By BROOKE WANSER
On a sunny Thursday afternoon, Bishop Gunn lead vocalist Travis McCready, 29, and drummer Burne Sharp, 25, settle into wooden chairs inside the dimly lit Green’s Grocery in Leiper’s Fork.
They are missing bass player Ben Lewis, and guitarist Drew Smithers, the latter of whom Sharp and McCready say is preparing to get married.
The room is their rehearsal space, and their instruments are set up along a stage inside a building that is not a grocery store or a restaurant, but a performance venue.
After touring through the summer and working on a their first full-length record, the band, whose members are Leiper’s Fork transplants originally from Natchez, Miss., is getting ready to play at the Pilgrimage Festival on Sept. 24.
It’s difficult to describe the band’s sound, with McCready’s high-flying vocals and an ample dose of Americana that takes on a heavier edge in songs like “Eye of the Hurricane,” inspired by McCready’s youth in Hancock County, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina.
For McCready, Bishop Gunn’s sound is influenced by several eras of music in America. “I was a huge nineties rock grunge fan, more than anything,” he said.
“But also seventies kind of Led Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers and even further back than that. The hard-hitting side, the more modern kind of twist on it definitely comes from my liking of the nineties vocalists. The country twist on it is just –”
“We from the South!” Sharp said.
McCready laughed. “You can’t get away from that!”
The band officially formed after Sharp and McCready played together for the first time in October of 2014 at the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race.
Sharp was in a band that “didn’t have a singer, we didn’t have a bass player. We would just go play shows with drums and guitar and just jam.”
After hearing about McCready’s vocals, Sharp said he spent “months” trying to chase him down.
“They got me to come sing for this one-day festival,” McCready said, and “it just escalated from there.”
The band’s name came from an unusual source of inspiration: John Edward Gunn, the sixth Catholic bishop of Natchez from 1911 to 1924.
“We just took a name off of a tombstone in a graveyard,” McCready said.
Bishop Gunn has gone through many iterations since that first gig, with members coming and going, finally settling into the lineup they have today in March of 2017.
Sharp said the band started coming up to Leiper’s Fork in April of 2015 before renting a house and moving in November, 2016.
The members of the band live together in a three-bedroom house in Leiper’s Fork, though as Sharp noted, “we’ve sacrificed a bedroom for a recording studio.” Sharp said there’s no Internet, no cable television and hardly any cell phone service on the property, which allows the men to focus solely on creating music.
“We’ve just fallen in love with this place,” Sharp said. “It’s just so creative and open, and everybody kinda just knows everybody.”
“It’s just outside of Nashville, so it’s outside the rat race of that,” chuckled McCready. “Which we can use to our advantage when we need to.”
Living in Leiper’s Fork, a haven for well-heeled musicians and creatives like Justin Timberlake, Chris Stapleton and Keith Urban, has proved beneficial for Bishop Gunn. “Natchez has no connections in the music business,” McCready admitted. “It’s a small town.”
Among their friends, the group counts Trace Ayala, Timberlake’s creative director; after being “put back together” in March, their first show played together was a fashion show for Timberlake’s William Rast line of clothing at fashion week in Charleston, S.C.
“We were separated by 75 feet on this big runway stage, and models are walking in between us,” Sharp said. “It was really weird for a first show.”
Next up? A show with Kid Rock on a cruise. “The band’s been together for like 25 days and we’re already on the Kid Rock cruise, somewhere in the Bahamas, playing shows with all these other great bands,” McCready said.
And, they will play at Pilgrimage next weekend, a show which McCready said the band, “tried to get on the first year.”
Aside from cool gigs, the band is benefiting from the creative connections: Bishop Gunn cut half of their soon-to-be released album at the Purple House, a studio in town, with the help of Grammy-nominated artist Casey Wasner.
The other half was cut in the famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama. Sound engineer Mark Neill worked on the album; he also engineered The Black Keys’ 2009 Grammy award-winning album “Brothers” in the same studio.
McCready and Sharp say the album, due out this fall, is about life on the road and their experience with touring. “It sounds like our last year,” McCready said.
Before he transitioned to life as a full-time musician, McCready worked as a structural fitter and welder on construction sites.
“Those types of jobs, they just kill you as an artist,” he said.
McCready said songs from their EP like “Let the People Know,” are about the transition: “Going full time with it and pretty much believing in your product and your art and trying to be heard.”
In trying to make a name for the band, McCready said, “It’s been fun –”
“The struggle is real,” Sharp interjected. “We wouldn’t have it any other way though.”
“We were way over our heads but it’s a good thing we didn’t know it, or else we would have maybe never even tried,” McCready said. “We were too uninformed to know that this was the toughest thing you could ever try to do.”
As for the future, Bishop Gunn plans to release a single from their album in the next month, will be playing locally at several upcoming shows, including Kid Rock’s Fish Fry in Nashville on Oct. 6, and even hope to tour next year in Europe.
But in the present, they are content right in Leiper’s Fork.
“We plan on calling this home for the foreseeable future,” said Sharp. “No doubt about it.”
Catch them at Pilgrimage Festival at the Southern Comfort Harpeth River stage at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 24.