Sometimes, in spite of audience size, artists decide to get “huge” on their own. In the case of Seattle’s Noah Gundersen, whose popularity has been a slow burn since 2008’s Brand New World, the most notable growth has been not in the size of his fan base, but rather in his sound. His 2017 album, WHITE NOISE, is a massive step forward in volume and production, with expansive, lush arrangements that show the veteran musician shucking his singer-songwriter tag and entering new musical territory.
Co-produced by Gundersen, WHITE NOISE proves that he’s not just a thoughtful lyricist and song craftsman, but also a skillful producer.
We caught up with Gundersen and asked him about WHITE NOISE and how he made it so “big.”
Westword: Tell us about the sonic direction you decided to take on this album.
Noah Gundersen: The sonic direction and production were kind of just guided by this incessant need to continue searching until I felt like I found the sound that made sense to me.
Thankfully, we had the time and space to be able to really explore a lot of options, whereas in the past I’ve kind of gone into the studio and made a record in a couple weeks and called it done. This time I really gave myself time to explore all the little options.
Some of that was starting to become apparent on your last album, from 2015, Carry the Ghost, but it wasn’t quite fleshed out.
I’ve always paid attention to lyrics, but in the past, that’s really all I paid attention to. I was making music by myself so much that it started to feel limiting. I’ve listened to a lot of different kinds of music recently, so I think it was important to be driven by my own interests — artists like Radiohead and Nick Cave. I wrote most of the record on piano, which was a nice template for writing songs for a band, because it’s more progressive [than guitar]. But I was also messing around with some synthesizers and things as well, so it was a little more abstract than just being inspired by a specific sound. I always wanted to make something that sounded like me, and it took a while to figure out what that was.
Some of this new sound you’ve arrived at can be heard in your side project, Young in the City. Talk about that project and which side of your personality that showcases.
I think it’s really easy to be compartmentalized as a singer-songwriter, and it’s really easy to be compartmentalized in whatever people first hear of you; then there’s an expectation around that. I don’t do anything because anyone tells me to do it or based off of any expectations. But at the same time, there are expectations that I have to at least be aware of. Being able to have other projects allows me to express myself in different ways that maybe don’t fit within the boundaries or expectations that come from myself, or from other people, from music made under the moniker Noah Gundersen. I’ve started exploring some of these other projects so maybe people won’t feel alienated by a drastic departure from what I had done before.
How do you feel about the term “singer-songwriter”?
I think I always have a bit of a negative reaction to it personally, because it feels so limiting — but I guess you could flip that on its head and say that it’s maybe the least limiting of genres. Semantically, all it’s saying that you do is that you sing and write songs, and that’s not how I identify with music so much anymore. It’s the genre I’ve been placed in and — I think that’s what I said earlier — it’s once people define you by the first thing you put out. I started putting out records when I was, like, sixteen, and a very different person than now. It’s kind of been a struggle for me just wanting to escape from the past, but also recognizing that if it wasn’t for the past, I might not have the same career that I have now. I’m so wanting to honor that and appreciate the people that are still connected to that music.
Noah Gundersen with Elizabeth Gundersen, Tuesday, January 23, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, $17-$20, 303-447-0095.