Over the past few years, the resurgence of bluegrass and folk music in mainstream music has occurred throughout Canada and the US, with bands such as The Deep Dark Woods, Carolina Chocolate Drops and The Civil Wars. Now, there is a new folk artist that embodies the ache and sadness of the Appalachian bluegrass, although originating from Washington state; Noah Gundersen. People may recognize his name from the bands Beneath Oceans and The Courage, but his solo career has been brewing over the past few years, culminating in his debut album, Ledges.
The album is definitely a family affair, with his siblings Abby (who also co-produced the album), Jonathan and Elizabeth Gundersen lending their vocals and playing violin, cello, piano and drums. Noah has a roughness to his voice that reflects the dark and painful topics addressed in his songs, such as the flaws being unearthed in the title track, where Noah admits “I drink a little too much / It makes me nervous. / I have my grandfather’s blood / I take a little too much / without giving back / If blessed are the meek, then I’m cursed”
The harmonies between Noah and Abby are reminiscent of The Civil Wars, especially in “Dying Now”, where they sing separately and in harmony about the end of a person’s life and reflecting on their accomplishments and lack thereof, accompanied by his acoustic guitar and her fiddle. He also touches on the turmoils of a relationship and its inevitable breakup in the songs “Separator” and “First Defeat”.
This past summer, I was able to interview Noah after his awe-inspiring acoustic set with his sister Abby on the Sunday of TURF (Toronto Urban Roots Festival) He is what he had to say:
Your newest album is out now, so how was the writing process different from past works, with The Courage and Beneath Oceans?
N: Well, this one took a lot longer to make, so by the time the album was released, some of the songs were two or three years old. I’m always writing, so the writing process was no different. I don’t think about it as writing an album, I just write songs. So the process with that, we went through a change of producers; I eventually produced the record, we re-recorded a bunch of stuff. I was just a lengthy process, but I’m really proud and happy with it and excited to start working on the next one.
I know you were in a post-hardcore band before, so that was obviously with friends. How is it different touring and being in a band with a sister?
N: It’s great. Abby and I have been doing this since even before that band had started. So we’ve been touring together for eight years now, playing shows, and we know each other really well. I’m grateful to be such good friends with my little sister. She has put up with a lot, she’s been in a lot of situations that I feel terrible for putting her in, so our bond is really strong and we are able to communicate non-verbally, in a way that I’m unable to do with anyone else I’ve ever played with.
For you, what does Indie mean?
N: pause I don’t know if it means anything anymore. I think for a while there it was referred to as a sound that encompassed a certain style, along with artists that were doing things on their own and now there’s so many “Indie” labels that don’t put out “Indie” music. Like I consider early Death Cab for Cutie, Appleseed Cast, Neutral Milk Hotel, those are what I would think of as Indie bands.
But the term Indie now, as with most terms that get thrown around enough, become meaningless. Christianity, it’s a word that doesn’t mean anything anymore. Nazi, it doesn’t mean anything anymore. We overuse words to the point where they become just homogeneous with the rest of music.
I personally don’t have any real problem with that, I think classification of music is mainly a capitalist, consumerist idea in order to label something for a demographic, you need to put a title on it. So the short of it is I don’t have personally a resonance with any meaning of the word Indie anymore, but on the optimistic side, it’s a hopeful word; it represents blue-collar musician, people, it represents a new era of music where people are able to do things on their own and not rely on a massive corporation and be able to make $40-50,000 a year, maybe support a family or whatever. Being in control of their own career path.
So it is a hopeful word, but as far as a genre, a demographic of music, I don’t really think it means anything.
Until next time,