In 2014, Noah Gundersen released his first full-length album. The record in question, Ledges, was a masterclass in contemporary folk music, loaded with confessional lyrics, acoustic guitars, and fiddles. By all accounts, Gundersen seemed like a traditionalist.
In 2015, Gundersen quickly followed Ledges up with his sophomore LP, the spiritually fraught Carry the Ghost. It was still a folk album, but Noah was fleshing things out, adding fractious electric guitar and other elements of full band instrumentation into the mix. It was clearly the work of a young songwriter who was yearning to grow.
Between the fall of 2015 and the early winter of 2016, Gundersen did two tours in support of Carry the Ghost. The first was a full-band endeavor, presenting the songs on Ghost as they were meant to be heard. The second was a solo tour, where Gundersen played songs from both Ledges and Carry the Ghost on acoustic guitar, solo electric guitar, and piano. It was a stark, intimate presentation, and it showed off what made Gundersen so special: his vulnerable, fragile voice; his songs that could work well no matter how much he built them up or stripped them down; and his honest, forthright lyrics.
But something was wrong. Gundersen was having a crisis of faith—not the same crisis of religious faith he wrote about on Carry the Ghost, but a crisis of faith in his own art. When I saw Gundersen on the solo tour for Ghost, he was pointedly reserved. He bantered with the audience occasionally, but during the songs, his eyes were cast toward the floor or closed entirely. And at the end of the show, when a condescending moderator led a Q&A session and suggested that Gundersen was “so young” and “couldn’t have possibly experienced what he sang about in his songs,” Noah seemed at a loss for how to answer—at least politely. When the Q&A ended, Gundersen headed quickly for the stage door.
Live On Lacquer preserves music in a way that is timeless and genuine. Much like the way records were made in the mid-20th century, these songs are captured live and cut in real-time onto lacquer discs with our 1940’s Scully vinyl lathe. Once cut, the lacquer masters are immediately sent off for plating and pressing. Each song is recorded in one take with no editing, allowing for the truest expression of the artist’s performance to be captured. The recording method used here is 100% analog and retains a level of humanity and imperfection often lost in modern digital productions.
Last Friday night I saw Noah Gundersen do something I’ve seen very few artists do: walk out onstage alone, with no backing band and no opening act, sit down in a chair, pick up an acoustic guitar, and start playing. He’d interact with the audience more—and make a surprising number of jokes—later in the show, but for now, he wanted to get right to the point: the music.
There’s something to be said for a concert with high production values. There’s something to be said for light shows and setlists where every moment has been meticulously planned — right down to the dialogue between songs. But there’s also something to be said for a show where an artist just comes out and acts like he’s playing songs in his living room. As someone who just made an entire album in his living room, that was something I appreciated about Noah’s show on Friday.
Leading up to the release of Carry the Ghost, the second full-length album from Noah Gundersen, I was a little bit nervous. I loved Noah’s first LP, last year’s Ledges, so much that I couldn’t imagine the follow-up living up to my impossibly high expectations. If I had to pick a favorite record of the decade so far, Ledges would be it, so the thought of Gundersen making an album as good (or even better) was hardly something that I was even daring to hope for. Furthermore, the first track released from Carry the Ghost—the piano-led album opener “Slow Dancer”—showed that Noah was looking to flesh out his sound significantly on this record. Even on first listen, I really did love the song, but by the time an anguished electric guitar came ripping through the arrangement, I was worried that Carry the Ghost might fall victim to the pitfalls that singer/songwriters often encounter when they trade acoustic bedroom folk for lusher full-band textures. After all, we hadn’t heard a lick of electric guitar on Ledges.
Last week, I got the chance to spend a half hour chatting with Seattle-based folk singer/songwriter, Noah Gundersen. Fresh off the release of his 2014 debut album, Ledges, and already gearing up for the release of the follow-up, Carry the Ghost, Gundersen spoke candidly about the collaborative nature of his new album, about keeping the intimacy of his earlier music alive whilst moving into full-band territory, about exploring difficult subjects like religion and existentialism in his lyrics, and about why we’ll probably be hearing yet another new album from him sooner rather than later.