“I want to say that no artist has mentioned Eugene, Oregon, more in songs,” Eugene-born folk-rock artist Mat Kearney tells EW.
For example, the lyrics to “One Black Sheep,” from his latest release, begin with a reference that only Eugene fans could appreciate: “I was born a love child of the seventies/ Touched down at Sacred Heart … In the city of hippies and angel dust.”
The Nashville-based Kearney, a sixth-generation Oregonian — “It gets in you deep,” he says — loves Wandering Goat, Sabai and King Estate Winery, and he noshed at Café Yumm! before it was a chain. He credits his creative development to two teachers at South Eugene High School, who were the first to tell him he was good at both poetry and photography.
“It was kind of the beginning of my creative journey — the darkrooms at South,” he says.
Kearney sings about this influence on his fourth album, released Feb. 24, the largely autobiographical Just Kids, which mixes his love of Paul Simon’s storytelling with the ’90s hip hop he grew up listening to — A Tribe Called Quest and Wu-Tang Clan. He then blends that influence with his spoken-word style of rap and layered hoots and hollers that are reminiscent of bands like The Lumineers.
Although Kearney grew up in the creative environment of Eugene, his own family wasn’t particularly musical. Kearney himself was a self-described “punk kid” who would get arrested for spray painting graffiti. He says he got through school because of his ability to write and then went to California State, Chico, to play soccer.
A few years later, Kearney dropped out of college and moved to Nashville to pursue a career in music.
Kearney attributes the autobiographical nature of Just Kids to his parents’ recent move from Eugene to Nashville.
“It ended up being a love letter to Eugene because I think part of me is kind of mourning this loss of some roots in my hometown,” he says. “Growing up in Eugene is a very specific worldview that kind of shapes who you are and how you view life.”
Parachute and Judah the Lion join Mat Kearney 7 pm Saturday, March 7, at McDonald Theatre; sold out.