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Noah Gundersen’s blissful melancholy

On his fourth album, ‘Lover,’ the Seattle musician lets down walls he didn’t know he had

Noah Gundersen headlines the State Room on Sept. 26.
Kyle Johnson Photography

SALT LAKE CITY — As long as Noah Gundersen has been in the music industry, the term “singer-songwriter” has preceded his name. He has mixed feelings about it.

“I just felt like it was boring. I didn’t want to be boring,” he told the Deseret News during a recent phone interview. “I’d just seen too many boring white guys with acoustic guitars. Like, I’ve heard this song a million times, and I’ve heard this sentiment about how sad you are a million times, and I’m just over it. I was very self conscious about that.”

The Seattle-based Gundersen, who headlines the State Room on Sept. 26, is a white guy. On his new album, “Lover,” sometimes he wields an acoustic guitar. And yeah, sometimes he does sound really sad. He’s also a lot more than that. “Lover” is Gundersen’s most sonically expansive, emotionally revealing album yet, in numerous ways — and it’s anything but boring.

On the new album, Gundersen’s traditional singer-songwriter instincts (“Wild Horses”) mingle with Bruce Hornsby homages (“All My Friends,” “Lose You”), boom-bap modern pop beats (“Lover”) and Radiohead-esque dirges (“Out of Time”). His voice drips with youthful desperation in one moment, and soothes with aged wisdom in the next. Perhaps it’s fitting that “Lover” pulls from a mix of new material and stuff that Gundersen had been sitting on for years. He and producer Andy Park began, rather casually, messing around with ideas at Park’s home studio with no endgame in mind.

They took the approach of Park’s hip-hop clients: throw as many ideas at a song as possible, and delete the unnecessary stuff later.

“It kind of felt like just being a kid with watercolors, and just messing around, making music for fun again,” Gundersen said. “Not with expectations, and trying not to be too self-serious.”

These sessions became the foundation for “Lover.” According to Gundersen, they wrote the album’s title track in one night — the song’s final version includes the original vocals Gundersen first recorded in Park’s living room.

Gundersen, now 30, began his career during his teenage years. His music became known for its quiet intimacy — a kind of whisper-in-your-ear quality that evoked singers like Damien Rice. “Lover” feels like Gundersen’s most intimate album yet, but on a grander scale. Its sonic textures are rich, mixing the organic sounds of Gundersen’s past with all kinds of electronic soundscapes. On the song “Out of Time,” Gundersen’s vocals are unkempt, jagged, almost hung over on the verses, but give way to pristine falsetto on the choruses. These songs are simultaneously intimate and big.

“I think intimacy just means ‘close’ — you feel close to it,” Gundersen explained. “And that can be a loud thing or a quiet thing. Someone yelling in your face can be a very intimate experience.”

On the new album, Gundersen said, “I think I let down a lot of walls that I didn’t know I had. It’s especially funny to say that as a guy that’s been known as a confessional singer-songwriter. But I don’t think I was as honest with myself or with my work in previous records as much as I was with this one.”

Gundersen’s last album, the ambitious 2017 release “White Noise,” didn’t propel his career in the way he expected. Its accompanying tour left Gundersen and his band in the hole financially. Some of his romantic relationships crumbled, and various health problems began to manifest. When it rains, it pours. Gundersen thinks the failures, both individually and collectively, helped him become humble and vulnerable enough to make what “Lover” became.

“I was also coasting a little bit,” he admitted. “And when failure happens, it’s like you’re coasting on a bike and someone sticks a rod into your axle or something. You fly off the handle bars and have to dust yourself off, and get back on and try a different route.”


If you go …

What: Noah Gundersen

When: Sept. 26. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8

Where: The State Room, 638 S. State St.

How much: $23

Web: thestateroompresents.com