5 questions with Noah Gundersen

Photo by Phillip Harder

Singer-songwriter Noah Gundersen grew up in a conservative (e.g. no rock music) home in Washington. Still, he self-recorded his first album at 13 and went on to release six more records both as a solo act (with his sister Abby, who plays viola, violin and cello) and with their band, The Courage (which includes brother Ivan on drums).

Noah’s most recent release, Ledges, “co-mingles the sensual and the sexual with the spiritual, often using religious and biblical imagery like Leonard Cohen to plumb the depths of everyday emotions and feelings,” according to the musician’s bio. It “explores doubt and faith, sin and redemption, mortality and transcendence in 11 songs that get underneath the skin and cut to the heart.”

Noah and Abby will perform at The Millroom on Friday, Nov. 7, at 9 p.m. Owen Beverly opens. $10 advance/$12 day of show.

Mountain Xpress: You kept a tour journal on your Tumblr in 2013, but not this year. Why not? Do you journal privately, or do any sort of long-form writing?

Noah Gundersen: I’ve been keeping a journal the last couple months, but not publishing it. In the age of over-sharing every thought and emotion via social media, I think it’s important to remember that our internal processes are still our own. Reflection is important, and so is processing one’s thoughts externally simply for the purpose of getting them out. That being said, since you brought it up, I may write something up about the tour in the next couple of weeks.

Your new album, Ledges, has gotten a lot of attention — ‘Last Call with Carson Daly,” The Wall Street Journal and an Emmy nomination. But the nature of your songs leads me to believe you’re a quite person and might not love the spotlight. How do you feel about publicity — what’s been best about the public spotlight and what’s been the hardest?

Introspective is probably a more appropriate word. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you i’m not necessarily quiet, though I do have mood swings and personality shifts (I am a Gemini). At times I can be too loud and outspoken. But I do recharge in solitude. I wouldn’t say the spotlight is overwhelming in any real way at this point. I still consider myself a relatively unknown artist. I’m hoping that it will continue to grow, but I’m grateful for the place that it’s at now. I have the greatest fans and the place we’re at now is sustainable. The one thing i dislike about the “spotlight” is the dehumanizing idolatry of celebrity, major or minor. I occasionally interact with people who see me as some kind of transcendent human, because of what I make. I don’t like that.

Did you and Abby grow up playing music together? And was it an organic decision to tour together?

It happened very organically. I was learning to play guitar and writing and making a record when I was 13. Abby had been playing violin for a couple years at that point. I think it was actually our parents who encouraged the collaboration. I remember my dad coming to me one day and suggesting that I let Abby play on the record. And that was the start of it.

Are you still performing as The Courage at all, or are you dedicated to the solo project? And what do you find that you’re able to do as a solo act that you couldn’t accomplish with a full band?

I feel I should clarify that my solo career existed long before The Courage became a more exclusive identity, which only really lasted two years, at the most. My dedication to my own songs and path fully eclipses the time spent with the band. It’s all part of a learning process. I prefer the collaborative yet hierarchal system we have now.

You’ve now put out two full-length albums and a number of EPs — do you prefer one format over the other? And do you have another project in the works that you can share?

The full length album allows me to paint a bigger picture, a bigger story with more of an arc. The EP can be more of a convenient snapshot, which also has its place. However, I prefer making an album where I can create dynamics and ebbs and flows. I have a couple of ideas brewing at the moment. We’ve been selling an exclusive tour EP of songs I recorded earlier this year which has been received very well. I may do something like that again for the future tours. There are also a couple side project ideas I’ve been toying with. We’ll see. I enjoy being productive and find myself at my best when I’m being creative.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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One thought on “5 questions with Noah Gundersen

  1. Laura Cupo

    I heard a Noah Gundersen song where he plays an electric guitar, strong vocals and more of a rock sound. He should try that a little more very enjoyable.

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