Over the past three years, Noah Kahan has emerged as a rising, acclaimed singer/songwriter who is building a large audience. Hailing from the New England region, Kahan signed a label deal soon after high school, and now he’s just released his third album, Stick Season, on Mercury Records/Republic Records.
Kahan is a talented artist who displays his unique vision and personality with his songs. Writing most of the songs by himself, he openly and honestly writes about his life experiences. He takes pride in being from New England (Vermont and New Hampshire), and shares his perspective on growing up there. In addition, Kahan is a strong, expressive lead vocalist.
Early on, Kahan signed his label deal when his song “Sink” caught the attention of music execs. In 2016, he signed with Republic Records, and in 2018 he released his first EP, Hurt Somebody. Notably, his single “Hurt Somebody” was certified gold, and hit artist Julia Michaels sang a duet with him on this song.
In June 2019, Kahan released his debut album, Busyhead. The album contained the key songs “Young Blood,” “Hurt Somebody,” “Mess” and the title cut “Busyhead,” and it established Kahan as an artist to watch. Then in September 2021, Kahan returned with his second album, I Was/I Am. This album contained his popular duet with Joy Oladokun on the song, “Someone Like You,” plus other key cuts such as “Part of Me,” “Animal” and “Caves.”
Currently, Kahan has just released his third album, Stick Season, which is probably his best record to date. The album includes the unique, quirky single “Stick Season,” which has already become a hit and is an excellent starting point for the new album. Kahan wrote by himself 10 of the 14 songs, which includes such standout tracks as “Northern Attitude,” the uptempo songs “Homesick” and “All My Love,” plus “Growing Sideways” and “Everywhere, Everything.”
This fall, Kahan is excited to launch his headlining tour and play his new songs live. Impressively, most of the dates (from October to February) have already sold out.
Here’s the video of Noah Kahan’s hit, “Stick Season.”
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Noah Kahan. He tells how he got started in the music business, and discusses the making of his new album, and writing his hit, “Stick Season.”
DK: I read that you grew up in New England. How did you get started with music, and writing songs?
Noah Kahan: I grew up in small towns in Vermont and New Hampshire, in a house with lots of great music. My mom was listening to Paul Simon and Cat Stevens when I was growing up, and my dad taught me to play guitar when I was 8 years old.
I started writing songs when around that time, and most of the songs were a cappella ballads…kind of sad and depressing (laughs). I wrote every day for years, and I performed at talent shows and open mic nights in town. I eventually started recording music with some friends. Then a record label A&R (exec) found me when I was a senior in high school. So I got into the music business that way.
DK: When you were a senior in high school, was it the A&R person from Republic Records that you met?
Kahan: Yes. The A&R person from Republic Records found one of my songs that I made with a friend on SoundCloud. He then reached out to a manager who he was friends with and was collaborating with. Then the manager came to Hanover (New Hampshire) where I was living at the time, and met my parents and convinced them to let me go into the music industry. So it happened really quickly.
DK: Early on, you released the single “Young Blood” and your first album, Busyhead. Can you talk about this period in your career?
Kahan: When I got signed, I was writing songs just to write them, and to build the portfolio. I didn’t think I’d get a chance to release a record. But I wrote all the songs and they fit together, and they fit the common theme of anxiety and my struggle with depression, and what it was like to be thrust into a scary environment that was the music industry. And that album (Busyhead) came out of those feelings of those first few years in the music industry, and was an amalgation of the singles I’d been writing and the story I was trying to tell.
Here’s the lyric video of Noah Kahan’s song, “Northern Attitude.”
DK: I like your song “Hurt Somebody,” from your first album. Can you talk about writing this song, and then featuring Julia Michaels on it?
Kahan: I wrote “Hurt Somebody” with a great songwriter named Scott Harris in Nashville. We had spent the whole day writing this other song and it wasn’t working. Then I said, “Hey, how about this?” And I played him this idea I had. Then in 25 minutes we wrote “Hurt Somebody,” sitting in this room in Nashville. We were trying to write something that was clever and told the other side of the breakup story, and it ended up being a song that connected with people. And then Julia Michaels jumped on after it had been released as a single, and she cut a duet on it.
DK: A year ago, you released your second album, I Was/I Am. Can you talk about the making of this album?
Kahan: Making that second album was challenging. I was [co-writing] all these songs and then Covid hit, and I still hadn’t finished this collection of songs. So I started writing more on my own. About half the record was co-written. It was cool to approach it with this idea of…I’ll put my nose to the grindstone with songwriting. And I would play on Instagram Live during the pandemic, and people started to form their own relationships with them. And being able to finally take those songs on the road after two years of Covid, was really cool because [the songs] had built their own lives on social media, and I got to see them play out in real life. It was a special time.
