Songwriter Mat Kearney takes Aspen stage |

Songwriter Mat Kearney takes Aspen stage

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO, Colorado
Matt Kearny at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen Colorado during the second annual 7908: Songwriters Festival . The festival is produced by Songwriter Hall Of Fame member John Oates.

ASPEN – Like a lot of obsessed songwriters, Mat Kearney landed in Nashville. But Kearney didn’t head to the center of America’s song-crafting industry because of the community of writers, pickers and publishers there. He brought his own, much smaller community with him.After attending college, at Cal State Chico, Kearney fell in with a music producer, Robert Marvin. Marvin was able to supply Kearney’s acoustic-based music with a pop beat, a kick the songs seemed to need. So when Marvin set his sights on moving to Tennessee, Kearney figured he had no choice but to come along.”It was on a whim, to be honest,” Kearney, a 33-year-old native of Eugene, Ore., said from Colorado Springs, where he was working on a music video. “My friend said, ‘Let’s drive across the country. And when we get there, you can record some songs.’ That sounded good to me – I had gotten obsessed with writing songs.”It was about my small community of musicians. I knew I had to go with them. They were my team.”Kearney and Marvin built a small home studio in Nashville, and Kearney got busy building a music career. He became a regular at 12th & Porter, a club that devoted a night each week to rising songwriters. Kearney exchanged ideas with Mindy Smith, the Legendary Shack Shakers, Nickel Creek and Duncan Sheik. “That side of Nashville set me on fire. I was a sponge, soaking it up,” Kearney said.Following a 2004 debut album, “Bullet,” Kearney was signed to Aware, a label affiliated with Columbia, and released “Nothing Left to Lose.” The album sold well and became a favorite for TV producers; the song “Breathe In, Breathe Out” showed up on “Grey’s Anatomy” and “30 Rock.” “City of Black & White,” a 2006 album, reached No. 13 in the Billboard 200 chart.Kearney had grown up as a misfit, doing poorly in high school. But a teacher praised a poem he had written, and that was all the boost he needed. “She said it was really good, and I said, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that,'” Kearney recalled. “So when I went to college I knew I could write. Expressing myself in that way just made sense to me.” At college, he swiped a friend’s guitar and began putting his words to music. “It felt like a glove that fit. That’s all I wanted to do, was write songs,” he said.Nashville, too, seems a good fit. Kearney has lived there 12 years – long enough that he gets recognition from the music industry establishment, even if he doesn’t exactly feel a part of it.”It’s hard to live in that town and not be affected by the level of music-making,” said Kearney, who has appeared onstage with Kenny Chesney and is friendly with Dierks Bentley. “I’ve dabbled in that world. A famous country writer comes up to you in a coffee shop and says, ‘I’m a big fan’ – that’s cool.”Another town Kearney favors is Aspen. He appeared last year at the Wheeler Opera House’s 7908 Aspen Songwriters Festival and enjoyed the festival and the town so much that he made sure his current tour went through Aspen. He appears Saturday at Belly Up Aspen, with fellow singer-songwriter Robert Francis opening.Kearney’s latest album, “Young Love,” was released in August and hit No. 1 on Billboard’s rock and Christian albums charts. The album is short on overt Christianity but long on catchy melodies and beats.”I’ve grown as a storyteller,” Kearney said of “Young Love.” “But I’ve learned how to marry that to the beat-driven approach. It’s my most fun record – it grabs you in a pop sense, but also has more substance with the storytelling.”