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This article is from Issue 55: Jan/Feb 2012

The Stranger Side of Mat Kearney

Mat Kearney wasn’t always the smooth musician praised today for his unique fusion of acoustic pop and spoken word. Before songs like “Nothing Left to Lose” and “Closer to Love” put the Nashville songwriter in the spotlight and on the radio waves, he was just an Oregon boy with a penchant for poetry and graffiti. On his recent album, Young Love, Kearney’s evolution continues with more robust melodies and deeply personal lyrics. We recently sat down with Kearney to talk about how he’s grown as an artist, his mermaid mother (no, really), marrying the love of his life and why faith is best shared through story.

Your new album, Young Love, is your first since signing with a major record label and your first project as a married man. How is this album different as a result?

“Hey Mama” is a really exciting [example] because it helped spear the record. Instead of making a traditional singer-songwriter record, that song happened when I sat down and I was stomping and clapping. I made this groove with claps and this 808, and I started dancing around the room writing this song about meeting my wife. It really helped direct the record into the more program-y, more beat-driven direction. Probably the last song is really important to me. It’s called “Rochester,” and it’s this song I wrote about my family and my grandfather and my dad. It’s probably the most personal song I’ve ever written.

What’s the story behind it? And why did it take so long for you to release it?

I’m actually named Mathew William Kearney; my middle name is after my grandfather. My grandfather raised my dad in Rochester, N.Y. He had a fake cigar shop, and he ran an illegal gambling ring out of the back of it. Then the mob came to town when my dad was a freshman. They put my grandfather out of business, because he was taking their business. So my dad had to live through that, and then my dad followed Pink Floyd through Europe for a while. Then he became a lawyer. He moved to Hawaii where he was a deckhand on a boat, and he met my mother, who was a mermaid on a glass-bottom boat. They were married and moved to Oregon. So I guess it’s this crazy story that’s better than you could make up.

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