Noah Kahan isn’t exactly sure how he got here.
Sure, the New England-raised singer-songwriter has been gigging pretty much nonstop for the better part of the last few years. And yes, the self-described “anxious Jew” knew the songs on his most recent album, 2022’s soul-baring Stick Season, were unlike anything he’d previously written — more vulnerable, more specific, more in line musically with the sort of acoustic-anchored folk music he’d long loved.
But selling out stadiums and arenas, as he’s already done for next year’s We’ll All Be Here Forever tour? Playing his dream gig (multiple sold-out nights!) at Boston’s Fenway Park next summer? It’s all a bit much for the self-deprecating Kahan to comprehend right now. “I’ve definitely gotten to a place of complete surrealism where I feel like I’m living in The Truman Show or something and everyone is playing a joke on me,” Kahan tells GQ one recent October morning from a Florida hotel room. “I have a hard time believing any of it.”
Only a few years ago, Kahan was a virtually unknown songwriter struggling to emulate the trendy indie-pop of the moment. “And then I was like ‘But I hate this,’” he says. “It wasn’t making me happy. So I went back to making the type of songs that I grew up on and loved — storytelling.”
His heart belonged to folk-leaning, strummy lower-case-r rock music, full of banjos and mandolins and group sing-alongs. But as a lyricist, Kahan specializes in unfiltered confessionals, addressing all the things that make life complex—depression, anxiety, fractured family dynamics, and occasionally even happiness. He’s the sort of artist fans feel they know intimately, and even as his shows swell in size and he collaborates with massive artists from Post Malone (“Dial Drunk”) to Zach Bryan (“Sarah’s Place”) and Kacey Musgraves (“She Calls Me Back”), he strives to maintain that connection.
“I think the community is really building itself and they’re doing all the work. So much less of it is me than them,” he says of his exploding audience. He pauses and laughs. “I can’t speak to what they’re seeing in the music, though. I have no idea.”
GQ: Your life and career have recently been thrown into chaos — the good kind, I think. At what point did you notice things were really changing?