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Kathy Mattea

A Conversation with Kathy Mattea (continued)

PM: I was struck, really, by the way you carry yourself. The way you do that and engage the crowd is really much different than any woman singer that I've ever seen that came out of the country genre.

KM: Oh, well, thank you--I guess. [laughs]

PM: Absolutely.

KM: I think it is one of the gifts of being over 40. If you can stay present, and not just go through the motions for a paycheck...if you can resist that temptation, or the temptation to feed the beast of the image, and stay centered in the music, then you get a chance to flesh yourself out a little more. And so my gift of having done that and having made that my goal over twenty-some years, is that I feel like I am somewhat more integrated as a person. I feel like I bring more of myself to the stage more honestly, and that the transition between who I am on and off stage is more seamless.

PM: Right. And you're already reflecting my next point, that part of what I mean in that last question is that you strike me as a very evolved person. Are there certain teachers or books or other things that have been instrumental in your personal life?

KM: Oh, lots of them. Lots of people, lots of books. And I think that if I were trying to respond to your statement and interpret it in any succinct way, I would say that I discovered at a certain point that I was going through this cycle. I would step into a place of being lined up with a sense of purpose and my inner compass, and everything was going in the same direction. Then I'd get lazy and get off the track. And then things would start to fall apart, and I'd back up and get it together again. And at a certain point I realized I was going back and forth and back and forth. And this particular time when I fell apart was so bad that I knew I had to figure out how to recommit to a certain point of view. I had to make that the center in my life, or I just was going to keep going around and around.

So I really did stop and change what I saw I was about, and really try to put that principle into play as the center of everything--my friendships, my marriage, my career, my family, my way of being in the world. And that changed everything for me. I guess the biggest thing is that I committed to a spiritual center before I do anything else. And I put some daily things in my life into practice and I maintain that, to make sure that I don't drop the ball.

PM: Right. It's apparent to me, and others I'm sure, that you've adopted some kind of spiritual approach to your life. You can see it right on the stage, and easily imagine that the person on and off the stage is a much more seamless transition, if there's any transition at all.

KM: Well, I really appreciate that, because the thing for me that has emerged from that process is I don't have to be scared anymore.

For instance, I just came off this laryngitis, which I caught from my husband. He had a head cold or a virus, or whatever. And for me, when I caught it, I started to get the sniffles, and it settled in my throat. My head was clear, my chest was clear, and I had no voice. So I had to let it ride its course, and I went to the doctor. I did all the right things, and I took care of myself. But the sky doesn't open up and say, "It's all right, Kathy, your voice will be back by 8 o'clock Wednesday night."

You know, your speaking voice comes back, but your singing voice you use in a different way. So I had to try to make a judgment call and cancel some gigs. And the first gig back was in New York. And I walked into sound check, and I had a speaking choice, but there were parts of my singing voice where I could make the notes but there was no power behind them. So there were certain songs that just weren't going to live. And I started to freak out, and I thought, well, this is what you've got to work with, and you're here, the band is set up, you got the gig. This is a good example of what we're talking about. If I think it's about proving something, then I'm into my ego, and trying to live up to some image that I think people have in their head, or trying to blow their minds. Or if I have my head in the results, I can't work with what I have, because I'm trying to force something to happen. And with singing, any time you force it, you tighten up. If you tighten up, you're screwed, nothing will work.

So I had to just kind of go back to the hotel, take a shower, sit quiet, dig down deep, warm up, and allow myself to move into some kind of zone. And then I remembered that a lot of my favorite musical moments are not about perfection. And in fact, I think the more we start to worship perfection the more soul leaks out of art. So I considered, "Well, okay, what's my job here? My job is to be present in this moment with what is, and what comes." And so I decided to start my show with just the guitar. And I left the band offstage, and I walked onto the stage, and I told them what was going on. I said, "We're going to find out together what I can or can't do tonight, but I'll give you 100 percent of what I have to give."

PM: Wow.

KM: And then we sang "18 Wheels"--and you could hear that my voice was not perfect. But I let them hear it. And then they didn't have to be nervous for me, and everyone could relax, and it was a wonderful evening.

PM: Yeah, I can certainly remember great shows when the performer was obviously not in their best voice, but it was a great show anyway.

KM: Well, that's the thing. We rob ourselves of so much by focusing on the wrong stuff. And the ability to get into the moment and deal with what is, that's the real opportunity.

PM: Right. Since we're on this kind of a subject, I want to ask you if you're planning to write a book about your life at some point, or are you already working on one?

KM: Well, no one has asked me that for many years. But I have been thinking about that. Part of my spiritual work is a thing that I do, that I picked up through The Artist's Way.

PM: Yeah, sure. [The artist doesn't say so in so many words, but is apparently referring to a technique of writing for a half hour without lifting your pen from the paper, just writing, without editing what's coming out.]

KM: And I still do this. I dropped it for a while, but have picked it up again. I was on the road this summer when I got a whole concept, and I got pretty high on that. I can't even say I've begun yet, but I'm trying on the idea that there is a book in my future. It'll take me years to get to the point where I know what it is. But I'm starting to see the process that gets me there. I'm starting to put myself in a position where I'm trying to learn what I know, and trying to articulate it. And that's been really fun.   continue

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