Gwen Bunn On The Grammy-Nominated Collaboration That Changed Her Life And Bringing Back Early 2000s R&B
It's only now during quarantine brought on by the coronavirus pandemic that Gwen Bunn has found some time to explore California on a road trip. After going back and forth from Georgia to Los Angeles for six years, she recently committed and made a move to reside on the West Coast full-time. It was a welcome reset after years of tireless grind for the singer, songwriter, and producer. Hailing from Decatur, Georgia, Gwen started singing in the choir at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Her uncle's house was the training ground where at 11 years old, Gwen started developing her craft. After graduating high school, she attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she left after a year to return to her hometown to pursue music full-time.
Not long after, the dream opportunity of a lifetime would knock on her door. By chance, people at Top Dawg Entertainment, the label home of Kendrick Lamar, SZA, and SiR, reached out to work with her. She took a chance and went to Los Angeles in 2014, for the first time where she co-produced Schoolboy Q and Lamar’s Grammy-nominated hit “Collard Greens.” While she’s floated under the radar behind-the-scenes since then, Gwen says she’s feeling “a whole new energy” after recently signing with Island Records. “I'm always making music, but I'm not always putting it out. So there was a time for sure where I was more so behind the scenes and not putting my music out. That has totally shifted.”
After dropping off an album, Safe Travels, in 2018, Gwen has steadily collaborated or worked with the likes of Ty Dolla $ign, Rapsody, GoldLink, Childish Gambino and Syd. In March, Gwen shared "Pressure" followed by “No Days Off,” and then “Don’t Go” in August. Both tracks are available now, but new music is scheduled to be released in early 2021. One of the tracks featured on her next EP, “Between The Lines,” is a quintessential classic R&B throwback that samples Faith Evans’ 1995 song, “Soon As I Get Home.”
Gwen Bunn checked in with BET.com to discuss what’s changed for her, what it was like working with Faith Evans, and more.
BET.com: Where did your passion for music begin?
Gwen Bunn: I was naturally gravitating towards music, but church as well just being around world class musicians and people who have been playing for years was a big inspiration.
BET.com: You ended up going to the Berkeley College of Music, which you later dropped out after one year. Were you ever nervous that you might regret that decision to leave?
Gwen Bunn: No. Because when you know, you know.
BET.com: Did you ever kind of feel that pressure when you went back home to Georgia?
Gwen Bunn: At first, I didn't. I will say. I was almost in La La Land. I had built a relationship with some people in Boston, and that was like my team. I had a manager. I had a guy [who was a] crazy producer [and] musician. He and I would lock in on things. They stayed for a couple of months, and then they had to go back to school. While back at home, with my album finished, I was able to reassess.
There was no money coming in. Plus, my mother wanted to know what my plans were. Additionally, people at [Top Dawg Entertainment] were reaching out to me like, 'Hey, we're fans. You should come out here at some point.' That was before my mother said anything to me. After we started talking, I was like 'I might need to make this play to go out there.' By the grace of God, I scraped some money up, I reached out, and he said 'Come down, this is the perfect time.' I ended up just going out there taking a chance.
BET.com: And now you're gearing up to release your new project, Mood Swings. What can fans expect from that?
Gwen Bunn: It's going to be a play on what the word 'mood swings' means. Everything's going to sound different but feel cohesive as far as sonically goes. It's going to be me exploring a different vibe. It's just kind of like a shapeshifter. I'm trying to show a different style and another side of me. I feel like everybody will be able to feel the different energies of the songs. It's all about switching it up.
BET.com: Was there any particular story or experience that inspired Mood Swings?
Gwen Bunn: Yeah. I'm in a relationship. [The album] represents the ups and downs of love. A lot of the same metaphors but different sides of me. It’s a roller coaster ride sometimes.
BET.com: In September, you dropped a new single ‘Between The Lines,’ which samples Faith Evans’ ‘As Soon As You Get Home.’ How did that come about, and why did you choose that song?
Gwen Bunn: I had been trying to work with the producer Black Mike for years, and we were finally able to connect. [Mike and I] were working on music, and I came to the studio [and] he was chopping that sample up. That was just all, Mike. I came in and was like 'that's it.' I already felt that I already knew what to do with it. We just let it grow from there.
BET.com: Did you ever talk to Faith or did she share reaction to it when she heard the song?
Gwen Bunn: Yeah. I didn't talk to her personally, but my people did. They told me she was like, 'this is crazy. She's crazy. I'm going to do it for sure.' They told me they've reached out to her to do other things in the past, and she said, 'Yeah,' I'll do it' and never got to it. But she ended up getting back to this one, and it was a major honor. She's amazing.
BET.com: Listening to your music, it has an early 2000s R&B feel to it. Is that something intentional?
Gwen Bunn: Oh, yes. I love that era. I kind of want to push everything forward from that [period]. Music changes all the time, and I always want to be that person to be like, 'you remember this?' I love going back all the time. I'm obsessed with it. And I'm obsessed with creating something totally new too. That'll come later. But yeah, that's intentional.
BET.com: Is there another song that you can't wait for fans to hear from Mood Swings?
Gwen Bunn: Honestly, the whole album is on the same level as “Between the Lines.” In particular, there’s a song called ‘One Up’ and I'm super excited about it. I love that record.
BET.com: You have Mood Swings coming out and part two coming out next year. What are some other things in the works that you have in store to surprise fans?
Gwen Bunn: I have a few different things I’m getting prepared for next year that I'm super excited about. I'm working on two projects right now. A UK-inspired vibe and another EP type thing. More videos coming out. I'm about to start doing production videos of me giving people insight on the production process [and] songwriting videos. I might start doing how-to videos. I’mma start getting really active on my YouTube channel. Some features on rapper’s albums. I'm all over the place.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.