Singer/songwriter Mat Kearney will perform at 8PM Tuesday, November 1st at the Pearl Street Ballroom. Nashville combo Leagues opens.
On his major label debut disc, 2006's "Nothing Left to Lose," singer-songwriter Mat Kearney chronicled his journey — "a kid from Oregon/by way of California" — making his way to Nashville and a record deal. It gave him a gold-selling Top 10 hit with the title track
On his sophomore disc, 2009's "City of Black and White," Kearney told of what happened when he got there: A soul both lost and found in a musical metropolis. It, too produced a hit, the Top 20 "Closer to Love."
Now, on his new album "Young Love," released Aug. 2, Kearney quite autobiographically sings about what the title suggests: falling for his wife, Annie, and getting married in 2010."It's pretty amazing finding that person that is maybe like a rock that you come back to," he says in a recent telephone call on a tour that Oct. 27 brings him to Allentown's Crocodile Rock Café.
"As an insecure artist, when there are moments when you're not sure what you're supposed to be doing or moments where you're frustrated, there's someone outside of all that who's kind of a voice of reason or a voice of truth and a voice of love."
And not only has "Young Love" given Kearney another hit, the Top 20 "Hey Mama," but it has become his highest-charting album ever, debuting at No. 4 on Billboard's albums chart, and topping both the digital and Rock Albums lists.
"It's really amazing, surprising," Kearney says. "It's like you work on this, like a greeting card for someone for a year, and you're trying to get it perfect. And finally you deliver it to them, and then it's nerve-wracking, 'cause all this work, a whole year went into it. And so to have it received so well is incredibly gratifying."
Kearney says he wanted the album to be a "beat-driven, honest, storytelling record. That was really my goal. I wanted to write songs that were incredibly literal and honest — almost like a documentary."
To help him along in the process, Kearney became a licensed cab driver in Nashville, drawing inspiration from the conversations he overheard. "I think it took me for twists and turns in directions I didn't know it would go as a record," he says.
That also helped Kearney give the record the "Paul Simon-kind-of-whimsical story-telling" he sought. For example, he says "Hey Mama" is the true story of teasing a friend of his sister-in-law whom he ran into while shopping.
"I was doing the whole 'Hey ladies, can you help me pick out a dress' kind of deal. And she was like, 'Not buying it. The dress is ugly, and I know what you're trying to do.' That was kind of her approach," he says, laughing heartily.
Kearney says the "love" part of "Young Love" prompted him to both look "forward and back at the same time. I think it's definitely the next chapter of my life and it's incredibly literal. But there's also a lot of looking back."
"When you decide to commit to someone and the butterflies are in your stomach, all of a sudden you're faced with this reality that you have to deal with your past to make it work," he says with a laugh.
"And I think that there's a lot of that happening in 'Young Love.' So there's these songs that are happening when I'm 20, and high school and I even go back to dealing with my father when he was a child."
One surprise of the success of "Young Love" is that it topped the rock albums chart.
"I think it's that the hardest part of my job is trying to define what I do — and sometimes to my fault," he says. "When you can't put words to it, it's hard to make people care sometimes about it.
"I think I've flirted with a lot of different genres and I don't think I'm the most rocking guy in the world. And the funny part is, this record has the least rock influence, 'cause it's was real keyboard-beat driven. It's like almost more hip-hop influenced than rock."
Kearney probably is best known for his songs' emotional content, which often translates into them being used for scenes of TV shows such as "Grey's Anatomy," "Friday Night Lights" and "One Tree Hill." But he says he says he hopes the joy he's found in his life comes through on "Young Love,"
"I've actually always been a very joyful character," he says. "I've always been very serious, but I'm also the guy who starts the dance party on the bus. … So I think I allowed myself to show a little bit more of that on this record.
"There's definitely a side of life that is hard, but there's a plan. And you've probably experienced some tough things and finding redemption and grace in those moments. I've definitely written those songs, and that's a huge part of who I am as a person and as an artist.
"But I think I did allow myself to write more joyful stuff, and I also am in a very joyful place. You know, falling in love with another human being should be pretty fun — most days," he says.
Tickets for Mat Kearney plus Leagues in the Pearl Street Ballroom in Northampton a6 8PM on Tuesday, 11/1 are available at Northampton Box Office,76 Main Street. 413-586-8686 and online at IHEG.com