Steve Gunn plays Sons of Hermann Hall with Lee Ranaldo on Tuesday, June 20.
Singer-guitarist Steve Gunn and Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo make sense as a pair. Both artists, who will be playing at Sons of Hermann Hall next week, push the boundaries of six strings.
Gunn is still riding the wave of momentum that built around last year’s Eyes on the Lines, a particularly stellar addition to his already rich catalog. Although his music demands close attention, his growing popularity has meant more appearances at outdoor festivals, amphitheaters and late-night TV shows than intimate performance spaces. Recently he appeared on CBS’ influential Saturday Sessions.
Ranaldo is gearing up for the Sept. 15 release of his latest solo album, Electric Trim. He has called it "one of the best things I've ever done." Ranaldo frequently tours with a three-piece band called the Dust.
Kindred spirits Gunn and Ranaldo first linked up for a co-headlining tour last year and are back out again this month for a series of shows that brings them to Deep Ellum on Tuesday.
This time around, they’re going out onstage without their respective bands. They’ll also be joined by Meg Baird, an up-and-coming guitar talent from San Francisco who plays psych-folk. Although each artist will focus on his or her individual output, there will be some collaboration.
“Usually Lee and I try to play together a bit toward the end, which is something we didn’t do as much the last time out," Gunn told the Observer as he was hurtling down Interstate 95 toward a show in North Carolina. “We’re also playing with Meg, who is an amazing guitar player and singer, and someone that we’re both thrilled to have on this tour.”
Gunn is a tinkerer and an observer. In conversation, he thoughtfully outlines his songwriting methods.
“I’m not tearing my hair out any longer about arrangements,” he says, laughing. “I’m moving through ideas and focusing on abstract elements. Any specific ideas and themes always form later in the process.”
Whether he’s reading a book or watching a film, his mind is constantly turning and looking for clues that can be incorporated into song.
“I do a lot of scrapbook writing with ideas," Gunn says. “But I also play guitar all the time, so I’m laying down riffs and then going back to match them with words and ideas. I’m not a natural songwriter, but I am getting a little more comfortable with the process.”
Although he's not particularly political, Gunn finds the sense of peace and harmony in music to be particularly needed today. He and Ranaldo played a Concert for Resistance in Washington on Inauguration Day.
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“I’m not going to be preachy, but I do think that there are things that need to be said," Gunn says. "Certainly, if you aren’t around people and able to talk things out, it can get lonely. It’s been great to travel and play music and use this as a way to engage with folks.”
Despite matching guitar chops, Gunn won't be mistaken for an agitator like Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine anytime soon.
“An underlying message of hope is something that I feel my songs have, and is also an idea that I have always been drawn to," he says. "It’s important to keep that going."
Steve Gunn with Lee Ranaldo and Meg Baird, 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 20, Sons of Hermann Hall, 3414 Elm St., $17, spunetickets.com.