There's a startling intimacy to the songs populating Noah Gundersen's solo debut, Ledges.
By Andy Downing
There’s a startling intimacy to the songs populating Noah Gundersen’s solo debut, Ledges.
Accompanied primarily by sister Abby on violin and backing vocals and brother Jonathan on drums, the Seattle-based singer-songwriter turns out sparse, acoustic folk numbers that dwell on worldly themes like heartache, mortality and learning how to rebound from failure. Throughout, the musician takes unflinching stock of his own life — “And I drink a little too much, it makes me nervous/ I’ve got my grandfather’s blood,” he sings just above a whisper on the title track — wrestling publicly with even his most private thoughts.
“Allowing people to peek into my life … has never bothered me; I’ve developed a thick skin over time, despite the vulnerability in the lyrics,” said Gundersen, 25, reached on the road in Oregon in the midst of an early October tour, which swings by Skully’s Music-Diner on Wednesday, Oct. 29. “I started writing songs when I was [13 years old], and a lot of it came from being a loner kid. I struggled with depression and over self-analyzing, and music was an outlet for those feelings. It drew those thoughts out of me I wasn’t able to express in conversation with my parents or friends.”
Yet when Gundersen started work on Ledges early in 2012, this coping mechanism he’d nurtured from childhood temporarily abandoned him. With his music starting to draw attention outside his tightknit circle — he landed one song on “The Vampire Diaries” and two more on the popular FX series “Sons of Anarchy” — he froze, uncertain of what move to make next.
“It was the first time I experienced a sense of expectation, or pressure to be somebody,” said Gundersen, who abandoned initial sessions in Austin, Texas, parted ways with his producer and retreated home to Seattle to regroup. “I felt like there was more of an audience outside of my limited following … and I had never experienced that before.”
At home surrounded by family (siblings Abby, Jonathan and Lizzy provide backing harmonies on the opening spiritual “Poor Man’s Son”), Gundersen regrouped, gradually stripping the music back until the arrangements matched his stark, straightforward language.
“A lot of what you hear on the record started on a grander scale, and then we would just peel away layers until it was right and true for the songs,” he said. “The song was the priority, and making sure the parts, however simple, were appropriate and representative.”
Lyrically, however, Gundersen remained true to his roots, mixing the biblical imagery he absorbed growing up in a spiritual home (though he no longer considers himself religious, there are mentions of the Prophet Isaiah, the Garden of Eden and the like scattered throughout) with his own ripped-from-the-diary musings.
“I still spend a lot of time in my head,” he said. “I think I’m constantly trying to analyze myself … so I can create that mental road map of where I want to go next.”