Screenshots: A Text Message Convo With Dan Mangan & Noble Son

An oddity in the indie-folk genre with live performances as hilarious as they are heartfelt, Adam Kirschner celebrates the release of his debut LP, Life's No Fun.

I met Noble Son (Adam Kirschner) when I was asked to be a panelist for the Elevate Music Project (which he ended up winning). At first, I thought he was a bit of a punk-ass because there were a lot of unnecessary stage antics involved, but I quickly realized that his songs were beautifully articulate and insightful and cutting. 

Adam has a rare ability to not just add to the heap of songs in the world just because it’s fun, but to convey some hidden truths through melody and words. He’s still a little bit of a punk-ass but there’s a deep kindness to him that seeps out regardless and I think he’s a special talent. To boot, his new album, Life Isn’t Fun, is fantastic. He manages to be frank and direct about mental health, which is a topic too often bathed in relentless clichés about melancholy. 

I’ve captured our periodic text conversation, which played out in spurts over several days.

Dan Mangan: This is your friendly BeatRoute reporter, Dan. Would you like to be interviewed? It will make you famous if you say yes.

Adam Kirschner: I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long. Yes!

DM: That’s really what it’s about isn’t it. Waiting. Was there a moment that you realized that you went from being bad at music to being good at it?

AK : I’m…good…at music? This day is too much.

DM : Every day is too much. It’s a lot to ask.

AK: Blessed. This for real? We doing a thing? Leaked record for reporter Dan.

 

DM: Oh nice. Yeah, I ordered my credentials on Amazon but it takes six weeks to ship. What’s your life like?

AK: Not fun. Fingers crossed on Amazon Prime.

DM: Guaranteed there’s some jerkface who made you feel small at some point in your past. Which song on your record would you like them to hear?

AK: I’d probably show them “Slim To None” and hope it makes them cry. Might be therapeutic for both of us.

DM: That’s a great song. One time when I was 20 or so I wrote a poem about someone who couldn’t cry and they ended up like a sponge that was never wrung out – all moldy and nasty smelling. I imagine there’s probably a handful of proverbs written about the importance of release.

AK: True. Everyone needs a rinse and a wring sometimes. Dig up that poem, also.

DM: Hah. I’m sure it’s even worse than I remember it being. I’ve seen you perform a few times and your stage presence is very gregarious. Almost character-like. But your lyrics are extremely personable and exposed – regarding mental health, love, loneliness, etc. – from your angle, how you marry these seemingly oppositional elements?

AK: Thanks for being gentle. I’ll take gregarious. Songwriting can feel super self indulgent sometimes. Taking heavy topics and writing heavy tunes is my limit, I guess. When it comes time to perform, it’s all about taking the audience on a trip. Sometimes it lines up with the music, sometimes it doesn’t.

DM: I get that. I tend to be lighthearted between songs on stage and crack jokes, and it’s for sure compensating for the melancholy of some of my songs. There has to be levity as well as intensity. Yin and yang. Do you figure your work as an actor plays a part in all this?

AK: Acting gave me the confidence to be an entertainer. It also helped me to realize that the live show isn’t only about the music, it’s about the arc of the night. That’s it’s own story. The show doesn’t pause between the songs.

DM: Yeah, I have a whole philosophy about how going to a concert isn’t really even about music. It’s just about feeling un-alone and understood for a few hours. Talent is everywhere that’s nice, but never is it more impactful than when it leaves you with a full heart. Better to be moved than impressed. Best to be both, of course. That’s where the good shit is.

AK: We’re all just trying to tap into a bit of that good shit. I think the illusion for a long time was that I held the keys to that experience. It was really when I loosened my grip and let the crowd steer that shows started to take on more meaning. Once you mourn the lil ego death, everything else gets so much easier.

DM: Do you have an exercise or ritual that helps you get to the place where you can let the audience drive the bus? It’s not always easy to stifle the inner voices… 

“Do they like this? Is this cool? How many people are here? Is that more than last time? In what way can I take some perceived signifier from this moment and extrapolate it as a cosmic omen of how I’m doomed to fail? What threads can I pull to knit a sweater of self-doubt?”

These are the thoughts that plague me on stage when I’m in a rough state of mind. What’s your process to work through that garbage?

AK : Once I’m on stage, I’m in the clear. It’s the hour before that I spiral. All my brain wants to do is map out every beat and joke and story…which would make for an awful show.  Best I can do is some Nils Frahm in the headphones, a herbal tea and a long walk. That said, I’m pretty unsuccessful in this area…suggestions are welcome.

DM: My pre-show mantra is “I am nothing.” I think about how in the scope of all things..billions of years of time and space..though I might be of importance in relative terms to the people in my life..there is no greater importance..that it’s all just space dust..that a billion years from now, there is no John Lennon..no Oprah..no Napoleon..and it’s freedom from my ego. When I’m no longer seeking evidence that I’m important or that I’m doing a good job at existing, I’m free to just approach everything with wonderment. Eat up the beauty moment to moment. Child’s eye, if you will..and of course in those moments when I can achieve it, I’m more spontaneous, more gracious, more giving with my energy, because I’m weightless and my mind is turned off. All sound very cliche, but full consciousness is the same thing as unconsciousness. It’s a circle. Hah. But it doesn’t always work.

