Vanessa Wolf developed a crush on Mat Kearney during the course of this interview.
By Vanessa Wolf
Oregon-raised, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Mat Kearney plays the MACC on Friday, January 18.
Best known for his songs “Ships in the Night,” “Nothing Left to Lose,” and “Breathe In Breathe Out,” Kearney took a little time after picking his parents up at the Nashville airport to talk to us about life-changing advice, his favorite book, and his connections to the islands.
Maui Now: I could not find evidence that you have played Maui before, is that accurate?
Mat Kearney: No. I have never played anywhere in Hawaii in before.
MN: So what brings you here now?
MK: I don’t know. I finally came to my senses, I guess. I have a long history in Hawaii. My parents lived there; they met there. My brother went to UH. I’m excited that I finally get to play there.
MN: What would you say is your favorite song ever?
MK: I listen to so much music. I love everything from Bob Dylan to A Tribe Called Quest. I would say one of my favorite songs ever – with a little Hawaiian flair – would be “Waiting in Vain” by Bob Dylan just to put on and sing at the top of my lungs while I’m driving around town.
MN: Which of your own songs means the most to you and why?
MK: Honestly, “Rochester” off my last record. I wrote it kind of about my father and his journey from Rochester, New York. Actually, it talks about Hawaii and meeting my mother, who was a mermaid on a glass-bottom boat on the Big Island. Just their journey and the story that in many ways was the beginning of my family coming to Oregon.
It was a song where I wrote it, and I was in my living room bawling my eyes out. It’s a song that’s a gift that’s just kind of given to you.
MN: What is the most memorable thing your most eccentric fan has done?
MK: One time I was in the middle of this song and some lady slowly crawled on stage. I was playing so I couldn’t stop, and she just reached up and grabbed my bottom: grabbed it with a full hand and squeezed it really hard… and then slowly crawled back down into the crowd.
I was like, “Security, where were you!?” I couldn’t stop – the song had a lot of words – so I would have screwed up and messed it up.
MN: It appears you were a literature major. What’s the last book you read?
MK: I’m currently reading Robinson Crusoe. I read it every two years. I don’t know. I love it. I love it – maybe it goes back to high school or something – but I love it.
I’m also reading the Bruce Springsteen autobiography, which my brother gave me for Christmas. Everyone knows I like books.
MN: What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?
MK: I had a voice coach. I picked up my guitar and I started writing songs, but I didn’t really know how to sing that well or I would lose my voice.
So I was saying something about this tour to her, and I told her, “I’m playing with this band. They’re not very good. I’m excited I get to get up and ‘win’ every night and be better than them.”
She stopped me and she said, “There’s room for everyone to succeed and life will be a lot happier if you view it that way.”
That really changed how I feel. This industry is so competitive; being able to share in other people’s joys has really changed how I view everything.
That’s my Dr. Phil moment.
MN: Did you ever – or do you – have a nickname?
MK: In college they called me Carne Asada. I think it means like “grilled meat” or something. I played soccer in college in Chico, CA and that was my nickname. It slowly became longer: it was eventually “Carne Asada con queso with chips and guacamole.” No one has called me that in a long time!
MN: What’s your worst quality?
MK: My ravishing good looks distract people from my real talent.
No, actually, I’m a very argumentative person. I’m opinionated and passionate, and it’s not always…appropriate.
MN: So I’ve started asking people to suggest a question for the next person I interview. This question comes from James Katina of The Katinas…
MK: I know the Katinas! I know them well. They live here in Nashville. I met them when I first came to town. I was on one of their song 10 years ago. Did he know the question was for me?
MN: He didn’t: small world! It was originally going to be for someone else who didn’t quite show up for his interview. That stated, here it is: ‘Can you name five things you love about your mother in law?’
- She created such a beautiful daughter.
- She is Southern which is a good thing: it rubs off. I married a not really Southern belle, but there are those roots in there.
- She’s very passionate
- She’s a little dramatic, but I’m putting that in the good category.
- She’s really beautiful and that leaked down through to my wife, her daughter.
MN: Is there anything else I didn’t ask or that you’d like me to mention?
MK: If there’s anyone with a sailboat that’s willing to take us out, I’d like to know about it.
Mat’s show is Friday, Jan. 18 at 7:30 p.m. in the Castle Theater. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 the day of the show.
Have a sailboat or an idea for a fun or thought-provoking story? Get in touch: we want to hear from you. -Vanessa (@mauinow.com)