It was hard to go anywhere in 2018 without hearing the song ‘Hurt Somebody’. The collaboration between Noah Kahan and Julia Michaels topped the charts and has raked in over 86 million streams on Spotify alone. Ever since, the American singer-songwriter has been on the road and hasn’t looked back. With his debut album slated for release later this year, he continues to unravel more vulnerability with his vivid and honest storytelling. ‘Come Down’ and ‘False Confidence’ offered a different side to his artistry while his new single ‘Mess’, which is out next month, prepares to do that again on a big scale.
While Noah Kahan was in Brisbane for the final dates of his Australian tour with Leon Bridges, I sat down with him to discuss how he maintains his self-belief, what he thinks his most vulnerable moment as a songwriter has been and we discuss the challenges of mental health in the music industry. Check it out HERE;
TB: Your most recent single ‘False Confidence’ is about that internal struggle we have all had when it comes to our own self-belief. So with the music industry being quite a tough industry to crack, how have you continually believed in yourself when things haven’t felt as great?
NK: For me a lot of it is always relying on my own abilities for success instead of relying on others. And that’s how I’ve found success as a songwriter, as a singer and as musician because I am in control of very few things in my life but I’m in control of how I write and sing my songs. So if you can control that then you will always have a source of confidence in yourself and your material. I don’t do what I do for anyone in the industry, I do it for myself but I also do it for my family and my fans because they are the ones that are there for me and encourage me when I have self doubt.
TB: ’Hurt Somebody’ is another emotionally raw song that reflects on having to hurt somebody but not wanting to do it because you still care about them which is a very hard thing to do. So did you write this song as a therapeutic way of deciding what to do in your own relationship or was it a reflection on a previous experience you had?
NK: It was actually neither. It was kind of just a commentary on the other side of a break-up. I think in culture there is a lack of songs that reflect on the other side of the break-up and I wanted to write about it. I don’t usually write about romantic things in my music in that way so I wanted to explore that.
TB: How did the Julia Michaels collaboration come along? Because that actually happened after the song was initially released right?
NK: Yeah! I originally released the single as a full solo track and then Julia reached out and said she loved the song and it was so nice having that stamp of approval from her because she’s an amazing songwriter. Then I invited her to cut a vocal on it and we decided to release it and it kinda changed everything for me.
TB: ‘Hurt Somebody’ has received massive global airplay, so where is one of the weirdest places you’ve heard the song played?
NK: You know, its really weird because I haven’t really heard it played in public. But I do know that Panera Bread play my songs a lot which is really weird because they are a bread store and they play not only the singles but also deep cuts too *laughs*.
TB: Come Down’ reflected on a different kind of vulnerability which I found really interesting with a reflection on anxiety and trying to understand it on an outside looking in point of view. So after releasing this song have you found yourself learning a lot more about anxiety and emotions in a different way?
NK: I’ve had anxiety and depression my whole life and it’s something I’ve lived with and even though you can treat it, it rarely ever goes away completely. I’ve developed coping mechanisms to deal with those thoughts because when you’re sick in the brain all you can do is think about it. So I haven’t figured a way to see it differently. I still think its a hard thing and think it’s one of the biggest road blocks in my career. But I do have ways I can deal with it by writing songs which makes me feel a lot better. So that’s how I go through it all to be honest.
TB: It’s really refreshing hearing you talk about mental health so openly because it is such a big issue in the music industry from artists to record label staff to publicists to media. And the only real way to cope and get better is to be doing something you love and being surrounded by supportive and understanding people.
Yeah 100%. It’s the only thing that makes me feel better other than going to therapy. And I used to take medication, and for some people they work great but for me they just made me crazy and I didn’t like who I was becoming on them. It was actually weird because I wasn’t able to write music whilst taking them, it kinda clogged my creativity up. So making music has been therapeutic for me. I don’t think touring and travelling the world as much as I do is necessarily really good for me but I’m grateful for it and when I get to experience new things I get to learn new things about myself which does help me attack the negativity in my mind. Music, travel and playing shows has been a blessing.
TB: It must be so amazing and rewarding, especially on this tour, going out on stage and seeing people sing back the words to you.
NK: Yeah man! Obviously it’s Leon Bridges’ tour but its been so cool to see so many people sing back my songs during my set. It’s always such an incredible and humbling experience.
TB: It’s no secret that emotions run pretty high in your songs so what would you say has been your most vulnerable moment as a songwriter so far. Is it a released track or an unreleased track?
NK: Yeah, it wold be an unreleased track that I play in the live show called ‘Carlos Song’. One of my best friends passed away last year and it was really hard for me to think about and to talk about. So I wrote a song to pour all of my feelings out about how I felt about my buddy passing on and playing it in the live show has been amazing because to I’ve seen so many people connect and relate to it. It’s a very vulnerable thing to do but I think to grieve on stage in this way helps me to move on as it allows me to think about him and to commemorate him in my own way. I’m not going to lie though, to do it on stage and to do it every night is really hard but it’s a really special part of the set.
TB: You have a new single coming out in a couple of weeks called ‘Mess’. So what is your favourite lyric from the new track? And what sort of vibe can we expect?
