“I realized that it could be my reality, so I stepped on the gas,” says Jonah Kagen about coming to terms with his potential after words of encouragement at an age when his musical footprint was beginning to draw attention.
Noctis caught up with Jonah Kagen just before the end of the year. Hailing from Miami, Florida, the 23-year-old singer/songwriter closed 2023 on a high note as he released his sophomore EP, ‘The Roads,’ featuring compelling singles like ‘Pollution’ and ‘Save My Soul.’
To celebrate the surfacing of ‘The Roads,’ we dug deeper into the recording process, which Kagen refers to as ‘chunks of a chaotic time,’ rather than studio sessions. He reveals insights into his ‘on-the-move’ writing style, ultimately creating a record that is nothing short of perfect.
Greatly inspired by the landscape of Montana, Kagen paid tribute to the state by shooting the ‘Save My Soul’ visuals in Yellowstone National Park, incorporating its ‘unspeakable power.’
For ‘The Roads,’ Jonah Kagen opened his soul with a real rawness to every song and every lyric. From start to finish, he offered a captivating acoustic sound across all six songs with unique, memorable one-liners. Kagen’s songwriting sets him apart from other acts, making him worthy of arena stages.
Congratulations on the release of your new project, ‘The Roads.’ Ever since you dropped the first single, the world was hooked and keen to see what you do next. What were your intentions with this EP?
Thank you! My only intentions with this EP were to give the world some songs that came from my soul. I think I didn’t try to be anything I’m not with this project–this is what I want my music to sound like, and I can’t wait to pursue it further.
What was the biggest lesson you took away from the recording process of ‘The Roads’?
That nothing is that deep when it comes to recording music. Some of the coolest moments in these productions came from accidents or mistakes that ended up sounding special. The more I tried things that were outside the sort of music “playbook” when it comes to recording, the more I fell in love with the music. I think when you do that you can hear the humanity in the songs. They aren’t perfect, but that’s what makes them special.
Is there a story behind the path photographed on the EP cover art?
That photo was taken in the English countryside, where we filmed the music video for “The Roads” single. It captured a moment where I was just taking in my surroundings and reflecting on everything that led me to that point. That’s really what the EP is about–the choices I’ve made and their consequences and rewards. It was the perfect shot.
On ‘Pollution,’ you sing ‘now I’m 23 and still have dreams,’ could you elaborate on what these dreams are in the song’s context?
The following line is, “but now I’m dreamin’ to be how I used to be.” That was really the message in that line. Of course I still have aspirations in my career, but I find myself trying so hard to feel like a kid again. I spend most of my time dreaming and working toward enjoying the world around me and being present, which was never something I had to be deliberate about when I was little. I just did it.
Where did you shoot the stunning visuals for ‘Save My Soul’?
Montana! Specifically, Yellowstone National Park. I feel like my music was made for Montana. I have yet to find another place that makes me feel like Montana does–it’s so unspeakably powerful, and I draw so much inspiration from that landscape. It was the perfect place to film the music video, and the way we did it was also incredible. David, the director, and I found an Airbnb on 20 acres in the middle of nowhere and traveled into the park, filmed, and edited the video all in one day. You don’t need to do a whole lot when you’re in a place that is that beautiful. It speaks for itself in a lot of ways.
Who is the song directed at? How do you feel when singing the powerful vulnerable pre-chorus ‘We all die/ And that’s just terrifying/ Who will I be when you’re not around?/ Don’t leave me now?
I wrote the song with a specific person in mind, but I think it’s directed at anyone you’re afraid of losing, and it’s more about the fear of being left alone. There’s so much desperation in that pre-chorus, and I think you can hear it. It was one of those lines that I had to make sure I was feeling what I was saying in order to communicate the emotion properly.
Could you detail how your writing sessions usually look like?
My writing is all over the place. I wouldn’t even call them sessions. More just chunks of chaotic time that somehow dump out words. I like to be on the move when I write, as I have a lot of trouble sitting still when I’m feeling creative. So I usually come up with some lick on the guitar, record it into my voice memos and get outside as quickly as possible. From there I like to bounce around, wherever the day takes me, but constantly listening back to the recording, thinking about how it makes me feel, and jotting down words as I go. By the time I get back, I have a song. It’s weird.
Do you remember who was the first person who told you, you should pursue this career professionally?
My sister was the first one who told me to try. She said, “if you really want to try, then do it right.” That’s when I started posting online, but I still didn’t think it was really possible. When I was a freshman in college, I was working for a friend’s dad during a summer, and he had been watching the videos. He sat me down and told me I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t believe that I could actually do it. Shortly thereafter some of the videos started going viral, and I realized that it could be my reality, so I stepped on the gas.
Who would you like to share the stage with and what would you sing together?
See this is tough, because I think everyone I admire would absolutely blow me out of the water up there, and I can’t have myself being overshadowed like that. Kidding, of course. As far as a duet goes, I would love to perform a new original with Kacey Musgraves. Although I think I’d have the most fun up there with Zach Bryan. That guy knows how to enjoy the stage. Imagine jamming Revival with Zach Bryan in front of 20,000 people. Insane.
What are you manifesting for next year?
I am manifesting nothing but feelings of love and gratitude in everything I do this coming year. No matter what happens, I’ve always been at my happiest when I’m expressing love and feeling grateful. I hope we can share some magical moments together.