New Artist Spotlight: Matt Kennon Answers "The Call"

Matt Kennon's first radio single "The Call" told part of his life's story and while the song didn't appeal to everyone because of Matt's gravely vocal, it has touched the hearts of many. He recently sat down with us to discuss the song and his just released album.

The things that separate country music from other genres can be laid out as simply as this: the lyrics of the songs matter more in country music and the songs often are ripped from the lives of the folks who write and sing country music.  A perfect example of this kind of storytelling is BamaJam Records artist Matt Kennon.  His Top 30 debut single “The Call” is inspired by his own adoption story.  In this interview we discuss how the song came into his life, his career and the industry itself. 

Roughstock (Matt Bjorke): So you have quite an interesting back story and in fact part of the back story is in your single “The Call.” Would you like to share that background to people who may not know where you came from?

Matt Kennon: Absolutely.  It’s no secret that I came close to not even making it into this world…

RS: Kind of like Tim Tebow…

MK: Yeah, in a lot of ways, you’re absolutely right.  The good lord intervined and allowed me to take that first breath and be in a loving family that had lost three other children in a tragic house fire.  So I was just sheltered with love and a wonderful upbringing and my life has been a blessing.  So I’ve just tried to put forth the message that things may not look so good…because after going back and seeing the truth of where I came from was kind of disheartening for me but what could’ve been and what happened in my life, all of the blessings and hope, I want to share that. Hope can be a phone call away and you know, even if it’s just a compliment like ‘hey that shirt looks good on you’ or ‘your hair looks good today,’ and simple things like that.

RS: Yeah and people always appreciate the compliments.

MK: It’s kept me going when you can encourage people.  Tough times, when they come around, it’s bad enough but to be alone during it? You almost feel helpless, so that’s what this song (“The Call”) is about.  You never know, you may be calling a friend who’s been sober for 10 years and then you call and stop them from doing that.

RS: yeah and by doing that, things can get better.

MK: You know, I’ve heard somebody say “Life ain’t easy, but by god it’s worth it.” And I can truly attest to the fact that when things feel tough or the world’s cavin’ in on me, one or two days later it gets better.  So if you just hang in there a little while longer stuff opens up.

RS: Who are some of your influences?

MK: I’ve gotta say Tim McGraw.  Listening to Tim McGraw back in the 1990s, every song he put out was a hit record…

RS: the Midas touch. 

MK: yeah Country music was cool to me, you had Tracy Lawrence, Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt and I’d look at these records and see who writes these songs and I always had a dream of makin’ it.  Then I see James Stroud’s name on all these records. So when I came to town I was on a mission to find James Stroud who was cutting all these records that were just amazing. And had this factor about them that rocked but was still country.  And when I met him I figured out that he let me be me, an artist.  He’s a visionary. 

RS: He’s a damn good producer and drummer. 

MK: That’s right, he’s credited on over 300 something albums and over 100 number ones as a player. 

RS: I’m a credit junkie myself…

MK: Yeah, that’s me so I’ve gone to allmusic and AOL to check out his disograpy and stuff. He’s been a great friend to me.

RS: Has it been tough for you to get your break in Nashville, because of your voice?

MK: Yeah, it has and here’s the thing.  With “The Call,” it may not be the most ‘beautiful’ vocal or anything but the subject matter’s not beautiful either…

RS: But the emotions there…

MK: Yeah, that’s right. I wrote that song and recorded it the very next day and what you hear on the radio is that very next day recording.  That was about a year and a half ago but I was so convicted when I wrote that song and that the song was a hit that I had to go record it and hear what we had.  Now James Stroud came in and put some steel and piano on it…

RS: He colored it up…

MK: Yeah, he polished it off but he didn’t want to mess with that real part of it.  So it was almost like, wrote the song today and recorded it tomorrow and it was almost the feeling of a song that was going to get us there. 

RS:  I can relate to that as I had a song go through my head and it can turn into something that’s a ‘hit’ to me. 

RS: How would you describe the other songs on the record?

MK: “The Call” is the most ‘tame’ song on my record.  I kind of compare it to rock bands, not to compare myself to Poison but they had stuff like “Every Rose” and “Something To Believe In.” 

