Imagine walking into class and a guy wearing a flannel shirt with shoulder-length dark brown hair, clearly stoned, takes the seat next to you. You start chatting, and he says he’s a Jewish aspiring singer/songwriter from Strafford, Vermont – a small town you have never heard of. You nod and smile politely, and then he says his name is Noah Kahan.
Not really! Noah Kahan was offered his first record deal at the end of his senior year of high school. However, he had also been accepted to Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, and planned to attend this school until he received that offer.
He followed his dreams and decided to make music, and he took the record deal with the support of his family. The beginning of his career was hard; “[he] was a fledgling artist and a fledgling singer for the company… it was not an immediate rise to stardom” (Kahan). He needed time to develop his voice, and as a young adult still living in his parent’s house, much of that development took place in his small hometown of Stafford, Vermont.
Recently, Kahan opened up about his struggle with mental health and his healing process through music during a podcast interview with Song Exploder. Kahan went viral on the social media app TikTok in 2020, during what locals in Stafford call ‘Stick Season’ (the most depressing time of year) when the trees are bare with nothing left but sticks. Song Exploder says in “this episode, Noah talked to [them] about the process of making that song: What led him to first post half a song on TikTok, and what happened after that.” (Song Exploder).
Kahan released his first album in 2019, but when he was in California working on his second album in November 2020, he began making music he had an emotional connection to. Kahan says he didn’t love the music he was previously making; it even felt like “it was the last pop-centric record [he] would ever do.” His heart had always been with Folk music, and he wanted to write about where he grew up and tell stories like his inspirations, such as The Avid Brothers and Counting Crows. He wanted to write “stories that transport you to a different place.”
One night, while staying in an Airbnb in California, Kahan was desperate for a way “to have a burst of approval to artificially make [him] feel better about [himself].” So he decided to sit down and write a verse that he later uploaded to TikTok.
He started writing about feeling stuck at the beginning of adulthood and unable to leave where you are from. He posted the first verse of “Stick Season” with the caption, “I don’t want to buy weed from high schoolers anymore,” and put his phone away.
Overnight, the first verse of “Stick Season” blew up!
Shocked that people liked what he had done online, Kahan was unprepared for a cram writing session when his fans posted comments begging for an addition or the rest of the piece. He had half a song, but the chorus felt daunting to him. He repeatedly started singing about Vermont and that ‘season of the sticks’.
Finally, Kahan felt like he was enjoying making music. He made funny accents and played around with the words, finally finding his creative space. He says, “It was like an out-of-body experience…when I was messing around with a ton of different melodies.”. After working on it all morning, he posted the chorus on TikTok, and the video exponentially gained popularity. Eventually, Kahan released the album Stick Season in October 2022.
Since then, Kahan has begun his Stick Season tour and continues to add new stops because of his increasing popularity. He released an addition to the album Stick Season called Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever) and has a massive social media following.
Having struggled with depression his whole life, Kahan finally felt he was fulfilling his purpose as a writer when he began the Stick Season album. He never addressed his depression as a child, and his mother and father struggled with mental illness, which was difficult for him growing up. Kahan used music to connect with others and offer support and acceptance to people. He admits that being happy and finding fulfillment is hard, and you may never feel completely okay, but creativity helps pull the positive out of that mindset.
Much of Kahan’s growing popularity is attributed to the raw, honest stories people want to hear and relate to. Writing about his experiences, some that even make him the ‘villain,’ is appreciated by his audience. In his newly released song “Dial Drunk,” the lyric “I’m not proud of all the punches I have thrown…for the sake of being young, drunk and alone… I gave your name as my emergency phone call” capitalizes on his wrongdoing, showing transparency and honesty to his fans who may have also been in these situations before.
His popularity on TikTok has continued, and many people often share their favorite lyrics or stories about how his music gives them reassurance and support. Fans on Twitter even say they “coped with fears they didn’t realize they had” (@TAR_gar).
His song “Growing Sideways” also focuses on mental health and uses a car engine as a metaphor for someone struggling with depression. The lyrics “Oh, if my engine works perfectly on empty, I guess I’ll drive” illustrate how he ignored and masked his illness most of his life.
His music, too, profoundly impacts college students; many of them return home from college and feel like they aren’t the same person they were before. His Song ‘View Between Villages’ unpacks the struggle of living in your hometown. His lyrics, “the things that I’ve lost here, the people I knew, they got me surrounded, a mile or two,” illuminate the feeling of being trapped, which many young adults relate to.
Since the beginning of his tour, he has added shows in various cities around the country and is also doing a few return concerts. Kahan and his crew will return to some of the venues they played earlier in the summer for a second show to coincide with the rapidly increasing popularity of his music.
So, although Noah Kahan never actually attended Tulane University, his music is adored by many people on our campus. Students say it’s easy to relate to the realness of his music, and it makes people feel “relaxed and calm” (Julie Leichtner) and “less alone in their feelings or thoughts” (Emma Becker). But, ultimately, it’s his words that influence his audience. “Noah Kahan’s evolution of music has created a way for listeners to grow up with him. His music carries special messages that connect his audience in a way that many other artists can’t do” (Alex Bianchi).
Zoe Gellert is a freshman Staff Writer from Westchester, NY. She is majoring in psychology with an intended SLAM minor. You can almost always find her on the front porch, writing or hanging out outside. She also loves to play with her dogs, experience the city of New Orleans, go out with friends, and watch good documentaries.