Posted On 21 Jun 2018
Bishop Gunn, the emerging Nashville-based rockers released their debut album Natchez (named after their hometown in Mississippi) on May 4th.
Bishop Gunn recorded four songs for the album at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio with producer Mark Neill (The Black Keys) including the lead single “Shine,” which marks the first release of material tracked inside the legendary MSSS since it reopened in January 2016. At MSSS, the band recorded simultaneous live tracking of guitars, drums, vocals, bass—something they’d never done before. The album will also feature a song tracked at Muscle Shoals’ FAME Studios as well as six songs cut at The Purple House, a Leiper’s Fork, TN home studio operated by Grammy-winning producer Casey Wasner.
Bishop Gunn is McCready, Burne Sharp (drums), Drew Smithers (guitar) and Ben Lewis (bass). Following many years in steelwork in Natchez, MS, McCready decided to go into music full time. After both playing music in various incarnations, McCready and Sharpe connected at the big annual festival in Natchez. A friendship and collaboration formed, rooted in the history and sounds of their home and the surrounding Delta. They added members and Bishop Gunn’s current lineup stuck shortly thereafter. Now, the band members live together, write and have set up a home studio in a farmhouse just outside Leiper’s Fork, TN. They rehearse at a re-purposed grocery store in the area.
Learn more about Bishop Gunn in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time, Bishop Gunn! So how has 2018 been treating you all? What is one musical goal that you have had for this year and how close are you to reaching it?
Drew – It’s been great – a real ride!
Travis – Our goal was putting out the album, and we did it!
Ben – Yeah, our debut album “Natchez” came out on May 4th – check it out.
Can you recall the moment when you thought you could be in this band together? Has anything surprised you about it all so far?
Burne – Travis and I first saw Drew playing with an old band of his outside an antique store in Leiper’s Fork, where we all live, and long story short invited him to jam with us. It was such a great fit and we were all excited about the music and sound. We knew Ben from home and he was our next call, asking him to grab a bass and move up here to join us! Thankfully he was all in and brought amazing writing and talent too. We just all gelled from the word go.
Ben – The reception of the music has been amazing – and now the album too. It was a total surprise to debut at Number 4 on the Billboard Blues Chart – none of us saw that coming and were really humbled.
How difficult was it to come up with your band name? What other names were you considering?
Travis – Burne and I had started jamming together and playing with some other friends of ours and original members of the band, and Burne went ahead and booked us a gig at the Balloon Race in our hometown of Natchez, MS. It’s a big deal – thousands of people come out for it and they needed a name to promote us under. We were trying to come up with one and then one day we were in the Natchez Cemetery, which is this cool, historic cemetery and we saw this awesome headstone and it said “BISHOP GUNN” and we thought that sounded cool so we just went with it. We came to find out that Bishop Gunn had a really cool back story and we’ve stuck with it ever since.
How do you think your hometown in Mississippi have influenced the sound and how you all carry yourselves in this group? If you don’t think that it has, why is that?
Ben – It’s everything. You can’t help but draw inspiration from the rich musical history and musicians that we’re surrounded by. Natchez played a big part in shaping us as individuals and our sound is a real representation of who we are and where we came from. There’s rock and roll, soul, blues and grit all mixed in there together.
Travis – It’s also a really musical town. When we were coming up there were live bands in almost any club you went into – so a lot of support from the community and businesses in that sense. They created places to play and made it real to us that we could do that – make music. They made it accessible.
What did it feel like finally releasing your debut album, “Natchez” earlier this month? Do you remember listening to it all the way through for the first time? What was it like putting this collection together? Did anything surprise you about the overall process? How did recording it in a two different locations affect it?
Drew – It felt incredible. You know, it feels great when you work on something for a long time and then finally get to hold it in your hands and hear it on the actual album. Then putting it out there and hoping that people enjoy it is a whole other trip. We have been so grateful for the amazing response. This music has brought a lot of awesome people into our lives. The first time listening to it all the way through was on the 12” vinyl test press. We dropped the needle, turned it up and were really happy to have that moment all together.
Burne – We surprised ourselves when we did live tracking at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. That was a first for us, and it makes you really vulnerable but also really enables you to capture the sound. We felt lucky to record at different locations. Each brought its own vibes and we got to draw different types of inspiration from each, which ended up being a really great balance.
How did you go about choosing “Shine” to be the album’s lead single? What was the inspiration for that track? What are some other highlights of the collection?
Ben – We all felt like it’s a great introduction to our sound.
Travis – Yeah, it’s a blend of our influences and sounds – like a cool center point. I wrote that song after Burne and I moved up here to the Nashville area to be closer to the music scene. I was picturing Nashville as this big house and felt like I was walking up to the door and knocking, asking for a moment of time to share what I have to say.
