Jonathan Rundman Embraces Taylor Swift-Level Pop on Look Up

The world can change a lot in 10 years, as Jonathan Rundman is finding out. Back in 2004, the singer put out Public Library, a solo album that landed on many "Best of" lists. Soon after, Rundman took some time off to be a stay-at-home dad. When he came back to music, the scene had changed a lot -- to the point where an artist can be completely DIY and building their career at their own pace.

His new album, Look Up, which is out this week, has Rundman learning the keys and polishing what he did as a singer-songwriter to reveal the inner pop star that had been in hiding.
Flush in the face from the cold as he walks into an Uptown coffee shop, Rundman looks like a fit suburban father who just dropped his kids off at soccer practice, yet when he starts talking about music, he's someone else altogether.

In 2010, he formed Kaivama, a Finnish folk band, with Sara Pajunen. The duo had not expected the success that came with playing hundred-year-old songs, but they toured relentlessly for three years until August 2013. Rundman shares, "When Kaivama ended, I realized I could do an album of original pop music."

The positively named Look Up covers much of Rundman's life in the 10-year span that had him falling in the natural role of fatherhood. The tracks, especially ones like "Second Shelf Down" where he touches on a collection of treasured heirlooms, have Rundman opening up emotionally more than he ever has before -- even more so than when he was playing acoustic music in 2004. It's as they say, "His bladder must be close to his eyes."

"It's the first time I've made an album as a parent," he continues. "I'm writing differently; I'm way more emotional than I used to be. It makes my life more dramatic, but I feel like I'm an exposed nerve. Sometimes when I'm playing music, I have to try and not cry. I was not like that before. I used to be very intellectual; the songs were very observational -- almost journalistic. I had a friend tell me when he heard the new album, 'Before, your songs were at an arm's length. Now, they're not.'

"Part of that was because of the gravity of becoming a parent -- that you're in charge of these lives -- and also because I'm aging. Another reason I feel so much more connected to my music is because of Kaivama. We spent three years playing these songs from our ancestors, and you can't help but tap into this space and time where they were living."

Matt Patrick, who produced Greycoats and John Mark Nelson, was called on by Jonathan to help shape Look Up into a bright pop album -- despite his expertise on producing folk-oriented Americana music.

"For the first time in years, I had time to write, and Matt was so busy, so I spent fall of 2013 writing," Rundman says. "I had been listening to a lot of Taylor Swift lately, and I really admire how she shifted her music into a more pop-centric sound. That's what I wanted to do. I wanted this new album to have a lot of electric guitars and keyboards, and I wanted it to be loud and fast. My goal was to have an album that sounds good when you're driving with the top down in the summer.

"I'm glad I was able to take time off to be with my kids. That felt like the right thing to do at that time, but now I'm in my early 40s. It feels weird, because there are not many other 43-year-old dads making rock albums. Still, I feel like I've been reborn as a musician."

Look Up is available now on iTunes and Jonathan Rundman's online store.


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