In the back yard of Angeline's Bakery in Sisters, a young and dreadlocked Noah Gundersen and an even younger Abby Gundersen stood on a small stage, playing deftly arranged, intensely emotive folk songs and rarely looked up from the wooden deck below their feet to meet the gaze of the capacity audience rapt by their music.
The scene was a late-afternoon performance at the 2008 Sisters Folk Festival where a then teenage Gunderson played a supporting role. Now the organization is bringing Noah Gundersen and his new band The Courage back to town for the Winter Concert Series this weekend. But the Noah Gundersen coming through this time is far from the seemingly meek wunderkind we saw two years ago. He's older - still young at 20, but older nonetheless - and he now will gladly rock whenever he feels the need.
Last week on one of the several spring-like February days that have constituted a bizarre Seattle winter, Gundersen steps outside of his home with his cell phone and gushes about the musical capabilities of his band mates in The Courage. He even says that he soon hopes to strip his name from the folk rock band's title. But that name of his has become more and more well known in the Seattle music scene and helped facilitate a sold-out show at the city's Triple Door and a recent gig at the storied Crocodile, in addition to a well-received EP, Saints & Liars.
"I don't want to be just a singer-songwriter. I love the sound of a band more than a solo performer. You can only have so many options as a solo performer and I'm not a big fan of loop pedals," says Gundersen.
The Courage, which has only existed in its current state since August, consists of Abby, his 17-year-old violin-playing sister,drummer Ivan Gunderson (note the spelling - they're not even related) and Americana Project alumnus and Central Oregon native Travis Ehrenstrom, a singer-songwriter in his own right who stepped in on bass duties for the band. In a relatively short amount of time, Gundersen has established himself on the Seattle scene, something that he knows isn't the easiest thing to do.
"There's so much art going on. It forces you to be on your game. [Seattle] has such a rich musical heritage that in some way I feel entitled to keep that going," he says.
With Abby still in high school in the siblings' hometown of Centralia, Wash. and Ivan living in Olympia, the logistics behind setting up rehearsals can be challenging, which is why The Courage have a standing appointment for a six-hour rehearsal every week as they prepare for a planned recording session this spring to lay down their full-length album. The disc will mark the first time The Courage has appeared on a Noah Gundersen recording and will likely represent more accurately the veracity and emotion that Gundersen conveys at his shows.
Before Gundersen hangs up the phone to head to his day job working at a tanning salon ("I really needed a job," is how he sums up the gig, which if nothing else has given him an unseasonably bronzed skin tone) he talks briefly about the notion of folk music. You see, Gundersen's songs are largely folk numbers (listen to "Jesus, Jesus" and "Caroline" for proof) his sound can grow exponentially when he's got The Courage behind him. But Gundersen - who somewhat surprisingly says Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd make up the bulk of his listening - doesn't consider himself a folkie nor does he see his band as part of the indie-folk movement that's becoming increasingly prevalent in the Northwest with the emergence of bands like Blitzen Trapper, the Cave Singers and Blind Pilot.
"I think there's a market for passion and integrity and honesty and I think that's what people are looking for," says Gundersen, "Whatever genre you bring that into, people are going to respond to that. I don't look at it in terms of playing folk music."
Well, if he really wanted to be a folk singer, he'd be a damn good one, with his intensely emotional songs and philosophically intriguing lyrics that seem far more advanced than what one would expect from someone who won't be able to enter a bar (unless he's the entertainment) for another few months.
7pm Saturday, February 27. Sisters High School Auditorium, 1700 W. McKinney Butte Rd., Sisters.