Interview by: Kevin Rolfe
Noah Kahan, a very talented singer-songwriter on the rise, is making his return to Utah this weekend when he supports James Bay on March 23 at The Union. This show comes on the heels of a sold-out show at The State Room. With a new album on the way and a successful lead single just released, Noah is an artist to keep an eye on. I enjoyed talking with Noah about the new album, choosing songs for that album, and what it’s like to headline versus open for someone. He was as interesting and insightful as always. Enjoy!
Noah Kahan: Hey Kevin, good to hear from you again.
Utah Concert Review: I just barely spoke to you in October but when the opportunity came up I really wanted to take it because even though what’s it been, only four months something like that? It feels like a lot’s happened and is about to happen for you so I really am happy to be talking to you again.
NK: Salt Lake City was such a fun show! It was one of the best and one of my favorite shows on the tour. It does feel like a long time ago though, man. So much goes down and there’s so much shit that happens in the music business that you lose track of time and things feel a lot longer so yeah. Good to catch up again.
UCR: I was at that Salt Lake show and I hadn’t seen you live yet. I had heard your music but I was so excited because you know, as somebody who is there to review a show, I try to enjoy it just as a fan but the unique part is I’m also looking around and see people’s reaction. I was just so happy for you because you had such an engaging audience and it seemed like they just didn’t want you to leave. So I’m glad you enjoyed that show because I could tell the people that are just totally loved it.
NK: Thanks, man. Yeah, that was such a sick crowd. I mean Salt Lake City is always an amazing crowd. I was telling you before the last show that when I see that Salt Lake City is coming up I think “Oh, thank God. Finally a really sick crowd!” And that was one of the best crowds I’ve ever played for. People were so hyped. It was like my favorite show on the tour. It was so fun and I had a great time. It was such a fun show in such a cool venue, so I’m glad you liked it. Thanks for coming out. I read your
NK: So we had about another month of the tour. After that, I wrote a song that has now become the lead single for what will be my debut album which is going to come out in the next couple of months. This new song is going to come out in a couple of weeks. It’s been a lot of preparing for the record, a lot of promo, a lot of photo shoots and we just shot a music video for this new song and recording the new song. You know your first record is your life’s work so you want to make sure it’s all right and getting everything in order for that is definitely a really intricate process. So we’ve been doing that a lot. I’m so excited. Things are lining up and all the hard work looks like it’s gonna pay off so I guess we’ll see.
UCR: That’s awesome. So you’ve written so many songs and you work on so many songs, do you just have a good team with you? Is it something you decide on your own? How do you decide what makes the cut to be on your debut album? As you said, that first album is a lifetime in the making how do you decide what goes on there?
NK: Well what’s great about songwriting and music in general, is that you can’t ignore the way a song makes you feel. You can write a thousand songs that are really good. But if you write that one song to where there’s this instant understanding and kind of feeling for everybody else, and I wrote this one song called “Mess” and it kind of instantly became everyone’s favorite song and my favorite song and it just really stood out as the song that encapsulated the whole vibe of the record and the vibe of the project so far. So you know songs kind of stand out and kind of make themselves known. We didn’t have to do that much deciding. It was kind of like these are the ones that make us feel this way. We know these have to be on there, and we’re not willing to sacrifice these for any other ones. So then we go “Oh, Ok. That means we have the record.”. So it was kind of a really natural process which is really exciting. So hopefully we didn’t make the wrong choices.
UCR: I think that’s such an interesting process because while your fans are out there and they’re eagerly anticipating this album I can only imagine for you, who, to quote you again is your “life’s work” it’s something you’re excited to get out to the people who want to hear it. The waiting game to get this out there has to be so difficult. But I’m sure at the same time you want to make it right for them. How do you kind of balance the eagerness to get everything out there with making sure it’s the right time
NK: When I first signed three years ago I literally thought I was going to release an album the day after I signed because I had all these songs recorded. But it’s been three years. So I’ve kind of come to understand it’s like everything needs to be completely timed out well. And you know fans are fans, but they’ll listen to the music when you release it. To me, it’s so important to get it right. So you’re not delivering a half baked or kind of underdeveloped project. I just I feel like you’ll know when the record’s done. If you feel like you can beat a song you’ve got to go out and try to beat it because you probably can. And if you feel like you’ve written songs that feel cohesive, and feel like they tell a story then it’s time to start putting them together for a record. I think what’s most important for me is kind of making sure the whole record had a vibe of cohesion and kind of had this natural flow to it. So you’re not just releasing a bunch of singles. It’s taken a long time to get there. But I feel like after three years of writing songs and having experiences and kind of coming to terms with who I am as a musician, who I am as a person, who I am as a songwriter and a performer I think I’ve kind of finally come to the right place where everything is coalescing to a cohesive album that I’m excited about it and my team’s excited about it.
UCR: That’s great. And I think that will be the payoff. You know? I mean like you said the day you got signed you wanted to release an album but I’m sure you’ve seen now that what you’re gonna release is going to be worth it to everybody who’s excited to hear this stuff. So that’s that’s cool you’re being patient and meticulous with all that.
NK: Whether or not people like this record, whether or not it’s a hit record or people love it, or it does really well at least that can be proud. I’m proud of it and I’m proud of the work I’ve done for it and how much time everybody has put in. So you know if it fails it’ll fail with every ounce of myself behind it. And you know all my pride. So I think that sounds like a terrible thing but I’m actually kind of relieved. So hopefully people like it. I’m glad we took the time.
