Music can calm the mind and soothe the soul, and the perfect example of this just might be the work of Mathew William Kearney. Based out of Nashville, Tennessee, Mat has seen a tremendous amount of success throughout his more than fifteen-year career as a musician. Although Mat has already topped multiple Billboard charts, his humble and joyous spirit continues to shine through each of his releases.
Born in Eugene, Oregon, Mat Kearney grew up alongside two brothers. Always athletically gifted, he received a scholarship to play soccer at California State University, Chico, but Mat’s creative mind, persistence, and passion pulled him in a different direction. Delving deeper into the philosophical meanings of life helped guide Mat towards his musical career, and his knack for songwriting, acoustic guitar talents, and smooth vocals easily connected his energy to his listeners.
Mat has since produced a wide variety of successful music, with styles ranging from hip-hop to folk, and even EDM. Much like the sound of his hero, Paul Simon, Mat’s music seems to bring something new to the table with every release.
Face the Current spoke with Mat to learn more about his upcoming music, experiences with virtual performances, and more!
Ty Johnson: Your new album, January Flower, comes out on May twenty-first. Much of the writing for this project was done while you were braving record rainstorms in Joshua Tree. How does this experience and connection with nature shine through in your work?
Mat Kearney: I wrote a lot of my new record on that trip to Joshua tree. Our house was completely off the grid, and when the clouds rolled in we lost all power. No lights or phones or WiFi—just a few friends and the desert. I picked up an acoustic guitar and started writing songs to the light of the fireplace. Something about being disconnected from the world enlivened the creative process. It felt like it added an importance to what we were doing.
TJ: At this stage in your career you have already reached the number-one spot on iTunes, topped multiple Billboard charts, and made four entries into the Hot 100. Where do you look for your motivation at this point, and what inspires you to make such deep and meaningful music?
MK: When I started out making music it felt like I was hacking the universe by writing songs. I think most days I still feel that way and am motivated by the same drive to make something I’m proud of and feel deeply connected to. I think if you try to make music that speaks to your own heart it translates to the listener.
TJ: With over 2.5 billion global streams, it is a mere fact that you and your music have a tremendous reach all around the world. How important is it for you to stay grounded and connected with your fans?
MK: I don’t think about that much when it comes to my fans. I do know that for me to stay connected to my family and to my friends, I can’t let music define me. I was raised to value humility and kindness and it’s something I appreciate in my friendships. I think I’ve always approached people who listen to my music through a similar lens.
TJ: While watching the music video for “Powerless” on YouTube, I decided to take a look at the comments section. I instantly noticed the abundance of loyal fans present on your page. There are so many people who have been touched and encouraged by your songs over the years. How does it make you feel when you are able to have a positive effect on so many people’s lives?
MK: It honestly makes me feel pretty darn good. I am generally really hard on myself in the process of making something. For years I never read a single comment because I was too fragile. (Probably because I had a lot of self-criticism going on.) When you finally release a song into the world you get to zoom out. When people connect with that song it reminds you of the bigger picture and why you started that song in the first place.
TJ: You have performed live on The Today Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Tonight Show, Late Show with David Letterman, and Jimmy Kimmel Live! You have also completed countless tours, sharing the road with superstars like John Mayer. Do you believe that it is necessary to keep up with live performances during these difficult pandemic times?
MK: I have really enjoyed playing virtual performances through social media and connecting with people through different mediums. There are obviously limitations to virtual shows, but I think in addition to traditional shows we learned a whole new way to connect that isn’t going away.
TJ: Referring to your song “Grand Canyon”, you shared, “I wanted to make something that would bring a little joy to people’s lives.” How much of the creative process is focused around presenting a result that your audience will enjoy, and how much do you try to express your own self? How do these areas overlap?
MK: Generally, when I make songs for myself that I deeply love they have a better chance to connect with other people. Sometimes trying to serve the audience is the worst thing you can do.
TJ: In the music video for “Can’t Look Back”, you are riding through beautiful woods on your bicycle. How would you describe the roles that nature and exercise play in your life?
MK: I grew up in the great state of Oregon. We backpacked, hiked, and camped all the time. Nature was a way to connect with yourself, your family, and your creator. Exercise has become more essential to me feeling good and centered. When I’m tired or in pain I tend not to want to do anything.
TJ: Your most recent video, “Powerless”, includes a very unique and creative combination of the elements of both nature and technology. How do you believe we should blend these worlds as we progress as human beings?
MK: I think we as a society right now are less connected to nature than we have ever been. Maybe because the social media boom is still relatively new and we haven’t yet figured out how to do it in a healthy way. The amount of time we spend hunched over a screen is alarming. There are ways we use technology to our advantage. A year like 2020 was helpful to point out you can take a Zoom meeting from the side of a mountain.
Tech can help free us to be physically away from our jobs but still able to do them. I’m personally asking myself these types of questions more. How can I unplug from my phone more?
TJ: You have two beautiful daughters who are watching their dad’s musical career flourish before their eyes. Describe what it is like to share your successes, travels, and experiences with them.
MK: My oldest is four and just starting to figure out what I do for a job. With the timing of my tours and Covid, she hasn’t been to a show that she would remember. I played the first show she was at in Denver when she was maybe eighteen months old (and asleep), but I could hardly keep it together. I kept crying on stage—I think I was just overwhelmed with gratitude. (And maybe the elevation!)
TJ: When it comes to being a musician, there is a balance that exists between the creative processes and performing. Do you prefer one or the other for any reason? With your next album release already scheduled, can you give us any insight into your upcoming plans for live performances?
MK: I have always been a writer before a performer. For me it always starts with the creative process in the studio and crafting a song. Over the years I have fallen in love with performing. The shared experience of a live show is something truly unique.
My new record January Flower feels like it will be pretty special live. As of now we have some tour dates tentatively planned for late 2021 and early 2022. I find myself dreaming about what those first shows are going to be like when we are finally all safely back together. I have a feeling it will be electric.