On their latest and most intellectual release, Out of Range, Gun Outfit is after openness and the empty expanse through the artistic ramifications of Greek mythology to the inescapable modern political perdition.
Many of the lyrics on Out of Range are references (directly and indirectly) to historic texts like the Bible and mythology. Was the songwriting influenced more by literary elements than musical concepts that were consumed and used as creative fuel during the album process?
We've always had some literary references in our music ("The Flower Beneath the Foot" on Possession Sound is a reference to the Ronald Firbank novel of the same name, for example), but the music always comes first and the lyrics after. Writing the lyrics is a lot more difficult for me than writing the music because I'm uncomfortable just throwing off things I'm not fully invested in for the sake of a rhyme. A lot of the references and words are there just because it opens you up a lot more in the writing sense- rhyming something with 'Estragon" is more fun than rhyming it with "gone." Most music out there has terrible lyrics and gets a pass anyway, so I understand that it doesn't really matter, but we're just trying to put attention to every detail of the record as it's own little art form, and luckily words have thousands of years of history from with to draw from that it would be a shame to just ignore.
The specific references we put it here are kind of a historical progression. Starts out with Greek myth on the first song, goes to Middle Ages (Bruegel), 19th Century (Richard Henry Stoddard), 20th (Beckett) etc, with the references kind of providing a little framing for how to view the singer's perspective in each given song...kind of a lens or context on how to view it, in keeping with the records conceptual framework - an investigation into the vague concept of the "Western." But really you don't need to know- it's all for fun- and they are just there in case someone really was trying to analyze the lyrics and figure out what they are really trying to say.
Wherever possible, I write a couplet so it can be read two different ways, with both ways having a similar but distinct meaning - I approach it as severely compromised poetry; it should have the same ambitions. With the internet, you can just look up things you write and see if someone else has said similar things in history, and then respond to that in the lyric - a further feedback loop which was kind of fun to mess around with. Anything to get us out of the context of "generic bar rock hamming our emotional experiences."
This record, your fifth, has a distinct confidence in the composition and lyricism that we haven't felt previously. Was there anything beyond purely time and familiarity with each other's abilities that could have inspired this aesthetic?
Well it's the most conceptual record we've done. We came from hardcore, where the goal is to be as direct as possible, so I think that I always felt embarrassed when I got sly and obtuse and felt I was being pretentious. For this record I was just like fuck it - if I come off pretentious so be it. We're all working class, and a slightly more formalized presentation of our music isn't going to do anything but a little more depth to our musical reality. And yeah we all know how to play together pretty well because it's a band and not some guy's project where he's telling the other people what to do. We practice a lot.
Henry Barnes (Amps for Christ, Man Is the Bastard) is now on as an official member of the band. How does the bizarre beauty of Barnes' ingenuity as a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and luthier support Gun Outfit at this point in the band's career? What were your first collaborations with Barnes like? Was it a successful partnership from the beginning?
It's kind of a perfect fit for the band because, like us, he's completely self taught and intuitive. We get along really well. We both have an idealistic and political approach to making music. We don't see any big difference between folk and noise music for instance. He has also been a kind of an inspiration in how to keep on following your vision without compromise through the years.
You recorded the vocals for "Cybele" literally moments after the 2016 US presidential election results were announced. The song is about religious cults and the end of empire. Did that foul piece of American history play any role in the writing or identity of the record?
That is a moment I'm sure I will remember for a long time. I sang that song after midnight and that kind of shock and depression was really setting in. The record had been written by then but songs like "Cybele" and "Primacy of Love" acquired new weight, while others lost a little. The idea of cutting off your testicles like Attis and bleeding to death under a pine tree because you have seen beauty and know it cannot exist in the world of slaves and caesars felt relevant.
There is an exhaustion in the vocals that's a direct result of thousands of years of racist authoritarianism in the service of corrupt and venal oligarchs crystallizing into a perceptible moment. I was overwhelmed, but no retreat is possible.
Out of Range is clearly more country-leaning than your earlier works. Did transitioning to a honky-tonkish, cosmic country approach open you up to focus less on the complexities of the instrumentation and provide a platform to express more freely your lyrics and song verse intricacy? Was there some other driver for the connection with cosmic country for this record?
It was kind of just natural; more natural to us than trying to pull off a more boring type of Americana that has been done better than we could possibly do many years ago. Carrie grew up on the Sounth and I grew up in the country but in the Northwest, where the connection to more traditional aspects of country music aren't as strong - it's not our music so we feel free to mess around with it. On some songs like "The 101" we deliberately tried to write a more country/folk song, but Henry's bouzouki kind of gives it a different flavor. To us it's more folk than country.
I think the cosmic tendencies in country/folk has been present in West Coast music for a long time (the Grateful Dead, Meat Puppets, Byrds etc.) and I think you're right though in that we embrace traditional type of song structures. On the West Coast there is no pure Americana, there's psychedelics in the soil, we are just kind of looking backward and laughing in a good natured way.
The first video from the new record is for "Sally Rose." The video effectively captures the elements of the West that are alive on Out of Range. The video was directed by band guitarist/vocalist Carrie Keith. Has there always been a visual element in mind during the writing of the album? Were there specific visual motivations for shooting the video or writing the songs for the record?
Both Carrie and I were into making videos and experimental films well before we got into playing music - it's always been tied together for us. Movies are potentially the ultimate art form because they incorporate so many different art forms in a single work, and hopefully someday we'll be able to put something together that really gives the visual elements as much care and attention we put toward the musical.
We put that picture of Merrick Butte in Monument Valley on the cover as a reference to John Ford and cinematic neoclassicism - not as an homage but as an effort to understand whether it was possible to experience something that might seem relatively cliche in a new way.
Also I started painting and thus spending more time thinking about colors and textures and reducing and reproducing experience in a single image. We're after openness and the empty expanse - in three minutes.