal solo demos. An enthusiastic and generous collaborator—recently he has partnered with Kurt Vile, Michael Chapman, Mike Cooper, the Black Twig Pickers, Cian Nugent, et al.– Steve assembled an accomplished group of comrades to flesh out the full arrangements, trusting the germinal songs to an instinctual process of spontaneous composition, transposition, and improvisation.

The WOW studio band comprised longtime musical brothers Jason Meagher (bass, drones, engineering), Justin Tripp (bass, guitar, keys, production), and John Truscinski (drums), in addition to newcomers Nathan Bowles (drums, banjo, keys: Black Twig Pickers, Pelt); James Elkington (guitar, lap steel, dobro: Freakwater, Jeff Tweedy); Mary Lattimore (harp, keys: Thurston Moore, Kurt Vile); and Jimy SeiTang (synths, electronics: Psychic Ills, Rhyton.)

This preternaturally intuitive and inventive band allowed Steve to sculpt the album as a composer and colorist as well as a player. The cascading runs of “Milly’s Garden,” the menacing urgency of “Drifter,” and the alien, galvanic syncopation of album closer “Tommy’s Congo” (the latter unlike anything Gunn has heretofore recorded) display a thrilling mastery of heavier, increasingly kinetic full-band arrangements. His vocals throughout are more present, commanding, and refined, revealing a restrained but highly nuanced baritone capable of remarkable grace.

Way Out Weather is Steve Gunn’s career-defining statement to date. Lightning changes things; the soul burns.