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Getting ‘New Familiar’ with Steve Gunn

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Philly-bred singer/songwriter Steve Gunn has a penchant for creating dynamic motion with his music. His expertly led, psych-tinged guitar playing often guides the songs along, but his lyrics are rooted in introducing the listener to new people and new places. He’s recorded countless projects (solo and collaboratively), spent time as a Violator in Kurt Vile’s band, produced albums for venerable UK folk artist Michael Chapman, and has a deep appreciation for art – a field he almost pursued full time (according to this Rolling Stone profile).

Gunn’s standout 2019 album The Unseen In Between features some of his everyday characters (he’s now based in Brooklyn) but he also opens up in a new way, reflective of his own comings and goings (especially highlighting life’s obstacles). In 2016, Gunn’s father died from cancer, which had a profound effect on him and a direct impact on some of the tracks that would end up on Unseen. Album centerpiece “Stonehurst Cowboy” is a powerful ode to his dad and showcases Gunn’s exposed and powerful songwriting. It’s a thoughtful tribute that will stop you in your tracks.

Gunn brought a 5-piece band with him to KCRW for his Morning Becomes Eclectic session and they sounded tight and confident in the mix (with the setlist fully comprised of new songs). During the interview, Gunn spoke about the fertile Philadelphia music scene and how that has impacted his work over the years. He said:

Thinking about myself and when I was a young guy taking guitar lessons… I just think that being in Philadelphia was such a rich place musically. There’s great radio, there’s great record stores, and there’s a lot of venues. So when I was coming up late teens, early 20s I got to see all these amazing bands and meet all these people and my whole world kind of opened up from that.

Jason Bentley also touched on Gunn’s throughlines to Indian Raga music, which is known for its melodic circular style. Gunn confirmed the influence, as he absorbed all sorts of global sounds growing up. There’s no finer example of the Raga connection to his work than the wandering and cosmic “New Familiar.”

Steve Gunn is touring most of 2019 behind the album The Unseen In Between (Matador), you can listen/watch to the whole session here.