RS: “Every Rose” is a country song too. I don’t care what anybody says…

MK: Yeah, romantic rebel music.  So “The Call” was that plea to listen and there’s stuff that’s impactful too but in a hard country way. You know that’s the thing too. I probably owe my voice to that hard progressive rock, not heavy metal but hard rock.  And I felt that and became a drummer. I didn’t even think about being a singer.  Then I started singing along to some of the rock stuff, the Bryan Adams, the Motley Crue’s and then I discovered lyrics when I heard Travis Tritt singing “I’m Gonna Be Somebody.”  Then I thought, ‘wait a minute, OK now we got cool music, country lyrics, country voice and if take all your influences and put it in a batter here and bake it and see what it tastes like.  Call it “Hair country” or “edgy-country” which is where I come from down in Georgia. 

RS: So was your wanting to work with James Stroud how you came to be on one of his labels?

MK: Well, James Stroud and I rode motorcycles together for a long time before we work together. I grew fond of him and I call him “Uncle James” and he’s a great, great fellah and wasn’t sure if we’d ever work together but we were friends.  We then recorded a couple of songs together and it just worked.  I knew all along that he was the guy.  And it just worked out to be that way.

RS: The internet has changed the way many artists interact with fans or develop their fan base.  How has it affected you and your career?

MK:  Man, I’m learning how to tweet with Twitter and Text, that’s gonna be the follow up to “The Call,” “The Text,” (laughs).  We’ve got facebook and all these social networks and I’m learning how to use all of ‘em.  It takes a lot of time but it’s well worth it to interact with the fans because they wanna know where you’re at and what you’re doin, be it at a Five Guys ordering a Double Cheese burger or out in California.  It’s not so much about the music all the times…

RS: and it’s something about country fans as they’re more invested in the music…

MK: And that brings me to and II don’t wanna say it’s the conclusion here, but people are looking to country music for advice about a relationship or a life situation and dude, that’s cool because I’ve been there too.  This girl broke my heart but guess what, Travis Tritt singing “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” or “Can I Trust You With My Heart” or Doug Stone singing “Coming Out of the Pain…”

RS: or Collin Raye singing “Little Rock”…

MK: There you go…

RS: Yeah, that was my ‘gateway drug’ to country music, Collin Raye…I always liked Garth but Collin Raye got me.

MK: what a voice, what a voice.  Man, no wonder you didn’t like my voice at first! Collin Raye with his voice? He’s great. You would’ve needed to listen to Charlie Daniels or rockin’ Carolina guys to like my voice…(laughs).

RS: Well I like a lot of stuff…

MK: Somebody told me that I remind them of Joe Cocker today…(laughs)

RS: Really? I’d say that Johnny Reid in Canada is more like Joe Cocker…

MK: Yeah, I know Johnny.  He’s tearin’ it up, up there in Canada.

RS: Right.  I don’t know why a label hasn’t worked on getting that project out here in the states.  It’s a finished product.

MK: Well, I don’t know what the model is and you’re talking about the internet and downloads and stuff like that.

RS: Yeah, he’s featured on Roughstock quite a bit…

MK: And with iTunes seems to be blowing up, the digital single market…Thank God a lot of people are going there for “The Call.”

RS: and the album is changing...

MK: EP is that what they’re calling it these days? Six songs?

RS: Well Blake Shelton and Warner Brothers are calling it a Six Pack, which is perfect for country music.

MK: They’re cuttin’ the 12 pack down to the six pack.  And then you can put a couple of them out a year, and work a single or two from each of them and constantly giving new music to your fans.

RS: And that’s what the internet is about. It seems it’s great for the industry because if every artist does two of those a year, there are 12 new songs every year instead of 12 every two or three years. 

MK: well that sounds like a win-win situation, to me for the fans, the artists and the business. Everyone wins.

RS: And why not get ahead of the industry for a change because if it works, the whole industry will change to it.

MK: I think we should start that right here in Nashville, TN

RS: They are with Blake Shelton with Warner.

MK: There ya go. I’ll be curious to see how that does.

RS: What would you like to say to fans who are reading this interview?

MK: Thank you guys so much for giving me the opportunity. I appreciate you giving “The Call” and my music a listen and I love to hear your stories.  It really warms my heart to hear how the song touches your hearts and I hope to meet you out on the road.