The Meaning Behind “Dial Drunk” by Noah Kahan and Why His Songs Have Connected with His Audience

Noah Kahan holds a unique place in pop culture. On the one hand, his rise from TikTok to the Grammys is a current time stamp, but he has the goods to outlast the memetic careers of other social media stars.

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Stick Season and subsequent editions have overwhelmed the music landscape like a dense forest. And like rolling acres of pine trees, Kahan’s album collection is deep with shadowy, winding paths and splendor.  

Watching Kahan perform “Dial Drunk” with his band on a recent episode of Saturday Night Live, the word that comes to mind is “release.” He’s purging demons, and whether or not he’s actually thrown punches or drunkenly raged at cops, “Dial Drunk” offers a liberating entry from the indie singer and songwriter from Strafford, Vermont.

Chasing the Past

Kahan chases the past on this powerful song from the deluxe edition of his towering album Stick Season. “Dial Drunk” follows the singer’s first-person narrative, arrested for driving drunk. He’s desperate and unsure where to turn; he breaks down and calls his ex.

I’m rememberin’ I promised to forget you now
But it’s rainin’, and I’m callin’ drunk
And my medicine is drownin’ your perspective out
So I ain’t takin’ any fault
Am I honest still? Am I half the man I used to be?
I doubt it, forget about it, whatever
And the dial tone is all I have

In an anxious moment, Kahan plows through alcohol, trying to find a salve for heartbreak at the bottom of the bottle. He’s chasing self-annihilation and winds up in the back of a police car.

I ain’t proud of all the punches that I’ve thrown
In the name of someone I no longer know
For the shame of being young, drunk, and alone
Traffic lights and a transmitter radio
I don’t like that when they threw me in the car
I gave your name as my emergency phone call
Honey, it rang and rang; even the cops thought you were wrong for hangin’ up
I dial drunk. I’ll die a drunk. I’ll die for you

“Dial Drunk” isn’t an autobiography, but Kahan recently told The New Yorker, “There’s a lot of myself in every song.” Kahan speaks to something we can all relate to—trying to fix the unfixable. Add booze to the brain, and the reasoning faculties will lead you to phone up the ex, knowing a sober mind might think twice before invoking Siri to connect with more heartache.

In the end, regret lingers, leaving him only with shame.

We’ll All Be Here Forever

Stick Season’s 2023 deluxe edition, We’ll All Be Here Forever, continues Kahan’s introspection with additional tracks like “Dial Drunk.” It’s darkly stunning and expands the narrative of his breakthrough album.

This month, Republic Records released yet another expanded version of Kahan’s third studio album. Forever completes the seasonal trilogy and features a “Dial Drunk” version featuring Post Malone. The “White Iverson” singer contacted Kahan, wanting to add his own verse.


Noah Levine co-wrote “Dial Drunk” with Kahan, though they had initially gotten together to play basketball. Instead, the two sketched a new song in Levine’s Boston apartment. Levine, then only 20 years old and a recent Berklee dropout, unwittingly wrote a Top 10 song on Spotify’s Global Debut Chart. 

On Stick Season, Kahan embraced folk music and the detailed confessionals of Phoebe Bridgers and Sam Fender. He’s replaced the broadness of his earlier indie pop with zoomed-in meditations, acting like personal therapy and hometown nostalgia. Meanwhile, his songs have connected as global therapy sessions for his audience, who needs a little help, too.

Beard Combs and Banjos

Kahan’s folk music follows artists like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers. He employs the familiar gang vocal “hey-ohs” and stomping beats built for car commercials, but there’s something different about his music.

He avoids the usual visual stereotypes of these bands and doesn’t dress himself like a Dust Bowl farmer. But it’s more than aesthetics. Kahan’s songwriting is timeless. He writes songs that sound like they already exist and only need plucking from the air.

While other artists manufacture old sounds, Kahan’s songs have endurance in their DNA. He doesn’t need a photograph filter for his folk art; Vermont’s dewy woods surround him like a lingering mist. Like his music, it’s earthy and consoling.

“Dial Drunk” maps a road to catharsis through a breakdown. And Kahan, like the rest of us, is just trying to figure it out.

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Photo by Catherine Powell/Getty Images for Spotify

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