When Pictou County-born country music star George Canyon was up for a visit last summer, folk singer Dave Gunning made an impromptu stop at Frenchy’s to pick up a random assortment of clothes and the long-time friends headed to Gunning’s home to do a photo shoot.
The resulting photos taken by Canyon now grace the cover of Gunning’s latest album Up Against the Sky.
Gunning said he’s taken a pretty relaxed approach to working on this album and in fact he started it with only the intention of doing demos, which, in a way it took a lot of the pressure off as he experimented a fair bit with the mics.
“It actually took away the ability to mess with it too much,” he said.
After playing some of the demos for friends, they convinced him to continue and make a full album.
The title “Up Against the Sky,” comes from a line in one of his songs called Horse for Sale, which he felt applied to all of the songs in some way.
“All the songs were about either something to do with nature or up against the elements or impending doom or there’s something that’s beyond control,” he said. “It just seemed to be a phrase that caught my eye.”
The album includes several co-written songs. Gunning said he enjoys co-writing because it makes the process “a little less lonely.”
He said sometimes he’ll start a song and then bring it to a friend he thought of while writing and get their help finishing it. Other times they start from scratch together with simply an idea.
“Co-writing it’s a bit more fun," he said. “You’ve got the interaction.”
One song that’s of particular meaning to Gunning is “Wish I was Wrong” which drew its inspiration from the grassroots movement against pollution caused by Northern Pulp and the company’s plans to put an effluent treatment discharge pipe into the Northumberland Strait. Gunning along with his brother have been active members of the effort.
Gunning said he personally became concerned about issues surrounding the mill during a folk festival years ago. A woman came up to him during the event and told him about the herbicides that Northern Pulp was using to kill unwanted hardwood trees in softwood growth forests.
"It creates a monoculture forest,” he explained.
From there he became concerned about air emissions and then most recently the plans for a new effluent treatment facility.
Gunning admits that he had a bit of fear entering the debate, particularly as an artist in a small community.
“I was scared that it was going to be the end of my career," he said adding that at one point he had to get RCMP involved because of weird messages he was receiving. In the end though, he said it doesn’t appear to have hurt him professionally.
“We’ve made more friends than enemies,” he said.
In his words: Gunning shares the stories behind some of the songs
Circle Of Boots
(Dave Gunning / Thom Swift)
While on tour with George Canyon a few years back, he would gather the band and crew before every show to say a prayer. We'd all form a circle, locking arms and bowing our heads. While looking down each night I noticed the circle of boots and started imagining different scenarios where groups of people would be vowing to be there for one another and looking down into a circle of boots. When I got together with Thom and threw the premise out, he jumped on it right away and, just by coincidence, had a picture of a group of people huddling. Thom himself has been there for me during a time of need and I'm lucky to have his boots in my circle.
Celebrate the Crop
We live out in the country and we love it. We're fortunate that we can buy lots of local quality food and local quality beer around our area. My favourite time of the year is the fall and I love the celebratory feeling around harvest season. There's certainly an even greater buzz around harvest season in Canada now. Anyway, after reading a story about the ‘old days’ and having a little harvest season party of my own one night, I was inspired to write this tune.
Horse For Sale
(Dave Gunning / Ray Stewart)
Ray Stewart is a gem of a man and a great songwriter. He pitched the idea of writing a song about a house for sale but then I reminded him that Jamie and I had already written one of those a few years back. So he laughed and said."right, OK" then reached out a couple of days later about this concept -where you're trying to sell the house but instead advertising that it's a horse for sale. This basic story is a familiar one in rural communities all over. Smaller farms can no longer make a go of it like years ago when it was all family farming. I really love the way this song came together and I cried the first time that I heard the strings being played along with it. And I love the crickets that made their way onto the recording and helped create the mood. They'd been auditioning every night and trying to get my attention so I caved and placed the microphones by the windows.
(Dave Gunning / Jamie Robinson)
My favourite ride has always been the Ferris Wheel and, more specifically, the 'Big Eli’ model which was the one we'd always see around the Pictou / North Colchester Exhibition and the Pictou Lobster Carnival. It was often powered by an old gasoline tractor engine that would be purring away quietly. I don't know if it's an insurance issue now or what, but you don't see them around anymore and I miss them. They were the best.