When I caught up with Gun Outfit's singer and guitarist Carrie Keith over Skype, she was sipping white wine and smoking on a sunny porch while cars chugged along a heavily trafficked road just out of view. It was a very L.A. scene, and an apt setting to talk about her country-rock band, since Gun Outfit songs tend to conjure up daydreams of a weirder, stonier, long-gone version of southern California.
"Gotta Wanna," our first taste of the L.A.-via-Olympia outfit's gorgeous new full-length, is a good example of that. It's a dusty outlaw anthem, featuring Keith and co-vocalist Dylan Sharp trading off narration over desert-hued guitar tangles. Listen close enough and you can almost hear the buzzing of neon bulbs in some low-lit Old Hollywood dive. Stream it below, read our chat with Keith, and get ready for Dream All Over, which drops October 16th on Paradise of Bachelors.
On “Gotta Wanna,” you sing the line Deep water, open space/ Gotta have room to move my body so I don’t go insane. Is that about living in a city?
Dylan actually wrote most of the lyrics to that song, and he's out in the rainforest right now—but I relate to that line. I have to keep moving, because if I don't keep moving, things get too cyclical. Physically, I have to keep moving. I'm definitely about being in the physical world.
Do you both write lyrics?
Normally what Dylan sings, he wrote, and what I sing, I wrote. For this record, Dylan wrote some lyrics for me, and we wrote some together. I really liked that style. I've collaborated with my playwright friend Lola Pierson in the past; she's written lyrics for me. I like working with other people in this context of Gun Outfit. That's the essence of this band and one reason we keep putting out records, to draw on the people who inspire us. [Noise music pioneer] Henry Barnes played a few songs on this record. He's a legend in his own right, but he's also been a huge inspiration to all of us. We recorded with [King Tuff collaborator] Facundo Bermudez. He's a wild cat. He's got a really cool downtown L.A. set up in MacArthur Park. The space that we recorded in was his father's electronics store for a long time. It has a cavernous, very live feel.
I recently watched "Where's Anton," the 16mm short film you made in conjunction with your last full-length, Hard Coming Down. It’s striking. Are you working on anything else like that now?
We're actually at the beginning process of doing a feature-length film—a Western. It's going to be less experimental, more narrative, and more feminist. Dane and Dylan are going to write, Joe's going to shoot, and I'm going to direct. I'm super stoked about it. There's gonna be some songs by Gun Outfit, and probably some songs that won’t appear on any record. It's something that we've all been interested in doing since we started playing music. It takes a different set of resources, plus financial planning. Making a film is really expensive. There's probably some songs on our new album, Dream All Over, that could work in a Western. But I think mainly, for this record, we just want to put it out and play it around.
From the beginning, you guys have mostly aligned yourselves with punk and hardcore bands, despite having a lighter, quieter sound. You're playing Berserktown II next month, for example. Why do you connect with that facet of the underground?
The idea of the underground is complicated. It's definitely where we come from. I didn't come from playing acoustic guitar with my family in the country, you know? We would have turned out to be a much more traditional country or bluegrass band. We came out of the hardcore scene. Maybe our music never fit there, but Dan and Dylan have played hardcore music since they were 14 or whatever. Sex Vid took us on our first tour, and we totaled their van. Judd, the singer of that band, has always been incredibly supportive.
Since we left Olympia, we're still finding our place. We don't really play hardcore shows anymore. We left a really close, tight community of hardcore punks. I go to punk shows now and I love the bands that I've seen, but there's been a shift; the last few hardcore shows we've played it doesn't really make much sense for us. We're a little bit in no-man's land, musically. There's a technical aspect of it, too—like, I want to be able to hear the vocals. In some ways that's alienating because it pushes you into playing clubs with sound systems of a certain quality. I think a lot of it is just based on our friends. A lot of my friends are playing punk music, and the element of community that is important to the punk and hardcore scene continues to be important to me.
Your music has a specific faded, forgotten West Coast vibe. How did California shape the record?
L.A. is definitely our home. It is "L.A." in that we wouldn't have made it anywhere else. We needed to be here to make it. This is where we live, and I love it here. I think it's a good place to be right now. We definitely listened to a lot of West Coast, '60s and '70s-era music. Source Family is cool. Definitely something we've all listened to and read about and watched the documentary. I actually met [The Source Family director] Jodi Wille at a party once, she was very nice. I met her at a party that Karen Black was at before she passed. I watched Karen Black watch Easy Rider. But I listen to just as much Southern rock and blues, so I don't know if I would say it was the intent to reference that.
Do you think your music suits the setting, though?
My ambition with this band has always, always been to make good driving music. I just want it to be something that you want to listen to in your car. And that's a big part of the culture here: being in the car.