Although the group has rarely toured, Bishop has embraced live performance as an integral part of his solo career since releasing his second album under his own name in 2004. Armed only with an acoustic guitar, the musician has earned rave reviews from critics, fans and tour mates alike for his fiery performances.

Recent tours have included North American runs with Devendra Banhart and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, as well as an Australian run with The Residents and others.

In addition to his upcoming West Coast dates, Bishop hopes to expand to the Southwest and possibly the South in July, with plans for a nationwide trek and a European tour to follow. Sun City Girls also have a possible European trip in the works for early 2007.

“My personal goal is to play in as many places as possible to as many different new crowds as possible,” the Seattle-based guitarist told Pollstar as he prepared for a a series of early June concerts.

It seems like you have more of a focus on live performance with your solo work than Sun City Girls has had.

That’s definitely true. With Sun City Girls, basically, we’ve never really toured that much. We did quite a few shows in 2004 and that’s kind of held us over for a while. We’ve been spending the last several months doing some recording and we’re all working on film projects and other things. So that’s allowed me to kind of get out and try the solo thing, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. I would like to do as much more of that as possible over the next few years.

Does it feel like a type of music that, for you, lends itself more to live performance?

Yeah, definitely. You know, I have solo records out, and if I listen to those – which I do on rare occasions – and then compare it to what I’m actually doing on stage, it’s a totally different thing. It’s much more energetic in a live performance. I’ve kind of gotten used to playing in front of audiences that really didn’t know who I was, and it’s been very successful. So that’s kind of encouraging; it allows me to do what I want to do and continue to expose myself to new people. And I’m just enjoying the success of it all. It’s turned out very well.

I would imagine, with a solo acoustic guitar act, especially playing to audiences that aren’t familiar with you, it can sometimes be a challenge to keep everyone’s attention.

It definitely is. But at the same time, I kind of enjoy that challenge. I’m pretty much an instrumentalist that very rarely will sing anything and that’s even more difficult. But there’s something about the style of music I’m playing or just what I’m playing that seems to appeal to many different groups of audiences who might not have any idea what Gypsy music is or what North African-style music is, especially when it’s applied to a guitar. So I think it’s working out pretty well.

I want to play in front of some audiences that come from a country/western background just to see what happens, and to other audiences that aren’t familiar with solo acoustic music and are maybe more into pop music, just to see what can happen.

You’ve gotten some of that sort of experience in the last couple years, right?

Yeah, I’ve been kind of lucky to get those Devendra Banhart dates, which was a whole different crowd – a very young crowd. And then kind of balancing that with touring with Will Oldham, which seems to draw maybe a slightly more mature crowd – maybe from the Southern country songwriting background crowd. And again, both experiences were just great.

So are you looking to do more headlining tours in the future?

Well, you know, if I can still do tours opening up for some acts that are much more prominent than myself, then I’m probably going to lean towards that because that’s probably going to get me a bigger crowd. I’d love to do headline tours, if it’s promoted right, and people know what they’re getting, and people show up. That’s the key. But I certainly don’t mind being a support act.

For this upcoming tour, you’re going out by yourself, right?

Yeah, the shows we have so far, I believe, for lack of a better word, that I am headlining all those shows. That’s going to be another nice little change. I’ve done quite a few over the years just solo, and usually it’s been pretty good. But I’ve got a lot of momentum going now so I’m kind of ready for anything.

So your latest record is kind of a mix of improvised and composed pieces.

Yeah, the most recent one – Fingering The Devil – basically, it’s mostly improvised, but there are a few things on some of the pieces that I was just doing live and they kind of developed into something a little more tangible than just a straight improvised piece.

The record I did before that [Improvika, 2004] was entirely improvised, and my first record [Salvador Kali, 1998] was probably half composed pieces and half improvised. I’m at the point now where I’m very comfortable improvising in a live setting, but I’m certainly not afraid to do regular songs in between.

I do a lot of similar material every night, but a lot of the pieces are kind of skeleton pieces, so there’s plenty of room for improvisation and it’s different every night. And that kind of keeps it interesting for me. If I had to do the same thing every night – the same exact songs, the same exact chord sequences and note runs and things like that – that’s just something I’ve never wanted to do. So I like to kind of keep it interesting on my part.

The dynamics or pressures of improvising by yourself must be an entirely different world from doing it with other musicians.

It totally is. With the band, Sun City Girls – who I consider two other master improvisers – there’s so much free space there and then there’s so much backup that you can get very comfortable pretty quick because you don’t have to do it all by yourself.

But when you do it the other way – especially with acoustic guitar, and especially if you’re in a large room – it can be kind of nerve-wracking. But at the same time, it brings up that challenging aspect and there’s nothing I like better than to just give it a shot and try to win these people over by playing something that’s totally made up on the spot. And so far, so good.

Do you know what you’re looking at for this year beyond the June tour?

I definitely have a European tour coming up in the fall in October. We’re still trying to get as many dates as possible; I’m hoping I can be out for at least a month over there.

And prior to that, maybe around September, there will probably be another full U.S. tour. There are a few options we’re working on with some other groups that I can’t mention just yet. There’s always a lot of other possibilities that we’re working on as well. We just have to wait to see what’s going to gel and what’s not.

It seems that every time your live show is mentioned, often in interviews with other artists, it’s described as a very intense, engaging experience.

Yeah, it seems like it is; I’ve noticed a lot of the same thing. I read a lot of articles from people I’ve played with and people who have gone to shows. It’s kind of encouraging what everybody says, and that’s kind of what keeps me going.