UCR: So the last time you were here you played a
NK: Yes sir. I toured in Australia about a month ago for five shows with Leon Bridges, which was sweet. So amazing. Probably my favorite tour. The shows were really huge. We got like two days in each city and it was the middle of summer down there so coming out of Vermont, desolate like three weeks after an apocalypse weather and then going to Australia where it’s just beautiful and everyone’s beautiful and there’s not a lot of people that are mad like they are in America. Everyone’s mad in America because it’s cold out everywhere and no one wants to be outside. Whereas everyone in Australia is excited and everyone’s stoked by the summer and the fans are stoked on the show. It was cool to watch Leon’s show every night.
UCR: Along those lines, you played a headlining tour that by all accounts was really successful. I understand part of the business is kind of where sometimes you’re going to do headline and because you’re kind of moving up in your career you’re going to go back to doing supporting shows like the one coming to Utah with James Bay. What are some of your feelings about that? I’m sure you understand that it helps
NK: Yeah. No doubt. Great point. I mean with the headline show, there’s pros and cons. This is a really great question. There’s a lot of pros and cons to each side of things. I think the cons of the headline show is that there’s a lot more pressure on you and there’s a lot more preparation. There’s a lot more money to be put into it. There’s a lot more production which can be good, but that can overwhelm you and add different elements of stress to what is already a stressful thing to do for a living. But at the same time you want to play those headlining my shows because you want to play longer sets and you want the crowd to be there for you. Sometimes as the opening act people aren’t necessarily listening or there to see you and they don’t care if you do well or not. But what I love about support is we get to play like a greatest hits show. We get to play the songs that we play the best. We get to watch an amazing performer every night. We get to expose ourselves which I really hate that expression but we’re gonna expose ourselves, not by going naked, but by playing a show in front of a new audience and to a new audience and I think that’s what is really exciting about opening up. If you do it and you don’t suck you instantly kind of make a lot of new fans and people that will support you as long as your career lasts. And I think that’s really cool and really exciting and some of my biggest fan support has come from the fans of artists I opened up for. Some of my greatest friends in the music industry have been artists I opened up for so you know there are good sides to both but I think they both have had their negatives and both had their positives. I love them both. I’m excited to open up for James Bay. I’m excited to headline again in the fall but for
UCR: I think that’s a great attitude to have. And it’s a great strategy with your album coming out. The Union is a good sized venue, so you’ll have a lot of people getting to hear your music. Some of them for the first time.
NK: I’m just happy to do it, man. I’m just happy to keep making music and keep playing music live. I try not to get too nit-picky about that kind of thing. You know it’s easy to fall into every annoying strategy. That kind of thing can be frustrating. I’m so happy I get to play shows and I can’t wait to play the bigger venue in Salt Lake. And I’m just stoked to be back with you guys. It’s a really awesome city.
UCR: How often do you watch the headliner’s set when you’re the opener?
NK: That’s a good question. You know it depends. It depends on the situation. Like when we were in Australia our venues we’re so close to the hotel that I watched Leon Bridges five nights in a row. I would have to pay a lot of money in the real world to see that, so I watched five nights in a row. But on the American tour, because we’re poor, we’re in a sprinter van. And we have to leave right after our set to get to the next city. So if you want to watch it’s going to put three hours on the travel time and that’s three hours less sleep we’re going to get. So it depends. I’ll probably watch James Bay a bunch, as much I can. I try to watch the headliners much as possible because I’m stingy and I like that it’s free for me to watch. I can watch the side stage and you know it’s cool to see how these really kind of established talented artists change up their set every night and what they do in terms of in-between song banter and conversation and also the production changes every night. So it’s cool to kind of see the differences in how the shows evolve and kind of come into form as the tour progresses. I think that’s really cool. So I try to watch as much as possible. And just as a fan of these artists too, it’s pretty sweet to go to watch from the side stage. You know, jam out with my band as the headliner is playing.
UCR: I’m sure it’s also educational as you grow in your career you’re learning from a lot of people who have just been where you were.
NK: Yeah absolutely. That’s the coolest thing about it is getting kind of professional advice from these really amazing talented famous artists. You know it’s cool to hear these people tell you how to do a show or what they think about your music and kind of get their advice. It’s a really cool thing to see people evolve. It’s cool to see yourself evolve but it’s also cool to see how these big artists deal with problems on stage or deal with a problem with chemistry or problems in the crowd at the venue and for me it’s a learning experience every single time at every show.
UCR: What is something we can expect from your album?
NK: I think you can expect to see the results of the journey I’ve been on for the past two years and to kind of hear the stories that I’ve gone through and see how they affected me and you know really I really kind of bare myself out. I kind of leave it all out there on the record and I try to give a very good look at who I am as an artist as a person and how these past couple of years have affected me. I think it’s really it’s kind of one long story about being a musician and doing something unusual or challenging and difficult and new. So you know if you like my other singles I think you’ll like our songs and I think if you’re a fan of music you can sing along to you’re going to dig the record.
UCR: Have you had any strange fan encounters so far?
NK: Oh this is a funny one. A
UCR: Oh, come on!
NK: I mean I do all right. (Laughing) But I was just kind of looking gross and I was in this really high-end boot store with fashionable leather. And this lady who was working they didn’t really give me the time of day. I don’t really look like I belong there. So they’re taking a long time I’m kind of getting frustrated. I really had to go and film the video and you know and I was kind of being a little rude a little impatient while the lady was checking me out. And as I’m leaving the lady says “Oh
Noah will be performing live in Utah this Saturday night (March 23), at The Union Events Center in Salt Lake City. He will be support for James Bay. Click here for tickets.
You can listen to Noah Kahan’s new single “Mess” wherever you stream or buy music. Be on the lookout for Kahan’s debut album to be released in the next month or so. For more info on Noah and his music head on over to www.noahkahan.com