by Kelsey Hamlin
Five records and countless shows in, South End musician Noah Gundersen hit a roadblock: He no longer loved what he created. The very things Gundersen used to define himself growing up felt foreign. So he did what any songwriter would do: he played it out, creating his newest album “White Noise”
If you’re not already faded when you begin, the fades and cadences in “White Noise” will make you feel like you’re in a twilight zone. The album is melancholy, drenched in a feeling of soft confusion and loss. At 13 songs, some of which last seven minutes, it could be a movie soundtrack. Some pieces have incredible fill, others hint at classic rock, and a few beckon like church hymns.
As it turns out, this is precisely the type of limbo Gundersen was going for when he sat down to create “White Noise” last summer. It was a time of shift. The presidential election threw the singer into a state of uncertainty while his own artistic ambition seemed to hang in the balance.
“I had released several records of singer/songwriter music and it wasn’t something I was connecting with anymore,” Gundersen said while on the go. “And when you spend most of your life trying to get to the place where you get to do the thing that you love, and you sit down and think ‘I don’t think I love this thing,’ it’s a bit of an existential crisis.”
At only 28 years old, Gundersen has expanded his reach beyond most. The musician, born in Olympia and now living in the South End, will tour nationally over the next two months. All this, however, after he called off touring for a previous record.
“There’s so much we’re told,” he said of music. “It’s this wonderful thing you get to do and it’s so fortunate you do it, and that’s true, but it’s not always fun.”
For the young artist, his own music didn’t transform naturally when he did. It stopped feeling authentic.
“I decided to hole up in my house and write some songs that I actually gave a damn about,” he said. While forcing himself to reckon with his own transformation, Gundersen felt he needed to make something new. His music no longer aligned with the 28-year-old existential dread he felt. What was he doing? Why did his own creations no longer appeal to him? Why was he ever created? At the same time, in the middle of the 2016 elections, he didn’t want to create a preachy or protest-driven album.
“It’s not telling a literal narrative, but being able to make you resonate with a feeling,” he said. Radiohead’s OK Computer album, he added, was a big influence on “White Noise.” Like Thom Yorke, Gundersen holds elongated notes as a bass strums along in the background and a lighter instrument tings alongside. He allows moments of instrumental clashing to incite emotion.
The band originally recorded 25 songs. The ensemble itself has many members, some of which rotate in and out, but Gundersen’s family is a mainstay. His said favorite recording moments were the jam sessions, which were unscripted and real.
Growing up, however, music wasn’t as organic for Gundersen. He was forced to take piano lessons and hated it.
“I didn’t like having homework,” Gundersen said. “All I wanted to do was just [mess] around on the piano and make up my own songs.”
His earliest memories of music are of his father playing the piano and recording music in their family garage. Gundersen distinctly recalled listening to Bob Dylan’s album “Oh Mercy.”
Unlike Dylan’s picture-painting lyrics, Gundersen’s “White Noise” is more ambiguous. One track sends the listener back to teenage summer days, driving around with the windows down, and the next throws them into an introspective black space. The sheer number of instruments and fade-outs used in this album are impressive, if not overwhelming and slightly messy.
“I think there’s an overall theme of anxiety and uncertainty and being overwhelmed with the constant flow of data and information that we’re all taking in,” Gundersen said. “That and along with mortality and becoming aware of the small space we fill up in the universe.”
The album can be pre-ordered or downloaded on iTunes.
Nationwide tour dates:
Oct 5 – Boise, ID – The Olympic
Oct 6 – Salt Lake City, UT – The State Room
Oct 7 – Ft. Collins, CO – Armory
Oct 8 – Denver, CO – Bluebird Theater
Oct 10 – Minneapolis, MN – Fine Line Music Cafe
Oct 12 – Madison, WI – High Noon Saloon
Oct 13 – Milwaukee, WI – The Back Room at Colectivo
Oct 14 – Grand Rapids, MI – The Pyramid Scheme
Oct 15 – Toronto, ON – The Opera House
Oct 17 – Montreal, QC – The Belmont
Oct 18 – Boston, MA – The Sinclair
Oct 20 – Brooklyn, NY – Music Hall Of Williamsburg
Oct 21 – Asbury Park, NJ – Wonder Bar
Oct 22 – Philadelphia, PA – World Café Live
Oct 24 – Washington, D.C. – 9:30 Club
Oct 25 – Charlotte, NC – Visulite Theater
Oct 26 – Nashville, TN – Cannery Ballroom
Oct 27 – Chattanooga, TN – Revelry Room
Oct 28 – Atlanta, GA – Terminal West
Oct 29 – Asheville, NC – The Grey Eagle
Oct 31 – Birmingham, AL – Saturn
Nov 2 – Houston, TX – The Heights Theater
Nov 3 – Dallas, TX – The Kessler Theater
Nov 4 – Austin, TX – Barracuda
Nov 6 – Phoenix, AZ – Crescent Ballroom
Nov 8 – Los Angeles, CA – El Rey Theatre
Nov 9 – San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall
Nov 10 – Eugene, OR – Hi-Fi Music Hall
Nov 11 – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom
Nov 12 – Vancouver, BC – Imperial
Nov 17 – Seattle, WA – Neptune Theatre
Kelsey Hamlin is a freelance reporter with various Seattle publications. She graduated with interdisciplinary Honors, a B.A. in journalism and a minor in Law, Societies & Justice from the University of Washington. Hamlin served as President and VP for the UW’s Society of Professional Journalists over the past two years. Find her on Twitter @ItsKelseyHamlin or see more of her articles on her website.
Featured image is the cover art for the album White Noise