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Jonah Kagen by David O'Donohue_Pollution.jpeg

JONAH KAGEN on his newest releasePollution


WORDS by Tessa Swantek  TALENTJonah Kagen  PR°Tallulah  PHOTOS by David O'Donohue   

Jonah Kagen  is pining for burgundy pine straw around his childhood home in Savannah, Georgia, crackling frost-coated fallen leaves in Maryland, and floodlight flooded soccer fields. To him, this is childhood’s scent - one that lingers, but can’t be bottled. His newest single, “Pollution” is rife with this frustration; the feeling of trying to run, but you only move in slow motion. Adulthood is a grass stain on a crisp white uniform that can’t be washed out. And while Jonah knows there’s beauty in that, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t crave for it to feel new again, for everything to look new again.

Jonah says, “‘Pollution’ is about nostalgia, but more specifically, it’s about the desperate craving to get back to a time of simplicity and innocence.” He continues, “I think there’s something especially heartbreaking about losing your innocence as you grow up, and it’s something that I think about every day.” In the music video, directed by David O’Donohue, he walks across an open field and soon trails a woman dressed in white, but he never quite catches up to her. While their feet stamp the same grass, it feels like they walk two different fields. I’m reminded of his music video for “The Roads,” in how his music can make him look like he’s suffocating in open space.

We interviewed Jonah about childhood, nostalgia, and longing.

Pollution by JONAH KAGEN

There are some things you are able to do as a child that you couldn’t imagine being able to do as an adult, not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally. Is there anything you did as a child so effortlessly that you feel you would struggle to do now?

Absolutely! I think there are a million things I could name, but the biggest one for me is the ability to not think. It feels like it's virtually impossible to do anything without thinking now, even if it's something that I enjoy. When I was kid, that was never something I had to try to do.

What’s something child Jonah wouldn’t expect from adult Jonah?

That's a great question. I think my child self would be shocked that I wasn't playing soccer anymore. That was all I wanted to do when I was younger. I loved music, but it was my escape, never a realistic future. Now I get to tour the country and share my songs with people – I definitely wouldn't have expected that!

Is there any trait you think you’ve lost from childhood to adulthood that you wish had stayed?

Honestly, I'm really happy with who I am as an adult, and I don't think there's anything important about me that I used to have but don't anymore, at least in terms of my personality. I miss being a kid deeply, but not because I was fundamentally different as a person, rather because I could see the world without any sort of judgment or overthought. I still strive for that now, but it's something I'm actively conscious of.

On the other hand, what trait do you think has stayed most strongly from childhood to adulthood?

I'm a dreamer, and I always have been. I have always had a restless mind in terms of ambition, and I absolutely love that that has stayed with me.

I love the lyric, I remember that winter when snow was just snow. Do you have a favorite lyric in the song? Do you remember the feeling you had writing it?

That line might be my favorite! I love lyrics that can capture some feeling without directly saying what that feeling is. I find those to be most powerful. When I wrote that, the feeling was that same nostalgia and longing to go back to being an innocent kid that is present throughout the whole song, and I just remember thinking about the first time I saw the snow in Minnesota when I left for boarding school. It was exciting and fun. At the end of my time there, it wasn't a novelty anymore, and it contained memories and represented a part of my life I would never be in again.

Another lyric is, Now I’m dreaming to be how I used to be. How would you describe how you used to be?

This lyric is all about that "not thinking" concept. I still have dreams as an adult, but I'm constantly trying to find ways to live life in a way where I don't have to think, and I seek positivity and the things that make me and others around me happy. I didn't have to try to do that when I was younger, but now I do. It's not necessarily a bad thing–it just is what it is.

Are there any memories you specifically thought of while writing “Pollution”?

I definitely thought about how I felt when I left for boarding school and my first few weeks there. I never knew how transformative of a chapter of my life that time would be, and it's wild looking back on it now.

I  just remember thinking about the first time I saw the snow in Minnesota when I left for boarding school.

JonahKagen_TheRoads_DAVIDOD_Film_ 29.jpg

The Roads by JONAH KAGEN

I think as you get older, sometimes even more than the “big moments” of childhood, you miss the lazy sundays and even the mundane. What’s a simple or even mundane thing you are nostalgic for?

I miss playing random games with my Dad. He worked from home, so I knew he would be ready to play every day at 4:00pm. I was always ready when 4:00pm rolled around. That was the best.

What in your life feels the least polluted to you, if anything?

The connection I have with the people closest to me is the least polluted. The people that have remained constant in my life throughout all of this and the new relationships I've made are so special. I cherish those people very deeply.

What is something about you now or that you have now that you think you might miss in the future?

That's also a good question! It's tough to say. I think the stuff you end up missing the most is something you might not even realize you have until it's gone. That said, I don't know, but I think the freedom I have now and the thought that anything could happen in my life is something I value greatly and that I will certainly miss if it ever disappears.

One of our magazine’s signature questions is about scent memory so I’d like to ask you about it in the context of childhood. If you could bottle 3 specific scents related to childhood memories, what scents would you bottle?

There's one that comes to mind immediately. I used to spend Christmas with my cousins and grandparents in Maryland, and I remember the smell of the leaves and the grass while we would play outside. You could smell the air. Another one would be the smell of the pine straw in our yard. I spent almost all my time outside (and still do!) so that one sticks with me. The last one would be the smell of the grass at the soccer field. That was probably the most pleasant of the smells that came out of soccer...!

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