DK: I like your song “Someone Like You” from your second album, that featured Joy Oladokun. How did you connect with Joy on this song?
Kahan: It was one of the only songs that I’ve written in a Zoom writing session, and I was proud to be able to come up with a song in a remote way. It’s not always easy to get a read on people’s emotions when you’re staring into a screen. I wrote the song and immediately thought of Joy, because she’s someone that I really admire. She was the perfect person for it. I thought she added such an amazing dimension and tone to it, and I was honored to collaborate with her.
Here’s the video of Noah Kahan’s song “Someone Like You,” feat.
DK: You’re about to release your new album, Stick Season. What’s the past year been like for you, leading up to making your new album?
Kahan: It’s been a good year, because this record is the first time I felt completely free to do whatever I wanted. I was like…I’m gonna make the album that I’d always wanted to make. I grew up around a lot of folk music—I love stories, I love storytelling. I’d spent a lot of time in the past three years in my hometown in New England. So I had been building up to this record for a long time. Then we recorded it in Guilford, Vermont, at this beautiful studio. And I finally got to record all these songs that were really close to me, that I never thought would see the light of day. I’m so excited about it and I absolutely love the record.
DK: Your song “Stick Season” has become a hit and it’s the title of your new album. What inspired you to write this song?
Kahan: I wrote “Stick Season” when I was on my way back from a recording session for my second album. It was this little escape for me, this song that I was writing that night because I wanted to write something folky, having just recorded a song that was more pop-leaning. Stick season is a term or colloquialism that we use in Vermont and the greater New England area. It’s the time of year, when all the leaves are off the trees and it’s 20 degrees but there’s no snow. It’s an ugly time of transition in New England. And I wanted to use a term that’s specific to New England, which is what this record is ultimately about. It also represented change and transition. And I wanted to draw that parallel to a relationship, and how change happens in a relationship. It can feel ugly and hard, but eventually winter comes. Stick season is ugly, and then you get the beauty of winter and the first snow, and eventually the return of spring and summer. Change is natural…I wanted that to come across.
DK: Your songs on your new album are about New England, and you’ve released a song called “Northern Attitude.” So does this song connect with your New England theme and writing about Vermont?
Here’s the lyric of video of Noah Kahan’s song, “Hurt Somebody.”
Kohan: Definitely. The whole record is about New England and what it’s like to live in New England’s small towns. But it’s also a song about what makes us who we are, looking inward. To me, “Northern Attitude” is reflecting on how your life experiences and environment have shaped you, and the examination of whether or not you’re quite ready to open yourself up to love and new experiences.
DK: Another song I like on your new album is “Homesick,” which has good energy. Is that song autobiographical, about being homesick?
Kohan: Yeah, I wanted this album to be a true reflection of what it’s like to grow up somewhere, and I didn’t want to paint it with one brush. You know, being in a small town has its benefits, but it also has its disadvantages. When I was growing up, I was feeling isolated, like in a bubble, and feeling I might never leave. There’s this draw that I feel back to Vermont that never really leaves me. Even when I’m there I want to be out of there, and when I’m somewhere else I want to be back home. And I wanted to write that song with a turn of phrase, like…I wish I was home but I’m also sick of being there. So I thought that would be a fun way to explore that feeling.
DK: Besides the songs we’ve discussed, what are your favorite songs on your new album?
Kohan: I’m really proud of the song “The View Between Villages.” I was excited because the song is about the drive between South Stratford and Stratford, and it’s this beautiful valley. Whenever I drive through it, I always feel completely at peace. And when I get through and pass over this bridge near my old house, I start to feel this anxiety of returning home and this anxiety of being back in this environment where I have so much baggage. So I wanted to make a song that pulled that story, not just lyrically but musically. And I was excited to present this slow, beautiful feeling while you’re in the road between villages, and when you get out the music starts to build, and this frantic energy starts. This nervousness creeps in, and by the end of the song you’re pulling back into the view and the music settles down again. And it has about three minutes of organ that’s so peaceful to me. So I was proud to tell this story sonically and lyrically.
DK: This fall, you’ll be on a major tour as a headliner, and most of your shows have already sold out. Can you talk about your live shows and this tour?
Kahan: Yeah, I’m very excited. This is the first tour that it’s been pretty much sold out. [In the past] we’ve played a lot of shows for not a lot of people. So it’s always gratifying to see those sold out signs because it means that the dedication of your fans is still there.
I’m super excited about this tour. When I wrote a lot of these songs, I would think about what it would be like to play them live, and the emotion and the energy coming through. It’s fun to do a rehearsal and be thinking…these songs will be so fun to play [in front of people]. I’m really looking forward to it. I’m especially excited to play in New England, because I’ll be able to play these songs about where I am, in the places that they were written about. I can’t wait.