Interview with Jeff Gunn
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I received my first record on my birthday – Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA album, which became the soundtrack for my early childhood. I did not begin playing guitar and writing music until I was a teenager but a pivotal moment of music and self-discovery when I was 12. I discovered my Dad's records from the 60's, which included The Beatles, Cream, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and many others. This was life-changing in that I could not stop listening to these records and I had a strong yearning to become a musician, play guitar and write my own songs thereafter. If I were not a musician then I would have pursued my other passion – astronomy and became an astrophysicist.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I enjoy watching films. I pay attention to the storyline(s), the language of cinematography and themes. I also enjoy travelling the world and expanding my perspective. I find both film and travel inspire me to create and share music as a sonic storyteller.
How long has your band been around?
I have been performing at venues since the age of 15. I have served as a solo modern fingerstyle artist and as a musical director/lead guitar with international artist Emmanuel Jal.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I am based in Toronto. This is a great city where many of the world’s cultures converge. With regards to music, I learned to play many different styles of music here in Toronto as a young musician before travelling to many global destinations and playing with musicians in those environments. I think Toronto offers a great opportunity to collaborate with so many unique musicians while learning to develop your own unique voice.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
I use my own name – Jeff Gunn.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
Some of my most memorable shows include opening with Emmanuel Jal for such acts as Nico & Vinz, Peter Gabriel, Angelique Kidjo, Xavier Rudd, and Mumford & Sons, performing at Glastonbury, Juno Songwriters’ Circle, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Ringo Starr’s Birthday Concert at Capitol Records, NAMM Show Breakfast Sessions, United Nations, Grammy Museum Concert Series in Honour of Bob Marley and at the Dalai Lama One World Concert.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
My favorite venue to perform at so far has been at Glastonbury in the UK. There was such a feeling of community amongst the musicians. I met many of musical heroes over the course of performing there. As for my solo guitar performances, I played my original songs for 1400 people at the NAMM Show in California with special guests Kai Anunta (on violin) and Mike Sleath (drummer for Shawn Mendes). This was special because I was one of three artists selected to perform at the Breakfast Sessions and it was one of my best performances and the audience was uplifting. I look forward to one day performing at Wembley Stadium.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
I would play in Peter Gabriel’s band. I have always been attracted to his songs and his inclusion of global musicians in his shows. I did have the opportunity to open for him while playing with Emmanuel Jal. Peter came out on stage to introduce us and if that’s as close as I ever get than I am happy.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
I would say to set goals for yourself – whether these goals are related to the craft of playing your instrument, playing a particular venue or reaching new heights in your career in general. Write out your goals and post them on a sheet of paper that is somewhere you see it everyday – this will keep you focused. I would also suggest putting your festival and concert badges somewhere you can see them – they can help you get through difficult times and remind you of the amazing experiences you have had in the past while inspiring you to keep going forward.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
I would tell my younger self to continue to follow your heart and be patient – the results will come!
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
Each song has a unique story behind it so they all mean a lot to me. I do love to perform Song For Peace given the current social, economic and political challenges faced in the world today. I think overall what means most to me is the joy I get to bring to others through performing my music. Music in its highest state is an act of selflessness – the musician is the vessel who brings joy to others. I always keep this in mind when I perform whether as a solo guitarist or lead guitarist in a band.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
I love to perform Spiritus Momentous (Never Give Up Opus 2) because it is an uplifting song and melody which features Koi Anunta on violin and Mike Sleath (drummer for Shawn Mendes) on cajon. It is the second number in a series of pieces in the Never Give Up series – the first of which I recorded with multimedia artist Terrence Jon. It is special to me because of our family connection (Terrence is my cousin) and the fact we wrote the original song together in the Luftschloss Culture Castle in the Hollywood Hills. Spiritus is another take on the spirit of the original and includes a fresh melody with the hope of leading the listener to discover the original with Terrence Jon. It also happens to be my most requested song along with Vitality, Candle Lanterns and Hip Hopesque feat. Bibi McGill.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
Traveling is probably my biggest inspiration. When you go to places where you are the outsider you return humbled and with a greater perspective on the world and your communities place in it. You have opportunity to grow your compassion and form new connections with others.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
As an instrumental guitarist, I am a sonic storyteller and I hope to transport my audience to many different places. For instance, my song Starlight was written following a motorcycle trip from Sierra Leone to Liberia and my use of harmonics in the melody is meant to represent the falling stars. I hope to convey the feeling of wonder and awe at seeing this beautiful scene in the African night sky. Another song, Angelicus is a tribute to the powerful, inspiring and loving women in my life – those in my family.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
No, as I am a solo artist.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
As in the past, I am putting together tour dates for the Momentum album. This summer I am performing in Papeete, Tahiti, California and back in Canada. I aim to have an official release concert with special guests in Toronto in the Fall and a full concert tour for next summer. If you are interested in learning any of the guitar techniques such as harmonics that I use in my melodies and storytelling than join me on JamPlay.com. I am also working on content to share on virtual reality platforms. Stay tuned…