Analogue Music | Noah Gundersen

Noah Gundersen

By Matt Conner

Some lessons can only be learned firsthand.

For Noah Gundersen, the pain and pruning of the last couple years, since White Noise released in 2017, brought about some healthy changes in perspectives and habits. Self-care is now a priority. Ego and entitlement are now viewed in the right light. Gundersen might have been able to parrot such lessons learned in years past, but they weren't embedded experiences. Even if he knew the truth, he'd yet to live it out.

Some lessons can only be learned firsthand.

Gundersen's latest album, Lover, is a musical release in every sense of the word. It's an album with a real release date, but the singer-songwriter describes Lover as a release of a different kind, a freedom from the forces at work behind previous recordings. The past records were necessary and good, but they all led to this point in time, to a greater maturity and a healthier relationship with all the elements in play around a full-time life in music.

We recently sat down with Noah to discuss his mindset while recording Lover and how it compares with his past. After previous conversations, we found an artist who sounds like he's in a different (read: better) mental and emotional space and the music is all the stronger for it.

Analogue: As you completed the cycle for White Noise and prepared for yet another record in the catalog, what was the head space for you this time around as compared to where you've been in the past?

Noah Gundersen: I think the space I was in writing this record was one of having gained a bit of humility, having had my ego broken down a little bit, and also having found my voice in a new and less self-conscious way. I started out as a kid with an acoustic guitar and writing music was a confessional exercise for me. It was a replacement to having a social life, essentially, for a really long time. I've never wanted to be boxed in to anything in my life. If anyone tells me I am a certain way or a certain thing, I will do everything I can to be the opposite of that or tell them to fuck off. Fiercely independent. It's just how I am.

So when I thought I was being put in this box as a singer-songwriter, at that time I didn't take that genre seriously, for lack of a better term. [Laughs] I mean, I was really into Radiohead and I wanted to make music that was really interesting, beyond just "here's four chords and my feelings." Now that I've matured or gotten older, I'm able to look at what my natural songwriting tendencies are with a little more appreciation.

"I went into White Noise thinking, 'This is going to be the record that's going to change everything for me,' which anyone will tell you is a set-up for failure. [Laughs] But I had to learn that the hard way."

Most of my last record I made was a real strong attempt to break any preconceived ideas of what I did. That was for everyone else, but it was also for me. It was my attempt to write different songs that weren't just romanticizing my pain or something. I'm proud of the last record I made, but there aren't really any songs on it when you strip it down to the basics. Yet it was an important step for me to break some habits. Now, assessing what I do best is just being open and honest and sometimes even uncomfortable with my own experience. I think having broken some of the patterns and molds I had on previous records allowed me to go into this one diferently.

I also went into this one with fewer expectations. I went into White Noise thinking, 'This is going to be the record that's going to change everything for me,' which anyone will tell you is a set-up for failure. [Laughs] But I had to learn that the hard way. I had other things happen at the end of 2017—some financial things, some health things, some relational things—that all kind of came together and broke me, honestly, for a minute there. Coming out of that, I was able to have a more humble and clearer lens on my own experience and on the world. Therapy has helped a lot. Psychedelics have helped a lot.

So all of that coalesced into this new record. I know I'm painting in broad strokes, but the songwriting on this record was both me evolving into a different season but also acknowledging and accepting some of my strengths and leaning into them instead of shying away from them because I wanted to "make more serious music."

Analogue: Can you give us handles there? What strengths had you turned your back on?

Noah: I think I have certain melodic and lyrical intuitions in the way that I naturally write. I think it was important to put those things aside and try to create new pathways. But I think it's okay to trust that or go to it instead of thinking it's too easy and that I need to manhandle it or control it. I've gottan a lot better at not having to understand everything or control it all. That's analogous for my personal life as well.

Working with Andy, we would just have these ideas and try them out instead of having a plan or defining what anything was. We were just creative and then edited things later. I found that to be a much more rewarding process.


Analogue: You said somewhere that your self-worth wasn't riding on this record. If I put myself in your shoes and had to learn the lesson that attaching my worth to this career was not a healthy endeavor, I'm thinking that I'd question the very merits of it all before coming out to a healthy place on the other side. Is that your trajectory at all?

Noah: I think ego gets in the way of art almost 100 percent of the time. But the irony of being a performer is that you have to have a huge ego to even believe it's possible. So you're doing this oscillating dance constantly. You have to believe in yourself enough to think that you might be one of the very small percentile of people lucky enough to perform for a living. While at the same time, you have to kill your ego to make honest work.

For me, having my ego broken down by a lot of different things was definitely a painful process. I remember stepping into my manager's office one day thinking, 'Is my career over? Is this it?' Part of that was just based off of these expectations of what success would look like and what a career trajectory should look like. I think it's important to pay attention to your business and obviously I want it to grow, but I'd honestly started to feel a little entitled. I'd been doing this full time since 2011 and I'd seen a lot of bands who've opened for me become a lot more successful than me. If I'm being honest, I would get jealous and I'd feel entitled—like I'd worked so hard that I deserved something. That sort of mentality is wrong, but it's also hard to avoid. I know a lot of people deal with that.

Through personal growth, I've found a love and a self-care that doesn't require the validation of performance as much anymore. Which was a weird place to come to, because personally it's a lot healthier. I like myself a lot more. I like my life. I don't need this validation to feel self-worth. I like myself. So when I started getting ready for this tour, I had this existential moment where I was like, 'Well, why am I doing this?' I mean, I love the music. I love writing songs and all that shit. I will always do that, but when it came to performing, I didn't feel like I needed it.

Then when we released the record, I started getting all these messages from people telling me how impactful the record had been on their lives—not just like 'that sounds really cool.' Instead the emotional journey that I'd been on and that I was able to relate through the record had connected with a lot of people. They took my story and made it their story. That's a really important reminder for me as a new motivation.

I remember going to this songwriting camp when I was a teenager, and David Wilcox said something very similar. He said, 'I stopped needing to make music for myself, so I started making it for others.' I think I will always make music for myself. I just like doing it and I don't know how to do anything else, but finding this new motivation and that it's impactful for people is a huge honor and one I never want to take for granted. As I've been out on this tour, gratitude is my new mantra and I'm trying to connect with fans in this new way.

Analogue: As you take this to the road, then, are you noticing a difference in people as they receive the new songs?

Noah: I'm noticing a different response in myself to the shows. The first couple were kind of weird because I was so used to the shows of the past being this heavy, emotional, inward journey. I'd get off stage every night and feel emotionally drained. It was so much looking in for the entire set. I also had social anxiety where I didn't want to talk to the audience from the stage or interact after the show. I just wanted it to be about me singing my songs.

With this tour, I'm allowing myself to open up and take myself less seriously. It's honestly surprising after the first couple shows because I'd come off stage and think, 'I don't know how to feel right now. I had a good time and I think the audience did, too.' I'm really enjoying it. I'm honestly enjoying talking to fans, too. I have a friend who coined this term for a stalker where he feels like he'll get stabbed with a knife of love. [Laughs] I don't ever feel like that. Everyone is really great.

VISIT: Noah Gundersen