Friday, July 07, 2006

IMing With The Stars: Sam Gunn from Iron Hero

The tallest band in indie rock--photo by Brian McCall

Download: Iron Hero--"Heart of a Ghost" MP3

Sam Gunn is a jack of all trades. First off, he's a super-laid back nice fellow. We've known each other for quite some time, and he's always been involved in this or that, bands like the dearly departed Reading, Pinebox Derby, and now the hyper-popular Athens band Iron Hero. Sam has also been a college radio music director (I used to promote to him!) and a music journalist. In this edition of IMing With The Stars, we discuss Josh McKay from Macha, Superchunk's last two records, southern accents, and first impressions.

Iron Hero will be playing at Team Clermont's Summer Festival on Thursday night with Now It's Overhead, LYLAS, and Modern Skirts. Their new album, Safe As Houses, is an unbelievably well-recorded slab of dream pop.

Me: if you had to say that your record did one thing better than anything else, what would it be?
Sam Gunn: Man, that's tough...um, I guess I'd say that it definitely has the best distorted and reversed sonar box sounds that I've ever heard on a record.
Me: that's a real claim to fame
Sam Gunn: It's all I could think of
Sam Gunn: I can't be that objective about our record
Me: it's hard isn't it
Sam Gunn: near impossible
Me: I think that cliche about seeing the forest for the trees is an apt one for recording a record
Me: or rather not being able to see the forest for the trees
Me: it's hard to step back sometimes and say "this is good"
Sam Gunn: Yeah, when you start working on 10 (or more) songs simultaneously, it's easy to get overwhelmed
Sam Gunn: I've never been more stressed in my life
Sam Gunn: Yeah, when you start working on 10 (or more) songs simultaneously, it's easy to get overwhelmed
Me: I heard you the first time!
Me: hahaha
Me: how was working with Josh Mckay (from Macha)? I hear he is a notorious perfectionist
Sam Gunn: Um...yeah, I guess that's putting it mildly! He definitely takes his time making sure everything is perfect, which is what we wanted.
Sam Gunn: At one point, we spent two hours getting a guitar sound for a 30-second guitar part that I did in one take
Me: haha
Me: it was like that with Clay in PacUV
Me: Josh will admit it himself
Sam Gunn: But he also spent so much time thinking about our songs from an outsider's perspective
Me: that's important, I think
Sam Gunn: He really knew our songs backwards and forwards before we even went into the studio, he'd been to tons of our shows and had sat in on several practices
Me: Brandon and I were talking and we feel like it's maybe the best sounding local record in a long time
Me: that's awesome that he took the time!
Sam Gunn: All I can say is that I'm very proud of how it sounds. I think it's a great representation of what these songs are about.
Me: are they any parts of the record where you go "ugh I wish I could have done that better?"
Me: or are you like George Bush with no mistakes?
Sam Gunn: Um, all of the vocals...
Me: haha
Me: I think your singing has really progressed
Sam Gunn: Well, just kidding, kinda
Me: someone once told me that vocals can always be better
Sam Gunn: I wish I had had more time to experiment with strange harmonies and crazy backing vocals
Me: and it might be true
Sam Gunn: They can always be different...but without Josh in there with me, they woulda been a lot worse
Sam Gunn: He pushed me to sing harder and more expressively...I wanted to sing it like Mark Kozelek in a coma...
Sam Gunn: But I think he was right
Me: It doesn't sound like your speaking voice at all
Sam Gunn: People tell me that alot, a lot of people don't think it's me...
Me: well, you have a very rich southern accent
Me: not super-strong, but rich
Me: that strong Macon accent!
Me: is there such a thing?
Sam Gunn: I think I sound more southern when I sing...
Me: really?
Me: that's very interesting
Me: I think you sound like a dirty redneck
Sam Gunn: Hmm...I think there's a Middle Georgia accent, if not a Macon one...
Sam Gunn: Thanks asshole
Me: oh crap! This interview has turned contentious!
Me: I was just kidding
Sam Gunn: My aunts and uncles think that I sound like a Yankee...you should hear them talk...
Sam Gunn: Me too
Sam Gunn: That sounded like a dig on my family...it wasn't
Me: I'm not saying your accent is strong or anything
Me: my relatives in Minnesota think I am the biggest Southerner ever
Me: but they are soooo Minnesotan to me it's not funny and then they are like "we have accents? what accents?
Me: It's probably all context
Sam Gunn: No one ever has any idea, truly, what their speaking voice sounds like
Sam Gunn: Mine scares the hell out of me
Me: yeah...we hear out of our bones or something right?
Me: scares you? how so?
Sam Gunn: It just never sounds like me...or what I think I sound like...I feel disembodied when I hear it
Me: probably a common problem...I'm a lot more slurry
Sam Gunn: But, back to what we were talking about, I hope people realize that my singing voice isn't an affectation
Me: you can put a disclaimer on the album
Sam Gunn: Because I feel like early on there was a misconception about our band that we were trying to be "cheeky" or "dancy"
Me: how do you think that dance band thing started--with the two drummers?
Sam Gunn: No...I guess we kinda started it ourselves, cause initially some demos that we had played folks were done mostly with electronic drums and other synth sounds, and they did sound a little more "dancy" than the full band thing
Me: people get that "first sound" embedded in their brains
Sam Gunn: Yeah, it's hard to shake first impressions
Me: a lot of people could never understand why REM didn't just record Murmur over and over again
Me: this probably sounds like sacrilege, but I preferred later stuff
Me: I thought it was more developed
Sam Gunn: I'm the same way with lots of bands--I think Superchunk's last two records are criminally overlooked
Me: yeah!
Me: I think those are good
Sam Gunn: Those are the best "mature" indie-rock records I've ever heard
Sam Gunn: Besides maybe the entire Long Winters catalog
Me: Teenage Fanclub has been recording killer records for a long time and no one cared until this new one on Merge
Me: Long Winters...good call
Me: playing the Summer Fest by the way (plug!)
Sam Gunn: Yeah, I'm stoked!
Me: well, just John, but he is an extremely compelling live performer solo
Sam Gunn: I'm already trying to decide what requests I'm going to annoyingly call out between songs
Me: no Freebird
Sam Gunn: Oh no, only Long Winters songs...
Me: thank God!

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