Artist - Noah Kahan & Kacey Musgraves
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‘She Calls Me Back’ by Noah Kahan & Kacey Musgraves - Lyrics & Meaning

October 9, 2023 9:37 pm GMT
Last Edited December 19, 2023 4:16 pm GMT

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Noah Kahan & Kacey Musgraves - ‘She Calls Me Back’

Label: Mercury Records & Republic Records

Release Date: Friday October 6th 2023

Album: Stick Season (We'll All Be Here Forever)

Producer: Gabe Simon

Songwriter: Noah Kahan

The Background:

The latest in a string of high-profile 2023 collaborations, Noah Kahan first teased this revamped, Kacey Musgraves-assisted version of ‘She Calls Me Back’ across his socials on Monday, October 2.

Inventively, the duet was revealed via a phone recording - in keeping with the song's theme - during which an automated voice reads, “Hi, you've reached the voicemail box of Kacey Musgraves and Noah Kahan. We'll call you back October 6th’.

This, of course, ended up being the release date for the duo's updated rendition of ‘She Calls Me Back’, which originally appeared as a solo track on Kahan's acclaimed 2022 album, Stick Season.

Similarly to the Vermont native's ‘Dial Drunk’ collaboration with Post Malone, which dropped earlier in the summer, the reimagined version of ‘She Calls Me Back’ features an entirely new second verse from Kacey Musgraves. The ‘High Horse’ songsmith offers an alternative perspective on Kahan's wistful portrayal of their relationship.

Although it's unclear how and when this collaboration came about, it would seem likely that Noah Kahan and Kacey Musgraves first met at the 2023 Americana Honors and Awards.

The illustrious Nashville ceremony took place on September 20 2023, during which Noah Kahan performed a Paul Simon tribute alongside The Milk Carton Kids and Kacey Musgraves surprised Nickel Creek with a 2023 Trailblazer Award.

The Sound:

At its heart, ‘She Calls Me Back’ is cut from the same folk-driven cloth of other Noah Kahan fan-favourites, such as ‘Stick Season’, ‘All My Love’ and ‘Northern Attitude’.

However, especially with the added sheen of Kacey Musgraves’ vocals, ‘She Calls Me Back‘ employs a much more polished and heavily produced sound compared to the sparser, stripped-back dynamic that pervades Stick Season (We'll All Be Here Forever).

The result is a certified earworm that flirts with a pop-leaning and even disco-infused style, especially on the hook, with Kahan and Musgraves combining to deliver a lustrous heartbreak anthem.

The introduction finds Noah Kahan's distinctive croons reverberating out into the distance alongside nothing more than the occasional strum of an acoustic guitar, which immediately establishes the sense of loneliness and isolation Kahan sings so powerfully about.

Partway through Noah Kahan's opening verse, an energising drum beat injects a new sense of vigour and hope into ‘She Calls Me Back’. This reaches its crescendo when we get the second instance of the hook, with Kahan's atmospheric vocals surfing along the jagged, staccato drums and deep, twangy guitar.

The transition from the steady, dependable beat that underpins the verses and the comparatively sporadic rhythm of the chorus feels pointed, and appears to capture the moments where Kahan's pining reaches its height as he loses his self-control.

The Meaning:

“Oh, there was Heaven in your eyes
I was not baptized
Everything's alright when
She calls me back, she calls me back
Lost for a long time
Two parallel lines
Everything's alright when
She calls me back, she calls me back”

In the first two lines, Noah Kahan looks back on what appears to be an ex-relationship. He recalls how he found paradise in her affection, before extending the religious imagery by shedding light on why the two ended up breaking up, as Kahan suggests that he struggled with commitment issues (“I was not baptized”).

Furthermore, this idea that Noah Kahan wasn't baptised, and that he therefore couldn't stay in the ‘Heaven’ of their love, implies that it was his own flaws or ‘impurity’ that led to the break-up. In Christianity, many followers believe that they cannot gain access to Heaven after they die unless they have been baptised.

