You don’t hear a lot of f-bombs in slow-rolling, acoustic indie-folk. But Noah Gundersen can deliver, with expletives that feel more like a sorrowful caress than an angry backhand. The 24-year-old Washingtonian led us by the chin through three track-heavy EPs over six years, through breakups and reunions, familial struggles and introspection, each time stopping just short of a full-length. But wait no more, San Diego. In support of Ledges, his long-anticipated debut LP released earlier this month, Gundersen headlines Soda Bar on Saturday, Feb. 22, to woo us with all the old-timey f-bombs he can muster.
Gundersen travels with his usual pack -- sister Abby on violin, brother Jonathan on drums, and friends Micah Simlar and AJ Cheek on bass and keys and guitar respectively -- to play the music that at times mimics the field songs of the 1930s. He finds his power in the sparsity of the compositions, often laced with theological remnants from his childhood. Throaty poetics crawl across scratchy strumfuls and sharp-stringed laments, a late-morning fog that swallows its path. It’s easy to get lost in the thickness of Gundersen’s music. But his head isn’t stuck in the clouds.
Read on for Gundersen on what existential crossroads informed Ledges, what he’s listening to (hint: it’s highly twerkable), how he handles life on the road, and what drink you can offer him at Soda Bar this Saturday.
Hannah Lott-Schwartz: Congrats on Ledges. You must be pumped.
Noah Gundersen: Thank you, yeah, it’s been a crazy week. I’m really excited.
HLS: What makes the timing right for you to release an LP as opposed to an EP?
NG: I thought it was about damn time that I put out a full-length album. I felt like I owed it to my fans, and it also felt really good for me to be able to make an album statement. I don’t really listen to singles -- except for Miley Cyrus' “Wrecking Ball” -- and I love albums. I love the idea of concept and themes running through a full piece.
HLS: So how does Ledges all tie together for you?
NG: There’s a couple songs, like “Poor Man’s Son,” that I wrote a long time ago, but the rest of the songs all came over the course of about a year. It was a new season in my life, where I was single for the first time in a while. I’d been in long-term relationships since I was 18 and was finally discovering myself on my own and what my identity was outside of being in a relationship with another person. [I was] trying to define who I wanted to be as a man, a human being, a member of society, and what my moral and ethical guidelines for my life were going to be -- I think asking existential questions that most people do in their early 20s. It just happened to hit me a little harder because I’d been defining myself with the help of another person for so long that a lot of what I thought my identity was was stripped away to a degree, and I was able to figure out who I was really on my own. That’s where a lot of those songs came from.
HLS: Is that also your draw to “Wrecking Ball”?
NG: Yeah [laughs], probably. It’s just such a damn good song! It’s such a good song, and I wish the rest of the record was as good as that song, because I’d love to listen to an album that sounded like that.
HLS: You tour a lot. Are you at ease on the road, or does it exhaust you?
NG: It’s a mix. I’m a bit of a workaholic, so I like being out and working and being busy and feeling like I’m being productive with my life, and touring is a lot of what productivity means for a musician -- so I love that. I do get kind of itchy feet if I’m home for more than a month or so. I’ve been touring since I was 18, so it’s a big part of what I know as reality. And I love being home. My girlfriend and I live in a beautiful house in South Seattle, by Lake Washington. I go on runs by the lake -- it’s super relaxing and great to come home to. It’s kind of sad to leave now that I have a real home for the first time since I moved out of my parents house when I was 18. So yeah, it’s bittersweet. I love touring. I love being on the road. I love playing music. Wake up, drive, load in, drink, play, drink, sleep, repeat -- that strange life has kind of become a normal routine for me. But it can be exhausting, and sometimes it’s difficult to stay healthy. I’m trying to figure out a better balance of lifestyle choices in order to keep me mentally and physically more healthy.
HLS: You’ve gotten significant attention for your age. Are you sick of hearing the young-man-playing-old-timey-music thing at all?
NG: [Laughs] Somebody started out an interview with me the other day that asked do I consider myself an old soul. [laughs] I don’t know what that means. You only see yourself through your own lens. I’m grateful that I had a head start on it -- some people don’t really find what they’re good at or like doing until they’re older. I started writing songs when I was 13, and had plenty of time to practice writing shitty songs before I started writing halfway decent songs.
HLS: Do you have any inkling of what you would be doing if you weren’t making music?
NG: I’d probably go into business in something. I like thinking of creative ways to keep people engaged and to do an old business in a new way. And I think we live in a time that’s really exciting with that for music. But this is really all I’ve ever wanted to do my entire life -- I think I wanted to be a firefighter or something when I was like, five [laughs].
HLS: And what’s your drink of choice -- I’ve heard whiskey?
NG: Yeah, Jameson usually. I like a good IPA. I’ve been kind of getting into tequila lately.
HLS: Watch out for Mexico then. We’re pretty close, you know.
NG: I know, I know! We went on this tour with Brett Dennen, and they’re really into tequila. It’s the only alcohol that’s an upper. So if your night’s feeling a little sleepy, just take a shot of tequila and bypass the whole Jäger-bomb situation.
HLS: I’m going to let this taper out on that note.
NG: [Laughs] Okay, go tequila. Can that just be the main note of the interview?
HLS: It’s going to be the headline.
NG: “Noah Gundersen says go tequila” [laughs].
Noah Gundersen plays Soda Bar
on Saturday, Feb. 22, at 8:30 pm, $12, 21+. Armon Jay
Hannah Lott-Schwartz, a San Diego native, recently moved back to the area after working the magazine-publishing scene in Boston. Now she’s straight trolling SD for all the music she missed while away. Want to help? Hit her up with just about anything at all over on Twitter, where -- though not always work-appropriate -- she means well.