By Safiya Hopfe
One-of-a-kind folk experimentalist Steve Gunn has worked with all kinds of talent — from Kurt Vile’s band, The Violators, to Michael Chapman himself — but as 2018 starts to present itself, it’s the perfection of his intricate solo sound taking centre stage.
Not that he’s new to working solo, and not that he’s aiming for perfection. As a matter of fact, Gunn describes recent realizations as quite the opposite. “I’ve just been feeling more comfortable in my singing and my words and I realize, it’s really easy to kind of overthink things.” As a self-proclaimed “obsessive” with his work, Gunn is learning to embrace the value of simplicity, impulse, and what he calls “restraint.” For him, this means “thinking of songs differently” and refusing the old traps experienced guitar players might fall into. “I’ve played with musicians who are older and who have been around studios for a long time, and they tend to just kind of trust the process and not get to overly precious about it. You know, if you’re a singer and you play guitar, just go in there and sing the damn song. Don’t do fifty vocal takes and try to piece together a song, you know? And that kind of approach, you can really hear it in the music, and it was something I was really trying to do: let myself sing a song and not have to comb over every word and try to fix everything. Because it’s not going to be perfect.”
Another recent shift for Gunn has been a focus on songwriting itself: methodically, formulaically, and throughout history. Though his sources of inspiration vary — from Indian music to “avant-garde improvisors” and encompassing everything in between — his respect for the song, and what goes into its immaculate construction is both a point of intrigue and a means of rethinking his own work.
“I think you can approach it in all different kind of ways. And people who construct effective songs, that’s been lately an inspiring thing to me even if it’s, you know, session musicians from the early ’60s who played with people for different labels and things. I’m just thinking a lot more about the production of music and how to make a record, you know?”
Having spent the last couple of weeks towards the end of 2017 in the studio, Gunn is prepared to manifest these recent revelations and more, all in time for next fall when his fourteenth studio album will emerge into the world.
Steve Gunn performs January 12 at St. James Hall (Vancouver).St. James Hall, steve gunn