Posted January 24, 2018 by Jeff in Tunes

Noah Gundersen: Never Satisfied

Noah Gundersen photo by Charlie Shuck
Noah Gundersen photo by Charlie Shuck

Incredibly prolific, singer-songwriter Noah Gundersen writes the kind of confessional tunes that artists like Jeff Buckley are known for. Gundersen recently phoned us as he was driving through Montana on tour in support of his latest album, White Noise.

When did you start writing songs?
I started writing songs when I was 13. I was teaching myself how to play guitar at the same time. It was the only hobby I had. I wasn’t into sports and I spent a lot of time alone in my room writing songs every day.

What would you consider to be your influences?
A lot of things. Neil Young and Dylan have always been influences. I went through a deep Jeff Buckley phase and I have listened to lots of Tom Waits.

At some point, you formed Beneath Oceans. Talk about that band.
Before that happened, I was playing my own music under my own name. Those were dudes from high school that I knew and later on we played some shows around my hometown.

What was it like to reunite with them?
I had some time off. We got back together. We thought we would see if the songs held up, and they did not. Instead, we wrote new songs. We did some shows around the Northwest region.

Your debut, Brand New World, is such a beautiful record. Was that difficult to make?
It was so long ago. I had done some recording before then. My dad had an old 8-track that he taught me how to use. I made a record on that when I was 14. To be honest, I don’t really connect with those old recordings that much anymore. It just feels like such a long time ago.

Your Family EP has a bit more intensity to it. How did the title track wind up on Sons of Anarchy?
It was just out of the blue. I got lucky. They just found me on iTunes and they tracked me down.

White Noise seems so eclectic. Did you approach the album with the intention of expanding your sound and trying out new things?
That was absolutely it. I just wanted to do something different. I like a lot of different types of music. I wanted to make something that represents all the different types of music that I like. I wanted it to sound bigger.

Where did you go to record?
Most of it was recorded at The Ballard Baitshop in Seattle. My friend and producer owns an estate by a marina in Seattle. It used to be a sail selling warehouse back in the ’40s. They would make these sailboat sails back then. It’s been converted to a music space now. We spent about eight months there, and we worked at a couple of other studios around Seattle.

Does Seattle inform your music?
Not so much geographically but the people I play with are from there and there’s a musical community there that informs my work.

Talk about the strings on the album.
That was all composed by my sister Abby. We’ve been touring together for the past couple of years.

I like “Number One Hit of the Summer (Fade Out).” I think the song lives up to its title.
I think a few things inspired it. It’s a cultural critique essentially. Watching the election cycle was an anxiety-ridden time. Things were changing and heading in a strange unsettling direction. We couldn’t stop watching it happen. It’s about that.

Talk about the concept for “Cocaine, Sex & Alcohol (From a Basement in Los Angeles.”
That came from an industry party I was at in L.A. It was something I didn’t really enjoy.

It seems like you have an outsider perspective when it comes to the music industry.
I see myself coming from my perspective. I don’t know if I see myself as an outsider.

I just like making music that I like.

Talk about the current tour. What will it be like to play with your sister Elizabeth?
She’s opening for us. She’s super talented young singer-songwriter. She just put out her first EP, Elephant Heart. It’s on Bandcamp. She’ll have it for sale at the shows. It’s really fun. My sister Abby is accompanying me during my set too.

White Noise is a huge step for you. Where do you go next?
It’s a good question. I think creatively I hope to be changing and evolving. This record hopefully broke some perceptions of what I did and who I am as an artist so that going forward I can do whatever I want. I can go in any direction. I’m not sure what direction that will be. I will do a lot of writing over the summer.

What has made you so prolific?
A dissatisfaction with everything else I ever made and trying to get better. I’m always just looking for a more honest expression of myself, which is what music has always been. It’s about chasing after that. Music is always about finding that form of expression.

You might be your toughest critic. Your early EPs all have something great on them.
Thank you. There’s this Martha Graham quote that “no artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” I’ve taken that on as a mantra. I accept my own dissatisfaction and I use it as fuel for the fire.


Photo courtesy Reybee, credit Charlie Shuck


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].