A guitarist of calibre

American guitarist Steve Gunn plays the Sherwood in Queenstown. Photo: Constance Mensh.
American guitarist Steve Gunn plays the Sherwood in Queenstown. Photo: Constance Mensh.
Brooklyn guitar virtuoso Steve Gunn is on tour across the country this month, playing four back-to-back solo acoustic dates, including a stop at Queenstown’s Sherwood Hotel.

The guitarist and songwriter has nearly two decades of just left-of-field recordings to his name, his finger-style guitar picking at the forefront of most of them.

Growing up, after being exposed to hardcore and punk bands such as the Misfits and Black Flag, Gunn started listening to jazz on his local college station, finding John Coltrane and Indian classical music, alongside the American Primitive guitar scene and players such as John Fahey and Sandy Bull.

"I started to mimic various sitar riffs and getting into a more drone-based style of playing," Gunn writes via email while travelling south through Louisiana on his way from New Orleans to Houston, Texas with San Franciscan folk musician Meg Baird, and former Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Renaldo, with whom he is currently on tour.

"When I discovered opening tunings for guitar, I got even more into playing in a droney kind of style that I’ve been using ever since."

Gunn last showed off his finger-style playing on his strong 2016 solo album Eyes on the Line, a collection of wandering road songs, flowing and unfurling to the sounds of Gunn’s jammy, sprightly guitar mastery and his easy going "doesn’t matter if I miss my flight" vocal delivery; but his back catalogue is deep and consistent. He’s played with indie darlings Kurt Vile and the Violators, releasing a collaborative experimental collection with Vile in 2015, as well as other virtuosos such as Mike Cooper.

Listeners in Aotearoa might find a serviceable comparison in the playing of David Kilgour, both musicians sharing a laid back, often contemplative vibe, and an effortless sounding approach resulting in consistent and vibrant psych-pop hits.

"I am a huge fan of the Clean!" Gunn exclaims.

"I’ve been listening to them since I was in my teens. I met those guys a few years ago when they were touring in the States. I also see Hamish from time to time in New York. We were just listening to David’s album Here Come the Cars in the van today!"

Gunn will be playing acoustic and solo on his four New Zealand dates.

"I’ve been really enjoying playing solo, because it lets me open up the songs a bit in a way I can’t really do with a band. It’s been fun to strip some of the songs down from the album versions, adding things like short instrumentals, extra verses, or other things I’m feeling at the moment."

Alongside an improvised guitar and drum record, which will come out in the next few months, Gunn is also slowly putting together his next record for American indie label Matador Records and will hopefully be road testing some songs across New Zealand.

"For this next record I’m focusing on the singing a bit more, and having a bit more restraint with all of the instrumentation. I also have been interested in maybe doing a few string arrangements for some songs, something that is very new to me."

Steve Gunn plays Queenstown at the Sherwood on July 16, with Wellington (by way of Dunedin) duo Grawlixes, who will also stop by Dunedin as part of their tour behind their debut album, Set Free


The gig

• Steve Gunn (US) with support from Grawlixes, Sunday July 16 at the Sherwood, Queenstown. Tickets $35 plus booking fee from undertheradar.co.nz. Doors at 8.30pm.

Grawlixes Set Free  album release tour with Julian Temple, Friday July 14 at Dog With Two Tails, Dunedin. Tickets $10 plus booking fee from undertheradar.co.nz. Doors at 8pm.

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