From the outside, Gunnar Gehl appears to be the archetype of an OC beach boy–the blond hair, tanned good looks and easy going demeanor all speak to the upbringing of a kid raised on the affluent coast of Newport Beach. However, it’s important to know that there’s more beneath the surface when it comes to this smooth, 17 year-old singer songwriter. Getting his start playing locally in bands and as a solo artist, Gehl also decided he wanted more out of music and decided to tour the country and even use his music to entertain children in impoverished villages as a board member of a non-profit organization. Seriously, could this guy get any more perfect?
As his fan base on Instagram continues to surge well above 200,000 followers and counting, we spoke to Gehl about his local roots, diving head first into philanthropy and his aspirations to become an artist that can bridge contemporary pop with acoustic soul.
How’d you first get into playing music?
I picked up a guitar when I was seven years old and fell in love with it instantly. I did the whole thing where I was in a band my entire childhood, played all around town at a bunch of cool little spots around OC and then it kinda fell apart a little but and I didn’t wanna stop, I wanted to keep going so I went to a local studio and started recording on my own, one thing led to another…I’ve met a bunch of great artists so far including the Pretty Much band and they invited me to come on tour with them.
Who were some of your early influences that inspired you to become a singer-songwriter?
John Mayer’s been a huge part of my artistry coming up in this industry. The first music video I ever watched was for his song “Bubble Gum Lips” and I fell in love with his tone and how he was at singing and guitar. He was a major influence. But there’s also part of me that gets influenced every single day by modern music, everything’s constantly changing and there’s no single way to do things and I’m always getting influenced by many different things.
Talk about the new single you’ve recently released called “Ocean Blue”.
It’s one of the first songs I wrote outside of Newport. I did it up in LA with a producer [Julian Fefel]. It’s about walking past a girl you didn’t get to talk to and kind of falling in love with their eyes and wishing you’d said something, that you’d turned around and said something.
A lot of people probably don’t know you’ve spent time volunteering in Africa, how’d that experience come about?
I’m on the board of an organization called WE [formerly known as “Free the Children”], and we do a trip with 25 families from Orange County to Africa and there’s opportunities to help young kids and students in the schools there. There’s a video out there of me singing a song to the kids in one of the classrooms we visited. The song is called “Change” and I played it for this village that WE has adopted and really helped. I got them to sing the words to the song with me and it was a really special moment. This was actually my second trip to Africa, before that we went to India and this summer I’m gonna be taking some of my friends back with me to the same village in Africa.
How’d you get involved in the organization?
I started working with them about four years ago, I’d just recently got asked to join the board last year. I’ve spoken at their events and performed with the Kenyan bow choir at the Forum for one of my original songs. I wanna help the world and I have a passion for music so I’m trying to blend the two and benefit another group of people in the world by writing a song that can unite people. For my career, 10% of everything I make is going to this organization.
What was it like being in the village and interacting with the children?
We got to experience the difference between a village that the organization has adopted and one that hasn’t ever seen anyone except people inside their village. It was a big moment of realization for me, I encourage everyone to try to do something like this by joining an organization and helping out a poorer country. You can read about it, you can research it but it doesn’t do it justice until you’re there. It’s a big heartfelt moment that really put everything into perspective.
How does that kind of experience broaden your perspective as a kid from Orange County and as an artist?
As an OC local, it really makes me think about the little things I hear around town or even our my own mouth and going there and seeing that it makes you double check a bunch of things. As an artist, it’s a trip to be on the other side of the world and hear people listening to Shawn Mendes and John Mayer and other artists who I respect a lot. So for me as an artist, I’m not just writing songs for people just in my community or even my country, this is hopefully gonna be a global thang and I need to think about how I can impact people globally with music, it’s something that should always be at the top of my list.
What are some of the highlights of connecting with your crowd that you’ve build on social media?
I’ve got a good following on Instagram, that’s my main platform and that’s all I grew up using. I got a following on that very organically without even releasing any music and then we started to branch out with Twitter and YouTube but Instagram’s my main one. It’s crazy, it’s a lot of people and it’s cool to get the chance to meet a lot of these people in person, it’s hard to even face that it’s true sometimes. I get surprised everyday. I’m just this local kid doing music because he loves it.
What’s one of your main goals to accomplish as an artist in 2019?
I want to get a couple more songs rolling and get an album or EP in the springtime and maybe my own tour after that. Everything did happen so fast for me and I’m excited to get that chance to show people what I’ve been doing for the last 6-8 months and bring together everyone who supported me from a young age that this is real now and I want to say thank you and also show you guys what we’ve done. Going around the nation and performing for thousands of people each night is incredible and an amazing experience but to be able to have a show in my home town and see people who have been there since the start that’s the best feeling.