Interview By: Kevin Rolfe
Noah Kahan is an up and coming singer songwriter. He actually might be past the “up and coming stage” since his show here in Utah is a sellout. I had the chance to speak with Noah leading up to his show at The State Room. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed speaking with Noah.
UCR: Where are you currently?
Noah Kahan: Today we are out in Canada in Toronto.
UCR: Nice! How’s the tour going so far?
NK: It’s been amazing. Not really like any other tour I’ve done since I’m headlining the states and a lot of the shows have been sold out. It’s been super surreal and really really rewarding.
UCR: I bet! The show here in Salt Lake City, at The State Room, is sold out. Now, I’ll never know what that feels like. Many people reading this interview will never know what it feels like to have a sold out show. It’s something I’d say most music fans can only fantasize about, but you’re actually having that experience. What does it feel like?
NK: It’s an amazing feeling. Especially because a lot of artists, myself included go from playing for nobody and having no one wanting to come to see them, then you have a sold out show in a place that you’ve never even been to. I’ve been to Salt Lake City a few times, but I don’t have any family there, so it’s a bunch of strangers that want to see me play and are paying over price to get tickets to the show to the point that they can’t buy tickets from the main site anymore. It’s insane! It’s crazy when I come to the venue and I see people lined up outside, and they want to meet you, it’s an amazing feeling to make their day by just saying hi to them and taking a photo with them. And then playing the actual show, it’s hard to describe how incredible it feels to hear people singing the words of your songs back to you, and buy shirts with your face on them. It’s just crazy. It’s like a movie.
UCR: You’re perceived to be an overnight success. But you know more than I do, that that is rarely the case. So how did it all actually happen for you?
NK: Overnight success is a really weird term. You’re right, it never really happens like that. Overnight in terms of the people in the world noticing it, and the media it can seem like it happens quickly. But for me, I’ve been writing songs since I was eight years old. I always wanted to be a songwriter and a singer. I just loved making music. I wrote a song every day for six years. Then my voice started sounding better because I hit puberty (laughing), and I went from a little squeaky voiced kid to kind of having a nice rasp in my voice. Then I started putting music on SoundCloud. A couple friends of mine started helping me produce my songs. Then a manager hit me up, and he kinda took a chance on me and started to help me develop. For a few years, I just kinda stuck around and wrote songs at home. I was lonely and I wanted to have it all happen. And my idea of the music industry was like everyone else, “overnight success”, you write a song and the next thing you know, you’re playing Madison Square Garden. So I wanted to be playing and be out there. But the plan was to stick around, write songs and wait and see what happens. So I wrote a bunch of songs, and I started to get good at that and eventually we started releasing singles. The singles took off, and I wrote the song “Hurt Somebody” which blew up in Australia, and globally and that started to open a lot of doors for me. I think that’s when people started to find out who I was and what I was all about. And now here I am, selling out shows, and releasing more music. I’m releasing an album this year. So it’s been a long process, but it feels like it’s finally paying off now.
UCR: I can’t imagine the feeling of being a guy from a small town in Vermont, and here you are with a #1 hit in Australia. That has to be the most surreal feeling ever!
NK: Oh yeah. It’s hard to wrap my head around. It’s just a far away weird, random place. It kind of opened me up to how sporadic and random success can be. How it can start somewhere that you don’t expect and how that can be a whole career for you. My whole career so far has been built on this huge popularity in Australia and I think it’s really cool. It’s just so weird being a kid from Vermont where it’s cold all the time to a place like Australia and having people say my name there, and being recognized at the airport. It’s like “Holy Shit!”, I’m so far away from home right now but people still know who I am. It feels like a real representation on how streaming and social media can play a part in someone’s career. So it’s a very millennial way to find success.
UCR: As a performer, what is it you’re looking for in a live experience?
NK: I want every single person there to feel the way that they felt when they heard my songs for the first time. I think my music connects to people because I speak about very personal things, and about things that are very important to me. I think when people can relate to my music, seeing it live can bring people closer. I just want to bring people as close as possible to my music. I want people to feel like there is someone who understands what they’re feeling, and they can be in the same room and share that with people who are there for the same reason. I want people to see what I’m all about as an artist, and I can get a gauge on who I am as a performer. I want people who want to sing along to my hits, but also hear songs I’ve written that they might not have heard as much on Spotify.
