Even after the release of his forth major label record, singer/songwriter Mat Kearney is still experimenting as a musician. This comes as no surprise for an artist whose discography so far has featured a smorgasbord of acoustic, Hip-Hop and Folk influences.
Kearney started out in high school writing rap lyrics to instrumental tapes. In college he found himself incorporating the acoustic guitar in his songwriting, and to great effect. His major label debut, Nothing Left to Lose, cracked the Billboard 200 and had him touring venues around the country.
Just Kids, which is Kerney’s most recent release, sees him delving deeper into music production. ”Growing as a producer makes me feel like I’m 16 and I just got my license,” he said over the phone. “Literally I bought my rig and I just wanted to make beats all day.”
The creative outburst as a producer has Kearney chartering new territory for his sound. “It’s like new ground even though I’ve been doing this for ten years,” he said, “I feel like I’ve found love for the first time again.”
Just Kids sounds like a very a natural result of a long-standing and organic bout with experimentation. The first song “Heartbreak Dreamer” kicks off with a catchy piano riff combined with Kearney’s pitched vocals. The result is a dramatic intro that sounds a like a contemporary take on an old school Hip-Hop beat.
Other songs are more of what you would expect from a singer/songwriter. “One Black Sheep” is a notable example, featuring a huge poppy chorus and uplifting lead guitar section.
The record is also creating even bigger opportunities for Kearney on tour. “I’m playing some of the biggest rooms I’m every played,” he said. He’s currently traveling across the U.S, with a short stop in Canada, to support Just Kids.
When outlining his influences, Kearney cites A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. Today, he’s still listening to lyrical rap. “I love Logic, I really dig Pell, a young kid out of New Orleans,” he said, “and I’m a sucker for Drake’s older stuff.”
After spending a lot time in the producer’s chair, Kearney’s aspirations for future collaborators make him sound more like a Hip-Hop artist than ever. He references G.O.O.D. Music producers like Jeff Bhasker and Mike Dean amongst others. “I absolutely love what Kanye does,” he said, “and I think he has the most solid creative camp around him.”
When talking about finding success in the music world, Kearney is frank about the challenges. “Sometimes it feels like a moving target,” he said. “Some mornings you wake up and it’s like I’m there, I’ve achieved it. Other moments you feel miles apart from where you want to be. Usually it has to do with how much you’re comparing yourself to other people.”
Kearney concludes by summing up his approach to being satisfied in a fast paced music industry. “To me success is when you know you haven’t compromised in the art,” he said, “and you know you’ve stood behind every lyric and every beat in every song personally. When you’re with your friends listening to it in the car and you know you’re proud of everything. Then you’re bulletproof; whether people love it or not.”
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