January Flower

Mat Kearney

January Flower

For his sixth full-length LP, Mat Kearney went on a retreat to Joshua Tree, California, with his longtime friend Marshall Roeman and songwriter Eli Teplin to get his creativity flowing again. “It started as an exercise in friendship,” Kearney tells Apple Music. “Marshall would be in the corner painting, and Eli and I would write songs. It reminded me of before I had a record deal when I started out. It was purely for the love of creating with an acoustic guitar.” That desert experience allowed the Nashville-based musician to free himself from the shackles of self-editing—giving the songs he wrote some room to breathe as opposed to grinding them out. With his lively, mood-lifting blend of folk-pop, soul, and anthemic soft rock, Kearney focuses on themes of forgiveness and redemption (“Blame”), the joys of adventure (“Can’t Look Back”), and time and the passing of generations (“Pontiac”). But there was one special life event he experienced during the recording of January Flower that emanates throughout: the birth of his second daughter, Violet. “It's made my heart tender to areas that I was previously unaware of,” Kearney says. “It changes the perspective with which you interpret time, your job, traveling, and the words you have to say. That sounds like a cliché, but it's a huge part of this record and my journey.” Here, Kearney explains the meaning behind each of the album's tracks.
“Powerless” “‘Powerless’ was literally the first song we wrote when we were in Joshua Tree and we ran out of power. I was joking with that title, and all of a sudden it took on a lot of meaning. We were literally in the middle of the desert. We had driven down this 10-mile dirt road to get there. We only had Wi-Fi and we had no cell phone service. When the storm rolled in and we lost all power, we were just off the grid. We were by ourselves in our thoughts. And it felt like it was mirroring this record, too—entering a new process, trying new things and letting go of control as you're entering the unknown in this beautiful way.”
“Can’t Look Back” “I started telling stories from my life that felt like they tied into the chorus. There was this time we were in Mexico with some friends and we met this guy. He said, ‘Hey, you want to go visit this Argentinian prince at this house?’ We ended up in his Volkswagen van driving through the night, and we ended up singing hymns and swimming in the Pacific Ocean. It was the younger me a long time ago. We had this deep, spiritual conversation with this guy that picked us up. And he was on this journey, and it tied with this theme that he can't look back.”
“Grand Canyon” “I thought it would be interesting if we wrote it not as a physical place, but as a metaphor for distance between people. I accidentally muted the top of the chorus, which made this weird pause in the track. And I was like, ‘Oh, that's funny. It's almost like a Grand Canyon.’ I played with that and I started adding all these pauses to the track. Like a Grand Canyon, like a big echo. That was a really fun, cheeky, cute take on that subject. I was really proud of that moment.”
“Pontiac” “Sometimes in Nashville, you schedule these writing appointments and you're like, 'Hey, let's get to know each other, we'll write a song.' Just to form a relationship, really, and maybe you get a good song out of it. I was pretty tired, and this guy named Rob from a band called Timeflies showed up. He sat on my piano and I was like, 'Dude, I got nothing.' I was watching TV the night before, the show This Is Us. There's a character who they called Pontiac and made fun of her, because she lived in her mom's Pontiac. She was homeless. I was googling what Pontiac meant, the company. And I was like, 'Oh, they've gone out of business.' This car company we've all heard of and no longer exists. I thought it was an interesting parallel about these things that were strong ingredients in our lives that are no longer there.”
“They Don’t Know” “‘They Don't Know’ was the first song I had written by myself in a long time. I had a nylon string guitar in my house, and I just started playing a few little chords and wrote the chorus. I don't know how I wrote it in half an hour, 15 minutes, somewhere between the two. I really love this idea of a sweet song, but then there's this opposition. There's haters out there, people that are pessimistic that want to talk bad about this love we have or this point of view we have. It could also be about your beliefs. That's the spirit of the song that I wrote it in.”
“Anywhere With You” “At first I thought it was almost too simple of a concept, but I started filling it in with beautiful images and weird, strange pictures in the verses. Once I started tapping into my backpacking Eugene, Oregon, roots, the song started taking on a lot of life. The bridge that goes “we're on top of the buildings smoking cigars, laughing at the people below” is a thing we used to do at Chico State—climb up to this movie theater and sit on the edge of the roof. We were just hanging off this roof four stories up in the air. I feel like it turned out in a really cool way, and something I'm looking forward to playing live.”