During one of his online Q&A sessions, Kahan expanded on the meaning behind his use of the metaphor of “two parallel lines” to describe the broken relationship, “Two parallel lines means like two people living separate lives that no longer intersect”.

The titular phrase, ‘She calls me back’, is a clever piece of wordplay. On the one hand, it can describe the lover ringing Kahan at long last; on the other, it carries the deeper meaning of how the ex calls our protagonist back to her like a siren, even after he has sworn to move on.

“Look at me, and don't you lie
I could be your sacrifice
But don't you hold your head up high
For bullshit, I do not have time”

Noah Kahan has built a reputation for intertwining direct, accessible themes with obscurer, cryptic images. The overall message of ‘She Calls Me Back’ is clear, with the protagonist yearning for his ex, only to be met with a frustratingly icy shoulder.

However, this verse conveys Kahan's conflicted feelings in more depth, as he professes his willingness to die for his lover, before expressing his resentment at how she continues to respond by acting aloof towards him (“But don't you hold your head up high”).

“I can be an old tattoo
To remind me when I get bad news
That I do not exist to die
But live to die while saving you”

Here, Noah Kahan doubles-down on his willingness to die for his lover (“And I do no exist to die / But live to die while saving you”). By likening himself to an old tattoo, Kahan could be outlining how he'll serve as a reminder of his persisting devotion to her. At the same time, he appears to be framing this commitment in a negative light, as though the metaphorical ink will also ensure he remembers how painful it is to love the subject of the song and subsequently deter him.

“Does it bite at your edges?
Do you lie awake restless?
Why am I so obsessive?
Hanging onto every sentence
This town's the same as you left it
Your page was blank, but I read it
I still dial 822-993-167”

At this point, Noah Kahan wonders whether the angst and turmoil he's going through as he sits by the phone, eagerly awaiting his lover's call, is being reciprocated by her.

He weaves in the thread of cabin fever and feeling stuck at home that is found throughout Stick Season, as Kahan laments the fact that his town still feels the same as it did when his lover left him.

This highlights his inability to move past the break-up, as does his determination to continue ringing her even though she refuses to return his calls.

The lyric “Your page was blank, but I read it” feels beautifully poignant, with Noah Kahan reiterating once again the sense that the lover is offering him nothing, but our protagonist desperately tries to find meaning in her silence regardless.

Fans have speculated as to whether the phone number is real. Noah Kahan spoke to Rolling Stone about its unintentional similarity to a local company line, “Yeah, apparently it is. I looked it up and I don’t really know what they do, so I’m hoping it’s an evil corporation and I don’t have to feel bad about kind of doxxing them. But if they’re a good corporation, then I’m sorry and I hope they haven’t gotten too many phone calls from fans”.

Some listeners suspect there's an additional ‘0’ meant to be placed in-between the first two numbers, with ‘802’ being the area code that covers Noah Kahan's home-state of Vermont.

“I'm running out of tears to cry
They're gone before they hit my cheeks
Maybe it's the air out here
Or maybe something's changing me”

Now, it's Kacey Musgraves’ turn to offer the other lover's perspective, following Noah Kahan's (rather negative) portrayal of her. Musgraves explains that, although she struggled too at first, she's now seemingly moved on (“I'm running out of tears to cry”).

As Kahan shared earlier, she moved away from his hometown in Vermont, and she muses whether this change of scenery has helped her to get over the relationship (“Maybe it's the air out here / Or maybe something's changing me”).

“If you think that you could wake me up
Then you don't know how well I'll sleep
You love me and I don't know why
I only call you once a week”

By colourfully contrasting the state of being ‘awake’ to Noah Kahan's love and peacefully ‘asleep’ to his longing, Musgraves paints a picture of someone who has plainly and irretrievably extinguished the flame that once flickered between the two.

Even so, it's interesting that she still calls him from time to time, with Musgraves even hinting that she feels guilty for ignoring her ex (“You love me and I don't know why”).

