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Interview: Steve Gunn Discusses 'Eyes On The Lines' Ahead Of NZ Tour

Interview: Steve Gunn Discusses 'Eyes On The Lines' Ahead Of NZ Tour

Danielle Street / Thursday 6th July, 2017 2:35PM

Brooklyn-based songsmith Steve Gunn will be on our shores next weekend for a special four-date tour in support of his new solo album Eyes On The Lines. A firm favourite in the UTR offices, the record the latest in a healthy string of solo albums from Gunn - but his first on Matador Records, which allowed him the time to refine his sound and forge a beautiful collection of songs that speak to the wandering soul. Ahead of his jaunt on these shores, we managed to get some time to speak with Steve and talk about the record, his musical influences, and that enigmatic cover art...

Hey Steve, so I have to admit Eyes On The Lines was my first real introduction to your solo music, and I really love it. I went out and bought the vinyl after I heard it. I was hoping you could tell me a little bit about how it fits with the rest of your solo back catalogue, which is quite sizeable...

Yeah, I think with this album, it's kind of the first official real 'produced' studio record I've done. A lot of the albums I've made in the past were really just recorded live and were done racing to the finish line, so to speak, and going from one track to the next - which is a way that I like to work, but I think for this last one, I took a bit more time in getting the sounds right. The label was really helpful with that as well. They had a lot of suggestions and I worked in studios that I've never been to before and I think it shows in the sound of the album, where there's as bit more of this engineering aspect to it. Usually all the stuff in the past is all like, as I said, recorded spontaneously or recorded in a studio but sort of just passing through the songs and not going back and doing anything that would involve too many complications or arrangements. So this was the first time where I took a lot more time to make an album.

Did you enjoy working like that, would you do it that way again?

Yeah, I think it's something that I was building up to. I realised it opens up a lot more possibilities for me and I can try different things and can approach making a record in a different way. It's a lot more interesting and it's a lot more fun. It's strange because I've slowly come around wanting to learn about equipment, and learn about engineers, and reading about the making of Beatles records and things like that, which is something I've never really been interested in before, so I find it kind of fascinating that there's this whole other dimension to it.

I particularly love your guitar tones on the record, are you a bit of a gear nerd?

Thanks! Yeah, I am definitely. But I'm sort of an underling of some of my peers, haha. For instance, the other guy who plays on my record James Elkington, he's like a guitar wizard. He's the guy that you will see doing guitar pedal demos, he gets hired to make the demo videos for guitar pedals which is funny. So he knows a lot about gear, so I'm constantly asking questions and trying to figure out how to improve my sound and I've come up with certain solutions where it's like, not less-is-more, but too much is way too much. There's subtle things you can do, which basically just involves tone, and not overlaying too many effects, you know.

Sure. I think the pairing of your two guitar sounds, you and James, works really well together...

Yeah, I think so too. I'm pretty lucky he's willing to come and play on my albums. he's really good.

Are there any key musicians, I guess in more recent years, that have been an influence on your playing style and sound?

Yeah, there's a guitar player who lives in New York named Marc Ribot, he's a jazz musician but he has this really incredible approach. He kind of has a punk aesthetic, and he has this unorthodox approach and style and he plays with a number of different people. He does a lot of session work, but he also does ensemble work and he's always kind of playing with different people. I've been lucky enough to go and see him every once in awhile. He's somebody who is currently working a lot, who I've been pretty blown away by. But I also get stuck on older musicians, and going through their catalogues. And in that respect, there's a guitar player named Gabor Szabo, and he was a jazz guitar player and he basically played an acoustic through an amp - this is in like the mid 60s - and I became really fascinated with his playing and his tonality, and there's a record called Dreams, that I listened to over and over and over again for the past few years.

So back to your new record, Eyes On The Lines, which I think is also a line from the song 'The Drop' is that right?

Yeah, it is, good observation... it's the first time anyone's ever said that.

Haha excellent! Well, for me it brings forth a couple of images, most suited to the context of the record I guess is that headspace when you are watching the landscape and the white lines on the road pass by when you are travelling. But also, playing on that idiom of 'reading between the lines'... what does it mean to you?

Well, that's a very good observation because that's part of it. For me, that line in the song kind of stuck out because it kind of provided these different meanings and all the meanings kind of tie into a lot of the sentiment and subject matter of what I was thinking about when making this record, and certainly it's the practise of staring out of the window of a moving car, but also lines in the passing landscape and also lines being written and interpreting that, and also lines... the idea of the meditative practise of drawing a line... and this is sort of getting really specific and heavy, but the idea of drawing a line. I was reading about these artists and the idea of this line changed for them, and I think it changed for them through this way of exploring this sort of meditative process of being an artist and trusting yourself to go with this process and change - not your practise - but what your practise means and blah blah blah, if that makes sense. So all those things were simmering and I think that title represented it well, while trying to use just a few words to portray that.

Yeah. I like that, it's quite evocative the more you think about it.

Mmm, hmm. And with songwriting and titles, particularly when you are titling your album it can be really tricky because you don't want to make it overly personal, like I'm this cool dude. Or you don't want to make it too specific. For me there's got to be a little bit of mystery to it.

Speaking of mystery, I also find the cover image a bit of an enigma. It looks like some massive sculpture that you've stumbled upon in the bush somewhere...

That's exactly what it is.

Oh really! Where did you find it?

I was working in this studio in the outskirts of Philadelphia and I was just taking a break, and the studio was on this plot of land and I just stumbled upon this enormous sculpture and I took a photograph of it. I was very curious, and I asked the person who ran the studio about it and he was like "yeah we don't really know what the story is". It's basically an abandoned art school project, like some sort of a copy of a Buckminster Fuller idea, and it was just left there. It was just this weird and perplexing kind of moment, and it was really interesting discovery for me, where I just came across this really odd object. So the photograph is my picture, and you can look at it in a few different ways. It's open to interpretation, it's hard to figure out what it represents. I also like working within structures across all my albums as well. I feel like thematically it fit with the other images I have on my other records.

Cool, I like how sculpture can become entwined with the identity of places, and although that one is hidden it's like you've breathed new life in to it in a way...

It's funny because I took back the photo of the sculpture and showed it to the people in the studio and said 'hey look I took this photo and I'm wondering if I can use it for my album', and they're like 'oh my god, yeah!'. They were so into it. And I actually went back and did a photoshoot there, and it was like the sculpture had a new life. They were kind of proud that I used it. It's funny to think of it that way.

We're running out of time, so I'll throw one last question at you. I saw that you'd been reading Paul Major's new book Feel The Music. Endless Boogie were here recently actually, are you a friend or a fan, or a co-record collector?

I'm foremost a fan, but also a friend. They are one of my favourite bands. I've seen them so many times and I'm just a big fan. Paul is an incredible character and he has such an incredible knowledge of music, and he's so humble. I'm really happy to know him and get to see him around [they both reside in Brooklyn].

So a recommended read?

That book is amazing. It's just like his whole history and where he came from. The fact that he was hanging out in New York city in the 70s... he really is one of the pioneers of discovering these homemade records and he was just consistently doing it for the love of it, and he cultivated this whole network of people. If it wasn't for him a lot of these albums wouldn't have been heard or reissued. To have that book and have more of a perspective on his life is pretty amazing.

UnderTheRadar Proudly Presents...

Thursday 13th July, Whammy Bar, Auckland
Friday 14th July, Caroline, Wellington
Saturday 15th July, Blue Smoke, Christchurch
Sunday 16th July, Sherwood, Queenstown

Tickets available HERE at UTR and instore at the usual outlets


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