The guys at NPR have the whole thing up to listen to right now, and we implore you to do so, you'll feel amazing. Earlier this year we had Steve and his band call through town and play a show. For a previous issue of Deluxe, we talked shop, you can read our chat below.
Steve Gunn is a New York-based guitarist and songwriter. Seemingly beamed from a different time with a career already spanning nearly fifteen years, Steve has produced volumes of critically acclaimed solo, duo, and ensemble recordings, also notably serving as guitarist in fellow Philadelphia-bred troubadour Kurt Vile’s band, the Violators. We spoke to him recently about taking time off.
Drift: Everything about your album ‘Time Off’ seems to be carefully crafted; the cover is a series of snapshots of your life. It’s a pretty personal work, no? You literally earned “time off”, right?
Steve: Yeah, the album is pretty personal, but it also tells the story of others, which I guess is an indirect reflection on myself. I suppose I did earn “time off’’... it was a long time coming.
Drift: ‘Time Off’ has just landed over in the UK and is getting some superb reviews. There was a time when solo guitar struggled to find an audience, but artists like yourself, Nathan Salsburg, Daniel Bachman, MC Taylor, William Tyler and elder statesmen like Glenn Jones and Michael Chapman are getting the audience you all deserve... what changed?
Steve: That’s great to hear. The guys you mentioned are great guitarists in their own right, and have been been putting out great material consistently for a while now. Perhaps more and more people have been taking notice because there has been so many great records that have come out in the past 5 years.
Drift: You’ve played in Kurt Vile’s band recently, were you itching to get some downtime to record your own LP?
Steve: The album was something that I’ve been wanting to do for a few years now. It finally happened naturally with the band that formed and everything. I had been playing the songs solo quite a bit, and the bassist and drummer fell right into place and helped flesh out the material. It was an easy and fun record to make for us. We kept it comfortable and loose. We really got a handle on the songs in a live setting before recording them, which really helped.
Drift: The style between your own solo work and Kurt Vile’s LP’s is pretty different, I am guessing you have a lot of influences in the mix?
Steve: Yeah, there are a lot of influences on my new album. I play all different sorts of stuff on guitar, or try to, I should say. I tried to incorporate all of what I have done differently as a player in the album. The album is an extension of the different kinds of things I’ve been doing for the past six or so years. More recently, I’ve been getting into singing, so it was a natural road to go down and try to write some proper songs and mix everything together.
Drift: “Old Strange” celebrates Jack Rose, your dear and departed friend and muse. Jack’s influence seems to be gathering momentum rather than fading; I guess great work will always find an audience?
Steve: Yeah, I suppose so - hopefully. Jack was an undeniably great artist, musician, and person. He really did live and breathe his music, and was a true great. It was really special for me to get to know him. Seeing him play was always a huge inspiration.
Drift: Where did you grow up? And which record shops (or outlets) were your earliest experiences?
Steve: I grew up right outside of Philadelphia, in a small town called Lansdowne. It’s the same town that Kurt Vile grew up in. I started going into the city a lot when I was in high school, and there were two record stores I used to go to: 3rd Street Jazz & Rock, and The Philadelphia Record Exchange. 3rd street closed a long time ago, and The Record Exchange is still going strong. Those guys who run that store were a big influence on me. They had pictures of Sun Ra and Dead C posters on the wall and stuff - kind of a mind-blowing place for a high school-er to go into. I still go there.
Drift: Do you remember the first record you bought? And where?
Steve: I used to order a lot of hardcore and punk 7”s in the mail... I have really fond memories of getting some of those through fanzines and magazines like Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll. Mostly local and US bands putting out their own stuff, DIY-style. All with handwritten letters and all. My first LP that I ever bought from the Record Exchange was a band called ‘Judge’ - a hardcore band from NYC. The very next LP I bought was Greatful Dead’s American Beauty - go figure - probably the most polar opposite records in the whole place. I was certainly buying and listening to things that ran an insane spectrum. Around this time, I remember hanging at this party house in Philly and hearing the first Stooges record and Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ in the same night... I went out and bought the CD’s the next day.
Drift: Have you played in record stores much? Good times? Horror stories?
Steve: I have done a lot of instore shows... It’s often fun, but sometimes can be stressful and a bit awkward. It depends I guess. They can be the best kind of shows too. I like playing with a PA with speakers and stuff... I am no good at singing when there isn’t a mic and it’s really, really intimate. I’m always up for playing at a record store, though.
Drift: What makes a good shop?
Steve: Usually, it’s obviously always the owner. They are responsible for the general aesthetic and feel of the store. It’s gotta be comfortable and pleasant. I like stores where the owner treats people that walk off the street looking for a Stevie Ray Vaughan CD the same as someone looking for a Japanese psych reissue. More of a kind of community- based music appreciation center than an exclusive record nerd club. I hate going into the snobby stores. I still buy classic rock records - and I like cheap records. I suppose I am more of a gatherer than collector. I also like listening stations. I can hang out for hours in a store that has tons of used stuff that I can listen too. I know the records can get scratched up and all, but it helps to figure out what you wanna buy. I like going into a store and getting something I had no idea that I was going to buy, and not for too much money! It’s also nice when the owners and employees play interesting records and like to talk about it.
Drift: Do you still shop regularly, and if so, where?
Steve: Yeah - I go to stores a lot. There is a store called ‘Record Grouch’ in Brooklyn that is my favourite in the city. In Philly there is The Record Exchange. I just went into the record store called A1 here in New Nork for the first time, and they have a great selection of African, reggae, rock, all kinds of different stuff - cool place, it’s been there for a long time.
Drift: Which is your favourite record shop(s) you’ve ever been to?
Steve: Hmmm... that’s a hard question... I like Harvest Records in Asheville, North Carolina, Acme Records in Milwaukee, Jerry’s Records in Pittsburg is pretty mindblowing because of its sheer size. Mississippi Records and Exile in Portland, Oregon... Beautiful World, Hiding Place, and Record Exchange in Philly -- and everywhere else!
Drift: What have you been listening to recently? Anything/anyone you want to flag up?
Steve: A lot of reggae - Keith Hudson, King Tubby, Wackies. It helps in the summer heat of NYC. This Otis G Johnson reissue on Numero Group is really excellent. The Chance reissue on Paradise of Bachelors is also mind- boggling.
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