AK: Love it. Also, I finally get why you text me “you are nothing” out the blue so often!

DM: Yeah, I know it seems out of the blue when it arrives but often I’ve been staring at the words and thinking of your dumb face for at least an hour or two.

AK: If that’s not love…

DM: What’s “Sleepin’” about? What made you choose it as the lead song?

AK: I love the beginning of new relationships where you stay up all night, literally vibrating with energy. Sleep seems impossible. All you want to do is talk to that person. Hold that person. Time gets weird and sunrises come out of nowhere. You confess the most raw shit to each other. Those nights are magic.

Thinking back on a particular night like that inspired “Sleepin.’”

I made it the lead track so that everyone’s first moment with the record would be themselves humming the bassline to “Billie Jean.”

DM: I love that..I remember it..my wife and I met serving tables and we’d get off shift and eat dinner at like 11pm and stay up until 3 or 4 am all the time…sometimes her grandmother would call at like 8 in the morning and Kirsten would pretend she was already up. It was cute. They were close. Betty died a few months before we got married. I mentioned her in my vows and just then the wind picked up and made the poplar trees around go wild, fluttering and dancing. I’ll never forget it..those early days plant some real seeds that bear fruit we don’t even understand.

Funnily my latest record, More Or Less, also starts with the Billie Jean drumbeat.

Have you spent much time listening to John K Samson?

AK: That’s beautiful, man. We only get a few of those in our lives. And, yes, of course! 10 seconds into “Lynchpin” I knew I was going to love the record. Guess I’m in good company there.

You know, I was super late to the John K. Samson party. For years people would say I must love The Weakerthans…but I never checked them out. Then I read that one of my favourite bands, Attack In Black, were heavily influenced by them. Turns out I was getting that second hand Weakerthans energy. I’ve since wised up, and can say that John K. Samson’s record Winter Wheat is a regular for me now.

DM: “Select All Delete” has been a life raft for me a few times…I hear some John K in your phrasing…and some Josh Tillman in your punch. Has anyone ever mentioned the similarity between “Sad Dumb Lovesick Young Kid” and “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus?

AK: I had a mini panic while naked, changing, in the Hillcrest pool, when it occurred to me the Lovesick chorus was similar to the Wheatus tune. They have a similar energy and progression for sure, but side by side it’s a very different tune, thank the Lord.

DM: Yeah, it’s just the melody of “dirtbag, baby” and “lovesick young-kid”. Don’t worry. It’s everywhere. And inevitable. There are only so many combinations of notes. I walked into a Subway on tour once and heard the beginning of “Sunny Afternoon” by The Kinks and realized that the melody to the first line was identical to the first line of “Robots…” Same panic. Same cold sweat. I was also naked at the time.

AK: Nothing quite like a beyond meatball sub, in the buff.

DM: So where do we go from here? You can’t go on tour right now? But you’re a creative dude with time on your hands. Any aces up your sleeve?

AK: It’s business as usual for the most part. I’m in pre-production for the next record right now…likely be back in the studio by the end of June. Some music videos coming up.

As much as I miss playing live, writing and producing songs is why I do this. It’s most of how I frame myself as a person. So, that’s where I’ll be putting my energy. Gotta keep the mental health on the rails.

DM: That sounds like a good plan. Warhol has some brilliant quote that I can’t remember about just continuing to create gratuitously. That the product is the process. Catharsis is a genuinely beautiful outcome for any activity.

Well, Adam..it’s a beautiful record you’ve made, here. I hope a million people hear it. It’s kind, it’s sharp, it’s an ephemeral smorgasbord of tones you can lean into. You’re a great songwriter and you should be really proud of what you’ve put together.

AK: I really appreciate the kind words. I’m really proud of this thing and can’t wait for people to hear it.

Before I go, I want to give some thanks – starting with BeatRoute and their incredible reporter, Dan. Such a charmer.

Thank you to everyone in the Canadian music scene for welcoming me over the past six months. Thank you to the folks who made this record happen : Alex Dobson, Andrew Rasmussen, Matt Kelly, Alex Klassen, Chris Gestrin, Brock MacFarlane and many more.

And a special shout out to my co-producer and good friend, Erik Nielsen. His passion, skill and drive elevated this project beyond what I could have ever hoped for.

DM: I love that you recorded at Afterlife. Lots of history there.

I hereby retire from music journalism. Having skilfully included a Memoji in an interview, I just don’t see how I could possibly go anywhere but down from here. It’s lonely at the top. Life isn’t fun.

Noble Son released Life’s No Fun on May 15.  You can stream or purchase it here

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