Meet Noah Levine: the 21-year Berklee dropout touring the world with Noah Kahan

How a driven young guitar player ended up playing guitar on ‘Stick Season’ while on an internship, and had a front-row seat for one of the biggest musical stories of recent years.

Noah Levine, photo by Cassilyn Anderson

Noah Levine. Image: Cassilyn Anderson

When you purchase through affiliate links on Guitar.com, you may contribute to our site through commissions. Learn more

“A lot of people think you can go there and just coast. And then you’ll come out as John Mayer…”

Noah Levine is talking about Berklee College of Music, the world-renowned Boston music college that has been the crucible for everyone from Steve Vai and John Petrucci to St Vincent and yes, that man John Mayer.

Mayer lasted just two semesters at Berklee before deciding he wanted to chart his own musical path. It was a similar story for young Austin guitarist Levine, who left at the start of his second year in 2022 when he got a call to go tour a record that he’d played and recorded on earlier that year.

You might have heard of the record, it’s called Stick Season, and over the last 18 months the album and its title track megahit have become a global musical touchstone as the world seemingly entered its sad folk era, catapulting Noah Kahan from playing 1,000-seater venues in the US to headlining two nights at London’s legendary Wembley Arena.

Sat stage right for the whole thing has been 21-year-old Noah Levine – who in addition to being Kahan’s touring guitarist, contributed some guitar parts to the Stick Season record and co-wrote Dial Drunk off the record.

We sit down with Levine the morning after that first Wembley show, and despite being on the road almost non-stop for the last year, he’s fresh-faced and full of energy in a way that only people who are 21 and living their dreams can be.

“It always feels like a dream that I’m about to wake up from,” Levine admits. “It’s such a surreal feeling, because anyone who experiences success in the music industry has also experienced a long line of no’s. And naturally, that was my story for a while.

“And it’s weird being conditioned to hear those no’s every time, and then suddenly all these yes’s are coming towards you, and you’re getting all these amazing experiences. It’s hard for it to feel real. Like, I’ve never had a song that I wrote be screamed back at me at Wembley Arena. And so there are times I have to take out my in-ears and just take it in. It’s an incredible feeling.”

Noah Levine performing, photo by Tyler Krippaehne
Noah Levine performing. Image: Tyler Krippaehne

Stick Man

The story of how a kid from Texas who was barely out of high-school ended up playing guitar on the viral hit of 2023 is a testament to the harder you work, the luckier you get. Raised in a supportive suburban family in Austin, Levine’s parents tried him with various sports looking for something extracurricular he could throw himself into, before a chance encounter with his dad’s old Aria opened up the world of guitar and music to him.

Levine threw himself into music, learning from his dad initially, then when he got a Tascam eight-track recorder for his 11th birthday, he began creating his own music. In short order music became his primary goal in life, and to reach that goal, all roads led to Berklee.

“Before I had the maturity to look past it, my goal was to get to Berklee College of Music,” he explains. “That was the goal for me. I was like, I’m going to get there, and I’m going to get a scholarship because I can’t pay for school. And my way of doing that was trying to do everything.

“So I got involved in a jazz band at my school, played saxophone in my high school, got involved with the choir, and I was doing extracurricular music stuff. I had my own band with my own music. I was trying to push forward. And I think through classical training and jazz training and, and contemporary music, all of that has sort of been a big melting pot for me to learn how to function as a musician.”

And get to Berklee he did – though of course, he didn’t stay long. “I wasn’t there long enough to start taking the classes that I really wanted to take,” he reflects “But it made me a better musician. Once you’re there you realise that you have to be putting in the most work at the same time.”

Noah Levine performing, photo by Tyler Krippaehne
Noah Levine performing. Image: Tyler Krippaehne

Despite the undoubtedly great networking opportunities Berklee offered, it was actually an independent connection that led to his gig with Noah Kahan. When he was in high-school he’d effectively done a weekend of work experience with Gabe Simon – a Nashville producer and writer who has worked with everyone from Post Malone to Kacey Musgraves. It was only two days, but the experience lit a fire under Levine. “I left those two days with him completely inspired,” he enthuses, and he wanted more.

“I very persistently, for about eight months, borderline begged him for an internship – to let me just come shadow him” he chuckles. “I told him, ‘You don’t have to pay me, you don’t have to find a place for me to stay. You can even put me in the basement during the writing sessions. I just want to watch you work and see how you do it.’

“And I wore him down, so he let me come for two weeks in 2022 in August, which was when Noah was finishing his record with Gabe. Noah came down to Nashville to finish the last couple of songs, and Gabe ended up having me play guitar on the rest of that record, and lay down the guitar solo on Homesick.

“I went back to Berkeley after that to start my second year there, and then four weeks in, I got a call asking if I would drop out to come tour with Noah. Watching it being mixed and made in Nashville, I knew it was going to be huge. And I’d never felt that way about music before. Like, I had that gut feeling that this was going to be something.

“The original plan was I was supposed to go on the fall and winter tour with Noah, and then I told everyone I was going back to Berkeley after. Now here we are a year and a half later, and it’s getting bigger and bigger. And now I love this family that I tour with, and I feel like I’ve learned a lifetime’s worth of lessons in the industry.”

