Many musicians, especially those with more of an unconventional sound, are often lumped into a broad and ambiguous category of music. Sometimes critics want to get fancy, so they come up with categorical names like “alternative rock” and “British pop.”
The category of singer-songwriter encompasses artists as far-ranging as Bob Dylan, Elton John and Lady Gaga. In other words, for musicians, that term doesn’t really narrow down their type of music at all. So even though he does, in fact, write his own songs, don’t call Mat Kearney a singer-songwriter; he deserves better.
“Most contemporary singer-songwriter records are really boring to me,” Kearney said.
And for his third full-length album release, Young Love, he wanted to make that clear.
“I didn’t want to make a guy-with-guitar record,” he said. “A lot of the songs started with the groove first, more like a hip-hop record.”
Mat Kearney, a native of Eugene, Ore., and current resident of Nashville, Tenn., has gradually worked his way into the American music mainstream with a inimitable music style that blends pop, rock, folk and a little hip-hip into a sound that is both distinctive from his peers and refreshing to listen to.
If his name sounds at all unfamiliar, think back to some of TV shows you have watched – chances are you have heard some of his music.
“Early on it was huge for me,” Kearney said. “You have this feeling that if you could just get people to hear the record then you would be off and running. TV was a great way to get the word out. Some of the songs that you would never hear on radio are given a voice with TV.”
Kearney has primarily been featured on “Grey’s Anatomy,” but tracks from his albums Nothing Left to Lose and City of Black & White have been heard on a long list of television shows, such as “Friday Night Lights,” “30 Rock,” “NCIS,” “The Closer” and many more.
But with Young Love, he has evolved further as a musician, taking risks and branching out.
“I think this record is a more refined version on what I did on my first record Nothing Left to Lose,” Kearney said. “It’s maybe the most clear and accessible record I have done. It sure is a blast to play live every night.”
Kearney’s newest is also his most personal album yet, in that he has written songs about experiences in his life, like the first time he met the girl who would become his wife. One track in particular, however, stands out.
“‘Rochester’ is probably the most gut-wrenching thing I have ever written. It’s about my abusive grandfather running an illegal gambling ring,” he said.
He contrasts such narratives with songs that are upbeat and aim to get the listener dancing.
“I love the tension of storytelling mixed with heavy beats,” Kearney said. “It adds a depth to the songs that you might not pick up on the first listen. … I’m all over the place on Young Love.”
Tomorrow night, Kearney will bring these to the Overture Center, as part of his continuing tour where he hopes to take his audience on an emotional, yet rewarding, rollercoaster.
“We will make them laugh, and make them cry – they might just fall in love a little,” he said.
Those not too familiar with Kearney and his unique combination of music styles from bouncy pop-like tunes to expressive and artistic ballads may find his show pleasantly surprising.
“It isn’t uncommon for some tattooed crew guy to come up after a show and say ‘I was like who the $&@# is Mat Kearney? Now I know; amazing show,’” he said.
Kearney hopes each audience member will take something meaningful away from his show.
“We are trying to do a lot each night. I’m trying to break your heart, make you laugh, dance, scream, cry, touch God,” he said.
Mat Kearney is performing Saturday at the Capitol Theatre at the Overture Center, after being relocated from the Majestic Theater (all tickets purchased for the Majestic show will be honored). The show begins at 9 p.m., and tickets are $18.50 general admission.