“There’s so many personal stories (on the album) and people are not relating to my personal story. They’re relating to their own personal story that they hear in the music, which makes them feel less alone, which is such a cool thing to be able to share with people.” ~Noah Gundersen
Noah Gundersen has been busy prepping for a long tour in support of his latest album released on August 23rd, Lover. The album is deeply personal for him. 2018 brought about changes and hardships in his personal and business worlds. The songs tackle hard lessons about love, drugs, sex, growing older, and regret. It’s been a cathartic experience that has influenced Noah to put his ego in check and start a clean slate with a new, highly gifted band.
I caught up with him the day before he hit the road and discussed his upcoming tour, proudest moments with Lover, decisions on choosing songs to cover, and learning to find where to fit in. In speaking with Noah, his personality shines and aligns with his music. He’s honest, vulnerable, and extremely caring to all the people around him.
Smouse Are you on the road today or still packing?
Noah We are taking off tomorrow. We did the first show of the tour two nights ago up in northern Washington then we came home and trying to just get ready to leave.
Smouse I was listening to the radio and heard Lucy Dacus covering “Dancing in the Dark.” It brought me back to seeing you perform that song in this tiny little town hall in Seaside, Washington. My mind was absolutely blown that night. You took the Springsteen song and made it your own. I’m sitting there believing that that’s your story. How do you come to that decision to cover a certain song or a certain artist?
Noah I wish there was some profound answer I could give you, but really it’s just if I like a certain song. I have a certain kinda style. So I like the idea of taking a song that is significantly different than me, but I can see something in it where I can kind of tweak that and make it my own. It’s feeling like I can find some content or message and give it my voice. We’re working on a couple of different cover ideas for this next year. We might do a sad, mellow Noah Gundersen version of a Creed song.
Smouse I’m there for it. That’s great. As a songwriter, is it hard to write songs about your own personal experience or is it easier to do that because it’s a first person type story?
Noah That’s like the only way I’ve really ever made music and I’ve tried to be more of a storyteller or compose things around a concept. The songs that really just come natural to me or when I’m processing in real-time what’s going on in my life. I’ve done that ever since I was a little kid. I mean, I spent a lot of time just alone in my bedroom writing songs every day instead of having friends. Um, which sounds really more sad than it actually was.
“Just the way of being able to process complex emotions, before, you know, before therapy was less taboo. That was my form of speaking out things that I didn’t really know how to communicate otherwise.”
Smouse I read a lot of the stories in the changes that you went through that helped inspire this new album. As a fan, I’m selfishly happy that you went through those challenges because the material that you made from it is really beautiful and I think it’s connecting to a lot of people. How do you mentally get prepared to go on a tour where you have to perform these songs night after night, which, I assume brings back some of those old feelings?
Noah I think I’ll be able to dig into an emotional place with the songs. There’s a few on the set that are emotionally a little tough, but you know, I had this experience the other night while we were playing the first show. The energy in the room is different. Part of that is because although there’s a lot of emotionally heavy songs in the set, there’s also like some really fun moments.
“I think I’m so used to my shows having this sense of reverence around sadness. But there’s also some some happy moments and I think that is actually something that I’m learning to adjust to, to feel the energy in the room, go on this kind of roller coaster of introspection into moments of more celebration”
People can have a moment that’s introspective but then also potentially have a moment when they’re dancing. I’m really excited to see that evolve and have it be more dynamic.
Smouse There’s a time frame for every artist where you’re performing songs that were written a year ago, but you’re on tour and you’re maybe writing songs that are gonna be released a year later. Is it hard as an artist to live between those two worlds?
Noah I really love the songs on this record, so I’m still really enjoying getting to play them and perform them. I also get to sing a lot more and not be tied down to an instrument. So all of that makes playing the older material more exciting. And I have a new band so everything feels a little reinvented. Writing has always been for me just a continuous process. I go through seasons of writing more than other times. It’s all just a part of this constant evolution of artists. I don’t worry too much about whether or not these songs going to still be relevant to me in a year or not? I think as long as the sentiments and the song feels honest and true, even if I’m not experiencing them in that very moment, they still can hold water.
Smouse Lover came out on August 23rd. What are you most proud of with this the album?
Noah I think it’s really the most sincere thing I’ve ever made. Um, which kind of sounds funny to say being that I’ve kind of made some sort of name for myself being the confessional, sad white dude who talks about his feelings. With this one, I got to say a lot of things that felt really honest. It didn’t feel like they were romanticizing pain or romanticizing self-destruction. It was like, here’s a real honest look at myself and acceptance in that.
The process of making this record was really creative. I collaborated with my friend Andy Park (Death Cab for Cutie, K. Flay, Ciara) and we’re kind of just like kids in a toy shop. We just found weird sounds and tried things out. Whatever inspired us, we would throw at it and stuff would work or it wouldn’t. We were patient and diligent to make sure that we were really happy about everything.
As I’ve got a little older, my feelings about what music means has changed. I think I’ve become, through some of my own personal work, a little more in my own skin and not necessarily relying as heavily on the narcissistic catharsis of performing to make me feel validated as a person. So getting ready to release this album, I asked what is my motivation? Why am I doing this? Why am I doing music? Other than just satisfy my own ego. I think the response from people with this record has been a really positive reminder of the power of music that it does give words to people dealing with things that you might not have the ability to express them. It makes them feel less alone.
Smouse Talk to me a little bit about the amazing band that is supporting you this tour.
Noah The band is my friend Erik Walters on bass. He plays in a group called Silver Torches. He’s been playing with Pedro the Lion the last couple of years. Alex Westcoat plays drums and plays in a band called Pickwick. My friend Andrew Butler is playing keys and guitar. You tour with the same people for long enough and you become really close to them. There’s also all sorts of dynamics that get ingrained and are harder to break. It’s nice to have a clean slate with people and establish new patterns.
Smouse Where do you feel like you’re at with your career?
Noah I was actually just talking to a friend last night who’s kind of a bigger artist. We were just having this conversation where it’s an interesting space right now to be a straight white, male singer-songwriter talking about his feelings. We had our moment (pause) for sure. And now there are important things for people to focus on that aren’t just, you know, that aren’t us. But at the same time, there are plenty of sad, straight, white males out there in the world that can relate to my content. Um, so yeah, I think just trying to find where I sit still in the word. I’ve learned to manage my expectations a lot more. I had some failures with the last record that made me turn to my ego a little bit. Right now I’m just grateful for my fans. I’m grateful for where I’m at and hopefully we can grow. That’s the dream.
“Ultimately I get to play music for a living and people want to come listen to it. I’m gonna keep on doing that for as long as people come to shows.”
Catch Noah Gundersen on October 1st at the Fine Line. Lemolo is set to release a new album as well and will be supporting this leg of the tour. Lemolo is the Seattle dream pop project of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Meagan Grandall.
As an advocate for both of these artists, it will be a show that engages all of your senses. Tickets can be found here.