Noah Levine performing at Hangout Music Festival, photo by Tyler Krippaehne
Noah Levine performing at Hangout Music Festival. Image: Tyler Krippaehne

Going It Alone

Of course, Noah hadn’t been resting on his laurels waiting for his chance – he’d been carving out his own niche as a solo artist before Kahan came calling, and it’s something that he plans to throw himself back into once his touring commitments finally wind down. He admits that pushing pause on his personal musical ambitions hasn’t always been easy though.

“It’s frustrating in the sense that I love to always be moving,” he admits. “And I love to always have something in the batting cages and ready to go. But I just have to be patient, because I spoke to my agent before I joined with Noah, and I was like, ‘Hey, this artist thing is and always will be my passion – is this going to steer me away from that?’ And he said, ‘This is only going to help you, just take this, and it’s gonna be worth it.’

“And it has been. The people I’ve met and the experiences that I’ve experienced while on the road have been irreplaceable. And as we reach the end of this Stick Season cycle, I’m starting to put the pieces together and finally writing the music that I want to be making now and gathering my team and trying to make a good transition.”

Being on the road and having a front-row seat for an artist blowing up at a speed and size that most musicians can only dream of has also been hugely beneficial, and given Levine the chance to appreciate the grind that comes before success even more.

“On one hand, I get to play on stage with some of my best friends now, and on the other hand, I get to watch a masterclass every night of an incredible person doing incredible things the right way,” he says of Kahan. “It feels like one of those things where it’s an overnight success – and the recent stuff has been – but that dude’s been grinding and working hard for many, many years.”

Noah Levine performing with Noah Kahan, photo by Tyler Krippaehne
Noah Levine (right) performing with Noah Kahan (left). Image: Tyler Krippaehne

Hollow-body Pursuits

Over the course of his time with Kahan, Levine has used a variety of instruments – from Gibson semis to Telecasters – but in recent months he’s settled on a Heritage H-530, a guitar that reflects a lifelong love of guitars with a bit of air in them.

“The first guitar that I went and bought for myself was an Ibanez Artcore, one of those semi hollow ones,” he explains. “I was really into the Beatles at that time, and I wanted that hollow body tone. But I was 11 and could not pay for 335 or something! So I found that and I was like, ‘Sick! This looks cool. And I’m sure it sounds fine!’ And it did. I’m grateful for every guitar that I’ve come across, in my lifetime as a young musician, because each instrument has gotten me to where I am now.”

The 530 is obviously some way removed from that humble Ibanez, but it came to Levine in the most unexpected fashion.

“This is the story of every guitar player, but I had no intention of buying a guitar when I walked in the room,” Noah says, shaking his head. “It was a new shop in Kansas City, I was there for Thanksgiving. And I was just making friends with one of the shop owners and he was like, ‘You got to play this thing, we just got it in…’

“I’d never heard of Heritage before,” he continues. “But I picked it up, and it was maybe the best feeling guitar I’ve ever played. And I bought it immediately, even though I was in no place to buy another guitar! Things had just really taken off with Noah, and so I had a lot of companies sending me guitars and so my girlfriend was like, ‘Okay, you’re done with getting more guitars?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, definitely!’ And then I bought this thing. And I love it.”

Noah Levine performing with Noah Kahan, photo by Tyler Krippaehne
Noah Levine (left) performing with Noah Kahan (right). Image: Tyler Krippaehne

Some musicians might have used their growing profile to try and blag a free one, but so impressed was he by the 530 that he put his own money down there and then – a ringing endorsement in a world where gear companies aren’t shy about giving out freebies to influencers and artists.

“And it’s one of those feelings like when you know, you know,” he enthuses. “When a lot of people are in my position, there’s an angle to sort of like, reach out to the company and be like, ‘Hey, I love this… can I have one?’ But there’s something to be said about, like, if a company is making a great, great quality instrument, then that’s somebody I want to support. I’d feel wrong if I truly fell in love with how a guitar feels and plays, and then ask them to give it to me for free. If they offer I won’t say no! But I want to support the people that are doing things right, y’know?”

The 530 has since been joined by a Custom Core 535 on tour, and will likely see plenty of work on Levine’s solo material when the ever-expanding Stick Season touring cycle finally comes to an end. As we wind up our chat we ask him whether he’d prefer to focus purely on his own artistic endeavours or head into the studio with Kahan, his answer is grounded and philosophical.

“I love working with Noah and it’s a beautiful thing where it’s not an either-or,” he explains. “He and I wrote Dial Drunk, and also wrote some songs for my artist project together. At the end of the day, it’s not an exclusive thing. It’s not him or me. He’s also very aware and supportive of my artistic endeavours and the things that I want to do and has known that from day one.

“And so it’s up to him. I was honoured to work on the last record with him and be a big part of those songs. If he wants me back, I’ll happily join.”

But one thing’s for certain, he’s not going back to Berklee any time soon.

Editor’s note: Guitar.com and Heritage Guitars are both owned by the Caldecott Music Group

Related Brands

Related Tags


The world’s leading authority and resource for all things guitar.

© 2024 Guitar.com is part of NME Networks.