- Courtesy Of Patrick Mccormack
- Noah Kahan
There are a lot of clichés about living in Vermont. I'm sure you've heard them. Every out-of-town comedian who swings through seems to have a bit where they touch on all the hits: We have hippy ice cream everyone loves. Bernie. It's cold. There's no one here. Bernie. Phish. Hippies. Bernie. Phish...
One trope about the Green Mountain State does hold up, however: If you want some space to yourself, well, there's plenty of it to go around. That can come in handy if you're a singer-songwriter looking to lean into loneliness and get back to your musical roots, like Noah Kahan.
The Strafford-born musician first came to prominence in 2016 when he signed to Republic Records and started working with Lorde's producer, Joel Little. His 2019 record, Busyhead, made quite a splash, especially the single "Hurt Somebody," a duet with Julia Michaels that Kahan performed live on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert." He built on that success with another well-received album, full of folk-leaning pop music, titled I Was / I Am, and then did North American headlining tours.
The problem was, Kahan wasn't totally feeling like himself with his early music.
"When I first signed, I was so afraid of failing," Kahan said by phone from his new place in Watertown, Mass., where he recently moved with his girlfriend. "I just did whatever I could to keep my job and not have to go to college."
Though he still loves his first two records, he has increasingly yearned to return to his roots and the darker sort of folk music he grew up listening to.
"I realized that I should write what I love," he asserted. "If I'm going to leave any kind of lasting footprint behind in this business, I really want it to be on my own terms. So the new record is one for me, as opposed to the fear-based response I operated on before."
The new record in question, Stick Season, was released last week and is something of a paean to Vermont life and small-town New England locales. Recorded at Guilford Sound studio in southern Vermont and written entirely at his mother's house in Strafford, Stick Season is Kahan's reaction not only to his early career success but to adulthood in general.
The singer-songwriter left his adopted home of New York City at the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 and returned to his childhood home in Vermont. While there, he reconsidered how he'd felt about the area as a child.
"When I left Vermont, I was an immature kid," he said. "I was always trying to get out. I ended up in Nashville and New York, and I just kept moving all the time, it seemed like. Which, to be fair, is sort of helpful as a songwriter, at first."
Jetting off to London or Los Angeles to record or hopping on tours every few months helped Kahan feel like a proper troubadour, something he believed initially aided his process.
"Constantly moving around and feeling nomadic was good for my writing, if not so much for my sanity," he said with a laugh. "You know the trope: As emotional health goes down, the songwriting gets better, right? So I always try to pursue the worst possible scenario for my brain."
Once back in Vermont, Kahan began to question the wisdom of that approach. Being in Strafford and taking a break from his previous nomadic existence helped him get back to basics.
"I wrote the song 'Stick Season' directly after I recorded a pop song," Kahan revealed. "I cowrite a lot of the pop songs, so I wanted to compose something that was just uniquely my own. And it became the genesis of the whole record."
The shift in writing seems to have struck a chord with his audience. Listeners have streamed "Stick Season" more than 35 million times on Spotify, and the song hit No. 1 on Spotify's Viral 50 – USA daily viral songs chart. He's also sold out a four-night run at South Burlington's Higher Ground Ballroom, Thursday through Sunday, October 27 through 30 — a hell of a homecoming for Kahan.
"I'm so excited to play these songs, especially in New England," he said. "Playing live is my favorite part of the whole experience anyway, but to share these songs, which are about places and feelings a lot of people up here will absolutely identity with, is going to be so cool."
As the pandemic stubbornly lingers, touring is still something of a chaotic endeavor.
"No doubt, touring is very weird right now," he admitted. "There's a real layer of strangeness and caution. Every time I hear someone sniffle around me, I start wondering if I'll have to cancel shows the next week. Disaster is always around the corner, which is a tough energy to tour under."
Despite the anxiety and uncertainty, Kahan feels real joy and gratitude toward the people at his shows.
"For all the difficulties, it's impossible to miss the real hunger people have for seeing live music again," he said. "Having it taken away from all of us for a while has really shown us all how lucky we are to be able to see shows again. And I'm feeling that love when I'm out there, which is great."
Stick Season is available on all major streaming services.
- Courtesy Of Jenny Alice Watts
- Francesca Blanchard
Burlington singer-songwriter and producer Francesca Blanchard has a new single out titled "je sais plus quoi te dire," which means "I don't know what to tell you" in English. Blanchard originally wrote the song for TV, motivated by a "ridiculous experiment inspired by the Yé-yé french pop era from the '60s," she wrote on social media.
It's the first song in French that Blanchard has released in seven years, since her full-length debut album, Deux Visions. She wrote and coproduced "je sais plus quoi te dire," a quirky, throwback jam with an infectious groove, with her usual creative partner, Christopher Hawthorne. Check it out now at francescablanchard.bandcamp.com.
2021's New England Music Awards Songwriter of the Year Sarah King has returned with not one but two new singles. Fresh from throwing the Reproductive Rights Rally last month at the Higher Ground Backside 405 series in Burlington, King dropped "Always an Almost" and its B side, "You Were Wrong About Me," on October 14. Both tunes fit right in with King's hard-edged, rock-leaning Americana sound, full of rural, gothic scenes and her evocative, powerful set of vocal pipes. The new tracks are available on Spotify and other streaming services.
Stay tuned next week for my roundup of Halloween-related happenings, but we already have an early contender for coolest Halloween event in Vermont. Down in Brattleboro, where there's always something intriguing brewing, Epsilon Spires will screen three of the first horror films ever shot, with live music by some of the best silent film accompanists in the country.
The series kicks off this Saturday, October 22, with a screening of the classic 1922 vampire film Nosferatu and a live pipe organ score performed by New York musician Dennis James. The following weekend features the Robert Wiene classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on Saturday, October 29, with music performed by southern Vermont act the Anvil Orchestra. Then, on Halloween night itself, it's the 1922 cult classic Häxan, a hyper-violent film that dramatizes Satanic deeds and witchcraft. The film, which was banned in several countries due to its salacious depictions of torture, nudity and blasphemy, will be scored by Seattle-based cellist Lori Goldston — who played on Nirvana's MTV Unplugged in New York — and Massachusetts-based trumpeter Greg Kelley.
For anyone who hasn't had a chance to check out Epsilon Spires yet, there is hardly a better reason than three classic horror films around Halloween inside a beautifully restored Gothic cathedral.