Unless you spend a hefty chunk of your free time scouring the internet for the next crop of top-flight guitarists, the name Steve Gunn may not ring a bell – yet. His anonymity will be short-lived, after signing with indie titan Matador Records.
Gunn plays The Bishop in Bloomington on May 6 and Old National Centre alongside Wilco – cancelled and then rebooked in the wake of RFRA – on May 7.
"I think someone in their camp really liked our album," Gunn says of the Wilco opportunity. "It's so cool, because Wilco is a band that I respect and like. They have such a big following. They're also such appreciators of music, and they are such amazing musicians on so many levels. It meant a lot to me that they reached out and appreciated what we were doing."
When I spoke with Gunn a few weeks ago, he had just returned to his home in Brooklyn from a Southwest tour around Texas music festivals Marfa Myths and SXSW. He planned to spend April in the studio working on his first solo LP for Matador before hitting the road with Wilco in May ahead of an extensive European summer tour.
"I'm excited," Gunn says. "I have some demos put into place, and I'm inviting some musicians who played on my last record to come to the studio. It should be good."
His commitment to the road forces Gunn to work quickly in the studio. But urgency suits him. "The last record I made, we worked really quickly," Gunn says of 2014's Way Out Weather. "We sort of had the ideas, and pushed through everything. We didn't belabor certain things. Some friends that I have, it takes them like five years to make a record – tweaking cello parts, and redoing vocals and all that stuff. I'm really into being a live musician and capturing that."
Gunn's ability to work quickly and adapt to the players around him has resulted in a lengthy list of collaborative one-offs. His recent output includes releases alongside The Black Twig Pickers, Mike Cooper, Mike Gangloff, and Cian Nugent in just more than a year. "The collaborative stuff is way more spontaneous and right on the spot," Gunn says. "Basically, the last few ones have been recorded live and not much of a thought to playing together. The [solo] songs certainly have that element to it, but they're more thought out and composed."
In 2015, Gunn plans to take a break from the collaborative work to refocus his attention on his solo career. However, a track or two from a 2014 recording session with his former bandmate Kurt Vile will find life on a forthcoming compilation on North Carolina label Three Lobed Recordings.
Gunn sounds unphased by the pressure of growing audiences for his solo work and higher profile gigs. For him, the recent success is the result of a slow, steady build.
"I've been playing music for a really long time, and I came up with a certain group of people," Gunn says. "I have friends who offer really good advice. It has definitely been a learning experience this past two years. I'm starting to figure out how to sort of manage everything. I've been sort of building a great core group of people and people who have been helping me. It wasn't easy, but I also don't want to complain about it. It is work."