Discovery: Noah Gundersen


Noah Gundersen is the singer-songwriter you can hear echoing in the thick, damp mountainside of the Northwest. Gundersen, pictured alongside his musical partner and sister, Abby, released a seven-track EP, Family, in August of 2011; it showcases the siblings’ harmonic vocals and heartfelt lyrics, set against an affecting backdrop of melodic guitar and delicate violin. The lush combination of intricate storytelling and emotional disclosure is only a preview of what Gundersen has in store for his forthcoming full-length release. We spoke with him on the eve of his North American tour about the importance of a sustainable career, touring with family, and creating more than just music.

HOMETOWN: Centralia, WA

AGE: 23

TOURING WITH FAMILY: I don’t really know any other way of touring. I’ve always toured with Abby. I toured with a band once before, and that sucked, so touring with Abby by comparison is really great. And even outside of that comparison, I think because we’ve spent so much time together on the road, we understand each other’s mood fluctuations and needs. We both need our space a lot and we understand that about each other and have learned to respect that.

CITIES THAT PULSE: Obviously, every time I go to Nashville, it’s obvious that it’s a music town. There’s a long history of foundation for [music] there, so I think I feel that atmosphere there. And I feel it in New York, but I think I feel a vibrant atmosphere for more than just music—which is a really cool thing, and it’s a really inspiring place, but also quickly becomes overwhelming for me. I love the Northwest. Every time I go out on tour, I’m always excited to come home. There’s never really been a time where I’ve wanted to move outside of the Northwest.

THE PERSPECTIVE OF SONGWRITING: I don’t feel like I’ve reached a place of social commentary yet. I think some people are really good at writing in a creative and specific way about society—and I think some of my songs maybe do address that—but it is coming from more of a personal, introspective [place]. I think getting past your own shit, ideally, can help you get to the place where you can write with some perspective—so maybe me writing all these personal songs is getting me to a place where I can write from more of an outside perspective.

TAKING A STEP BACK: The things that have made me stop and take a step back are, unfortunately, the negative things that have happened… The times when people that you never thought would betray you break your trust, and things like that. Those are the moments that give me more pause than the positive moments, unfortunately. It’s a strange business. It’s a really weird thing to do for a living, and I’m really grateful for it, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. But people are strange and people do weird things, especially in entertainment.

THE FOCAL POINT: I’ve finally begun to realize how much my music means to some people, and I’m really flattered and honored by that. Maybe it sounds cliché, but lately that’s become far more important to me than who is on my guest list at an LA show or a New York show or something. Those are the people that essentially pay my bills and allow me to do this. It’s so fulfilling. Especially with songs that I’ve sang and played so many times that it may not mean the same thing to me… To have somebody come up to me after a show to have them tell me that the art that I made for my own sanity actually had a real and legitimate effect on their life is a really powerful thing.

ART AS BUSINESS: There have been times where I’ve been frustrated by the necessity of the business side… all the social networking and bullshit. At the same time I don’t think it would be the same if I didn’t have to earn it. I think if it had just fallen into my lap and I hadn’t had to do some of the manual labor and get my hands dirty, I really don’t feel like it would be sustainable. I really want to do this for the rest of my life, and so [I am always] trying to keep in mind what is sustainable and what’s realistic and what’s honest. I don’t think you just get to a point where you just hang out in your flat somewhere and drink wine and play guitar. Maybe? But I have a feeling that things that you make at that point aren’t going to have the value of the things you make when you’re hungry, when you want it.

CREATING MORE THAN MUSIC: I love seeing musicians get out of the box of just making music, because I think I’ve experienced different art forms that inspire my art forms. I think if I can get outside of the way I make art and find new ways to express myself, I am more of a whole person… I’d love to make a film. I’ve actually talked to [friends] about possibly collaborating with a filmmaker to work on a video for one of my songs that is more of a short film. I think if it’s important to you, then you do it. If it’s not, don’t.

THE FORTHCOMING ALBUM: This record’s taking a really fucking long time to make. It’s frustrating. We started with a producer and had a bit of a falling-out. I think I had [the] wrong attitude going into it at the beginning, because Family was the first record I’d made that had some kind of success, even on a small level. I think the expectations I had for myself were unrealistic for this one. And not in terms of quality, but just in terms of, “Would this sound good on the radio?” Or, “If we record this way, can this get a TV placement?” Just a bunch of crap that really wasn’t helping me make a good record. Thankfully I finally got out of that mindset and ended up producing the record myself in Seattle at a studio here, and I think we made the record that we wanted to make, ultimately—actually, I know we did.

UPCOMING TOUR: I’m really excited to play with a small band for the first time. It’s been a really long time since we’ve played with accompaniment, and we have my brother playing some drums and some piano and singing and we have a cellist and the songs sound really good. They don’t sound like they’re trying to be anything other than what they are, but they are filled out just enough to make it a more interesting experience for the audience and for me as a performer.