From beat-driven and catchy tunes, to honest and soul-baring love songs, few artists have the same brutal individuality as Mat Kearney. His third album, Young Love, blends some of the best aspects of an indie sound with more pop, radio-ready hits. Kearney spoke with QSaltLake about his inspirations for writing, his previous visits to Utah and a music video he’s shooting in Salt Lake. He’ll be at In The Venue on Feb. 13, 8 p.m. Tickets are $18 and available through SmithsTix.com.
You’ve been to Salt Lake City before. What do you remember about your visits?
I really enjoyed Salt Lake. It’s so beautiful. I don’t know that there are many towns that are as beautiful as Salt Lake.
Was there anything different about Utah crowds?
They’re unique in their own way. I think they’re a very encouraging crowd. Everyone there is very beautiful. I remember that about the show, there are so many beautiful people in Utah.
Your latest album, Young Love, is very similar to your first album, Nothing Left to Lose. Was that a conscience decision? To get back to your roots?
I think it was a blend between a lot of what made Nothing Left to Lose unique and some of the more story-driven, singer-songwriter techniques of my second album.
As an artist I always want to do the opposite of what I was doing before. The first record was more beat-driven. So after it I wanted to make more of an adult, singer-songwriter type of record with City of Black & White. But when it came time to do Young Love I was ready to play with the real beat-driven storyteller and blend the two.
How have your fans responded to the shift back?
Very well, actually. It kind of surprised me how well people took to Young Love. It’s been remarkable how well people have responded to it.
By far my favorite song from Young Love is ‘Rochester.’ Is there any truth to that song? I mean, was it based on a true story?
It’s 100 percent true. It’s actually my father’s story. My grandfather ran an illegal gambling ring in Rochester. When the mob came to town in the ‘50s they wanted a piece of his business. He wouldn’t give it to them so he was arrested. My father took to the road and it’s about his journey finding my mother. She worked as a mermaid for a touring company that had glass-bottom boats. She would swim under the boat and show the tourists where things were. They were married six weeks later and they moved to Oregon. It was one of those songs that took a lot of emotional energy to write.
I think in today’s pop age, it’s rare to find an artist who really puts himself out there like you do. I’ve listened to your albums and now I feel like I know you already. Is that difficult for you?
It’s difficult, but I thrive doing that. Being vulnerable is how we’re meant to be. God created people to be vulnerable. But it’s also incredibly difficult. I remember someone told me that the songs that seem too personal, those are the ones you need to write. And that’s what I was going for on this record.
What is your writing process like?
There’s a lot of different ways to approach it, really. Sometimes you sit down and start writing until it’s done. With Rochester, I sat down and started writing and at 3 in the morning, I had a song. Sometimes I create a beat and I wait a couple of weeks for a song to fit it. Sometimes I just sit down with a guitar and write.
I am not the normal writer in the way I craft songs. With ‘Hey Mama,’ I sat down and programmed this old school, kick drum and started with the beat. I had a paper and pen and I came up with the lyrics on the spot. So, I do a lot of writing in a lot of different ways.
What do you hope people take from your music?
I think I have different messages for every song. I feel like there are moments in your life that you just want to have music while you’re having fun with friends. And then there’s times when you want to drive late at night singing along to your music at the top of your lungs with all your windows rolled down. Then there’s a song like, ‘Rochester,’ and it has a very specific purpose. I think overall there’s a sense of redemptive ideas in all my music. I hope that is what comes through.
Will you be playing only songs from your latest album at the show, or will you be doing some of your earlier work?
I do a lot of everything. I feel like this tour is going to be better than ever because I have three albums to play from. I guess you could say I have a lot of arrows in my quiver. I’ve got all kinds of tools to use. I love playing my older songs, and I’d say about half my show is my earlier stuff.
There are moments in my show where you’ll laugh, and then there are more serious moments. I used to get bored at singer-songwriter shows so I try to keep it really interesting. When you think you know the direction the show’s going I try to switch directions on you. It’s a journey that you can go on.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I have no idea. All my attention is set on this tour. But my song, ‘Ships in the Night,’ is a really great song and we’ll be shooting a music video for it. We’re doing something unique. I’m really excited to see if we can pull it off. There might even be a little of Salt Lake City in it. It’s an ambitious idea for a music video so be sure to watch for that.