Musician Noah Kahan Proves Honesty is the Best Policy

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In a whirlwind that’s taken him from small town U.S. to Australia, singer-songwriter Noah Kahan is accustomed to the tour life. However, that doesn’t keep him from joking about the surreal nature of receiving a text from award-wining artist James Bay. 

With a tour with Bay and a debut album on the horizon, Kahan is ready to use his past to propel his future.

Kahan writes songs based on his experiences — unfiltered, no-sugar-coating experiences. In an interview with The Phoenix, Kahan discussed how he seeks to make his stories accessible to others while being therapeutic for himself.

“I’m trying to make a career for myself by being as honest as possible and if you set that standard then you never find yourself changing who you are,” Kahan said.

That individuality is what Kahan said he believes sets him apart because no one else can replicate his story. In a world of cookie-cutter hits, being a little rough around the edges will only make you stand out.

Those rough edges probably have something to do with a childhood spent on hikes the woods. Kahan’s small town roots led to an “ethereal, folky, nostalgic sound,” according to the 22-year-old from Strafford, Vermont. He said he aims to create that atmosphere within his songs.

Drawing on influences such as Bon Iver, Paul Simon and Cat Stevens, Kahan’s music is exactly what one would expect to be playing while strolling through nature. His songs come with a sense of familiarity that welcomes the listener much like a worn down path. Kahan is able to subvert some typical acoustic sounds with electronic elements, such as in the single “False Confidence.”

“False Confidence” and Kahan’s newest single “Mess” showcase his storytelling abilities. He doesn’t sweep the mess under the rug. Instead, he puts it on display for all to see and allows others to see themselves in his mess.

Both singles on his upcoming album are set to be released this summer, which continues his trend of honest explorations. He said the new album draws on his experiences over the last two years as his career has brought him from his little corner of the world to touring the rest of it.

His single “Hurt Somebody,” featuring Julia Michaels was the turning point for these new experiences. The track reached Top 40 radio in the U.S., but in Australia it became certified double platinum.

“That song really did change everything for me,” Kahan said. “That was the first track that did really well for me on the radio, which is kind of a door opener for artists.”

In response to the success, the lyrics of “Mess” draw on the truth that no one has it all figured out. The song calls for a sense of normalcy as Kahan discusses the expectations of tour and how that all comes to a halt upon returning home. This jolt he said creates a dissonance in his life, almost as if he’s living two of them.

“I find myself — one side kind of seeping and bleeding into the other and losing track of who really I am and what my priorities are,” Kahan said.

He copes by heading home to reflect on that growth as an artist, reevaluate and spend time with friends and family. A return to his roots grounds him but that bit of the spotlight gives an added pressure.

“[The success of “Hurt Somebody” has] also instilled a deep fear that I might be a one-hit wonder,” Kahan said.

He also said the only way to fight this fear is to keep creating, but not to force the work because it won’t have that spark he’s looking for.

Kahan has found that spark at a relatively young age. For those looking to do the same, Kahan said to continue to create and tell your own stories.

“Keep being a dreamer, keep trying to access that little kid in you who wanted this and never forget why you’re doing it,” Kahan said.

Kahan will perform at the Riviera Theatre (4746 N. Racine Ave.) March 19. “Mess” is available to buy and stream on iTunes and Spotify.

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