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The pride stripped bare 

Noah Gundersen finds his own private Nebraska

During the two years Noah Gundersen spent recording and re-recording his spare, intense neo-folk album Ledges three times, and finding it a home at Dualtone Records, the Seattle singer-songwriter kept on writing.

He'd originally anticipated that the album to have more of a philosophical cast, but that's not how everything turned out.

"It's funny because I ended up breaking up with my girlfriend a couple weeks before making this record and then wrote a bunch of songs," says the 25-year-old musician. "It kind of became a breakup record. It's like these existential philosophical thoughts that I think are still pretty approachable, but then there is this other side of the record which is raw and processing the different phases of a breakup."

Gundersen comes from a devoutly spiritual family and seems prone to the same searching, self-excoriating impulses that drive both Pedro the Lion's David Bazan and Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Ledges arrives like a cold slap in the face, from the "First Defeat," where "you discover home is not a person or place but a feeling you can't get back," to the title track, which worries "I take a little too much, without giving back / If blessed are the meek then I'm cursed."

Gundersen started out leading indie-popsters The Courage before striking out for a solo career with three EPs between 2008 and 2011. He was joined by younger brother Jonny, and his harmonizing violinist sister Abby, who also back him on Ledges.

The musician blends a desire for first-take spontaneity with obsessive layering, often building songs up but then gradually paring away parts like a sculptor. Lately, he's taken to indulging both impulses.

Gundersen has also recorded a spare, tour-only five-song EP, Twenty Something. It was live-to-tape on a single mike, all first takes with just him and a guitar, including four new songs and an aching, low-key cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

"It's super stripped-down," he says. "I've never recorded to tape before and I wanted to experience that. There are moments where the tape totally compresses because it's too loud and it can't handle it. It's cool.

It's very interactive. Interactive is the right word. It totally interacts with the sounds I was making."

Meanwhile, those expecting the next album to offer more of its predecessor's austere Nebraska-era Springsteen vibe are liable to be disappointed, as Gundersen's influences continue to expand.

"It's a weird combination of the elements of The War on Drugs, Peter Gabriel and a little Bruce Hornsby," he says. "There's some synthesizer on there, which I find exciting.

"I want to release this while it's still fresh," he says, "and then I can write a lot of new songs instead of feeling like I have to keep playing catch-up."

There's also a more practical reason for Gundersen to release the music as soon as possible and be done with it.

"I just want to be making things," he says. "If I'm not making something or presenting something new often enough, then I start to feel stagnant. And that turns into apathy and that turns into drinking too much."

  • Noah Gundersen finds his own private Nebraska

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