Indie-folk phenom Noah Kahan grew up in Strafford, a small town of just over 1,000 residents in central Vermont. He started out playing small shows in the New Hampshire and Vermont area singing covers of Ed Sheeran and John Mayer, but never made it out to musical hotbeds like New York or Boston, separated by the distance. His break eventually came after utilizing music-hosting platform SoundCloud to get his music into the hands of his fans, and ultimately into the hands of a label.
After only a few months using SoundCloud, Kahan’s signature vocal talent was noticed by Republic Records, who snatched him up to the label and put him to work immediately. Kahan’s first official single, “Young Blood” released on January 27, 2017, after which Republic got him a spot opening for Milky Chance on their “Before Blossom” tour. Just a year later, the 21-year-old has nearly three million monthly listeners on Spotify and is busy on his fifth tour in twelve months, where he’s performing his brand new EP, “Hurt Somebody”. As one of Bandsintown’s “Top 5 Fastest Growing New Artists” in 2017, Kahan’s rise over the past year has been meteoric on his way to future stardom, which is coming sooner rather than later.
I was able to catch Noah while he was on tour to talk about the EP, touring, and his crazy 2018 schedule.
“It’s surreal and weird to have people tell you they drove three hours to come see you, or they took off work to come to a show you’re playing at.”
2018 has been a busy year for Noah Kahan so far. His debut EP released in January and included a new vocal feature of Julia Michaels on the hit song and title track, “Hurt Somebody”.
Speaking on her involvement with“Hurt Somebody”, Noah recalled how Julia came into the project:
NK: “Julia reached out to me and my team about cutting a vocal on the song. I was obviously over the moon. To have an extraordinarily successful artist and very capable songwriter acknowledge something I wrote is a dream come true. It was a huge confidence booster for me, and I think her vocal brought the song to the next level. I was honored.”
On top of the new EP, he also released his first music video, a digital lyric video with accompanying graphics. Asked if he had any input in the process, Noah said his input was mostly in a supervisory role.
NK: “I wasn’t incredibly involved with the illustrations, but I oversaw the process and saw drafts of what the artist was creating, and I loved it. I am a horrible artist so I like to leave it to the pros. I try to sustain a thorough line or general vibe through all the art, and so far everything has been perfect.”
The second song on the EP,“Catastrophize” takes a different and new tone for Kahan, and I wanted to know more about its meaning.
NK: ““Catastrophize” is a song I wrote in a frenzy, so I wanted it to feel frantic. I wanted to write a song that would paint as clear and honest a picture of myself and my struggles and vulnerability as possible. It’s a word my therapist told me about, and I just felt that it fit my personality [really] well. The song ended up being a big anthem to anxiety and fear and vulnerability.”
The final song on the EP (except the non-duet version of “HurtSomebody“), “Please“, is reflective of a busy life on the road while touring, and the nostalgic, anxiety-inducing feeling that leaving a familiar environment to pursue a dream brings on.
Noah explained it further:
NK: ““Please” is about homesickness. I am able to be back home in Vermont less and less as things get crazier for me. I wanted to write a song that would remind me of my home, my dogs, my mom and dad.”
You can see Kahan’s struggle with life on the road clearly in the chorus:
“So please just give me something for the pain
‘Cause my heart softens to your name
And when you’re gone I come undone
And when you’re gone how come I’m weak
And I walk wires and I pull teeth
And I’m so tired of chasing dreams
I need someone to wake me up
I need someone to wake me up”
“Sometimes living your dream feels differently than you thought it would. And sometimes you want things to be simpler, and less stressful”, he mentioned in his lyrical commentary for music platform Genius.
Kahan was on tour with Milky Chance, Meg Mac, and The Strumbellas at various points throughout 2017. In 2018, Kahan is on tour with New York’s LP (Laura Pergolizzi) through mid-April. Following the LP tour, he announced this week that he’ll be tagging on to George Ezra’s US Tour, something of a dream pairing for him.
In an Instagram post this week, he exclaimed:
“Incredibly honored to be joining @george_ezra on his spring tour. I saw him live three years ago when I was a frightful hatchling in the music industry and seeing him perform was what ultimately convinced me this was my calling.”
Given tour, after tour, after tour, it’s easy to sympathize with such a demanding schedule like his. The tour with LP recently kicked off in February, and he was able to reflect on where he started to where he sits now:
NK: “My experience playing live music, until about the last year, had been very limited. I [had] never played live shows outside of Vermont or New Hampshire, then suddenly I was playing shows in front of thousands of people. It was a dramatic change”.
“This tour has been insane so far. Seeing people in the crowd singing your words and wearing your merchandise is crazy. It’s surreal and weird to have people tell you they drove three hours to come see you, or they took off work to come to a show you’re playing at.”
“I just try to be grateful for it. It seems like the music has connected and that’s all I care about. I just try to give [my fans] the best performance possible every time. I want to sound like my records and I want people to feel like they are experiencing my music in a fresh way.”
After touring with LP and George Ezra, Kahan will finally come to the end of his tour at Firefly, the Dover, Delaware music festival held on the campgrounds of the Dover international speedway. There, Kahan’s folk/americana sound will be one of a large variety of acts that includes Odesza, Whethan, Portugal. The Man, Kendrick Lamar, and more all-star caliber talent.
Thinking about the June festival, Kahan was already looking forward to it:
NK: “I think it’s going to be very nerve-racking but also insanely fun. I can’t imagine being on a stage with so many people around. Playing in the same festival as Kendrick Lamar and Lord Huron is an honor I’ll never forget.”
As far as the rest of 2018, Kahan was candid and concise when thinking out the remainder of the year. We can expect an album, more touring, and “even more homeless looking merch”.
You can find a playlist of his music and a list of remaining tour dates with LP and George Ezra below.
Noah Kahan opens tonight for LP at a Brooklyn Steel in East Williamsburg. While tickets are sold out, it doesn’t seem to impact Kahan’s head. By all measures and appearances, Kahan comes across as humble, dedicated, and in his own words, “honored”, to be pursuing music as a small-town kid from New Hampshire.