As a songwriter, Steve Gunn is inspired by his physical environment. Whether it be his current home base of New York City, his hometown, Lansdowne, or his summer vacation spot, Wildwood, the guitarist draws on the observations of his locale for his sprawling, intricate tunes.
For many whose parents dragged them to the Jersey Shore on weekends of their youth, some of Gunn's observations can translate into concrete feelings of nostalgia — transformed into a visual throwback in Gunn's latest video for "Wildwood," which sees the musician exploring the famed Shore town in the dead of winter.
"I was never down there in the winter," Gunn shared. "Just to see everything closed, to see how big the beaches were — it's really a beautiful place. You start to forget that when you're bumping into people."
A local guy, Gunn grew up in a high school hardcore scene in Lansdowne and quickly moved to West Philly upon graduation. Immersing himself in an setting of motley musicians and sonic experiences — from attending experimental jazz shows at the Clef Club in the mid-to-late '90s to seeing Bardo Pond for the first time and exchanging CDs with other musicians — Gunn laid the groundwork for what would become his trip down the instrumental rabbit hole.
"I think it had a big influence, because the jazz kind of stuff lead to other things," he said of his evolution. "I was starting to realize and read about some of these musicians, especially John Coltrane, they were really influenced in music from around the world."
So now you've got Gunn taking tips from around the world, with tinges of African, Indian, and other internationally folksy roots — roots that were planted in Philly.
"You wouldn't necessarily hear that I'm a huge jazz fan in my music, but that definitely has a lot to do with it."
Despite being a New Yorker now, Gunn still feels a particularly strong bond with Philly and its fostering creative community.
"Musically speaking, growing up in Philly, having the friends that I have, it's a special place for musicians," he noted. "There's a lot of people who really appreciate and take music seriously. I was inspired by a lot of people there — I still am. Many cities don't have that kind of outlet."
That web of creatives lead Gunn to connect with a fellow Lansdowne native, Kurt Vile. Though the two went to the same grade school, it wasn't until much later when, both as adults, Gunn and Vile bonded over music, with Gunn joining Vile's backing band, The Violators, for a few weeks on tour a few years ago.
That's not where their partnership ends, though. Teaming up once more, Gunn and Vile contributed to a collaborative record (their portion recorded in Philly), consisting of originals and covers, coming out later this year. Gunn spoke highly of being able to "just to get in the studio and just have some fun and make some songs."
Heading in the studio next month to record the follow-up to 2014's Way Out Weather, Gunn is prepping for his Matador Records debut and aiming to "evolve certain things."
Until then, he's on the road, just wrapping up a stint at SXSW and hitting Boot & Saddle on Tuesday, March 31 — a homecoming for the musician.
When comparing the creative atmospheres of New York City and Philly, Gunn reiterates what so many who've experienced the nature of the latter city have maintained time and time again: "Philadelphia is by and large one of the better places to be."