Noah Gundersen recently saw the world’s largest easel. He says that the roadside attraction, located in Goodland, Kansas, is a whopping 80 feet tall with one of Vincent van Gogh’s sunflower paintings stretched across it. That stop, like many, is just one of the perks of having a good tour manager, he says.
There’s little way of knowing exactly what other stops are in store for the Seattle-based singer-songwriter as he embarks on his current tour, which arrives at the Southern on Saturday, but he’ll likely find other cultural oddities along the way.
Gundersen has already found his way from indie-folk to harder hitting rock soundscapes. His 2017 release, White Noise, is proof of that. The album, a follow-up to 2015’s folk-caressing Carry the Ghost, is his most rock-laden yet and he’s gone as far as to dub it a “sensory overload.” But Gundersen notes that his decision for a dramatic shift in musical styles came naturally.
Saturday, February 10
The Southern Cafe and Music Hall
“Music has always been pretty closely tied to my own personal life,” he says. “I’ve never been able to really separate the two. The music that I was making at the time didn’t feel current. I just wasn’t connecting with it and I felt like a new chapter was necessary, so I began the process of discovering what was true to me now.”
For White Noise, Gundersen worked with a producer, Nate Yaccino, in addition to longtime band members and collaborators Abby Gundersen and Jonny Gundersen (his siblings) and Micah Simler. Gundersen feels that the eight-month process required more patience and time, but that the results are rewarding.
“Previously I made records pretty quickly without taking as much time as I probably should have,” he says. “Further down the road I would be dissatisfied with the product, so with this record I didn’t want to repeat that mistake.”
He also didn’t want White Noise to be as hyper-confessional and personal as his past efforts. “I still wanted them to be intimate. but more so focused on the way I was experiencing the state of our culture and the political climate,” he says. “…I think there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty and anxiety in the world, which I was trying to mirror on the record.”
Songs like “Sweet Talker,” “New Religion,” “Wake Me Up I’m Drowning” and “Number One Hit of the Summer” each have different elements of themes related to political and social turmoil. These frustrations slither through the course of White Noise much like the snake seen on the album’s cover art.
Gundersen says that technology and communication also played a role in contributing to the sometimes dreamy and other times nightmarish disarray of White Noise tracks. He explains that the song “New Religion” was influenced by “a kind of self- consumption that we have with social media and with fake manufactured ideas that emphasize what life is supposed to be.”
Meanwhile, the song “Heavy Metals” is “about being okay with how small of a space we fill in the universe and coming to terms with it,” says Gundersen.
Gundersen is currently performing stripped-down versions of these songs with Abby. He describes the benefits of touring with his sister and the connection that it’s caused him to find on the road.
“Touring can be lonely,” he says. “You’re away from family quite a bit so it’s great to be able to take a part of my family with me and be able to still have those bonds.”