For much of Steve Gunn's career, he's been the guitarist. In Gunn-Truscinski Duo, his playing was long, mantric, immersive. Even on solo albums, a rambling, raga-like style was key. But with the new LP, Way Out Weather, available through Chapel Hill label Paradise of Bachelors, the Brooklyn musician make his second foray into proper bandleader mode. The guitar playing is still excellent, but the focus here is songcraft.
Gunn's style has long been evolving. In 2013, he ventured into songwriting with Time Off. And last year, Three Lobed Records' Record Store Day release, Golden Gunn, was an impressive, unexpected collaboration between Gunn and Durham country-rock heavyweight Michael Taylor, best known for his work with Hiss Golden Messenger.
"Those guys have a different kind of style and sensibility, and I just sort of had to adapt to it and add to what they were doing," Gunn says of the collaboration. "It was a cool exchange."
We caught up with the guitarist and songwriter, who plays the Pinhook tomorrow evening, to talk about his new record—and his dramatic, impressive stylistic shift.
INDY: I've always associated you with your guitar playing. Are you still doing Gunn-Truscinski Duo stuff or are you leaning more toward songcraft at this point?
STEVE GUNN: I still do that kind of stuff, but it all encompasses the songs for me now. I think all that work I did with John (Truscinski) has all built up to what I'm doing now. It's not really separate. I still do a lot of instrumental music and improvisational stuff, and I plan on making more albums that way. The songwriting thing is relatively new. It's evolved. I've always been interested in trying it. I got to a point where I was starting working on it, and I was able to come up with some songs.
IW: What did you learn about yourself during that transition?
SG: It was hard for me to just step out and do it. It was a real challenge, and I had to learn to just be comfortable and learn how to relax and learn how to actually sing. It took a lot of work. It took a lot of traveling and touring and playing solo. It was a real challenge, and I worked on it pretty hard. I'm still sort of working on it. It's also very therapeutic, a cool way for me to get in this meditative state. It's an enjoyable practice now. I used to get shaken up and nervous about it. Now I'm pretty used to it. I got past a hump of nervousness. Once I got past it, I felt pretty comfortable.
IW: It's funny that you say meditativeness, because your improv-oriented stuff feels meditative, too.
SG: It's very similar. I still have to get into that kind of state to perform and play properly.
IW: Tell me about the concept for Way out Weather.
SG: I wanted each song to be separate from each other and be open to interpretation. The title of the album and the first song, it's not referencing anything that specific, but it's more of a general outlook and the commonality of traveling and meeting people and talking to people.
IW: I've seen some references to global warming, climate change, weather patterns.
SG: That's part of it. It's a huge aspect of everyone's lives, and you never know what's gonna happen. Things can come out of nowhere. I was thinking a lot on those terms. It's also a common concern with everyone, and a common way of relating to people and speaking to them without being too specific about personal things.
IW: The "how's the weather?" conversation.
SG: Exactly. So it was a combination of that sense of it as well as impending craziness with those patterns.