Noah Gundersen

NOAH GUNDERSEN

"Man, in a word, has no nature; what he has is — history." – Jose Ortega

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."

Recorded at Seattle's Litho Studio, 'Carry The Ghost' 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, 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.

Caroline Rose

"…Each track seems to tackle a new topic and make even the most familiar themes feel fresh." – Paste Magazine

Half my family's from the North and half from the South, and you can hear both those influences in pretty much all my songs. Jer says it's Northern grit mixed with Southern charm. Don't know how true that is...

Last year the two of us made a grassroots record called "America Religious" that I wrote while traveling around the country, which I like to do whenever I get the chance, which is a lot. Once I got tired of my car, a '75 MGB named Tom Collins, breaking down (which was a lot), Jer and I started touring together and haven't had a second to rest. I like to think "America Religious" is a series of stories that reflects all the travels I've made and people I've met and people I like to think I've met. It's a bluejean rock-meets-gospel-meets-blues-meets-alternative record on which both Jer and I played nearly all the parts, co-produced, co-mixed, and co-engineered at his very own Parkhill Studio in the heart of the Green Mountain State.

All the songs are my songs, so to answer your question––no––none of them are covers.

"Caroline Rose's lyrical honesty, vivid imagery and songwriting prowess are obvious to the ears upon first listen of her debut album "America Religious". Her new single puts you in the front seat riding shotgun on a very real adventure that can't be explained quite yet." – Ari Fink, Program Director, SiriusXM

"AMAZING…Delivery is uncanny––It sounds like she's been smokin' Camels and drinkin' Jack for 40 years." – David Dalton, Founding Editor of Rolling Stone and author of "Who is That Man? In Search of the Real Bob Dylan"

"For Armon Jay, the making of his new album, Everything's Different, Nothing's Changed, was a two-year journey from darkness into sunlight, from what he calls desolation to consolation, the culmination of sleepless nights where he saw his faith tested, but his hope ultimately restored, through a set of songs that speaks from the very core of his being.

Thanks to raising close to $14,000 on Kickstarter from family and friends, Armon was able to travel to producer Joshua James' idyllic Willamette Mountain on a one-acre farm against the beautiful backdrop of American Fork, Utah, to record the album in two eventful weeks. James, introduced to Armon Jay by mutual friend, singer/songwriter Noah Gunderson, proved a valuable partner, not just producing the album, but serving as "farmer, mountain climber, goat herder, high-tailin' bike rider and a bit of a wild man," helping Armon get over his fear of heights as well as failure. The album was mixed in Los Angeles by Todd Burke, who has worked with the likes of Ben Harper and Jack Johnson in his Monrovia studio.

The Chattanooga, Tennessee-born Armon's father was a portrait painter ("An 'eccentric' artist like me," he adds), who plucked out songs by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson on a guitar, while his mom, who used to sing around the house, introduced him to the likes of Whitney Houston and Kenny Loggins on the tape deck of the family's '89 Buick. Armon sheepishly admits to plinking out the theme to the movie Titanic on the piano by ear before picking up a guitar at 12 and starting to write songs two years later.

Armon owes his personal and creative breakthrough to finally being correctly diagnosed with Adult ADD and getting married last summer. Armon is particularly proud of the album's centerpiece, the title track, which measures the gap between the man he is, the kind of man he wants to be, and learning to accept the difference. "I will wait…for you," the song concludes.

Armon found Dutch illustrator Anton Van Hertbruggen's work on an art bloggers website, and immediately texted him to see if he were interested in creating the cover and inside sleeve art for the new album. After a series of back-and-forth email exchanges, Van Hertbruggen then submitted two original pieces depicting the record's theme of light traveling into dark. From finding producer Joshua James to discovering the right artwork, Armon has taken a truly modern DIY approach to his first full-length solo album. And if he's not totally cured of all his mental phobias, the very existence of Everything's Different, Nothing's Changed is proof of its therapeutic value—not just for Armon Jay, but any listener who finds himself in a similar place, which, in case you didn't realize it, is most of us. Armon Jay's message is that there are second chances which offer the opportunity for redemption.

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