An artist I didn’t necessarily expect to see at the Americana Honors & Awards at The Ryman last month was singer-songwriter Noah Kahan: he wasn’t nominated for an award (yet!), nor was he presenting one. But he did pay tribute to one of his heroes Paul Simon along with the folk duo Milk Carton Kids and it was a beautiful, three-part harmony performance. Before that, I got to spend a few minutes with him on the awards show “red carpet” outside the Mother Church. Later that same week, Kahan backed up country singer Zach Bryan at Pilgrimage Music Festival in Franklin and the crowd. went. wild.
Mid-twenties superstar Kahan is from the northeast, but he has been in Middle Tennessee a lot lately, and he once lived here — he recalls fondly that he got his start playing small venues in Nashville like The Basement and EXIT/IN. This week, he’s back for two sold-out shows at Ascend Amphitheater, with former WNXP Nashville Artist of the Month Samia opening. And, it was recently announced, in May he’s playing Bridgestone Arena on a tour that also takes him to storied venues like Madison Square Garden and The Gorge.
Earlier this year, Kahan backed up another former WNXP Nashville Artist of the Month, Joy Oladokun, with whom he’s also toured, on her track “We’re All Going to Die.” She’s on his much-streamed song “Someone Like You,” too. The Nashville love is real!
Hear Kahan talk earnestly about the humility associated with playing his music for thousands of fans after artists like Samia and Oladokun that he loves so much, and also about some of the influential songwriters who “saved his life” as a kid.
On The Record: A Q&A With Noah Kahan
Noah Kahan: This is the first time I’ve tucked a shirt in in, like, four years.
Celia Gregory: I never wear a dress. Here we are!
NK: Here we are together, making strides in our lives.
CG: Well you have a job — maybe some would call a dream job — where it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, you’re there to play songs for people and you’re playing them, Noah, for more and more people every time you set foot out of your house. Does it feel like that? You just announced a huge tour and you haven’t even played Ascend yet, but know you’ll be playing Bridgestone in Nashville.
NK: It feels cliché to say that it feels like a dream, but that’s about as good a metaphor as I could use. I played Exit/In and Mercy and High Watt. The Basement was my first show ever in Nashville. The one on 8th Avenue.
CG: OG Basement.
NK: And I can’t believe the opportunity that I’ve been given to play at Bridgestone. This city was my home for a few years and I’m just so incredibly grateful for the opportunities I’m getting. It doesn’t happen to a lot of people and I wake up every day and I pinch myself.
CG: Well, people are pinching themselves that your songs speak to them. I’ve heard this from multiple friends that are fans, too, that it feels like you’re singing to them. Were there artists like that growing up for you, where you’re like, “Thank you for this life blood”?
NK: So many great artists that saved my life when I was a kid. Artists like Counting Crows, The Avett Brothers, Bon Iver, and Brandi Carlile, who is here today. You know, these artists that are not only incredible vocalists and performers, but the songwriting feels like it was written for you. Growing up, I never had a lot of heroes, but my heroes were these great artists and I’d listen to them perform, listen to their words, it felt like they were singing to me. They were some of the only people I felt understood what it was like. I’m grateful and everyday I’m inspired by them still. And the chance to share a stage with some of them and to meet some of them has been the journey and the privilege of a lifetime.
CG: Well, you’re also lifting other artists up. Like Samia, one of my favorite local artists, is opening for you here. You’re pulling people up the ladder.
NK: I was so grateful to have some of these amazing artists opening for me. Like, genuinely, they should be headlining and I should be opening for them. Samia is just a ridiculous songwriter, an unbelievable lyricist and musician. Like, it’s going to be a distraction to the point where I’m missing my warm ups to watch her set. So I can’t wait.
We recently had Ruston Kelly, who’s incredible, and Joy Oladokun, who’s just out of this world. And we’ve been grateful for every single person that’s opened for us. I know what it’s like to be an opener and they blew me out of the water.
CG: A lot of Nashville love. Thank you for being back here in your old Nashville home, and being at the Ryman to talk to me.
NK: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate your time.