Every time I hear a new piece of music by virtuoso guitarist and singer/songwriter Steve Gunn, from the moment the first play ends, I immediately start the song over again. And then I play it again. And then again. That’s exactly what I did what I first heard his mystical and monumental John Fahey does La Monte Young drone jam “Tommy’s Congo.” I could not stop playing that song. The album that song comes from, Way Out Weather, same thing. It didn’t leave my CD player for months back in 2014. Steve Gunn’s shit is hypnotic. His music is… deep. (In fact I went on another marathon with that same track on repeat last week for about two solid hours at top volume. I’m sure my wife wasn’t thrilled, but she didn’t ask me to stop, either.)
Gunn is one of the best guitarists of his generation. Period. There is no one else doing what he’s doing. Don’t take my word for it, there are dozens of goddamned amazing clips of him playing on YouTube. It’s a rabbit hole I suspect you will enjoy going down, especially if you enjoy listening to someone play guitar like they were issued one at birth, and have been practicing since that day. Talk about prowess. And his tonality. The guy is the Yo Yo Ma of guitarists, he really is.
Steve Gunn has got a new album coming out this summer—Eyes On The Lines comes out on June 3rd via Matador—and I’m pleased to able to premiere the new video, “Ancient Jules” which co-stars another guitar hero, Michael Chapman here on Dangerous Minds. And yes, I played this one over and over again. I think you will too, it’s hard to resist.
I asked Steve Gunn a few questions over email.
Eyes On The Lines is a road album. Are they your road stories or road stories that you’re telling, like a novelist?
The new album is a combination of different kinds of stories and perspectives. Some are my own stories and some are not, a few are combinations of both. I tried to mix it up a bit more for this record.
I find that your music is so evocative of wide open spaces and expansive landscapes—like in the video—that it seems counterintuitive to read that you live in New York City.
The music I make obviously doesn’t have the urgency of a place like New York, but for me I suppose that’s where I find a balance. I’ve lived in a city most of my life, and a lot of these open spaces exist in my mind, rather than out of my kitchen window. I also travel a lot, and these songs are written far away from New York. I don’t think it’s counterintuitive to make the music I make and live in a city, because I don’t want to ride on a packed subway and come home and work on a crowded song. With that being said, I do think this new album is a bit more urgent than my previous records - both lyrically and musically. I’ve been slowly moving away from a more pastoral sound overall I think.
Are you on the road all the time?
Not all the time, but a lot. I’ve been home for while these past 6 months or so. Last year I was traveling more than half of the year. I’m looking at a long stretch of travel starting in a week. I’m really looking forward to getting back out there and playing theses new songs with the band.
Who is “Ancient Jules”?
He’s a long white bearded basement dwelling wizard guru who I once called for directions when I was lost on tour. He told us to cancel the gig, hang out for a while, and make our way to his place when we felt like it. We ended up there in the evening and hung out until the morning listening to records and playing broken guitars through solid state Peavey amps.
Tell me about the video. You get rescued by Michael Chapman?
In the video I’m on a road trip and l’m lost and broken down on the side of the road for a while. Michael happens to drive by and come to the rescue. I leave my motorcycle and we go back to his place and proceed to drink wine, talk, listen to records, and play some guitars. I thought making a video with Michael for this song would be an appropriate salute to him, and I was glad he agreed to do it. Michael has been a huge inspiration and friend to me for a while now, and I’ve been trying to get out to his house for a visit for years. I’ve heard so much about it - that it’s really this legendary place. He’s been in this old stone farm house on the UK/Scottish border since the mid sixties. Nick Drake showed up and slept on his couch one night. It’s a time capsule, and Michael has some of the most incredible stories. The guitar that I play in the video was once played by Jimi Hendrix at the legendary Les Cousins club in London in the late 1960’s. Michael accidentally napped through Jimi’s set in his car outside.
The album that he shows you… I’m guessing that it must be significant or else you probably wouldn’t have bothered to include a shot of it. What is it?
That night we were listening and talking a lot about different records, and Michael was playing me a few lps that his friend Don Nix produced. Michael spent a lot of time with Nix in the 70’s, and he’s got some good stories about how much of a character he was (and I guess still is). Nix came to England from Memphis and worked with Michael in the early 70’s. At this point in the video we were talking about the guitar player Jesse Ed Davis, and how he played guitar on so many great albums (his solo albums are also good).The LP he was shows me is Albert King’s Love Joy, which was produced by Nix and has Jesse Ed Davis, Jim Keltner, and Duck Dunn in the backing band. It’s not Albert King’s best record, but their playing on it is amazing.
So is the “message” of the song to allow life to take you on a detour every now and again and just see what happens?
Yes. I think about the night we had with Jules once and a while and smile.
A fascinating interview with Steven Gunn on ‘Guitar Power’ with Matt Sweeney