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Kathy Mattea

A Conversation with Kathy Mattea

Puremusic: So I've been listening a lot to Right Out of Nowhere, it's a great new record. And I've been considering the long and very graceful career you've had these twenty-some years.

Kathy Mattea: Thank you.

PM: It was kind of a gradual entry, didn't really chart heavily until the sixth or seventh or eighth single, then a long stardom peak, and a beautiful transition into being a less-country and non-country, very mature artist.

KM: Well, it's interesting, because it's not really something you can orchestrate. Somebody sent me a commencement speech that Steve Jobs did a few years ago. He talked about how you can only connect the dots going backwards.

PM: [laughs]

KM: And that's where you sort of see the results of small but significant choices you make along the way. And sometimes that's how you learn whether your values--whether your actions and your words match. If you say that you're all about a certain something, and look back and see that the choices that you've made don't reflect that, then there's something for you to look at.

PM: Right.

KM: So it's interesting, being able to put it in perspective.

PM: I saw the recent show at the Belcourt Theater, and was really knocked out by your performance--

KM: Thanks.

PM: --and your incredible band.

KM: Yeah. I have been blessed to work for so many years with great musicians. That's my joke with my manager: that I'm addicted to musicians.


KM: Really,the whole thing--it's just the jam that I can't get away from. It just pleases me so much. There's nothing more fun than sitting in a circle playing with people who are really into it.

PM: And you know as well as anybody how many great players there are in Nashville that still aren't necessarily inspired musicians--but the guys you work with, it's easy to tell how fired up they all still are about being musicians.

KM: Yeah. And the interesting thing is, when someone leaves the band, everybody kind of gathers together and hand-picks the replacement.

PM: Wow.

KM: And it's usually somebody that they want to play with, who has the same kind of values about music. There's nobody on the stage phoning it in. And everybody really is up for that musical conversation. I've come to understand my role. On some level, I provide the context for them to shine. I also know my role is the steward of the songs, and the center point, the artist that the stuff all revolves around. But I really try to honor that.

Whenever someone leaves, the next person that gets pulled in is somebody with similar values. And so it sort of keeps evolving--just when I've been thinking, "Oh, my God, how am I going to live without musician X," who moves on to something else. I've learned over the years that somebody new comes in who is not the same, but who is wonderful in different ways.

PM: Who is the newest member of the ensemble?

KM: Let's see, the newest member is Randy, the keyboard player--

PM: Randy Leago, yeah, a great player. [Saxophones, accordion, and various other things.]

KM: He's been with me for three years. Eamonn [O'Rourke] is about to leave.

PM: Where is Eamonn going?

KM: He's just got his finger in a million pies up in New York, and he's starting to do some composing for Irish dance troupes, like really complicated River Dance type stuff. He's really on to some stuff there. When you keep the caliber of musicians very high in the band, people are going to come and go. Some of them will be people who have to try various things, it's natural.

PM: He's hellishly good, that guy.

KM: He is unbelievable. He would play all day long. He'll play all afternoon, before the gig. If we have a day off on the road, he will go find a gig. He is insatiable.

PM: Now, has he been in this country a long, long time?

KM: Yeah, 12 years or so.

PM: Is it Bill Cooley who's been with you the longest?

KM: Bill's almost 16 years with me--January it'll been 16 years.

PM: Wow. Is he the bandleader as well?

KM: Yeah. He's sort of the center point for the band. Everybody has an equal voice, but a lot of the arrangements come from Bill. Over the years, we've developed a kind of sixth sense about each other musically, and a way of communicating that's sort of effortless. continue

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