Award-winning folk-roots singer Dave Gunning remembers his first live concert at the age of eight when he saw Canadian folk legends, John Allan Cameron and Stan Rogers. He remembers his first professional gig playing at a local restaurant in his hometown at age 15. But when asked if there was a particular moment that has stayed with him over his 23-year career as a musician, he has difficulty pointing to a single highlight.
“I didn’t have pressure or expectations on myself. I wasn’t thinking about it too hard; I was just recording. And I think for that reason, the record has a very relaxed feel to it.” – Dave Gunning on recording his latest album Up Against The Sky.
“For me, as a folk-roots artist, there’s been no one moment or one big break; it’s been thousands of little breaks along the way,” he says by phone from his home during a recent break in his ongoing national tour.
“The way I think of it is that my ladder might not reach up to the clouds, but the rungs are nice and close together, so if a couple of them break, I’m not too far back. I feel like there’s a solid foundation under what I do. I’ve got loyal support, and I’m grateful for that.”
That isn’t to say Gunning doesn’t have stories to tell. Remember that concert as a pre-teen? It turns out he would eventually get an opportunity to play with “The Godfather of Celtic Music.”
“He was such an incredible live performer and one of my heroes,” says Gunning. “And Stan Rogers, I think he is the greatest historical writer who ever lived in this country and is still one of my favourite songwriters.”
Cameron was such an inspiration to his career Gunning also released … a Tribute to John Allan Cameron in 2010, an album that would go on to be nominated for the Roots & Traditional Solo Album of the Year at the 2012 Juno Awards.
Today, Gunning is amid a national tour in support of his new album Up Against the Sky and returns to the East Coast with what has become two shows in Halifax.
It is an album that almost didn’t see the light of day as Gunning originally intended many of the songs, which would eventually make up the ten-track album, to be demos.
After listening to them, though, Gunning discovered he was actually onto something.
“I didn’t have pressure or expectations on myself,” he says. “I wasn’t thinking about it too hard; I was just recording. And I think for that reason, the record has a very relaxed feel to it.”
Part of the sound he captured also came from Gunning’s placement, or lack thereof, of the microphones in the home studio in which he recorded.
“I liked the sound that I was getting because I wasn’t ‘close-micing’ things. I was leaving them wherever they were,” he says. “So sometimes the microphones were 12 feet away from the guitar amp or 15 feet away from the drums. And when I listened back, it had this rich sound and a texture that reminded me of an older recording.”
Gunning also credits his writing partners on the album for the final product. With eight of the ten songs penned with the help of Jamie Robinson, Ray Stewart, Thom Swift, Paul McKenna, and Mark Lang, their collaboration gave him much-needed instant feedback.
“Often when you’re writing with a partner, you tend to want to impress them at the moment, so you find yourself coming up with better material,” he says. “I think that keeps the energy level up and the excitement going.”
In his twelfth album, Gunning isn’t shy in revealing the politics that play a role in a number of the songs in Up Against the Sky.
A member of Clean The Mill in Pictou County, the group has been raising awareness about pollution from the ageing Northern Pulp bleach kraft pulp mill. For Gunning, writing about the issue has been one way in which to vent some of his frustrations.
“You write what’s on your mind, and that’s what’s been on my mind. I know more about bleach kraft pulp mills now than folk music,” he laughs.
With another month left to go on his current tour, Gunning is enjoying his little time off with his family. And, as with most musicians, he is already starting to think about what comes next.
“I’m tossing different ideas around in my head as to what it’s going to be or what I might do next,” he says. “I haven’t decided yet, but there’s always some writing and songs on the go.”