Noah Kahan Q&A backstage at ACL Fest 2023
by Nastassja Collak and Ivy Fowler
The boulder you’re living under is getting dusty – on your way out, remember the name Noah Kahan. The 26-year-old singer-songwriter signed to Republic Records in 2017, making pop music in what felt like an obligation to the industry. His most recent album, Stick Season, went folk. Before its release, an abbreviated version of the title track went viral on TikTok in July 2022 and blasted the Gen Z sphere into all things Kahan. Through vulnerable storytelling, the Vermont native strives to connect to audiences from all walks of life, and puts a special priority on open discussions about mental health. He’s been touring since January and will continue through Summer of 2024, stopping by the Moody Center on June 14. Kahan joined KUTX backstage during weekend two of ACL on the one year anniversary of Stick Season to discuss his success, his music, and his mindset.
FOLLOW NOAH KAHAN
See the interview below
Q: Today marks the one year anniversary of your album stick season. I wanted to say congratulations and ask how are you feeling? Looking back, how are you reflecting on this past year?
A: It’s crazy, because it feels like the longest year and also the shortest year of my life. So much has happened in such a small amount of time that it’s made it feel like it’s gone on forever. Part of me is kind of sad to think it’s been that long. I think making that album was the most exciting and most fulfilling creative experience in my life, and to think that it’s been a year since. and I’ve been hitting the road really hard is somewhat sad for me. [I’m] just feeling like I’m so far away from that creative process and the way I felt. But getting the opportunity to do shows like tonight at ACL and some of the venues that we’re being able to play – it’s all because of this record. I feel a lot of pride and I’m just incredibly excited how far this album has brought me and to where I might go next because of it. I’m so grateful forever for Stick Season.
Q: So you’ve played ACL, you’re gonna play the Moody Center, Fenway Park, and Madison Square Garden within the next six months. How are you feeling about that?
A: It’s unbelievable. It’s hard to describe how cool it is to jump from playing rooms for two to three thousand people – which feels so huge – to playing for twenty thousand people and at Fenway for forty thousand people. It’s an unbelievable privilege. And you know, having done this for a long time, I definitely don’t take any of it for granted. I remember every single person that came to my earliest shows that didn’t sell out and, and try to keep that in mind as I walk into these unbelievable rooms. Just kind of keep that perspective and remember where I came from and how grateful I am to get to do this with my friends.
Q: Talking a little bit more about your music, you started with pop and now you’re in the folk world. What is it about the folk genre that works for you?
A: I think the folk genre allows for storytelling. Pop does that too, but folk allows for a little bit more specificity in the lyrics and in the stories. It doesn’t ask for the most common denominator melodically or in terms of production. It allows you a chance to experiment and tell your story in your own way. I think what’s great about great pop music is it does that too. I just don’t think I was making music that felt like it was accomplishing what I wanted to say about where I was from and about who I am. I just thought that pop was the only lane I could be in for a long time. When I started making folk music, I felt like this refreshing feeling of finally being in the right place. I wanted to chase that. If I find myself back in pop, I just want to make sure if I am there I’m feeling the way I do making this more folky music now and still have that sense of creative vindication. It’s cool to be able to make what you love and to have it also be the stuff that gets you the success because the thing about the music industry is that you can be happy and be true to yourself and also find larger success. So I’m very grateful, and I know it’s a rare story.
Q: You write so specifically about where you’re from and growing up in New England but people from all over are still able to relate on a deep emotional level. How does that happen?
A: I think that in the music there are themes, and I tried to write about things that might be relatable to people all over the place. I lived in New York City, and I felt more lonely than I ever did when I lived in Stratford. I think isolation and loneliness don’t have boundaries of population or place. People are finding their own meaning in the stories and finding ways to connect it to their own lives, and I think that’s really cool. I’m inspired by artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Sam Fender, who really write about place and are able to bring you into a place and leave you feeling like you were there. It’s not because you were ever there, it’s because you’re experiencing what they were experiencing, the same feelings and emotions. I tried to bring my emotions into the songs and hopefully have them connect with people all over the world, whether it be in a small town or a big city or another country.
Q: Switching gears a bit, The Busyhead Project, which you founded in May, has raised a considerable amount of money for mental health awareness. What kind of impact have you seen so far, and what do you hope to see as it continues to grow?
A: What I’ve seen so far is hard to say. A big part of the project was to support these organizations that are already doing amazing work, so my hope is that they’re feeling like they have even more confidence to support and continue doing the really brave and incredible work they’re already doing. Finding these organizations from the beginning was about finding ones that were doing the right work in the right places and supporting them and giving them a chance to enhance that effort. I’m hoping that they feel like they’ve been supported and that the thousands of people that are helped by these organizations are feeling that too. I really wanted to get more in the weeds and kind of go see the actual impact that it’s having, if any, with my own eyes. I’s been hard since I’m traveling, but I’m so excited to know that it’s gotten to a place where we’ve raised so much money and I’m excited to get further involved and see the impact.
Q: Speaking of mental health, you’ve been touring pretty consistently for nearly a year. How have you been doing emotionally? What’s been your routine to maintain a good mental space?
A: Yeah, it’s been…it’s definitely been hard. If you asked me one day, I’d say I love it. The next day, I’m like, I want to go home. But right now I’m feeling like I found a balance of taking care of my mental health, taking care of myself, and trying to make sure I give myself the freedom to be homesick or to be tired. I think for a long time I would gaslight myself and be like “Man, how can I be complaining like I’m in this incredible experience. I’m living this dream!” While I am living my dream, there’s always so much more in the in-between moments that it’s hard to deal with. So allowing myself to feel upset about where I am or what’s going on and also trying to stay as grateful as possible when the shows are happening.