[ exclusive interview from gma 2005 ]
cMusicWeb.com: Your record is releasing on a mainstream record label later this year. Previously, bands "crossed over" with one or two songs and people made a big deal about it. Now it seems more and more Christians are getting more influence in the mainstream. What is your take on this?
Mat Kearney: Well, I never made a record to be in the Christian market. So when I made my record it was to exist in all of the markets. I grew up not really listening to tons of Christian music and if I did it was in the context of all the other music I listened to. So when I made the record I definitely had plans and visions and dreams. When I went to Inpop I said, "Let's work on the Christian side but I am also going to sign a general market deal." I did not know how or what I was doing. My take is that it is natural. For me it just feels like exactly what I am supposed to be doing. My faith is a part of who I am and the music I make. But it has to exist within the world that does not necessarily believe what I believe. Just like we walk into Starbucks every day and order from people that don't agree with us and eat chicken that probably isn't Christian chicken. I think that it is just fitting for me and what I am doing and it seems to make sense that it is working in both markets.
cMW: Other than the obvious, what is the biggest difference between "Christian" music and mainstream music in your mind?
Mat: I don't know if I exactly know what Christian music is.
cMW: We don't know either!
Mat: I know what a Christian who makes music is. Because I don't know how to draw the line of what is Christian or not Christian. For me, my faith is a huge part of everything I do and it is a huge part of all the music I make. So therefore, the music has my Christianity in it. But I do not know if the notes and the chords — going from C to G to D — makes it Christian or not. I understand there is a standard that people want to hold and they don't want things that are heretical and disagree with their faith to be considered Christian. So for me, there is no difference because the record I made that works in the Christian market is the same record Columbia picked up and said they want to release. And non-Christian people that don't agree with me and people [of] all kinds of walks of life say, "Wow. We really like this record, we think it is good music." They may not agree with my views or what I stand for. But they acknowledge it as good music and it is something that they think will work. For me, there has been no separation. It has not really been any different.
cMW: I had an interview with tobyMac late last year. When I asked him if he could start it all over again, what would he do, he said he would make music like Mat Kearney. How do you respond to that?
Mat: Well Toby is a good friend. He called me last night at one in the morning as I was walking out outside the Gotee [Records] showcase. He called me as I was on my way home and he said, "I just saw you in front of a showcase you should have been playing at." He is still a fan. Toby is the reason I am in Nashville. He is one of the main reasons I am doing music because he heard a little demo I did and he said, "Man you need to pursue this!" He has been a huge supporter since day one. I am completely complemented because I respect him and I think he has been one of the people that saw something in me before other people did. Or just the first person to acknowledge that I could do music.
cMW: What do you mean "do music."
Mat: I moved here in the summer and wrote a four song demo and he heard it, stopped me and said he wanted to give me a developmental deal. He said he thought it was something I was supposed to do. I dropped out of school and moved to Nashville. And I did not end up signing with him. But it was in his initial belief that got the ball rolling. Him and a guy named Sam Chapel.
cMW: I heard Mac Powell (Third Day) say while introducing you at a showcase the other day say, "This guy will make it in the mainstream." How did you respond to that?
Mat: I stopped Mac and I said, "Wow man I really appreciate that because it is humbling." There is always something about being appreciated by your peers. Every artist wants to be appreciated by what they do. So that is nice when people get it. And it is humbling when people compliment you — people like Mac. That was a very nice compliment he gave me. I actually thanked him. I was like, "Thanks man! You did not have to say all that!" And he was very complimentary when I went up to him. He seems like a good guy. And not just because he complimented me!
cMW: What do you hope someone in your audience receives from your music?
Mat: Hopefully some of the life and the hope and the encouragement I have experienced in my life in my own personal faith and personal day to day walk through life has found its way into my music. Hopefully people can glean from that and can receive some of that from listening to my music. No matter what walk of life they come from. That they will experience some of the grace or that they will be drawn closer to the grace that I have experienced in the middle of a harsh world. A world of pain that is struggling. That there is hope and there is redemption and there is grace available to people.
cMW: Some people say about certain artists, "You don't talk about God from the stage." What is your take on that?
