Mat Kearney On Bob Dylan

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How did you first get into Bob Dylan?

I grew up in Eugene, Oregon where everyone’s hippie parents listened to Bob and the Beatles. I rejected it for hip hop and graffiti, but I was aware of him from a distance. He seemed peculiar and important but I didn’t understand why.

How has he influenced your music?

His writing was and is extremely uninhibited and effortless. He gave me the freedom to say the first thing that crossed my mind. None of his words seem too precious, they are always poignant but never too precious. He’s fearless.

How many times have you seen him play live? What were those shows like?

I’ve only seem him once. It was OK. I own 15 or 20 of his records and I only knew half of the songs he played. I did get to sit next to Emmylou Harris.

Did it take you awhile to get into Bob Dylan, given his strange singing style?

Once I had started exploring songwriting I discovered his earlier records. I was hooked. His real early stuff had all this strange stream of consciousness writing. I found it to be incredibly liberating. There were no boundaries in what he said.

What’s the closest you’ve ever gotten to him?

I was recording down in the basement of Dark Horse Studios before I had my first record out when I happened to meet Columbia staff producer Bob Johnston. He walked into the kitchen in a dirty white T-shirt, socks falling off his feet and smoking a joint. He had produce Nashville Skyline, Blonde on Blonde, and a couple other Dylan records. He talked about how Bob would play songs five different ways with out repeating his performances. He had to try to capture him on the fly. We sat and listened to his stories for hours.

Do you have a favorite Bob Dylan quote or lyric?

“I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name.
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.”

What are some of your favorite Dylan albums and songs?

I really love his first few records. Each folk song is its own world of imagery. “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” are as well know as they are for a reason; they are insane songs. I honestly might have been one of the people bummed out at Newport when he picked up his tele.

Is there a period of Dylan’s music you think is underrated or overrated?

I think Oh Mercy often gets overlooked as one of his great records. It’s one of the more beautiful records he put out; incredibly vulnerable and melancholy with lots of omnichord.

What do you admire about Bob Dylan?

His complete lack of fear, and his wit.

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