UCR: I think you’re in that awesome place in your career to where if you were to say “Here’s a new song”, people are still super excited for that. They still really want that from you.
NK: That’s my favorite thing about it man. I was always afraid of people just saying “I just want to hear ‘Hurt Somebody’”. Because that song is really catchy. And I’d be happy with that too, but it’s really cool to play a new song and have people really respond to it and tell me afterward how much it meant to them. That’s the thing I love, having people care about me more as an artist and not just a person who put out a song that they heard on the radio. That can be a pitfall of many artists. People will attach themselves to their one big song and not explore the whole discography.
UCR: Now being from a small town, I can’t imagine there were many shows that came through your town. Did you have somewhere you could go to see live music?
NK: There’s a venue in Burlington Vermont called Higher Ground. I would go there, and they had some amazing artists come through there. I would go there to play in the local singer songwriter competitions. So that was the place for me to see shows. It’s kinda cool, I actually sold it out the other night. It was really cool for me to come full circle. Playing the place where I grew up seeing these artists, and being jealous, and being inspired every night, and then standing on stage for a sold out show, it really was one of the best nights of my life. I’m still reeling from it.
UCR: Do you remember the first concert you ever attended?
NK: I do. I went to see Great Big Sea in the next town over. My mom loved them. I’m not sure if you know them. They’re kind of a chanty folk rock band who were pretty big back in the 90’s. It was cool just to see them. Whenever I go to a concert I just think “Shit, I just want to be doing that so bad.” And as an artist it’s like, you just want to be on the stage to see it from a different lens. So I saw that show, and I was hooked from there.
UCR: Do you remember your first time performing live?
NK: I performed at my elementary school talent show, and I played a song I wrote called “Wednesdays are the Worst Days of My Life”. It was so depressing that I had to get mandatory therapy from the school for the next two weeks. It was indicative of the music to come I guess.
The first time in a live concert type setting was at this singer songwriter competition in Burlington where I made it to the final round. It was this really amazing and cool experience and I knew I wanted to do it forever.
UCR: What was the best concert you’ve ever attended?
NK: Oh that’s a good question. There’s been a couple. I have to go top three. Number three: Mount Joy. There a folk rock band. I saw them at The Basement in Nashville. It’s just this small historic venue and I didn’t know what to expect. I went in and they’re just an amazing band with amazing songs. I listen to them every day now. It was just so cool to catch them before they blew up.
Number two: I saw The Lumineers in Montreal. They were the tightest band I’ve seen live. They just have it all so dialed together. They made me realize how far you can go with folk music in terms of a live performance.
And first: I saw Ben Howard a couple days ago. He’s one of my all-time favorite musicians. I saw him sound checking when I was playing the venue next to him, and it was the coolest thing ever. Then I got to see the end of his set. Being such a huge fan of someone and kind of idolizing an artist then getting to see them live was just a really cool experience.
UCR: What would you say your best show has been? Would you say that homecoming show in Burlington? Or is there another show that sticks out beyond that?
NK: I think best show and most rewarding experience are different categories. I think the Burlington show has been my favorite experience. I got to be in front of my family and friends who have supported me through all of this craziness and play a venue that I grew up going to. I dreamed of that moment for fifteen years. But I think our best show was just a few weeks ago in Nashville. We all just hit our stride and overcame the fear of being a headliner. We just totally knocked it out of the park and the show was amazing. It was a really rewarding experience. Especially when you’re nervous and your scared and you don’t believe in yourself, but you just go out and prove yourself wrong. The crowd can tell, and you can tell.
Noah will be performing on Tuesday, October 23 a The State Room in Salt Lake City. The show is sold out, but the venue website has a fan ticket exchange available. Click here for details!
Noah’s music is available everywhere! I suggest you give it a listen. He’s a really talented artist, and he’s definitely going places! See you Tuesday night!