Watch Noah Gundersen Work Through a Quarter-Life Crisis on Stage at the Fonda

The singer-songwriter is all of the pain without quite so much flannel

Seattle’s last major musical statement was delivered to the world in flannel shirts, ripped Levi’s and deep, angry screams. But if singer-songwriter Noah Gundersen is any indication, the gloomy rain that produced grunge’s rage is apparently now encouraging a quieter, gentler—but still just as poignant—kind of pain.

Gundersen, 26, is the former lead singer of the band The Courage. His latest album, Carry the Ghost, is a post-separation narrative following the realization that his upbringing by hyper-religious Christian parents didn’t jive with his own beliefs. His first two releases, Family and Ledges, were youthful and angry. But Ghost, he says, grapples with the fallout—and the rebuilding—of knowing that there’s no turning back to childhood.

“I’m attempting to solidify an understanding of what my belief system is now, or accept the lack of a belief system and the ambiguity of existence,” he says. “How do I become OK with not having an answer? And then, what is the motivator for my decisions? And how do I treat people, and what is this idea of self, capitol ‘S’?”

To tackle those questions, Gundersen turns to some of the greatest thinkers of the 20th and 21st centuries. He’s reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, and relied heavily on Neil Young for sonic inspiration for this album.

“I kind of wanted to make this record that sounds like Tonight’s the Night,” he says. “It feels really ragged and frayed and raw and vulnerable and kind of fucked up and messy. Another reference was Peter Gabriel’s solo record, which again is really emotionally vulnerable but sonically more complex.”

The result is an LP with a powerful throughline of a young man wanting to pull himself out of despair but struggling to do it. Gundersen’s low tenor is as smooth as a knife cutting through Jell-O, but his melancholy lyrics and crashing orchestrals hold his spirit down like a wave pinning a surfer to the ocean floor.

Lest those attending Gundersen’s show at the Fonda Theatre tomorrow fear they’ll be in for a night of contemplation that will send them back out onto the streets of Hollywood depressed and confused, though, the singer has gone out of his way to make sure that the live show is entertaining first, and thought-provoking second. He hired a lighting designer to conceptualize the set, which includes haze and smoke and varying degrees of brightness, to the point that “friends of mine said it looked like we were at a doom metal concert,” he says.

“It’s been cool to be able to deliver more than just a singer-songwriter experience to these audiences,” the singer adds. “I think that applies to a lot of different art forms. Like, the most effective comedies are the ones that are saying something about society and culture while making people laugh, because it is absurd, and it dispels the intellectual barrier that can be off-putting.”

Noah Gundersen plays the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood on October 29. Tickets available online