Mat: I am not an evangelist. I am not a preacher. I am a musician. That is what I know how to do. I know how to write songs. I know how to write things that relate to my heart. I feel that I talk about God in every song, in everything I do — all of it! I really do not know how to respond. I do not relate to that. A song is bigger than just one plus two equals three. That is what makes it a song. There is something in there of emotion. There is images. There is stuff that you cannot communicate just in a dissertation otherwise music would not exist. So obviously we are doing something that is dealing with spiritual issues and emotion. I totally feel that I am talking about God in everything I write about. Whether I am saying His name directly or whether I am talking about romantic love, it is all a part of the expression of faith that I have experienced and the grace that I have experienced. I see it is all encompassing.
cMW: Yes, there are more aspects of your life than just talking about God Himself.
Mat: And a way to say it is that God is in everything. He is in the mundane. Flannery O'Conner is an author and she said she looked for God in the mundane and she looked for God in the ordinary. I think that we are people that have to go to coffee shops. We have to live our lives. We have to be husbands and wives and students. We are all existing and God is in the middle of all of that for us. It is not just some bubble — only quoting scripture all day. So for me, I feel like I am talking about God all the time.
cMW: I have seen many people try to describe your music. How do you describe it?
Mat: That is the million dollar question — what is my music. And I don't know exactly how to describe it. I know that it is music that I love and it has come from my heart and it is definitely an expression of who I am and all the different aspects of what I like in music. Stylistically? I don't know. It has the urgency of the spoken word. It has a lot of roots in folk and British rock. It is kind of mixing all of that together. I am looking for a phrase to coin on what exactly I am doing.
cMW: You should start a new genre of music! It does not have a name yet.
Mat: Yeah, I don't know what to call it. If you call it singer-songwriter, you have one vision. If you call it hip-hop music, I think you are kind of way off, because people think, "Oh, I don't listen to that." But if you call it rock, you are missing an element. I don't know — somewhere between those three.
cMW: Will the new album be a remix of your current release?
Mat: Yes, I am actually flying [out of Nashville] tomorrow. We are [going to be] remixing six of the songs. We did four new songs. So it will be mostly like the Bullet record but it will have a few new songs and some remixes. We are getting to work with some amazing mix engineers. Tomorrow I work with Michael Brower. He has done [work with] Coldplay and Athlete and Brand New Radicals. All these really cool records. That is really exciting. It will be kind of a new record but mostly a re-release of the same stuff.
cMW: Less Jesus, I am sure! [laughs] Just kidding!
Mat: They let me make whatever I want. There are new songs I have just been writing that I really love and I recorded them. They are probably going to find a way on the record. I would have a hard time letting them sit on the shelf for a couple of years.
cMW: What new song sticks out for you?
Mat: There is a song called "Nothing Left to Lose" that I love. It is a little more singer-songwriter for me. But it is about me moving to Nashville and just stepping out in faith. The label even wants to make it the title track. But I don't know about all that yet. We might call it Bullet. We don't know. I wrote that song the night before we went into the studio. And we just set up some mics and jammed out and recorded it and went back and fixed it up. It ended up being one of my favorite songs I have ever recorded.
cMW: It must be nice when songs come out like that!
Mat: Yeah, when they feel like they write themselves. I love that! Sometimes songs just hit you and you feel like the song existed before you wrote them and you just kind of heard them and you jotted them down. And that was one of them. I wrote it in about two nights.
cMW: That is all I have unless you have anything else to add.
Mat: I think wherever I am going — this whole general market or Christian market. This whole, "Where do you fit in?" Or, "What are you all about?" My faith is a big part of who I am but one of the things I always come back to is that, even with my music, I tend to deal with the tragedy, the pain, the reality of life and in the authentic hope and grace that you find when you really deal with the reality of life. So me existing within the all kinds of different opinions and voices tend to kind of fit how I experience in with my music anyway. So it tends to be a real natural thing for me and where I am headed. It will support my vision and dreams as opposed to compromise it.
- Kim Flanders
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