Like a migrating bird, Eugene native Mat Kearney returns to the Northwest from his adopted hometown of Nashville every summer when the weather gets hot.
He and his family enjoy the cooler temperatures until the rain starts, then it’s back to Nashville, albeit somewhat reluctantly.
“I think the artist in me misses the solid week of rain when you feel like there’s nothing else you should to be doing but sitting in the room trying to write songs,” he said. “I think I grew up on that.”
Kearney’s Monday show at the Knitting Factory marks his latest return to the Northwest, this time in support of his upcoming album “Crazytalk.”
His shows at Eugene’s McDonald Theatre and Portland’s Crystal Ballroom are, no surprise, sold out.
When writing “Crazytalk,” Kearney’s goal was to craft songs that balanced thought provoking lyrics with music that evoked feeling in the same way electronic music does.
He turned to “feel-good, tropical-y, vacation tracks” and edited the traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus format of a singer-songwriter tune to include “a musical, instrumental drop, as the kids say.”
“(That) frees you up just to write a song because you know the chorus doesn’t have to be this big explosion…” Kearney said. “Usually songwriters want the chorus to be like [singing] “Since you’ve been gone!” this big moment, but if you know there’s this cool drum and vocal sample thing that’s coming, the chorus doesn’t have to be that. It can be more chill and more thought provoking.”
On the lead single “Better Than I Used to Be,” which features songwriter/producer AFSHeeN, and “Face to Face,” Kearney lets tropical beats ride under each chorus.
“We used to be kids in the backseat wastin’ time/Talkin’ ‘bout high hopes and day dreams/Never thought love, never thought life/Could take us far beyond what we believed/As long as I got your love next to me/I’m better than I used to be,” he sings on “Better Than I Used to Be.”
Switching gears slightly, “Kings & Queens” features a hip-hop-influenced instrumental.
“We don’t need no bankroll make us feel alive/We don’t need no Benz, oh, to feel like we can ride/Richer than Solomon with you by my side/We’ll be kings and queens in our own mind,” Kearney sings.
To achieve the balance between serious songwriting and feel-good music, Kearney also shifted his writing process by teaming up with a collection of friends, including AFSHeeN, Austrian DJ Filous, who is joining Kearney on the “Crazytalk” tour, and Judah Akers of Judah and the Lion.
After Judah and the Lion opened for Kearney on his “Just Kids” tour, Akers told Kearney he grew up on his music and asked if they could write a song together.
Kearney was flattered, though he still feels like he’s still learning after a little over a decade as a musician.
“It is strange how fast all that moves,” he said. “I still feel like I’m learning about songwriting and crafting, and I’ve been doing it for awhile now, they tell me. It is interesting when guys in college are like ‘Man, I listened to you in high school.’ It’s actually very satisfying. It’s cool. You’re like ‘Wow, that mattered to you.’ ”
Kearney settled on the title “Crazytalk” after talking with a friend who asked Kearney, “What’s the dream?”
“I said ‘Crazy talk would be to get out of my record deal, work with some of these artists I’ve always dreamed about, play some of the best rooms’… ” Kearney said. “All those things came true. For the first time, I’m an independent artist running my own label. I got to work with some really talented people and I still am, and I’m playing amazing rooms. The dreams you have as a young artist don’t go away so to chase them on my fifth record has been really life-giving to me.”
“Crazytalk,” which Kearney hopes to release in May, is his first release as an independent artist after releasing two albums each on Universal and Columbia Records.
Kearney made the decision to become independent after his father-in-law died and Kearney and his wife learned she was pregnant in a span of two days.
“I felt like it was God saying ‘Life is short. Go for it. What do you want to do because it’s probably time to do that thing,’ ” he said. “I was unhappy with certain things. You get comfortable and complacent and I was unhappy and it was a kick in the butt to go for it.”
Kearney calls being an independent artist both daunting and invigorating.
Now that he signs the checks, he finds himself double checking that every move he makes, like filming music videos, is necessary, but he’s happy to completely own the rights to his songs.
He also enjoys being able to more easily communicate with fans and said they can expect to hear music, including covers of songs by artists like Sade and Chance the Rapper, more frequently now that there are no label executives to approve anything or decided whether a song is a hit.
“It’s me loving music and making it and giving it to people that hopefully enjoy it,” he said.
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