by Brianna Anderson
Together with rich string accompaniments and acoustic guitar, 22-year-old Noah Gundersen and his sister Abby Gundersen, 19, are an emotive addition to the folk music genre. Whitworth’s common room in the Hixson Union Building was packed Saturday night with eager fans of the musical duo. The brother and sister brought listeners to their feet with three standing ovations at the close of the show.
Noah Gundersen’s lyrics explore soul-searching questions about God’s existence, the beauty of life and death and freedom from internal torment. His songs demonstrate the use of music in storytelling. Many artists influenced Noah Gundersen, including Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Tom Waits.
“Music inspired me to get into music,” Noah Gundersen said. “I’ve always been drawn to it; it’s always been something that’s stirred my heart.”
The Gundersens grew up in Centralia, Wash., where they began playing music at a young age. Abby took up the violin at age 9 while her older brother took piano lessons. He later taught himself how to play the guitar at age 13 and then began writing his own songs. Their first gig was at a local Starbucks.
Noah Gundersen’s first self-released album called “Brave New World,” was recorded in 2006. He and Abby Gundersen later started a group with two other friends, called “Noah Gundersen and the Courage.” The band’s first recorded album “Live at the Triple Door” was released in 2008. They later shortened the name to “The Courage.” After playing for nearly two years, the band went their separate ways, and Noah Gundersen and Abby Gundersen continued on their own path as “Noah Gundersen,” a group that displays the siblings’ musical chemistry.
“There’s a certain connection you get while performing,” Abby Gundersen said. “We’re synced together.”
Abby Gundersen is the icing on the cake to her brother’s music. She helps with the melody and writes most of the string accompaniments for the tracks. She also recently took up the cello. And has her brother’s same passion for music.
“Music is something that’s inside everyone’s soul,” Abby Gundersen said. “I can’t imagine life without it.”
Abby Gundersen plays in another band with her two younger siblings, Lizzy, 16, and John, 17, called “Le Wrens.” They also play folk/singer-songwriter music. However, Abby Gundersen hopes to continue touring with Noah Gundersen and perform more in Seattle.
Their newest EP, “Family,” was released this August. On the first track, “David,” Noah Gundersen sings: “I want to hunt like David, I want to kill me a giant man, I want to slay my demons, I’ve got lots of them.” The stop-and-go resounding drumbeat and trembling violin in the background, partnered with forceful guitar strokes, create a gritty melody of anguish. He describes this song as autobiographical.
“It describes me wanting to be a good man; wanting to be better,” Noah Gundersen said.
When it comes to the songs on the EP album, Noah Gundersen ties the ideas to concepts of family and how family affect our lives, whether for the better or worse. He also talks about how it is our decision to react to our family and the way we are raised. We will always have that connection and interaction with our families.
Noah Gundersen believes that music is a great way to share ideas with people. It helps them process emotions and makes them feel a certain way. In the song “Fire” he sings: “I was told to find Jesus in a stain glass church…when he finally came to visit me, he was dressed in the rags of poverty and it came as no surprise.” While he does not claim to be a Christian, he appreciates biblical imagery.
“I want people to feel stirred up in their soul,” Noah Gundersen said. “And to come away feeling moved, to be able to look at a lot of questions, that might make them feel uncomfortable; things they might not want to look at, but are important to see.”
Noah Gundersen ended the show at Whitworth by walking down the stage into the audience to have what he called “family time,” and play music up close. His and his sister’s voices carried across the room in perfect unison. The audience was encouraged to sing along and by the end of the night everyone was clapping their hands and stomping their feet. Then the music stopped while voices sang to his song, “Poor Man’s Son,” a cappella: “Oh brother, let’s go down, down in the river to pray.”
“It was a blast,” junior Lauren Dickey said. “He seems so down to earth. His lyrics really hit home for me.”
Noah Gundersen and Abby Gundersen are planning to record a new album in the next upcoming months. They hope to continue touring soon and to work on new material.