Noah Gundersen – Tickets – The Sinclair – Cambridge, MA – October 18th, 2017
Newport Folk® presents
Wed, October 18, 2017
Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pmThe Sinclair
$17 advance / $20 day of show
This event is 18 and over
The Sinclair is general admission standing room only. Tickets available at AXS.COM, or by phone at 855-482-2090. No service charge on tickets purchased in person at The Sinclair Box office Wednesdays-Saturdays 12-7PM.https://www.sinclaircambridge.com/event/1517488/
For Noah Gundersen, the past few years have brought about immense growth and change, both as an artist and as a young man grappling with issues of identity and independence. It should come as little surprise, then, that his stunning new album, Carry The Ghost, is so heavily influenced by existential philosophy. What's so striking, though, is hearing a 25-year-old articulate such weighty themes, packaging them into heartbreakingly gorgeous melodies with a plainspoken language that cuts to the quick upon first listen. Then again, Noah Gundersen has never aimed for ordinary.
Though only a little more than a year has passed since the 2014 release of Ledges, Carry The Ghost finds an older, more sophisticated Gundersen attempting the difficult work of unraveling our purpose here, searching for answers about the nature of man and the meaning of our relationships. Gundersen came to an understanding of himself as the sum of his experiences, a view he embraces as a positive one and which led him to delve into the works of existentialist writers and philosophers like Ortega. For Gundersen, the personal history that shapes each and every one of us is the titular ghost, and it's the thread that ties the entire record together.
The album's more ambitious scale showcases a natural evolution following the success of Ledges, which earned raves everywhere from NPR's World Café to CBS Saturday Morning. Hailed as a "powerful debut" by SPIN, the record delivered on the promise of a string of previous EPs, which poetically tackled issues of faith and doubt and loss and desire as Gundersen transitioned into adulthood. It earned him a devoted national fan base, with many introduced to his music through placements on popular television series like Sons of Anarchy, where his introspective and brooding songs proved to be an invaluable piece of the storytelling.
With Carry The Ghost, Gundersen once again looked inward to find inspiration. "This album grew out of a desire to know myself, to know how I was supposed to live," he explains. "And in that process, I realized that maybe there is no 'supposed to be.' The concept of Carry The Ghost is that we're made by our experiences and to accept that instead of fighting it. The last several years have been a process of accepting things as they are and to not see them as so black and white or right or wrong, to accept that we're not made to be a certain way, but that we are involved in an ongoing process of becoming."Produced by Gundersen and mixed by Phil Ek (Father John Misty, Band Of Horses),
Carry The Ghost was recorded at Seattle's Litho Studio and explores issues of self-discovery and existentialism with an erudite sophistication across 13 magnificent tracks. Collaborating more than ever before with his touring band—which includes his sister Abby and brother Jonathan—Gundersen set out to push boundaries and confound expectations, experimenting with tone and structure and creating rich sonic textures that ebb and flow beneath his stirring, solemn voice.
The album opens with "Slow Dancer," a haunting piano meditation on the anger and frustration that can often be a part of the process of healing from a broken heart. "Light me up again if it makes you feel free," he sings. Dramatic as it can be, this is not an album about conflict, but rather acceptance and understanding. "Why try and fix it?" he asks on "The Difference." "Maybe you were made this way / Maybe the pieces were intentionally different." Later in the album, he strives to "understand the space between the man and the mirror," and on "Show Me The Light," he looks to his first love and recognizes, "You were the worst and the best thing that happened to me."
"With 'Show Me The Light' in particular, there's a dualism that shaped me and I’m ultimately grateful for it, even though it was painful," says Gundersen. "There are good things to be taken from most bad things. Again, that’s the idea of embracing our history."
"There's a social and religious tendency to see ourselves as inherently broken and in need of fixing," he continues, "and this is me challenging that idea, saying, 'Maybe we were made this way and maybe we are not actually broken and maybe it's okay that we don't have the answers.'"