“Say It Now” “‘Say It Now’ was actually the first time that I had written with my buddy Eli Teplin. We got together, and he just had this little riff. I'd been watching Ozark the night before with my wife, and there's a scene where the dad is trying to talk to his daughter who's estranged. And the three dogs come up on the phone, and he's like, 'Wait.' She doesn't say anything. And I remember thinking, 'Man, I've been there before.' Waiting for someone to say something where you're in this tense conversation over the phone, and then the three dogs show up and then they go away. That's a funny and interesting concept I can relate to.”
“Stuck in the Moment” “I wrote it for this person that I had this falling-out with, this person that really wronged me. I would almost be scared to run into this person at the airport, which was such a strange reality to acknowledge it myself. And that was so awkward to me; it's such an unresolved part of my life. But I didn't want to write about it directly, because I wrote about it in this sense of a romantic relationship between two people.”
“I Don’t Really Care” “‘I Don't Really Care’ is really one of the more intense, upbeat, more spoken-word songs. The truth of the song is in the chorus, which says, 'I wish we could just watch the sunset and forget how to care.' Oftentimes, I've looked at my phone or the [Instagram] comments, hoping people respond to the poems I've put out there. But I also understand it's part of what it means to be a human in this day and age. Social media is something that I wish I didn't care, and that's what this song was really written about. I want to say I don't care, but I kind of care.”
“Running in Circles” “As summer of 2020 and the Black Lives Matter movement was happening—and some of these protests—I was thinking, ‘Man, there's a lot of people in this world that feel marginalized and feel like they're on a hamster wheel and not getting anywhere.’ I know I don't have a lot of authority to speak to those kind of subjects, as a white privileged male, but I just thought I would touch on some of that angst. That's where some of the lines like 'One hand on the Bible, praying for revival, but you ain't got no savior's love' come from. It's this person that's in this position of authority that is preaching at you, but they're not actually offering you any love and they're actually preaching to you. It just took on the spirit of the song in this funky, fun, uptempo way, but there's this deeper meaning I was trying to convey.”
“Boulder” “‘Boulder’ was a song I wrote the day after this coffee shop in our neighborhood closed. I would bring my older daughter Olive there every morning. I would get up in the morning at about 7:00 and take her out of the house so my wife could go back to sleep and take a nap. We'd hang out with our neighborhood and our community. And when they closed it, it was this emotional moment, because it had represented this place that I had become a dad for the first time, too. It also represents the passage of time and being in Nashville. My daughter is no longer a baby. She's walking, and now she's a toddler and this boulder that's rolling. You can't stop the boulder when it starts. It's really written about that journey and that season of my life.”
“Blame” “Marshall and I were sitting by the woodstove in our house on this writing trip. I was thinking if I wanted to write a song to these people that maybe I’ve wronged when I was younger and made some dumb decisions. And maybe those people aren't in your life anymore. You don't even know how to call them, or you couldn't even offer an apology even if you wanted to. I remember being like, 'Man, I can't do this. This is too heavy. Nobody wants to hear this song.' He encouraged me to talk about things that make me uncomfortable, to not be scared of writing something that's scary. And the song just fell out of the sky. I remember I was in tears. I feel like they're given to you—literally God gives them to you finished.”
“Something Beautiful” “My daughter was born in January. I was thinking about this sense of something that's born a little bit before its time. Maybe it's vulnerable, but it's also standing for something beautiful in this harsh environment. For some reason, this flower born in this desert in January—out of place, still fighting but you're not sure if it's going to survive. The insecurity in it, the passion with which you're wanting to connect with someone and you're wanting to define the way that you can be beautiful with someone. I love this song. I sing it to my daughter every night along with 'You Are My Sunshine' and 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.'”

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