Thing in the Spring: The definitive Steve Gunn interview

  • Steve Gunn will play at Bass Hall on Sunday, June 11 to close out the 10th annual Thing in the Spring music and arts festival. Top: Adam and the Flood perform on Saturday, June 10 (staff photo by Ben Conant). Photo by Constance Mensh

  • Steve Gunn closes out the 10th Thing in the Spring on Sunday, June 11. Photo by Shawn Brackbill

  • Adam and the Flood Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, June 01, 2017 12:8AM

“It’s like a mixtape that’s five days long and that you walk through.” That’s how Thing in the Spring co-founder and music curator Eric Gagne described the music and arts festival, entering its 10th incarnation in Peterborough next week.

Gagne’s created a lineup that combines nationally renowned acts like Mail the Horse, Mirah and Paper Castles with legends like Milford Graves and bands from our own backyard, such as Adam and the Flood and Gilliver. In advance of the festival, we caught up with headliner Steve Gunn, who’ll close out the festival with a Sunday afternoon set, and talked about his latest album “Eyes On The Lines,” touring with Lee Ranaldo, and playing solo acoustic shows in intimate rooms — “the ultimate challenge.” Gunn is fresh off a tour of Europe, and the Thing in the Spring kicks off a summer of touring for the guitarist, who’ll again share a bill with Sonic Youth rocker Ranaldo.

“I’m looking forward to coming up there,” Gunn said, “they’ve got a cool mix of music.”

Who are you hoping to see perform at the Thing in the Spring?

“Milford Graves is a jazz musician who is someone I consider a bit of a musical hero of sorts. He’s this legendary free jazz drummer and he has this incredible approach to his craft and to his way of life, it’s pretty inspiring. So I was really excited to hear he was playing.

I’m taking the opportunity to try and see as much as I can, you know?”

What has it been like performing with Lee Ranaldo?

“I’m a huge fan of Lee; he was sort of one of my guitar heroes when I was growing up in high school and throughout college and everything, so to get to know him, to see how he plays and writes songs, and to just be able to talk to him and become friendly with him has been really fun, and the shows have been really great. We’ve all played acoustic and we’ve toured with bands and I think we kind of have a lot of material to pull from so it’s super fun.”

What have you learned from playing with him on tour?

“I think he just has such a command on his sound, from him being in Sonic Youth and him covering as much ground as he has. He’s got amazing guitars and cool gear and when he steps into a room he knows exactly what to do. It’s cool to kind of watch that and take notes ... He’s still playing and writing stuff, he just made this incredible new album, and I find that very inspiring that he’s driven to keep moving forward and keep playing and traveling and all that stuff — that’s what’s inspiring.”

What was your approach for your latest album [“Eyes On The Lines”]?

“When I was writing the songs, at the time I had been traveling and playing in a band for the past year before, and I felt like our band was in pretty good shape, and I wanted it to be a very band-centric record and I feel like the instrumentation is very dense. I think that comes from playing so much together and it kind of came pretty easily, just going in the studio and cutting these songs fairly quickly.

For me, this was my first record for Matador, and I was at a point where I wanted to spend a little more time in the studio and make it sound kind of more like an engineered record rather than a live sound with a live recording. So we did a lot of work getting the sounds right and that was new to me.

I also wanted to give the album a bit more — I don’t know, a bit more grit, with heavier guitar tones, you know?

I was kind of pushing the envelope a bit more, doing some feedback stuff — not to go back to Lee Ranaldo, but that kind of stuff, pushing underneath with a bit more experimental stuff, just trying a bunch of different stuff in the studio. So that was kind of a new direction for me and the band.”

What can we expect from your festival performance?

“It’s solo, so obviously the songs are kind of stripped down, and I’m pulling out some older songs as well so it’s been really nice to present these songs in a different way, down to its bare bones, so to speak. Obviously there’s less guitars and things, but you can get the bare songwriting essentials.

That for me is the ultimate challenge because you have nowhere to hide, you don’t have a band behind you and it’s kind of like, ‘OK, you have to present your songs in a simple way.’ For me, I just got back from a tour in Europe for a month playing solo and it’s challenging but I’ve come to really enjoy it.”

Gunn plays on Sunday, June 11 at Bass Hall at 2 p.m., along with Jeff Parker and Nathaniel Russell. Tickets to that show are $20; for a discounted weekend pass to the Thing the Spring, visit deals.ledgertranscript.com/category/entertainment.

This year’s Thing includes the return of Broke: The Affordable Arts fair, featuring local artists selling their work for $50 or less on Saturday, June 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will also be a free film series at the Peterborough Community Theatre, a series of readings at the Toadstool, art exhibits in various downtown locations, and of course, five days of music at Bass Hall, Harlow’s Pub, the Toadstool, the Unitarian Universalist Church, the Peterborough Town Library and outside behind the Town House.

The festival kicks off on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Peterborough Town Library with a show headlined by Palehound.

For more information and a full schedule of performances, visit thethinginthespring.com.