Mat Kearney, the pride of Eugene, Oregon, makes the sort of music that's perfect for doctors to make out to in hospitals. Not real doctors with their stethoscopes and decades of education and sleep-deprived, stress-laden minds, but rather television doctors. You know, the ones with the sort of good looks that make super models want to vomit more than they normally do and who trade sexual partners like Brian Cashman trades designated hitters.
Of course, we're talking about Grey's Anatomy here, the television show that helped launch Kearney into the mainstream, exposing three of his songs, including the smash hit "Breathe In Breathe Out."
"It's interesting how you write emotional songs about very important moments in your life and then you get a phone call that says, 'This would perfect for a doctor to make out to on television,'" says Kearney who's calling from his tour van while riding through Texas, which, oddly enough, is what no less than four musicians whom the Source has profiled this year were doing when we interviewed them.
Kearney is now a radio mainstay; his accessible and thickly layered pop songs about love and life's many problems and joys appeal to the masses. His last record, City of Black & White, his sophomore effort, showed a musician who wanted to stick to the storytelling that's been his bread and butter while also exploring the fame that he'd already accrued. Kearney has already written most of his next record, which he says goes back to his more Americana-influenced roots.
And Kearney is a guy with some interesting roots. He grew up in Eugene and had enough soccer skills to earn a spot on the soccer team at Chico State University. He was an English major who loved writing, but music wasn't a part of his life until halfway through college.
"My roommate had a guitar and I would steal it and play, but I was so bad at covering other people's songs that I started writing songs," says Kearney.
He took to music quickly and poured his passion into the craft with a level of enthusiasm that soon led him to Nashville. But that meant leaving school and his soccer career behind.
"I was probably more sure of my side as a creator and a writer than I was as an athlete. I left my senior year of college to chase down a dream of songwriting and my coach just told me, 'Yeah, I always knew you'd do something like that,'" says Kearney, who still keeps up with soccer, partially because many of the guys on the U.S. National Team team were once his opponents.
But Kearney's story is much different from many who run off to Nashville, mostly because he did make it while many others are lost in the long shadows cast by the city's rich musical heritage and recording scene. Kearney thought he'd be in Nashville maybe a month, but now it's been a decade and he's still there. Occasionally, he makes his way home to visit family in Eugene. He's even written some music here in Oregon, which required some friendly trespassing when he "broke" into the University of Oregon school of music, leading to the song "Straight Away" from his last album.
"I'm always breaking into schools to write songs. I didn't own a piano for a long time, so I had to find a way to write piano songs, so I felt like universities and schools always have a music department and they're usually pretty easy to get into," Kearney says with a laugh.
Kearney has plenty of stories like this and he tells them with panache, even if there isn't any music in the background to accompany him.
"A good story goes a long way and I've always been a storyteller. That's how I got into music," he says.He's a hit maker, that's for sure, but he's doing it craftily and maybe almost by accident... like two doctors falling madly, madly, madly in love. Well, at least until they fall in love with another doctor.