Skate-boarding teenager Mat Kearney spray-painted graffiti on trains and sold pot. He got into Cal Sate University Chico on a soccer scholarship but was a lackluster English major. Whenever his roommate wasn’t watching, he swiped his guitar and played for hours and hours — that’s how his musical career was born.
After shedding the vacuous party life and finding Jesus, Matthew William Kearney now has five top 20 hits on the Adult Top 40 Chart. He sings “Hey Mama,” “All I Need,” “Nothing Left to Lose” and more recently the haunting ballad about overcoming conflict in marriage, “Ships in the Night.”
“I guess I lived it up and did what everyone said you should do in college,” he said on CBN. “I discovered the depth of depravity, the bleakness of that lifestyle. It just wasn’t working. I finally started understanding there must be more to life.”
Kearney’s journey to success has been just as accidental as the misspelling of his name on his birth certificate that he discovered only in the eighth grade. He says the nurse got it wrong, so he spells it: “Mat.”
His grandfather ran a fake cigar shop in Rochester, New York, that was a front for a gambling ring. The mob shut down the business because it was encroaching on their territory, he said. This was during the depression, so Kearney’s father suffered hardship.
His dad served in Vietnam, followed the rock group Pink Floyd through Europe, and later became a lawyer in America. He moved to Hawaii where he worked as a deckhand on a boat and met Kearney’s mom, who was working as a mermaid for glass-bottom boat tours. They married and moved to Eugene, Oregon.
Kearney could roam freely as a kid in Oregon. He got into all kinds of trouble and loved soccer. By his own account, he “barely” was accepted into Chico State, which doesn’t have the highest academic entrance standards and is famous for being a party school. He received a soccer scholarship and was appreciated by his coach for intensity on the field.
But as he experimented for hours with a piano and practiced his singing pitch, he fell out of love with soccer.
A friend who would later become a music producer spontaneously asked him to go with him to Nashville, Tennessee.
“I helped him pack up his trailer and we put a mattress on the back of his truck. We basically drove cross-country and slept in the back.” Kearney said. “When we pulled into Nashville we slept in a school parking lot for three days until we finally rented this apartment where the roof was caving in and mice were crawling all over.”
Robert Marvin recorded with him all summer, and Kearney fell in love with the farmland surrounding the blue-collar city, so that’s where he stayed and made his fame. For his second album, he signed with Columbia Records.
It was in Nashville that he met and married his wife, Annie Sims, who was an actress but worked at Anthropologie. He was smitten by the Southern belle and wrote “Hey Mama!” after seeing her. Today they have a one-year-old, Olive.
Kearney drips his blood into every song. His brutal honesty and catchy grooves — which are part hip hop, pop and folk music — have made him famous.
“I write about my faith in a kind of gritty way, so I guess it relates to a lot of people,” he said in Press Republican. “I started writing music in college when I was really being touched by the idea of the grace of God and the message of redemption.”
His signature garb is a hat — everything from a black fedora to a newsboy head warmer. Fans give him hats, and his wife puts to use her stylist tendencies in picking the best head-topping attire.
Kearney has come a long way since bottoming out in college. At the deadend of depravity, he found Jesus.
“This was the first time in my life when I really felt like I understood who Jesus was,” Mat shares. “It was more than knowing about Him, I felt like He met me in that time and place.”
If you want to know more about a personal relationship with God, go here
Abraham Morales is a senior at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica.