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Brenda Kahn

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Biography

One of the major singer/songwriters of the anti-folk movement, Brenda Kahn shared all the DIY ethics and punk attitude typical of its leading figures, as well as its dissatisfaction with the ever more conservative folk establishment. What was more, Kahn sometimes made her punk roots even more explicit — and rankled purist sensibilities even further — by delving into full-on electric rock & roll; at various points, she also blended touches of jazz, country, and spoken word. She enjoyed a brief major-label association in the early '90s before getting unceremoniously dropped, but resurfaced later in the decade and founded her own label.

Kahn was born in Connecticut in 1967, and grew up mostly in New Jersey. While attending New York University, she fell in with the anti-folk scene that was emerging on Manhattan's Lower East Side during the mid-'80s. Filtered through a distinctly urban lens of perception, her songs were prickly and personal, topical without being starry-eyed, and often enlivened with a biting sense of humor. Naturally, all of this made her anathema to folk traditionalists, but it earned her an underground following alongside scenesters like Lach, Kirk Kelly, and Roger Manning (her paramour for a time). Kahn took a break from the scene to study in London, then returned and issued her debut album, Goldfish Don't Talk Back, on the Brooklyn-based indie label Comm3 in 1990.

Kahn subsequently moved to Minneapolis and toured the Midwest extensively, building a stronger following outside of the now-dwindling New York scene. In 1992, she put out a limited-edition 7" single called Life in the Drug War Trenches on the local indie label Crackpot. Two of the single's three songs, "I Don't Sleep, I Drink Coffee Instead" and "Mint Juleps and Needles," caught the attention of producer David Kahne and helped her land a deal with Columbia Records subsidiary Chaos. Now back in New York, Kahn's major-label debut arrived in 1992 in the form of Epiphany in Brooklyn, which contained versions of both of the aforementioned single tracks. She toured the world in support of acts like Bob Dylan and the Kinks, and entered the studio in late 1994 with producer Tim Patalan (best known for his work with Sponge) and a full, plugged-in backing band.

The product of those sessions, Destination Anywhere, was scheduled for release in early 1995. Unfortunately, the Chaos imprint was shut down just two weeks beforehand, and Columbia dropped Kahn from its roster. Eventually, they did license the album to Shanachie, which released it in 1996; its appearance allowed Jeff Buckley fans to hear one of the singer's final studio performances, backing Kahn on the track "Faith Salons." While waiting for her music to get out of legal limbo, Kahn had issued an independent 7", "Hey Romeo," and taken a series of day jobs. After the Shanachie breakthrough, she and Patalan reconvened for another album, Outside the Beauty Salon, which was also released on Shanachie. In its wake, Kahn returned to her heavy touring schedule, and also formed her own label, Rocket 99. Its inaugural release was Hunger, a tribute to the late Buckley emphasizing spoken word pieces and featuring spare, jazzy backing from bassist Ernie Adzentoivich.

Top Songs

Born:

1967

Genre
Years Active:

'90s, '00s

Contemporaries