NK: There’s two moments in the song that really stick out to me. Can I give you two?
NK: My favourite lyric in the verse is “I’ll try to fit back into all my old clothing” because for me it captures the whole vibe of the song which is how have I changed and can I go back? It’s a really tangible way to look at the situation. Like, I have new clothes now but can I fit back into my old clothes and go back? But my favourite chorus lyrics is “I’ll feed the dogs” which is actually what I originally wanted to call the song but I wasn’t allowed to *laughs*. And that to me embodies everything about being back home in Vermont for me, as feeding my dogs has always been something that reminds me of being home. It’s a concrete thing and I think everyone has that facade thing of being home whether it’s making your bed, going for a walk or going to a cafe nearby.
TB: So the song is about going home in the midst of this journey?
NK: Yeah, it’s about the overwhelming world I live in now and what would happen if I was to just take it all away and go back home and feed the dogs. Would I be less overwhelmed? Or is the grass always greener? I think its apart of our human condition though because everyone always questions, what if things were different. Like, is there a different me living a parallel life to what I am. I think about that a lot and I wonder if it would be different if I went home, but it’s not.
TB: You’re currently in Australia for a massive run of shows with Leon Bridges. And support act slots aren’t always easy ones to do so what have you learnt most about yourself as an artist whilst doing support roles?
NK: Yeah, I think support roles contain a lot of mixed feelings. Because you only play your best songs and sometimes you can only find two great songs in a set so when you go out there it can be a challenge. But the pros are you get to experience an amazing show afterwards, you get exposure to a lot of fans that you may not have touched before because in particular Leon Bridges has a very diverse and different fan group. So those are the great things but the cons are smaller soundcheck time and usually I’m around people I don’t really know how to do it properly so I always try to keep it simple and just wait.
TB: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learnt from playing support act roles that you’re going to take to your headline shows this year?
NK: Plying to the crowd but having a limit of how it affects your energy because sometimes If I cant see the crowds faces when we play theatres it makes me nervous. And to get better as a musician you need to take feedback like that on and keep the energy high.
TB: You were only last in Australia last year for a quick promo tour and an exclusive one off show. So what’s something you would like to do this time.?
NK: I’m just really wanting to go surfing. I used live in Manly for a couple years so it does feel like home to me and I used to go surfing a lot growing up so I would like to give it a go again.
TB: What is one emotion you want a crowd to walk away feeling after they watch you live?
NK: I just want people to leave thinking that they can be more honest to themselves or each other. I go out on stage and try to be as open as possible with my feelings and it’s the best kind of therapy. So I don’t want people to go away without connecting to me in some way because I want to make a change. Maybe I helped them think a different way or maybe its made them feel better. But yeah, I just want them leaving thinking that they’ve been honest to themselves.
TB: 2018 was a very big year for yourself as an artist, so what would you say was the most rewarding and memorable moment of the year for you?
NK: I look at my life as that I actually live two lives; a performance life and a songwriting life. So in my performance life, the most rewarding moment would have been playing at the venue that I used to go see artists play as a kid. And to sell it out and have all my friends and family there was really cool because I used to always look at all the gig posters and get really jealous because I wanted to do that. And I used to look at the stage and go “one day I will be up there” and I got to live that so I think my eleven year old self would be so proud.
In my songwriting life, I would say writing the lead single ‘Mess’ off my debut album would be the most memorable moment because I was at a really low point and never thought I would write a good song again. But then I wrote ‘Mess’ and everyone really liked it and it sounds good. It’s just so cool to create something beautiful when you’re feeing really low.
TB: Let’s play a little game of rapid fire questions where I am going to say a couple of sentences and you just say the first thing that comes to mind
NK: Lets do it!
TB: The sexiest language is…
TB: My favourite star sign is…
TB: This morning I…
NK: Oh god, I lost my favourite pair of jeans.
TB: Oh no, did you!
NK: Yeah, I’m really hungover today as we got really drunk last night and we had to fly out in the morning so in the hungover rush to get to the airport I lost my favourite pair of jeans. I wear them everyday so now I’m wearing my back ups *laughs*.
TB: *laughs* oh thats not good at all. But I do love that you have back ups *laughs*. I did see on your Instagram story that you woke up to a shoe in the microwave?
NK: Yeah man! My shoe was in the microwave and I don’t know how and I don’t know why *laughs* The other one was on top of the heater on the ceiling. It was so strange. I know I didn’t do it so someone in my band must’ve been pranking me.
TB: Maybe that’s where your jeans are? Someone’s hid them in the hotel room?
NK: Oh I would be so pissed if they put my jeans in the microwave *laughs*.
TB: Pineapple on pizza is…
NK: Fucked up! That’s disgusting! I don’t know why people say its good because they are lying. Do you like pineapple on pizza?
TB: Yeah, I do!
NK: Oh my god! I don’t know man, I just personally think its one of the worst combination of foods ever *laughs*.
TB: My pre-show pump up song is…
NK: That’s a good question! I’ve actually been listening to a lot of Leon Bridges before I go on because I’m really inspired by his voice. I just want to be as soulful as he is.