Mat Kearney has found his place -- musically and spiritually -- in Nashville. His sophomore album, an ode to the city, proves he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
“I MADE A JOKE that if I got offered a record deal, I wouldn’t go back,” says singer-songwriter Mat Kearney in talking about the move he made to Nashville in 2001 from his birthplace, Eugene, Oregon. “I came for the summer, and eight years later, I’m still here.”
And for good reason. Since embarking on that fateful road trip to help relocate his friend and future producer Robert Marvin, Kearney has seen his star rise in Nashville and internationally with the release of his 2006 debut album, Nothing Left to Lose, which has sold over 370,000 copies. This month, the 30-year-old musician releases a follow-up titled City of Black & White.
Kearney and producer Marvin recorded the 11 tracks on City at the famed Blackbird Studio, where recent residents include My Morning Jacket, Kings of Leon, and Jack White. Though namedropping of notable musicians is a common occurrence on records these days, Kearney found collaborators for his new album in some seemingly unlikely places. Among those who joined the endeavor are “one of my neighbors, a guy I traveled with, a guy who worked at a coffee shop, and a woman who’s a writer. I had heard her play and loved her stuff,” he says. “[City] wasn’t birthed out of a Last Waltz type of thing. It was more out of a ‘have a glass of wine in your living room and someone grabs a guitar’ thing. I think that was really this kind of ‘city of black and white’ thing, this community thing that brought this record together.”
Influentially speaking, Kearney reconnected with some of his earlier favorites. He culled inspiration from Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, and old U2. His goal, he says, was to create something classic and refined, with a lot of heart but not a lot of clutter. “I’m trying to say more with fewer words on this record,” he explains.
So, what about the pressure to avoid a sophomore slump? “With my first record, I was literally learning how to write as I was finishing the album. At that point, I’d maybe written five more songs in my life than were on the album,” Kearney says. “The first album very much had a lot to do with being on the run. This record feels a little bit more like sticking it out. Sometimes, it’s easy to hit the road and leave, and sometimes, it’s challenging to stick around, and I feel like this record is more about sticking around.”
Sticking around is something Kearney is used to, having remained in Nashville for the better part of a decade. When he talks about his adopted hometown, it’s impossible not to sense the pride he has for the city and the gratefulness he has to have found a place where he feels at home.
“There’s this heritage in Nashville that I love, where even great artists and writers will invite the community and other people into the process, and I feel like I’ve learned from that,” he says. “Being a Northwest kid, the South always seemed kind of odd -- you pictured some Flannery O’Connor scene. But moving here, slowly but surely, I’ve found my place.”