A few years ago I had the pleasure of seeing Jamie Tworkowski, founder of To Write Love on Her Arms, speak at my alma mater as part of its annual lecture series. Before he spoke, he invited his friend Noah Gundersen on stage to open with a few songs. The warmth and intimacy of Gundersen’s short set served as a sort of call to vulnerability, permission for the audience to let their guard down as Tworkowski shared the story and mission of TWLOHA (which, if you didn’t know, is dedicated to providing help and hope to those who suffer from depression, eating disorders, self-harm, suicidal tendencies, and other mental health issues). I remember getting a little teary-eyed during Gundersen’s set, especially during his song “Jesus, Jesus,” in which he wrestled with questions about faith and life, questions similar to those I was facing as I was struggling with my own faith. I started following him on Twitter after Tworkowski’s address, but for the most part, my interest in him ended the same night it began.
My curiosity about Gundersen’s music rekindled as he revealed on social media that he was releasing a new album this summer. I started digging through his discography on Spotify and loved what I heard. His honest lyrics about identity, struggle, and heartbreak combine eerily and beautifully with his trembling, hushed voice, making him sound almost hesitant to share such gritty and hard stuff. That vulnerable and autobiographical songwriting is on full display on Gundersen’s sophomore album, Carry the Ghost. Gundersen may be young—he’s only 26—but the lyrics on this album, like many of his previous songs, carry a thoughtfulness, even a heaviness, of someone wise beyond his years. It’s clear that much of this album was borne from pain and from the introspection that followed.
Carry the Ghost kicks off with “Slow Dancer,” a slow-burning tune that jabs at an ex-lover (“Light me up again/Call me a snake and a liar/And I will be the fire that keeps you warm”). Lost love and hoped-for love is a prominent lyrical theme on this album; “Show Me the Light” is a reflection on lessons learned through a break-up, and “Jealous Love” yearns for an imperfect but authentic love (“So give me the good times, give me the bad/I want it better than I’ve ever had.”). At the heart of these and many songs on Carry the Ghost are musings on identity and integrity. “Selfish Art,” for example, is a self-examination of his motives for his music (“Am I giving all that I can give/Am I earning the right to live/by looking in a mirror?”). Gundersen was raised in a religious household, but much of his music expresses the distance he’s put between his upbringing and his current self, and “Empty from the Start” is a final farewell to religion and an acceptance of a more existential outlook (“This is all we have/This is all we are/Blood and bones, no holy ghost/Empty from the start”).
Noah Gundersen’s music can be found on Spotify and purchased at major online vendors and his website. He’s also about to embark on a nation-wide tour; visit his tour page to see if he’s coming near you.