Since the release of his highly popular and critically acclaimed first album, “Nothing Left to Lose,” American musician Mat Kearney has captured the hearts of many with his relatable, meaningful stories told through his unique voice and folk-rap sound.
Songs from this release, such as “Nothing Left to Lose” and “Undeniable,” were the soundtrack to television in 2007, appearing on episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Jericho,” “Kyle XY,” “30 Rock” and “Friday Night Lights.”
Kearney has since released two more acclaimed albums, “City of Black and White” in 2009 and just last year, “Young Love.” This latest release is an innovative take on his notable style.
Often breaking from the smooth and calmer spoken word songs, “Young Love” brings the bass and the catchy melodies for an upbeat and slightly different sound this time around. And it works.
I was recently given the opportunity to speak with Kearney on a variety of topics, including his changes in “Young Love,” his upcoming tour with American pop band Train and how he first picked up a guitar during his own college endeavors.
Train and Mat Kearney will be stopping in Charlotte for their first show of their summer tour on Thursday, July 26 at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Are you familiar with the Charlotte area? Do you have any favorite spots or activities to enjoy while you’re here?
“I do actually. I’ve spent a lot of time in North Carolina, just playing over the years. I’ve taken the train into downtown Charlotte, riden that around, walked around and visited the arts museum. Yeah man, Charlotte’s beautiful.”
Did your college experience at Chico State in California influence your musical taste or motivate you to become more involved in music?
“It was really pivotal for me to find my voice as a writer. I was an English major and I became an English major because I didn’t really know what else to become. I knew that I could write.
“I hadn’t started music until my sophomore year. I stole my roommate’s guitar and started sneaking off to these racquetball courts on campus, playing the two cords I knew and making up my own songs. That was really the beginning of my journey as a musician and as a songwriter.”
Was the transition from writing to songwriting easy for you?
“My music has always been really connected to my writing, so I think it was a natural progression. To go from sitting around writing poems as a high schooler to picking up the guitar, playing with this spoken word style and putting my poetry to music really became this glove that really fits me well.
“A lot of my friends really liked what I was doing, so I just kept doing it and it slowly grew from there.”
You’re touring with train until the end of September. How excited are you about this upcoming tour?
“I’m excited; it’s long but should be a lot of fun. It’s either sold out or selling really well. It’s kind of fun to go back – Train took me out on one of the first tours I ever did. When my first record, ‘Nothing Left to Lose’ came out, I was just figuring out how to do it. So to come full circle years later be able to open up for them makes me look back and be grateful for the journey I’ve been on since the last time I opened for them.”
Your style is very unique. Who inspired you to really make music unlike anyone else?
“I think I was just always blending these different styles of music. I loved kind of hip-hop and spoken word type of music and I love great songwriters like Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen. I just started by blending all that music together and I kind of found my own style.”
What accomplishment since the album’s release has really resonated with you the most?
“You know, I’m most proud of my life still going. With ‘Nothing Left to Lose’ and this big single on the radio, you kind of wonder, ‘Did I peak on my first song? Is that as big as it’ll get?’
“For this record, to see all the people come to shows and to see this relationship develop between me and – I don’t really like using the word ‘fans’ – the people that have supported me. That’s probably the most exciting thing.
“With this record, I’ve probably played some of the biggest rooms I’ve ever played by myself and gone on my own tours. It’s just been really special to see that side – the live side – of what I do, grow.”
What encouraged you to take more of an upbeat tone with “Young Love?” Were you just in the mood because of the highs of your previous two albums?
“You know, in some ways, ‘Young Love’ is probably closer to my first record. It’s kind of returning to where I started, which was really influenced by beats and a real visceral listening experience. You put it on and makes your head bob.
“Just getting married and the journey of that, you know, the butterflies in your stomach along with dealing with a bunch of your own crap to make it work. That journey was really influential and you can hear it throughout all the songs on ‘Young Love.'”
Is there anything you’re looking to try on your next album?
“I’ve been really exploring on my own. I’ve got my home studio up to par, and exploring all kinds of different styles. I’m playing with a little tempo and I’m playing with some of the stuff I loved on ‘Young Love’ and seeing if I can take it a little farther.
“I am in the experimental phase. I feel like I’m two months pregnant and we don’t know the sex of the baby yet. I can feel something happening but I just don’t know what it is yet.”
There are aspiring musicians all over this college campus. Any tips for them?
“There’s this song “Rochester’ on the new record that I wrote about my father and my grandpa that ran an illegal gambling ring, only I could have written that song and that’s why I feel like it really resonates with people. It’s this snapshot that isn’t imitating anyone else and is just me being real, you know?
“I think chasing what you think you’re supposed to write doesn’t get you anywhere. If you want to be a musician, you have to find the songs that only you can write.”