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As a guitar player, Steve Gunn constantly seeks to reach a different mental and emotional plane whenever he plugs in. On his early records, he was content to simply play and drift. When he finally made his first album with vocals, Time Off, in 2013, it was natural that he would write lyrics about the transformative power of traveling through physical spaces, a theme that runs through his excellent 2016 release, Eyes On The Lines. It’s a perspective grounded in a certain restlessness, a drive to constantly move on to the next town, another gig, a fresh musical landscape.
“For me, being a traveling musician, I often struggle with just being at home,” Gunn says during a recent phone conversation. “Just pacing around, you know. I like moving around and playing.”
But sometimes, the realities of life and death makes moving on much harder. During the run up to the release of Eyes On The Lines, Gunn’s father fell ill. Gunn promptly canceled a leg of his tour, and bonded with his dad like never before, as the elder Gunn reminisced about a life informed by being a Vietnam veteran and ingrained personality quirks that his son came to see in himself.
Two weeks after Eyes On The Lines came out, Gunn’s father died. The day after his funeral, Gunn flew to Chicago to resume the tour.
“When I started traveling and playing music, he was almost kind of living vicariously (through me), and so proud. He’s always just like, ‘Just get back out there and do it for me, ’cause I’m not able to,'” Gunn says softly. “So I think it was a good distraction, in that sense, and it was a good way of sort of channeling my feelings about it.”
The loss of his father sent Gunn in a more introspective direction on his latest record, The Unseen In Between. Unlike the free-spirited character-based narratives that populate his previous albums, The Unseen In Between is a heavier, more personal affair, with Gunn writing more directly than ever about himself and the fragility of life. (One of the album’s most affecting cuts, “Stonehurst Cowboy,” is a tribute to his father.)