After recording and releasing albums for over 8 years of serene, picturesque indie rock, Steve Gunn is finally having his moment. The Brooklyn musician originally from Philadelphia, who kickstarted his current tour in Marfa this past weekend, is playing Walter's Thursday night, mere weeks after signing to indie stalwarts Matador Records to release his next album. His profile is on the rise after a warm reception to his stellar album from 2014, Way Out Weather, from which many became familiar with him for the first time.
The album was a breakout for Gunn, a triumphant showcase of his technical prowess on the guitar. The album's eight songs pull off the trick of being sharply focused and meticulously arranged rock songs that give off the illusion of being meandering, the kind of record one can easily get lost in.
Even though he is early in the process of writing his next album, which he won't even finish recording until the fall, he was excited to share the news about signing with Matador as soon as it happened.
"I wanted to announce it before we did this tour, and before SXSW," Gunn says. "It wasn't something I wanted to keep secret because it made sense to share it. It was a quick process, and the record won't come out for a while, but it was nice."
For Gunn, who has been in the process of writing his next album over the last few months, the label, home of his former bandmate Kurt Vile, was a perfect fit.
"I think they had been fans of my past two albums, and I'm certainly a big fan of their label and have been for a very long time," Gunn said. "They expressed interest and we had time to sit down and talk about stuff and they've been extremely supportive."
In the midst of this big news, Gunn isn't slowing down in the slightest. While Way Out Weather, is barely six months old, he already put out another record last month, a collaborative album with the Appalachian folk band Black Twig Pickers. The album, titled Seasonal Hire, finds the guitar in a more traditional folk environment than his solo material and live show would suggest.
Beyond that, Gunn has also recently recorded another collaborative album with Kurt Vile, with whom Gunn spent a brief stint playing in Vile's band the Violators. Recorded a few months ago, the album will collect a pair of cover songs with an original, and according to Gunn, should be out in a few months.
As someone who rarely slows down, Gunn enjoys having the opportunity to record albums both solely under his own name as well as with others. While he spends a lot of time in his head when writing solo records, coming up with arrangements and writing parts, his process is more relaxed when working with others.
"Usually when I do with a collaborative record, it's more an exchange of ideas, more spontaneity, and more improvisation involved," Gunn says. "Doing a collaborative record is definitely a different process than doing solo stuff. The solo stuff is more focused on working on parts and arrangements and tweaking things, where the collaborative one is where you just press record and play."
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Between the multiple collaborative records and his current tour, Gunn remains focused on writing his upcoming album for Matador, not taking any time off. While on the road, he spends time coming up with arrangements, listening to sounds and trying to organize the thoughts in his head. Even at home, he remains focused on keeping the wheels turning and writing new material. According to Gunn, the new record is his priority for the summer going forward after his spring tour.
While Gunn is headlining and should put on a captivating set, he is not the only talented artist taking the stage this evening. Opening the show is Ryley Walker, another masterful guitarist whose music evokes the laid-back, grooving folk of the 1970s. The Illinois native will join Gunn for a few dates on this tour after SXSW, debuting songs from his upcoming record on Dead Oceans, Primrose Green. The album, due out at the end of the month, is a gentle, reflective record of folk rock that recalls a distant era while also sounding fresh, nostalgic but not dated.
In 2015, there's certainly no shortage of indie-rock guitarists fronting bands, but Gunn and Walker's talents and adherence to a classic sound helps separate the two from the pack. Fans of traditional classic rock who have grown tired of the banjos and sweeping choruses that have been prevalent on alt-rock radio would do well to check out this pair of musicians who are working to help revitalize a classic-rock sound without the flash or theatricality of many of their contemporaries, but with fully realized, impressive songwriting.
Steve Gunn and Ryley Walker perform tonight at Walters Downtown, 1120 Naylor, with the Guice Orchestra. Doors open at 8 p.m.
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