Calling On A Restless Feeling: Steve Gunn
Steve Gunn. Photo by Constance Mensh
Life moves. Transient in nature — physically, philosophically, spiritually — movement continually takes place. To some, the idea of “here” is a destination, to others it is temporary: a moment among moments, a marker in the ground, but only to notate traveled direction. Steve Gunn’s music acts as an aural companion of this idea, and it helps that he is constantly moving. Gunn’s latest, Eyes on the Lines, accents these ideas, visual images of roads turning into freeways, then towns, then cities and the falling sun, then traffic lights to street lights to more road and so on. All the while, place and space become physical as well as mental objects, moving to and from thoughts and beliefs, seeking refuge in the world however that is defined: nature, or the inner sanctity of this car, or the scenes from this window.
Gunn is familiar with movement as he toured pretty extensively for his last album. Leaving me wondering: How and where did he get the headspace to comprise a whole new work?
“Well, I definitely toured a lot for Way Out Weather, and most of the stuff I came up with for this record I thought of out on the road,” Gunn says. “When the touring cycle kind of ended and I had a few weeks at home to work in my studio, I took all my ideas an tried to make sense of a lot of things, to come up with guitar ideas. I’m writing words and they don’t necessarily correlate with each other, so I kind of come up with these sort of elements and when I get home and have a place to really concentrate and put it all together. After all the touring, I get home and start cutting demos and then certain things sort of stuck, then I got to a place with the demos where it was like ‘these are the things I want to concentrate on.’ From there I’d share it with the band and discuss how we’re going to approach it in the studio.”
Steve Gunn’s songs benefit from a conversant quality in terms of musicians: as record lineups and touring lineups tend to change, the accordant structure of the songs needs to somewhat remain. As Gunn embraces the protean aspect of the compositions, he accepts that while the album provides a semblance of design, in able players hands the songs can take on many lives.
“I kind of struggle with that fact and I learn lessons on the back end of records where we like ‘Goddamn we have to much material,'” notes Gunn. “It’s one thing I’ve learned while making records I really have to think about time and sequence and how long things go for and how the record is going to have an ark as a whole and how it’s going to sound as a whole. Before, I was just doing song by song. It’s difficult and we’ve had to do some serious edits as far as parts — where something will go on 16 bars too long, you know that kind of stuff — for this album, too. Some [the songs] are past 6 minutes but there’s more of a conciseness, a little bit more concise than other albums, and that’s another reason why I feel like live it will be different because we’ll have a little more time and opportunity in case things want to open up a bit, we can do that.”
Steve Gunn understands and welcomes the fluidity of experience, pieces take shape and form but are allowed veer outside of established structure. As a musician first, Gunn believes the language between the players is as important in the creation as in the final product. Eyes On the Lines fits well within Gunn’s catalog of albums. While each album is its own entity, there is a clear relation to the others. Listening to all of the albums in succession, there is a concatenation of ideas. For this album, while circumstance was present, there was a scope of the finished product.
“The one thing I did know going into [making the album] was where the record was going to start and end,” informs Gunn. “The first song, I knew that was going to the first one, because it is a bit of a statement musically, and sonically it’s a bit more ramped up and it’s kind of new territory for us. Just the idea of the song itself is something I wanted to start with. The last song is for me a closer because it’s the most mellow song on the record, but it also has these sort messages of protection and hope and gratefulness for everything. I wanted to kind of end everything on like a positive hopeful note.”
Even in its migratory themes, Eyes on the Lines still implies coming home. Maybe not as a place of walls and rooms, but the idea of happiness and peace, whether that be in or with nature or of mind, seeking a truth, and in many ways that is what home represents: a place to go to rather than run from, but until you’re there, you embrace the journey and all its facets.
Steve Gunn and the Outliners play at Rudyard’s British Pub on Tuesday, June 14 at 8 pm.