Kathy Mattea lives through the innocent years – June 2000
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Kathy Mattea lives through the innocent years  Print

By Jeffrey B. Remz, June 2000

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"I found the song," she says of the off-handed, humorous take by Don Henry and Craig Carothers on losing love and then finding it again with a waitress. "I couldn't wait to play it live. I remember how it was live playing gigs in coffeehouses on my guitar. I would look for songs like that."

"I thought it should be on the record, but I couldn't figure out how to sequence it so I added it as a bonus track. What I found (was) people see it as an emotional release after this very introspective album."

Never exactly a prolific writer, Mattea wrote two songs for the album - the title track and "Callin' My Name" - with husband Jon Vezner and friend Sally Barris.

"I've been wanting to get back to writing for several years," she says.

"I did a workshop on creativity and expression. I didn't do a lot of songwriting, but I started the process again. It became great therapy for me when I was going through this stuff for my folks. I feel real safe with Jon and Sally. It was a natural thing."

"It's hard to make space to write with all the distractions of being an artist. You really have to cut out some quiet time. I had not paid attention to it in a long time. I think of myself as a singer who writes, not a writer who sings."

As for writing with her husband, she said the process was "not always easy. You walk in the room with all the underlying stuff of your relationship. Learning to leave that outside the door has been a real challenge for me, but I've been getting better at it."

The songs maintain a personal touch, even though Mattea did not write most of them. In fact, the songs sound almost as if they could have been written specifically for her.

Mattea says she has no problem singing such personal songs.

"I think it feels very natural to me. My albums have always been a reflection of where I am in my life. I'm not someone different than when I'm not doing music. I do it from my own perspective. I don't want to put a mask on. I want my mask to be true to who I am as a person. I'd never do a cheating song. I don't want to sing it, promote it every night, live there."

Mattea was born in the small town of Cross Lanes, West Va. It's so small, it's not even in the atlas. Closest suburb is Nitro where Mattea went to high school. Her father was a supervisor for Monsanto.

"We had a great childhood. Your pretty typical all-American life. On Halloween, you'd take off, and no one would care where you were. You knew who would give you the good candy. If your house got egged, you knew who did it. It was a small town."

Her musical oats were sewn as a tyke. She started on piano at 6 and guitar at 10.

"I was this kind of prodigy child," she says matter of factly. "I went into school in the first grade, and I could read and do arithmetic. They double promoted me in the second grade. When they tested me at the board of education, my mom said, 'what do I do with her?' They said, 'just don't let her get bored, or she won't care about anything.' She put me in choir and ice skating. The only thing that didn't bore me was music things."

"It was where I found myself. It's where I found who I was," Mattea says.

She sure didn't get her musical talents from her mother. "My mother can't carry a tune to save her soul. "

"Mom was into top 40 radio, and dad listened to Big Band. My brothers listened to rock and roll and popular music. I remember my brother Mike getting the first James Taylor album. That influenced me."

"I played folk music in church," she says. "We had folk masses at the Catholic church. I was a sponge."

"A friend of mine's father had a bluegrass band, and I got into college and that's where I got into bluegrass and country music. They changed my life."

Besides playing in Pennsboro, Mattea studied engineering, physics and chemistry at the University of West Virginia.

Mattea dated one of the band members, who was graduating with a masters and heading south to Nashville.

He invited Mattea to come.

"It struck me that if he was in Nashville getting famous and I was stuck in school, I would never forgive myself. It took me a couple of months to make a decision."

"I was the whiz kid of my family, and they were not very happy when I quit, but I felt like I had an opportunity and I could do school in my sleep. School was the easiest thing for me so I could always come back to it."

"I thought 'here I am in school. I don't know if I want to be an engineer. If it doesn't work out, maybe I'll have more of an idea of who I am.'"

"I was on the track of getting the degree, having the kids," says Mattea. "This was something that was totally out of the box."

Sept. 2, 1978 found Mattea hitting Music City for good.

The relationship with the boyfriend did not last, but it did with the city. Mattea stuck it out doing a series of jobs including a stint as a tour guide at the Country Music Hall of Fame, waitressing at Friday's and being a secretary at an insurance firm.

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