Noah Kahan has mastered the art of honesty. At only 21, he's the small town success story stirring the dreams of aspiring musicians across the country. Best known for his song "Hurt Somebody" with Julia Michaels, Kahan's releases consistently accumulate millions of streams, further establishing him as a muse to budding lyricists. We met up with the indie up & comer in the midst of his current tour and on the tails of his most recent single to gain some insights on his songwriting. Get a glimpse of the mind that's shaking up the songwriting sphere as Noah Kahan deconstructs the anatomy of "False Confidence."
BRAIN: The Thought Process
OTW: Take us through the first writing session for "False Confidence." What was your headspace?
Noah Kahan: I was seeing all these people on instagram and online, these artists that were getting attention by looking the part and giving the world this processed version of themselves that fit the spectrum of what brings fans– dressing crazy, or having a vibe or a super crazy aesthetic and I just didn't have that. I always struggle with social media and branding myself. I love writing songs and singing and I was always comparing myself to people who have great brands. It made me feel like I had to do the same thing to get success. So for a while, I felt like I was losing myself in trying to brand myself or trying to have an aesthetic and look a certain way instead of focusing on the music and what makes me, me. That idea planted the seed for the song.
OTW: How did you start getting the ideas down?
Noah Kahan: I wrote the first line, first verse and then I wrote the chorus chord structure. Then I went to lunch with an artist called Joy Williams who is an amazing folk singer from The Civil Wars. I was about to go to France on a songwriting expo that ASCAP puts on, and I was really nervous because I was really young, and I hadn't done much songwriting and all these famous songwriters were there. I was super scared. So I was talking to Joy, and she was like, "You just have to have false confidence about it and go in and act like you're the man." And that phrase really stuck with me. It fit really well into this idea of putting on a mask or putting on a show, which is what I felt like I was doing. So that gave me the seed. Then I went to France and brought the verse and chorus that I had started, and me and Chris DeStefano dug through the whole production of it there. So that's how the song came together. Then I went to LA and recorded it with Joel Little.
OTW: He's your go-to producer, right?
Yeah I've been lucky enough to work with Joel on almost every song that I've done. He's amazing, I think he's the best producer in the world.
OTW: What's your role like in production or do you sit back and let Joel take the wheel?
The technicalities of production are overwhelming for me. My brain is not very technical, it's more of a creative, free-flowing thing so I can't do the actual production part. But I aid in the vibe and what instruments we should use and what parts of the song needs a certain feel. In terms of actually producing the song, I don't do much. (laughs)
OTW: When you write is it usually just you and your guitar? Do you write in fragments or full songs?
It really depends. Before I got signed I was writing songs every couple of weeks because things would happen that would fill me with emotion, and they'd just pour out of me. When I got signed, it became that I needed to find more consistency and make it more of a routine. I changed the process a little bit in that I would do what I could for that day. If one day I had a good idea or melody or guitar lick I'd write that down. I'd never try to force a whole song. So it just depends on the day. Sometimes I really do feel a whole song coming out. "Young Blood" was like 30 minutes, "Hurt Somebody" was like 15. Other songs like "Come Down" and "False Confidence" took a while, so it depends on how much time the song needs.
HEART: The Core Emotion
OTW: What does "False Confidence" mean to you compared to other songs you've written?
All of my songs are personal stories and real parts of me, but I think "False Confidence" is a vulnerable song, and talking to myself and digging into myself like I do in the song makes it more personal. So it's a song I hold close to my heart. It's not a story as much as it is these feelings I was having. It's been cool to share that, it makes me feel less alone.
LEGS: The Means to Take Off
OTW: What made "False Confidence" follow your other releases so strongly?
After the success of "Hurt Somebody," it's kind of scary putting music back in the world. I'm down with being a one hit wonder, but I'd prefer not to. So I was like, "Oh shit I hope people like the song." So going through the YouTube and Instagram comments and seeing people share their own story or how they interpret the song is really cool. It's really overwhelming to see people take their own meaning from it and find a piece of themselves through the lyrics.
HANDS: Advice For Songwriters Who Need A Lift
OTW: What kind of advice have you gotten that resonated with you?
I got a lot of good advice, I still get good advice all the time. If there's one thing, it'd be to write everyday. My mom is an author, and I had struggled really badly with writer's block and doubt in general, and she'd always tell me to write everyday. Even if it sucks, you have to keep writing because it's a muscle and you'll learn that it doesn't suck as bad as you think it will. It's so easy to stop doing it and withdraw into yourself and not believe in yourself, and I think if you write everyday you're forced to see the progress that is going to be there intrinsically. I've always written like six or seven terrible songs and thought, "I'm never going to write a good song again." And eventually you just do because you're trained to do it.
Other than that, it's not comparing yourself to other writers and not trying to sound like anybody else, because you'll never sound genuine. Never try to chase someone else's vibe because that's just a rabbit hole you'll go down forever and never end up sounding good.
OTW: What advice would you give small town artists who have talent but don't know how to make a name for themselves?
I get asked that by people on Instagram all the time. It's a tough question because I really won the lottery in the way I was discovered. I didn't promote myself at all; I didn't advertise my music but I posted on a Facebook page and people connected with it immediately and spread it around. So if I could give any advice based on my experience, it would be to make music that you believe in and if other people believe in it too, it'll get shared. I've never met someone incredibly talented that hasn't had at least some kind of chance, and I don't think this idea of it being impossible to make it in the music industry is as legit as people say it is. If you're really great and you have something unique and you're honest then you'll find a chance. Other than that, play as much as possible if you're in a small town so when you do get that shot you can be ready for it.
OTW: You know what comes next! Any new Ones to Watch?
I'll try to find someone that nobody really knows so it's a cooler answer. Juke Ross has a really quiet, tender sound which I love. Luca Fogale is really great coming out of England. Dermot Kennedy, obviously incredible, he's blowing up. Other than that Isaac Gracie and Toulouse are great. My boy Cory Harper is an incredible artist, he's here in LA and he's going to be coming out on the road with me.