As a young kid, Eugene native Mat Kearney would ditch his seat in McArthur Court just as the final buzzer was about to sound. With the ball in the air on the last shot, the musician-to-be found himself sneaking past the University of Oregon security guards and preparing to charge the court after almost every game.
Most spectators dreamed of an autograph from UO basketball players — maybe a jersey. But Kearney was only after one thing: Terrell Brandon’s sweaty wristband. “We didn’t have pro sports in Eugene, so as a kid all my heroes were Duck athletes,” he said.
Three decades later, Kearney has moved from Eugene to Nashville and shifted his focus to his career in music—right now, rehearsals are dominating his schedule. Though the long hours spent putting together a live show are his least favorite part of doing music, Kearney said he’s gotten over the hump and is excited to see the end result. “It’s a nerve-wracking, but fun journey to go on—from having no set, to building the set, when you start to see it take shape,” he said.
Most of the Ducks know Kearney from Autzen stadium. His song, Coming Home, plays between the first and second quarter of Oregon football games and leaves the student section beaming with pride. Both the lyrics and the accompanying music video were produced on a whim and created specifically for the Ducks, “…Kind of a happy accident for me to be apart of it,” Kearney said.
Kearney’s new album, “Crazytalk”, boasts a loud and vibrant cover, Kearney is up close and center against a hot pink backdrop wearing a red hat and button down shirt; the color pallette was chosen by Kearney himself, and inspired by a Nike ad for women’s shoes. “It clashes in a way that has a lot of energy,” he said. The full album has yet to be released, but the available five-song sample is already being recognized for its unique sound. “For me it was kind of a return to the Nashville influence songwriting,” Kearney said, “Just really classic, well crafted songs, but put to kind of modern tropical house electronic influences.”
The glossy track “Kings & Queens” is a personal favorite of Kearney’s. Written alongside Judah of Judah and the Lion, the lyrics came as a result of a conversation about worldview—an attempt to decipher what each of them truly need in life. “I’m really proud of it,” Kearney said.
On Feb.23, the singer-songwriter will return to his home state to perform his new album at McDonald Theatre in downtown Eugene. Tickets are already sold-out, but can be found on third-party sites such as Craigslist.
Kearney regards Eugene as the perfect place to grow up — progressive, but also small-town-esque. “It feels connected to the world in a really beautiful way,” Kearney said. Growing up, his family had season tickets for basketball. Oregon sports were not to be taken lightly. Kearney remembers meeting Derek Loville, someone he idolized in elementary school. “The Ducks were like, the biggest thing to me.” said Kearney.
Kearny said his he’s already planned out his homecoming. Once in Eugene, he will head straight to Sabai, his old soccer coach’s restaurant. Next on his typical Eugene route is The Broadway Wine Merchants — a case of delicious Oregon Pinot is a must. Also on the docket would be Cafe Yumm!, a local cuisine Nashville can’t compete with; and of course, Kearney can’t visit his hometown without checking out all the newest coffee shops.
Despite his success in the music industry, talking to Mat Kearney isn’t intimidating in the slightest. In a career where arrogance and self-centeredness soar, he displays humility. As a sixth-generation Oregonian, he doesn’t shy away from admitting that he misses the Pacific Northwest.
“It really is deep in my blood,” Kearney said.