Interview: David Luning

©Jay Blakesberg

California music-maker David Luning had always been drawn to the cinematic—so much so that he ventured to Berklee College of Music to study film scoring. After two years in college, however, a chance hang with friends threw an enormous, John Prine-sized wrench in his best laid plans.

“Two friends invited me over to hang out and listen to music; it was the first time I’d been ever been introduced to country, or Americana, or folk music,” he recalls. “We listened to John Prine, and it was unbelievable. It struck me.” From that moment on, Luning knew his life would never be the same. “I was always writing serious music, but when I heard Prine, I realized there was a different way to portray real life. His music has so many layers, but when he would say something very simple and straightforward, but there were endless stories behind it, he expressed so much. It was a direct contrast to what was happening at Berklee; people were trying to be so impressive, and it just didn’t do it for me,” he reveals. “John Prine moved me, and made me realize how to move others.”

Luning broke the news to his reluctant, yet supportive parents that he wanted to leave school to pursue a music career. After spending a year or two writing songs and recording them in what he describes as a tool shed, Luning finally found his voice and crafted a demo of his work—which he took to a John Prine concert. “It was so awkward—I went backstage at his show to give him that demo. He is the nicest guy, he introduced himself, and I had this whole speech prepared to tell him how his music had changed my life, and I froze. Then later, I tried to talk to him again, I was going to deliver the speech, and I said, ‘Hi John, I just wanted you to know that I play music too.’ He was like ‘Ok,’” he says with a laugh. “However, when I came out with an actual record, I was able to get it to his manager, and I heard that he liked it.”

Recently Luning unleashed Restless, his sophomore effort produced by Karl Derfler (No Doubt, Tom Waits). “I was hesitant because I’d never worked with a producer before,” says Luning. “He was amazing and quickly picked up on what I wanted and where I wanted to go with the music. I think he even knew before I did. I had some random song ideas, and he said we really needed to put them on the album. I said, ‘They’re not written yet,’ and he said, ‘Well, you’re gonna have to go write them.’ So I did, and I was so happy he pushed me to go after those ideas.” The album is a scorching 12-song collection of gritty desert-tinged rockers, the sound of which will convince you that he was raised on an intravenous diet of heartland rock and pages wrangled from the classic American songbook. John Prine would be proud.

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