At 24, Noah Gundersen is already an old soul.
The Seattle singer-songwriter has crafted a rustic, picturesque sound that would be right at home on an old, dusty 78 rpm, and a lot of his original songs have the feel of a folk standard from a bygone era. Gundersen will release a new album and embark on a headlining North American tour next month, but he stops in Spokane at the Bartlett tonight.
Growing up in a religious, conservative family in Centralia, Wash., Gundersen and his siblings were always surrounded by music, though their selection was limited. “There were restrictions on what I was allowed to listen to,” he said, citing Larry Norman, Keith Green and Bob Dylan (his Christian albums “Slow Train Coming” or “Saved”) as the first artists he remembers being drawn to.
Gundersen said he was forced into taking piano lessons when he was 13, and he later taught himself how to play the guitar, cutting his teeth as a performer by leading worship in church. At first, composing his own music was an almost selfish pursuit – “I found out girls liked my songs, so I kept writing them,” Gundersen said – but he continued writing and released his first solo album, “Brave New World,” in 1998.
Although he’s no longer a religious person, there are traces of Gundersen’s upbringing running through his music, which often flirts with Southern gospel influences and biblical imagery. His upcoming album “Ledges” is the product of his ongoing evolution as a songwriter, and the songs on the record went through a number of gestations before recording was finalized.
“We actually made the record three times, and scrapped it the first two times,” Gundersen said. But the third time, with Gundersen taking on production duties himself, was the charm: “I’d become so comfortable with the songs that we went into the studio and did everything in just a couple takes,” he said. “It feels organic – there are some mistakes in there and some rough edges – but it’s a very approachable record.”
“Ledges” is equal parts spare folk arrangements and lush ballads, and Gundersen’s lyrics are filled with both romantic longing (“Once you’ve had me / You don’t have me anymore”) and moral apprehension (“I drink a little too much / It makes me nervous / I’ve got my grandfather’s blood”).
“I’ve never wanted to have a message,” Gundersen said of his songwriting. “I’ve never set out to say anything other than what I’m experiencing or thinking about or feeling.”
Now working as a full-time musician, Gundersen’s fan base continues to branch out beyond the Pacific Northwest: Most recently, his song “Day Is Gone” was featured on the FX series “Sons of Anarchy,” which Gundersen said generated a tremendous amount of interest in his music almost overnight. “I look at a career in making music as a series of small steps that lead you to a large step,” he said, “and then that large step leads you to many more small steps.”
The next step for Gundersen is his tour and album release, both of which are family affairs. “Ledges” features Gundersen’s brother Jonny on drums and his sister Abby on violin and backing vocals (they’re also in his touring band).
“I’ve been very spoiled with the communication we have, because finding other band members that share that kind of intuition can be a challenge,” Gundersen said. “I’m grateful to have that relationship with them and be able to take them out on the road.”