Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: Mat Kearney

According to Nashville’s Mat Kearney, the muse is not always a timely guest in his creative life. Case in point, he’s traveling in Istanbul after recording his previous LP release, Nothing Left to Lose, sitting on the Bosporous when he’s struck by inspiration and starts penning a tune that eventually becomes the cornerstone for his new album, City of Black and White. The irony? Whereas Nothing Left to Lose was about Kearney’s time on the road, his new album was meant to ponder the concept of “home.” Home? Istanbul? Not so much. presspass

According to Nashville’s Mat Kearney, the muse is not always a timely guest in his creative life. Case in point, he’s traveling in Istanbul after recording his previous LP release, Nothing Left to Lose, sitting on the Bosporous when he’s struck by inspiration and starts penning a tune that eventually becomes the cornerstone for his new album, City of Black and White. The irony? Whereas Nothing Left to Lose was about Kearney’s time on the road, his new album was meant to ponder the concept of “home.” Home? Istanbul? Not so much.

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Mat Kearney (Courtesy Photo)

“That seems to happen all the time,” Kearney says. “You’ll be coming home from a friend’s who just had a baby and all of the sudden a song will form or someone will tell you a story back stage at a show in Indianapolis and you’ll write the entire song on the van ride back to the hotel. I wish I could pin down the muse, but it’s just so hard to know when or where things are going to land on my heart.”

Even with the foreign inspiration, Kearney’s desired theme of “home” comes through on “City of Black and White” with lyrics that describe a more abstract conception of the topic — companionship.

“Won’t you just stay now / with the light poles / over a dark street / No one else knows / so take my hands / I’ll carry you, you can carry me,” Kearney sings over the bridge in the song’s latter stages.

“Home is about people,” Kearney explains in the interview. “It’s about community. It’s also like a shared experience, the people on your side of the line in the sand.”

The feelings conveyed in “City of Black and White” and “Fire and Rain” stand slightly apart from the pack-up-and-go variety that painted Nothing Left to Lose, an album of travels and soul searching.

Nothing Left to Lose has a much more Jack Kerouac, abstract theme,” Kearney says. “That album was all kinds of ingredients thrown against a canvas. This one is a much more of a realist landscape. It’s concise. It’s too the point. But it’s rich. It has a lot to offer.”

Those offerings extend beyond Kearney’s lyrics, which never fully push into the Christian pop territory, despite topping both the Christian Hit Radio and Rock charts this summer. Kearney rounds out each of his compositions with robust melodies of a U2 variety — full, but seldom over seasoned — despite a propensity to obsess over each song’s details during production.

“I stop when it’s printed and the CD is in stores,” Kearney jokes. “I can’t remember if it was Sting or someone else who said you don’t finish albums, you abandon them. You don’t even know how true that is.

“You get to that point where you’re like, ‘I gotta just cut line and let this thing go.’ When you find yourself arguing about the craziest minutiae in the world … debating whether that D should be a little louder or should the space between those sections be like three seconds longer. That’s when you know you’re done.”

You can’t argue with the results, though. In addition to chart success, Kearney has been something of a regular on the late-night TV circuit, most recently performing on the “Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.” Not bad for a guy who admits he was very raw when first starting as a songwriter.

“I just went for it and it was like this young Tiger Woods just trying to hit the crap out of the ball,” Kearney says. “But then I really worked on technique and tried to focus on form and how to keep things moving.”

That latter point speaks to Kearney’s constantly evolving style, a point of pride for him, even if it doesn’t always appeal to listeners.

“The day I want to recreate a formula is the day it gets boring. If you read a review on iTunes there’s sometimes one of two stars from someone who’s upset I didn’t make the same album as last time. I’m okay with that. I mean, Bob Dylan picked up an electric guitar and pissed off half the world. But I think it was what he needed to do though.”

• Mat Kearney performs Sept. 24 at the 9:30 Club. For more on Mat Kearney, visit www.matkearney.com.

 

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