By Mary Beard
So much for lazy Sunday nights—at least, if you were in the audience last night at the Peabody Opera House when Mat Kearney and Train took the stage. Train front man Pat Monahan’s vivacious energy was contagious as he tweeted pictures of the audience from his phone, signed and threw out t-shirts and turned the video camera around on fans, all while singing new and old hits like “Meet Virginia,” “Calling All Angels” and “If It’s Love.”
A gaggle of preteen girls were invited onstage to sing and dance for the song “Mermaid”; a trio of super fans joined the band to sing “Bruises” and after the band crooned the romantic “Marry Me,” one lucky couple hopped onstage so that drummer Scott Underwood, who just happens to be an ordained minister, could actually marry them. That is correct, Train is now performing 5-minute wedding ceremonies during shows.
Of course, someone had to warm the crowd up to its fanatic frenzy, and Mat Kearney was just the man for it. Fans were treated to songs from his old albums like “Nothing Left to Lose” and “Undeniable,” a few of his most recent hits like “Ships in the Night” and “Hey Mama,” and a great cover of U2′s “Where the Streets Have No Name.” During “Undeniable,” he freestyled about the décor of the Peabody Opera House, and later jumped offstage to dance with the audience, making his way through rows of excited fans by climbing on their seats.
ALIVE got the chance to speak with Kearney before the show about music, life and what is currently on his reading list.
ALIVE: How’d you get your start in music?
Mat Kearney: It started when me and a buddy jumped in a truck to move to Nashville. We converted a falling-down apartment into a studio, made some demos and it got people’s attention.
ALIVE: How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you play before?
MK: I’d say it’s very beat driven—there’s a lot of storytelling. I’m generally bored by most singer/songwriters I hear. Mine brings in great stories with a great beat.
ALIVE: What comes easier to you, the melody or the lyrics?
MK: It’s all different; usually I work on music first and have a few ideas for the words. You might have a mood, or a beat, but then sometimes songs land out of the sky. But yeah, most of the time I start with music and then the people surface and their stories come out.
ALIVE: You have a great cover of “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springstein—who are some of your other musical influences?
MK: Well, I grew up on hip-hop music, the real early hip-hop, but then I love Springstein, early U2, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash. Paul Simon is also a big influence. Blend them all together, and that’s what I’m trying to be.
ALIVE: Name some artists that you’d want to collaborate with.
MK: I’d love to work with Beck. And then I get really into creative producers because I am an artist myself, so interesting producers would be cool. If Springstein invited me onstage I wouldn’t say no. And Kayne West would be really interesting, honestly.
ALIVE: How would you describe your latest album “Young Love”? Is it very different from your first two? Is there an overall theme?
MK: In some ways it relates more to my first record, with the hip-hop beat mix. I got married that year, so it’s all really real jovial—just real joy. There’s also a seriousness to it. It’s a lot fun, but also very moving. Young Love was about getting back out the grooves—not as much with the guitar, but more creating tracks, beats and music and mood.
ALIVE: How long did it take?
MK: It took 30 years plus six months. [Laughs.] Actually, I’m not sure, eight months, maybe?
ALIVE: What are your long-term goals for your career and life?
MK: Honestly, if you would have told me back in high school that I would be getting to do what I do right now, I wouldn’t have believed you. I am a restless, competitive and a creative soul, so I guess I’ll always just be pushing to see how far I can go and what more I can do. I like to introduce my music to people who haven’t heard it.
ALIVE: Let’s talk about the tour. How did you get set up with Train?
MK: Well they actually took me out on one of my first tours. They told me where they were going and it looked like a lot of fun, and I was excited. I hadn’t opened in a while so it was a different pace. It’s nice, more like a first date; you’re breaking out all your best tricks. It’s not very intimate, but then again can be. It’s like, “Hi I’m Mat, I hope you like me!” And this time around a lot of people like and know my music, so it’s more enjoyable. When you’re a new artist, it’s like a knife fight where you’re just trying to come out alive.
ALIVE: Do you have a favorite song to perform right now?
MK: Right now it’s Runaway, from our deluxe version [of "City of Black and White"], and the soundtrack to “Soul Surfer”; I had actually surfed with her [Bethany Hamilton] once, before she lost her arm. They approached me and asked me to do it; I said I’d love to. So I watched the scene, then went off and thought about it for a while. [The song] is kind of a marriage of a song I’d already started, crafted in with that scene. It was a really cool process. I gave it back to them and they kept it in there.
ALIVE: What’s your favorite part of touring?
MK: For me, it’s pouring your heart out every night in front of people. A) I have a job that people root for you and encourage you, and B) I could write an amazing travel restaurant book. I’m always finding great places to eat.
ALIVE: What is your St. Louis go-to?
MK: We always end up on The Loop. Just walking up and down that street all day.
ALIVE: Outside of performing and music, what are your interests?
MK: I like to go hiking—just getting outside of music, where it’s quiet, in nature. I don’t know, it might be that in life I’m slowing down and becoming wiser. I was an English major in college, so I read a lot. Right now I’m reading a Paul Simon biography. One that I recommend to people a lot is “History of Love” by Nicole Krauss. I think books just influence you in your life; they ask really important questions, stir your imagination, stir up your ability to empathize and take you on journeys.
ALIVE: What is one thing that no one knows about you?
MK: love paper stores. I’m the most manly man that buys crafty supplies…but I’m a crafty guy! I like creating cards for people that are strange and unique. It’s intimate. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I am a scrapbooker, but yeah, I do like creating cards.
ALIVE: What makes your music different from other musicians?
MK: I think there’s an honesty to my music; stylistically, I’m in my own world. People get caught up in the stories and find themselves in the songs. I think that’s why people, they kinda connect to that.
ALIVE: What’s up next for Mat Kearney?
MK: Just working on new music, I’m really excited for this new record.
ALIVE: Can we get a preview or a time frame for an album release?
MK: [Laughs.] No, I’m like, you know, 3 weeks pregnant. You can’t talk about it yet, but you know something good is coming.