While conversations about genre constraints often play out in the upper echelons of pop, it turns out that small independent artists have to fight many of the same battles.
Take Noah Gundersen. In 2015, he released an album titled Carry the Ghost on the label Dualtone, which has had some success with packaging Americana for the masses (see: the Lumineers). Carry the Ghost “fit nicely into the Americana landscape,” Gundersen says. “But after making that record, I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a singer-songwriter. So I started to dabble in other things, expand the sound. It was the beginning of a long trajectory of me not being able to fit in any one particular place.”
Gundersen often ends up far from simple acoustic balladry on his latest album, Lover, which is out on Cooking Vinyl, a label that ranges more widely than Dualtone. “Crystal Creek” in particular shows Gundersen’s varied interests, with vocal processing that makes Gundersen sound like Phil Collins one moment and a tormented robot the next.
“Crystal Creek” started six years ago in Gundersen’s basement. “Songwriting requires a lot of patience,” he says. “There have been plenty of songs I’ve probably ruined by trying to force them into submission. Thankfully I didn’t do that with this one; I just let it ferment.” In time, “Crystal Creek” turned into “a song about feeling my age, feeling burned-out at times, and failed expectations,” shot through with anguished jolts of falsetto.
A few years ago, Gundersen might have put “Crystal Creek” out under a different name. “On the last record [2017’s White Noise], people were a little confused about the direction I was taking,” he says. “There was a moment where I was thinking about doing a couple projects — keeping the Noah thing on the singer-songwriter side and maybe doing this electronic project.” Instead, he decided to embrace the confusion.