While Biblical references have frequently played a role in Gundersen's songwriting, he casts off his last subconscious bonds to religion in "Empty From The Start," which plays out as something of an existentialist manifesto. "This is all we have / This is all we are / Blood and bones no holy ghost / Empty from the start," he sings. But rather than leading him to embrace nihilism, the revelation causes Gundersen to find more meaning than ever in humankind, and brings out a new degree of selflessness, as he concludes, "The only thing worth loving more than me is loving you."
"If we are ultimately alone and there is no God and no one will ever truly know what's going on inside of us, I think the most valuable thing we can do is to at least attempt to know someone," he explains. "And that's what I think love is, whether it's romantic love or familial or simply friendship or companionship. To make someone else feel slightly less alone, and in that process become slightly less alone yourself, that to me seems like one of the few truly valuable things that we can do in this life."
The concepts of value and meaning are clearly ones that occupied much of Gundersen's consciousness during the writing of the album. He tackles the notions on "Selfish Art," asking, "Am I giving all that I can give? Am I earning the right to live?"
"I think that's a question that I've come to terms with more recently," he says. "I realized while writing these songs that so much of what I do in life as a professional artist, the idea of getting paid to talk about your feelings, is inherently selfish and narcissistic. While I do believe in the transformative nature of art, I have to be conscious of not becoming self-obsessed, which can come so easily.”
It's a difficult balance, but perhaps the greatest triumph of Carry The Ghost is that Gundersen pulls it off with a seemingly effortless refinement. This is the sound of a songwriter looking inward to look outward, accepting his limitations to liberate himself. It's the sound of an artist pushing himself mentally and musically to understand his place in the world and seize control of it, and in doing so, illuminating a portrait in which others may see themselves. If Ortega is to be believed, Carry The Ghost is the sum sound of Noah Gundersen's past, but it's also nothing short of a thrilling preview of his future.
Often when we say this of an artist, it speaks to big leaps and enormous changes. Huge pushes forward in style and a radically new sound.
But that’s not how growing up works. Growing up is a slow, hard-won road. It is set backs and tiny steps. It is a slow waking up to yourself and the world around you.
On his debut album, Heatherfield, Walters grappled with the reality of new adulthood - relationships, finding his purpose. It was nostalgic for the easy days of youth, it was optimistic for what was coming.
But in the interim years, Walters has changed, as we all inevitably do. The space between the early twenties and the late twenties is a riotous one, and with his new album, Let It Be a Dream, he comes back to the studio with more nuance, but fewer answers.
Recorded at Studio X, Hall of Justice, and the home of the producer, Andy Park, Let It Dream dives deeper into the fears we have as we near the apex of young adulthood - the fear that we’ve been left behind. The realization that we’re not the center of the universe. As Walters sings, with vocal luminary Courtney Marie Andrews, on “At the Lantern”:
I’m getting older every day
Still waiting for the sea to change
For a chance to make things better
Chasing that elusive dream
I had when I was seventeen
When my future was unfettered
But not all darkness is despair. As the grip of nostalgia loosens, as heartache clarifies into the fear underneath it, Let It Be a Dream shifts to allow beams of light in after everything has collapsed. But they aren’t bright like a sunrise. They are shifting - the relief that comes when you’ve realized a hard truth. Greg Leisz’s pedal steel sifts through the rubble on “I Can’t Lie”, a track that breathes life into one of the few Americana centered songs.
Hurts me just to think
That you had your reasons
And I thought I had mine
If I ask you forgiveness
Would that be a crime?
Breaking away from the standard singer-songwriter fare, Walters adds synths to tracks like “If I Reach”, ripped out of a John Hughes fever dream. It is an exploration not into a style of music, but into a tapestry of the second coming-of-age, the period that teen movies ignore and rom-coms brush over. The period when you descend into the depths of yourself to find something other than comfort - to find yourself.
Let It Be a Dream is that torn map to the center of growing up, full of folded corners and wandering, rife with questions, and, just like all of us, waiting to be pieced together.
52 Church St
Cambridge, MA, 02138