May 3, 2018–I was surprised when Kathy Mattea told me that to find her voice, she had to stop being “Kathy Mattea.”
What did that mean?
“It’s what I tell my students: do people feel something when you sing this song? Can you just be honest as a singer and that be enough?”
Anyone familiar with a Mattea song will recognize her voice, which has topped the charts over three decades singing such hits as Goin’ Gone, Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses, Come from the Heart, and Burnin’ Old Memories.
“I think part of it is having a unique sounding voice, so it is recognizable,” the two-time Grammy Award winner said in a phone interview. “But I was not one of those people that was born a natural singer.”
She has faced some issues, which she discussed in her frank way.
“When menopause hit, it did a number on my voice, and it all changed,” she said. “I had a conversation with Tony Bennett, and I asked him, I know how old you are, and I heard you sing tonight. I want to know how you do it? He said his voice is not what it once was, but it’s a lot better than it was years ago.”
That’s because Bennett was working with a voice teacher.
So Mattea found a voice teacher, and is now three years into that process. She is learning that the whole secret is to not try so hard.
“That seems to be the lesson that I’m getting over and over and over again!”
Another piece of advice came from Marty Stuart, who told her to “trust a simple song.” What did that mean to her?
“I was lucky, because in my early years, my producer was Alan Reynolds. He told me early on, Kathy, you can get caught up in trendy and what’s going on on the radio. Just remember, it starts with the song, pal. If you find a great song and if you sing it honestly, and frame it well, it will be timeless. It will live for a long time.”
Ironically, she is finding those songs by reaching back into her West Virginia childhood and rediscovering the music of Appalachia.
“When I went into Appalachian music, they were songs I’d heard all my life but never sang. I was scared because it wasn’t ‘hooky,’ and I didn’t know if my audience was going to go for this.”
Country singer Marty Stuart reminded her that those songs are timeless for a reason.
“He said they tell a story. He said you grew up in this place, just open your mouth. It’s in your blood, Kathy, it’s in your blood. Don’t even worry about it… it’s in your blood.”
So that’s what she is doing at The Acoustic Living Room concert on Sunday, May 6, at 8 pm, at Ingram’s Point Theatre. The concept came to her as she was working her way back from the voice injury. She sat in her living room with longtime collaborator Bill Cooley, throwing out weird songs as she tried to learn “how my voice wants to sing.”
After six months, she realized there was “some cool stuff going on.”
“I realized I was not going to be able to wait until I was through with whatever this was,” she said. “If I tried to wait until I was fully formed, I would be afraid to step on stage.”
She gave herself permission to not be perfect. She called her manager and told him to start booking rooms.
“We’re not going to put on a show, we’re going to talk about this process, and sing crazy wild songs, and sing old songs, and tell stories,” Mattea said. “I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I’m having fun, and feeling really inspired. I’ve learned to trust.”
So the audience will hear Kathy Mattea, sitting in her living room, singing with just her guitar. It brings back the days of her doing just that back in Appalachia, at folk masses and Girl Scout meetings.
“That saved my life sitting with that guitar and singing,” she said. “I think it’s a very ordinary thing but I think it’s an important thing to do. I have had a lot of songs that have lived well over a long period of time. They live in people’s heads too, and so we sing together.”
Even with her distinctive voice, it’s about more than singing.
“Getting to do this is one of the great privileges and joys of life,” she said. “My goal when I come to play is to make you feel something. Hopefully if I do my job right, you’ve had one good belly laugh and maybe a tear in your eye at some point.”
And she doesn’t promise it will be perfect.
“We’ll take a journey together,” she promised. “It sounds like the setting is pretty remarkable. I’m bringing this to you; I’m giving you whatever I’ve got. Some nights it soars. Some nights it’s Kryptonite. And we’ll find out together!”
Kathy Mattea will perform her The Acoustic Living Room concert this Sunday, May 6, at 8 pm, at Hill Country Arts Foundation’s Point Theatre in Ingram.
Information and tickets:
(830) 367 5121
Box Office Hours: Mon – Fri: 10 am – 4 pm | Sat: 11 am – 4 pm