“All the pain I should have saved
Oh, I was too afraid of
Living life in your footsteps
In your heart or in your head
Oh, I was too afraid of
Living life in your footsteps
Living life in your footsteps
Living life in your footsteps”

Towards the end of ’She Calls Me Back’, Noah Kahan delves a little deeper into why the relationship didn't work. He again hints at being too hesitant at committing to his partner, and concludes that if he'd instead dived in with both feet, he'd have saved himself the pain he now feels as he attempts to win back her love.

“Still, she calls me back
Still, she calls me”

He ends the song on a bittersweet note, as Noah Kahan clings onto the glimmer of hope that his ex's infrequent conversations offer the ‘She Calls Me Back’ protagonist.

What has Noah Kahan said about ‘She Calls Me Back’?

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Noah Kahan shed some light on how this blockbuster collaboration with Kacey Musgraves came about, “When we finished making the record, I was listening back and there were several songs that I was like, “Can you imagine someone like Kacey singing this?” She’s so original and not defined by genre. Golden Hour was so cool and wide-ranging in the inspirations and sounds she was using. With Stick Season we went into it thinking we didn’t want to be defined by a certain genre. Obviously, it leans more folk, but there are elements of country, pop, singer-songwriter, and alternative there. An artist like Kacey represents everything we were striving for when making the record”.

The singer-songwriter went on to underline his gratitude to Musgraves for finding room in her hectic schedule to record her part on ’She Calls Me Back’, “Having her sing on ‘She Calls Me Back’ was really as simple as asking her to do it. We talked about songs she might want to do, and she gravitated towards this one. She was very cool about cutting it while I was on tour. She has so much going on, but made time, did an amazing job, was super communicative and really fun to work with”.

Kahan echoed these sentiments in a touching Instagram tribute to his ‘She Calls Me back’ collaborator, “Kacey Musgraves is the coolest person ever. Not exaggerating when I say that during the stick season album process we would finish a song and I’d listen back and be like “can you imagine kacey on this??”. Having her sing on she calls me back is incredible, and being able to have her continue telling the story adds a whole new dimension to the song and what it means. I’m so grateful and honored, continually humbled that artists of this level have lent their voice to this album”.

Kahan underlined, “Kacey is cool as hell, brilliantly talented, and represents everything I love about music. She is a true artist and I can’t thank her enough for being a part of this song”.

For the full lyrics to Noah Kahan and Kacey Musgraves’ ‘She Calls Me Back’ see below:

“Oh, there was Heaven in your eyes
I was not baptized
Everything's alright when
She calls me back, she calls me back
Lost for a long time
Two parallel lines
Everything's alright when
She calls me back, she calls me back

Look at me, and don't you lie
I could be your sacrifice
But don't you hold your head up high
For bullshit, I do not have time
I can be an old tattoo
To remind me when I get bad news
That I do not exist to die
But live to die while saving you

Does it bite at your edges?
Do you lie awake restless?
Why am I so obsessive?
Hanging onto every sentence
This town's the same as you left it
Your page was blank, but I read it
I still dial 822-993-167

Oh, there was Heaven in your eyes
I was not baptized
Everything's alright when
She calls me back, she calls me back
Lost for a long time
Two parallel lines
Everything's alright when
She calls me back, she calls me back

I'm running out of tears to cry
They're gone before they hit my cheeks
Maybe it's the air out here
Or maybe something's changing me
If you think that you could wake me up
Then you don't know how well I'll sleep
You love me and I don't know why
I only call you once a week

Does it bite at your edges?
Do you lie awake restless?
Why are you so obsessive?
Hanging onto every sentence
This town's the same as I left it
My page is blank, but you read it
You still dial 822-993-167

Oh, there was Heaven in your eyes
I was not baptized
Everything's alright when
She calls me back, she calls me back
Lost for a long time
Two parallel lines
Everything's alright when
She calls me back, she calls me back
When she calls me back

All the pain I should have saved
Oh, I was too afraid of
Living life in your footsteps
In your heart or in your head
Oh, I was too afraid of
Living life in your footsteps
Living life in your footsteps
Living life in your footsteps

Still, she calls me back
Still, she calls me”

For more on Noah Kahan, see below:

Written by Maxim Mower
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