Ben – We really dug covering Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me To Do” too. He’s a big inspiration and influence for us.
Drew – Another highlight is “Alabama.” It was a late addition to the album. Travis wrote it and sent it to us and we all freaked out and were like “that has to make it onto this album.” So we booked some studio time at FAME Studios on January 2nd just to cut that song. We loaded up in the van and headed down early that morning and our phone rang while we were on the Natchez Trace. It was the call that Rick Hall had passed that morning. We pulled the van over not knowing what to do and then Rick’s son Rodney assured us that his dad would want the doors open and the music to continue. It was an honor to be in there that day, and a special memory and way to pay our respects to the legend behind so much music that has inspired and influenced us.
What was it like working with your producer Mark Neill on “Natchez” who has worked with The Black Keys?
Burne – He was great – he was high energy and would be dancing around the room while producing or while we were playing. He enjoyed himself and that’s always contagious. He gave us creative freedom and really did an amazing job of capturing our sound. The same goes for Casey Wasner of The Purple House, who also produced a lot of the tracks on the album. He did an incredible job and really poured his heart into helping us get these songs right to where they needed to be.
I am curious to know more about the re-purposed grocery store that you rehearse in? How did you find that space to begin with?
Travis – It’s a cool spot that was built in 1916 and is owned by a friend of ours in Leiper’s Fork. It was an old country grocery that has been several other things through the years but has always been a well-loved community hangout spot for musicians and a place for a good time. It was left with a great stage in there so it’s perfect for setting up and rehearsing.
What has it been like living together? Do you find that you get more work done since you live together now? What are some things that you have learned about each other since moving in?
Ben – We definitely get more work done all living together. We’re in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere and have no cell service, no tv – but we’ve got instruments and a little home studio set up. So if you are looking for something to do, you play or write a song. We’re always recording or writing.
Where do you think you are all happiest- in the studio recording new music, on stage performing or elsewhere?
Drew – I get inspired either way, and in different ways from both.
Travis – For me, it’s on stage performing. That energy you get back from the crowd is electric and just the experience on stage. Every night is different, and you only get one take.
Got any upcoming tour dates you would like to tell our readers about?
How do you think being a musician and in this band gives you all the most joy in life today?
Drew – We’re grateful for all of them. Off the top of my head for July we’re excited to be a part of The Peach Fest this year with so many other incredible acts, and the opportunity to open for Lynyrd Skynyrd at Jones Beach and in Holmdel NJ. We’re also doing the Mid America Music Festival in Missouri later that month. Then in August we are looking forward to playing at the Big House Museum in Macon, GA and supporting Blackberry Smoke and Black Stone Cherry at fairs in Illinois.
Burne – We get the most joy from being out there doing what we love together and meeting so many awesome, supportive people along the way.
We are currently living through a very trying and politically charged time right now so I am curious to know how your own music is reflecting this time period? If you don’t think it is, why is that? Would you say that other musicians are making music that has been influenced by this climate?
Drew – I don’t think anybody can help but be influenced by what’s going on around them. Especially when it’s this charged. But I don’t know if we will know whether our music’s reflecting the time period we’re in until we’re not in it anymore, ya know? Our songs are a mix of personal experience and fantasy and we just hope to make music that everyday people relate to – whether it’s an expression for what they are feeling in the middle of all this or whether it makes them forget about their troubles and enjoy themselves in that moment. Music is a way to bring people together regardless of what else is going on and I hope ours does that. I definitely think there are others out there who are purposefully making music that has been influenced by this climate and I think it’s awesome. It’s a part of the history of music and rock and roll, ya know? Social commentary. And it’s had an important role at times.
How important do you think social media has been to this band? Do all you help to maintain all your sites or is one of you more into it all? Or do you rely on your PR/management team to handle it?
Ben – We are all hands on in maintaining and running our social media sites and they’ve been very important to us. They have given us a way to engage with our fans and those people have become friends and family to us. They know us and we know them. And it’s amazing to see the level of engagement – it’s awesome when we get to watch one of our fans from Washington state become true friends with one of our fans in Mississippi from talking on our page. It’s a great community and we’re really proud of it.
Who would you love to work with in the future? Who are some of your favorite artists right now? What do you think would be a dream collaboration for this group?
Favorite artists right now:
Blackberry Smoke, Scott Sharrard, PJ Morton, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Marcus King Band, North Mississippi All Stars
Bob Seger, Robert Plant, The Rolling Stones
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
Travis – We want to preserve the music that came before us and carry the flag forward by adding something new to it.
Drew – We hope there are sounds in our music that help new generations stay in touch with and understand the music that has come before us.
If you guys were all going to be stranded on a deserted island, what musical item would you want to take with you and why?
Travis – A grand piano.
Drew – A white grand piano.
Travis – Complete with tuning kit.