Q&A: Mat Kearney

Born in Eugene, Ore., Mat Kearney first visited Nashville on a whim after a friend asked for his help relocating to the city. That last-minute decision has suited him well so far.

Now a resident of Hillsboro Village, Kearney has seen his career blossom in recent years. His songs have appeared on TV (30 Rock, Friday Night Lights and Grey's Anatomy) and he's toured with platinum-selling acts John Mayer and Owl City. Not to be outdone, Kearney's fourth album, Young Love, debuted at a personal best No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 200 last August.

In an interview with Out & About Newspaper, Kearney talks about his passion for Nashville, his pride in Young Love, and his mother the mermaid.

You earned the best sales week of your career with this summer's Young Love. To what do you owe the increased interest in your music?

 I'm not quite sure. I think this being my fourth record has something to do with it. I could tell the music was really hitting a nerve with people early on in the process. However it happened it's been incredibly rewarding to work so hard on something and have it well received.  


Much has been made about how this album can be compared sonically to Nothing Left to Lose than City of Black & White. Do those musical decisions happen before the recording process or is that a natural progression?

I wanted to make a record more like Nothing Left to Lose from the beginning. City of Black and White was a huge undertaking in a big studio. Sonically I wanted to return to making a record in someone's home with less people involved. Young Love also has more of the spoken word thing like my first record.

Have you ever felt hesitation about sharing your personal experiences with the public?

Not really. I've realized that I'm a much better documentary songwriter than a fiction songwriter. There are those moments when you feel that you are being too personal, letting people see to far in, but those end up being the songs that stick around for a long time.

A standout on Young Love is the last track, "Rochester," about an abusive father. What inspired the song?

It's written from my father's perspective growing up in Rochester. My grandfather ran an illegal gambling ring out of a fake cigar shop. The mob came to town in the Fifties and had him arrested when my dad was a freshmen in high school. So my dad ran off to the army and eventually married my mother who was a mermaid on a glass bottom boat in Hawaii. They settled in Oregon and had me. You can't make this stuff up.

Nashville seems like a natural fit for a number of musicians, but it was actually a friend's suggestion that brought you here in the first place. What have been the best parts of your experience here?

I was actually only supposed to be in Nashville for the summer. We rented this condemned apartment, where the enclave is now, and set up a studio in our bedroom. By the end of the summer I was done. I had found a long lost glove that fit, and I have never left. Nashville is an amazing community of thinkers, writers, and musicians. It drew me In from the beginning. It continues to do that. The people here are world class on all levels.

As a touring veteran, what about life on the road has changed with your commercial success?

I've watched my live show grow from just me and a guitar to what it is now. I've been lucky enough to drag along some good friends and build something that seems pretty amazing to me.  I'm not a natural player or singer, I'm mainly a writer, so I have to surround myself with really talented people to pick up the slack. So far it's worked out.

Photo by Margo Amala on Unsplash

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