Yesterday we caught up with singer-songwriter Mat Kearney. We talked Paul Simon, wine, and hip hop. Catch him next Tuesday March 10th at The Warfield in support of his latest album, Just Kids, which came out last week. Tickets here
SF Culture Shock: Just Kids came out just over a week ago now. What's changed?
Mat Kearney: No more heartburn, I can sleep at night, I can go back and have coffee now. There’s this weird phenomenon of working on something for years and then the anticipation can be a little brutal, to get it out there, to see if the things you wanted people to connect with actually worked.
SFCS: Just Kids is a different musical direction for you. In one sense, you move away from the acoustic guitars and switch to more synths and drum pads, but in another sense you return to more hip hop roots from your earlier work. What was the process of that transformation like? How did it come about?
MK: It was just interesting to me. I enjoy exploring genres. A lot of the people who like me like me for that. I guess, hip hop music is interesting to me. I’m over anything throwback, retro, I’m interested in stuff that’s happening now. Hip hop is the only music that’s writing about right now. It’s the modern day folk music. It’s the most influential music force right now. I grew up on a lot of Bay Area hip hop stuff: Souls of Mischief, DJ Shadow. I loved them growing up. Today, I like a lot of the story-telling aspect. I appreciate Drake when he’s vulnerable in telling a story. I kept thinking what if Paul Simon and Kanye West were sitting in a room, that was the goal of the album.
SFCS: Paul Simon seems to be a huge influence for you.
MK: The first record that I ever fell in love with was Graceland. I was in my dad’s Volvo and was like “this is amazing!” and that was my first memory of falling in love with music.
SFCS: You mention story-telling a lot. A lot of your lyrics seem to be personal stories, from falling in love, meeting your wife, your father’s story, with a lot of references to growing up in Oregon.
MK: I learned that I’m a documentary song-writer more than a fiction writer. It connects with other people better. This record was really personal and there are some darker moments and some really lighthearted moments. There’s something about those moments, I think maybe I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on how I got here and celebrating that. I think getting married and desperately wanting to love another human being forces you to deal with the forces that formed you and are operating on you today.
SFCS: The video for "Heartbeat" was filmed in a single take, with you literally driving from the top of the bridge down into the LA River to join in with the dancers. The whole thing was filmed on a drone, a really innovative concept that's becoming more popular now. What inspired that video?
MK: Drones are interesting to me. The production value you can get from a guy with a remote control gadget sounds awesome to me. I kind of became obsessed with this one take drone video. It started with me singing and then we added dancing and then it became sort of a 90s Grease looking deal.
SFCS: For people that are unfamiliar with your work, what three songs would you tell them to listen to to get a good feeling of who you are?
MK: “Nothing Left to Lose,” you gotta start there. “Ships in the Night” and “Just Kids.”
SFCS: If you could take credit for any song from history and claim it as your own, what would you pick?
MK: Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” Or a tie between that and “Poison” by Bell Biv Devoe.
SFCS: You also have your own wine label with Whole Foods called Verse & Chorus, can you speak a little about that?
MK: I was playing a show in Napa and a gentleman interviewed me and asked about wine. I grew up in the Northwest and wine was a big part of my family’s life and I said it’d be fun to do something. He said “let’s do it!” and I asked “who are you?” Turns out he was from the Peju vineyard. It started as a small project, and then Whole Foods tasted it and liked it. The Truchard family got involved and suddenly it was a killer project. It’s the stuff you pinch yourself over — you show up at a party and you bring your own bottle, that’s your name on the label!
SFCS: On your Facebook AMA [Ask Me Anything] the other day, you slipped in a Walter White reference, so you're obviously a big Breaking Bad fan. What else fills your time?
MK: [Laughs] Projects! I’m building a studio in my house. I feel like all I want to do is make beats for fun. I enjoy spending my free time trying to make hip hop beats on my laptop and make Paul Simon-sounding songs. I also drink a lot of wine, that’s filling up more of my time — trying to discover new things.
SFCS: If you could be any kitchen utensil, what would you be and why?
MK: I would definitely be a knife. Cut through, man, you know? People gotta deal with you then.
Photo Credit: Republic Records