“People ask me all the time, ‘My kid wants to do music. What can you tell me about how to get started?' I have no friggin’ idea!"
In spite of his modesty, Nova Scotia singer-songwriter Dave Gunning has reached substantial heights in folk music. The 14 albums he’s released since 1996 includes the brand new, The Same Storm, two Christmas albums and a duo release, Two, with J.P. Cormier with whom he’s working on another set for release in early 2023. Dave’s collaboration with David Francey, 'A Game Goin’ On', won the Hockey Night in Canada “Song Quest" in 2014. Dave has also been nominated for a Juno Award, won two Canadian Folk Music Awards and eight East Coast Music Awards.
The new album features personal and historical songs written over the past two years including songs co-written with singer-songwriter Jim Dorie who passed away in 2015.
“We had titles or verses kicking around with nothing finished so I set an empty glass on the table or with a bit of beer in it, pretending Jim was with me or imagining, ‘What would Jim do?’.
Throughout his career Dave has co-written with a host of others and feels it’s advanced his development as a songwriter.
“It’s given me more colours to choose from,” he explains while sitting by the Halifax harbour front recently. “I think of Jimmy Rankin when he was in The Rankin Family. He was writing for the voices of all the sisters along with his own so it widened his colour palette as well.”
Dave’s co-writing experience is different not only with each collaborator but with each instance.
“The co-writing process isn’t straight forward,” he says. “It’s different every time. There might be an idea that’s tossed around when you’re hanging out with somebody. They might contribute a lot or a little but you still make sure they get the co-write.”
The title song, 'The Same Storm', reflects on the good parts to be found in the struggles of life, like a pandemic lockdown, as long as they’re shared with those you love.
“Yeah it’s a positive little ditty,” Dave laughs. “We were lucky in our house because we all like one another and enjoyed the time home. It’s the most time I had been home with Sarah and the boys…ever. We’ll look back at it and have a lot of good memories.”
Dave Gunning’s continued concern for social justice issues is reflected in the songs, 'Fisher Of These Waters' and 'Viola'.
“It seems the inshore fishers have to fight the government or some kind of force every few years and fight for survival,” he says. “I know a lot of fishers back home. They’re guys and girls I grew up with that are fishing. Through our battle with the pulp and paper mill we got to know a lot of the Mi ‘ kmaq commercial fishermen in our area. We have a good scene at home, they all work together and it’s all pretty awesome.”
'Viola' deals with the story of Viola Desmond, regarded as Canada’s Rosa Parks, who sat in a section of a movie theatre designated for Whites only.
“That happened in Pictou County!", says Dave. "Jim Dorie and I read a newspaper article where a young girl was interviewed because she was in the theatre when it happened. The song is from this little girl’s point of view. She witnessed it happening and knew it was wrong.”
The only reason Viola was in the Rosaland Theatre in the first place was because her car had broken down so she went to the movies while it was being fixed. Being from Halifax where things were a bit more “progressive”, Viola sat where everyone else sat, not knowing Blacks had to sit in the balcony, having not paid the extra penny to sit in the main part of the theatre.
In the works right now is a follow-up to Two, the collaboration with Dave’s best friend J.P. Cormier.
"We’ve written quite a bit but we’ve got more work to do,” says Dave. “We do the writing however it comes. Sometimes we’re together, sometimes I’m working on my own, sometimes he’s working on his own. J.P.’s got so many irons in the fire, what with the YouTube channel, he can play every friggin’ instrument known. He’s been a little down on himself lately and hasn’t felt productive but really, cut yourself some slack. He’s a great songwriter but he just hasn’t had the time lately.”
In many ways the touring Dave is embarking on in support of The Same Storm is also to remind people of his last album, Up Against The Sky which was released just before the pandemic.
“So in a way I’ve got two records out,” laughs Dave. “I had two trips to the UK booked for Up Against The Sky and tours down through the States. All my dates were international. We finally got into some of these places and then it just was gone, so you’re kind of starting over again. A lot of artistic directors had left their positions so you have to re-introduce yourself to the new people.”
The path to success is as varied as the number of people who reach for it. The manner in which Dave Gunning accomplished his achievements cannot be replicated by others. Not even by his eldest son, Jud, who’s becoming quite a skilled guitarist himself.
“He’s going to university right now but wants to do music. I haven’t really been encouraging him or discouraging him. I’ve been doing exactly what my parents did with me, just being neutral and seeing where it goes. We’re there to help him in any way we can but no-one knows the magic equation. Every success story for anybody you talk to was a different equation that got them there. It’s thousands of little tiny breaks all along the way and you hope they keep coming.”
For more Dave Gunning and The Same Storm, go to davegunning.com.