If you’ve seen our previous posts, you probably already know that I’m a pretty big fan of Mat Kearney (recap here and photo gallery here!). So when I had the chance to actually chat with him during an exclusive interview, you can imagine I nerded out a bit. Who wouldn’t?
I held my composure (for the most part), and Mat was immediately friendly, making jokes that his first love’s name was also Leigh. Sure, it may have been eighth grade love, but all love counts. He even guessed correctly as to which photographer I was in the photo pit given my unique vintage-looking camera that is actually not so vintage (quite the conversation starter though). He also may or may not have seen me get asked to leave the photo pit after lingering there for too long… I just couldn’t tear away!
Mat has been on tour promoting his album “Crazytalk,” which I was very curious to hear more about among many other topics – tour life, his songwriting progression, his experience in Austin… the list could have gone on, but he’s a busy man. Despite the time limit, we still had a great conversation that I am excited to share with all of you.
So jumping in, one question that I always like to kick off with – for someone who maybe wouldn’t know your music, how would you describe it?
Mat: Ah, I’m so bad at describing my music because it changes a lot. I would say it’s like earnest, beat-driven, songwriter music. I feel like I say something different every time.
What is your songwriting process like?
Mat: You know, every song is different. Sometimes I’m sitting in my living room with my acoustic guitar and sometimes I am creating musical beats to write to. Sometimes I’m writing with a friend. Sometimes I have a song title that starts it all, so it never really repeats for me. It’s always different.
What are some of your musical influences or inspirations?
Mat: Well, I mean, I think historically I grew up on Paul Simon, Tribe Called Quest, and a lot of 90’s rap music along with Springsteen and Johnny Cash. So if you can mix all that up together, that’s what makes me.
And what about outside influences in your life?
Mat: You know, I think being from the North West is a huge part of how I identify with life. My parents being kind of hippie Christians I think was a huge part of what shaped me. And I think traveling and saying “let’s go for it” and jumping in a car and driving to Nashville to pursue music was a huge part. It seems to be an ingredient that keeps coming up when I write songs. Kind of that pioneer spirit, I guess. On my mom’s side I’m a sixth generation Oregonian. So when we played Oregon Trail as kids, I don’t know if you did, but that was pretty much like my family that came over and settled in Oregon. And I think that spirit is still in there somehow, whether it’s my DNA or whether I just hear the stories and try to emulate it. I love that spirit.
What do you hope people take away or experience when listening to your music?
Mat: I don’t know if there is any singular thing that I feel I want people to take away from it, I think it depends on the song. They all have different purposes. So there are songs just questioning things, there’s songs that are like “man, my wife is hot” and I would hope it would be fun for someone to listen to and feel special. I know there’s themes that maybe run throughout my music like redemption, hope, and joy, and… swag… hopefully. Just a little bit of swagger in there to make you feel like a bad ass. That’s kind of a lot of the ingredients I’m trying to play with when I’m writing a song.
“Crazytalk” will be your first new album release since 2015. Can you talk about the experience writing this album?
Mat: So the whole idea came from conversations I was having with my manager and crazy talk around how it would be work with some super talented artists, collaborate with some people in the EDM world and electronic world and hip hop world and play some of my favorite rhythms I’ve always wanted to play. So, I was just saying it [Crazytalk] as a figure of speech, but he was like “you know that’s a great album title.” And I was like “huh, you know, that is pretty good.” So it kind of became this YOLO album title for me and I thought, “what do I really want to do on this record?” You know, I’m in that place in my career where I could just make another album because you’re just supposed to make an album, but I just really wanted to do something different and try some things that I had never tried before.
How do you think your music has changed over the years?
Mat: It’s changed a lot in the fact that my first record was probably the first 12 songs I’ve ever written. So I was just then learning how to write songs. I think my songwriting has gotten a little simpler, to try to say more with less words – I used to have long verses. I also really love playing with different genres, so now I’ve been experimenting a lot with kind of indie, organic, electronic artists like RAC and Filous, and AFSHeeN and just some really talented people in that space. That’s been interesting to me.
How has your overall tour been? What have been some of the highlights?
Mat: Austin was definitely a highlight. It was so good to be outside in beautiful weather. We’ve literally been in the snow for two months. And Denver was really special because my little girl was at show for the first time. For some reason it made me oddly emotional, I wasn’t expecting to be that emotional knowing she was going to be at the show. Playing The Ryman in Nashville was also really special just because of all the history there. It’s been an interesting tour. You know, it’s actually been one of the harder tours for me – I got the flu at one time, my voice was kind of struggling at the beginning of the tour, and I think maybe because of the pressure of having a new kid and putting out an independent record. But then again, I’ve had some of the most fun moments of any tour I’ve been on. It’s felt very much like a tale of two cities tour.
You mentioned that Austin is special place for you to perform in. Can you tell me a bit more about why that is and how performing in Austin has compared to other cities you’ve performed in?
Mat: Austin has always been this kind of mythical city to me because I played South by Southwest the first couple times when I was just starting out. And there would be, like, eight people at my showcase, but all these other bands would be there too. I’ve just always really loved playing here. And I think finally being able to graduate to playing Stubb’s was like a big deal for me. It was the second time that we’ve played there and both times the weather has been amazing. There’s just something about being outside. Austin attracts people who understand what you’re trying to do – young people, vibrant people. I would say what makes a good show has more to do with the energy the crowd brings than the band. As much as you want to play your best show as a performer, you’re also relying on the crowd to come and bring an energy that’s really good too. You can play your heart out and play as hard as you want, but if the group of people that show up don’t put in their love and energy too, it’s never going to be an epic show. In Austin everyone always does, they come with like joy and passion and sweat. It’s awesome.
What was it like performing in Austin on your tour?
Mat: It was amazing. It was one of my favorite shows of the tour.
Being in the crowd and just seeing everybody, I feel like they all had smiles on their faces. I know I did.
Mat: I mean, we’re playing a little bit more of a chill set which I kind of did on purpose. I wanted to play a few more older songs which tend to be kind of “sit back and enjoy” songs. I just felt such a cool energy from everyone and felt like everyone was having a great time.
Do you have a particular song that’s your favorite to perform?
Mat: I still love playing “Ships in the Night.” I always get ready for the drama when that piano intro comes in – it’s super fun for me because I know people are going to lose their minds. I also love “Moving On” right now, something about it grooves with me. When I recorded “Moving On,” we recorded it in two parts. So there is a low vocal and a falsetto vocal stacked together and that kind of makes the chorus. So we actually pitched the song up a full step so that I can sing at more of a normal, full voice, and it’s been really fun to be able to do that.
And what’s next for you after this tour wraps?
Mat: We’re doing some stuff with Spotify, and we’re doing some radio shows, and a couple festivals. And yeah, we’re kind of starting to gear up for this fall and figure out what we’re doing. Either we’re going to try to do a package tour or maybe an acoustic tour. I don’t know exactly yet what I want to do, but we’re deciding shortly.
Mat, thank you for your time, genuineness, good conversation, and for making a stop in the mythical city of Austin, Texas! We already can’t wait to have you back.
Mat Kearney’s new album “Crazytalk” is out now! For more information about Mat visit https://matkearney.com/. And be sure to stay tuned for more music recaps, reviews, photos, and interviews!
Leigh is a native Texan gone temporary New Yorker and now proud Austinite. Passions include but are not limited to music (both as a spectator and dabbler), traveling & cultural adventures, film & television, true crime, design (of the fashion, interior, and graphic sorts), and photographing & writing about all the aforementioned. Self-acclaimed coffee connoisseur & wino, cat aficionado, book worm, and nature junkie.