Mat Kearney goes back in time on ‘Just Kids’ 

At first, folk-rocker Mat Kearney wasn’t sure which direction his latest album “Just Kids” would take. But the more the Oregon-bred, Nashville-based toured, the more cohesive – and thematic – new tracks like “Shasta,” “Heartbeat” and “One Black Sheep” became. So he captured it all, stream-of-consciousness style, on tour around the world, utilizing his laptop and a portable studio. He couldn’t help it, he says. “I started getting nostalgia for my youth, and for my old neighborhood. And as a songwriter, you turn one corner like that, and all of a sudden everything opens up.”

Is “Just Kids” a reference to Patti Smith’s book about her and Mapplethorpe?

It was funny – I Googled “Just Kids,” and her book came up. But I already had the song, so I was like, “Ah. Oh, well!” I mean, what are you going to do? And now I’ve started her book, but I haven’t finished it. But I think the title is broader for me – it’s that concept of “Can we go back to that time before we learned all this junk, and we just trusted and believed in each other? Can we go back to that simpler place, and how we viewed each other?” That was the goal of the song, at least. But it summed up a lot of what I was trying to say on the record.

Is that your wife, Annie Sims, standing with you on the album cover?

It is. That’s my better half. And she was worried at first about doing the shot, in terms of privacy. But she’s also an aspiring actress, so on certain levels, she felt pretty comfortable putting herself out there like that. Probably even more than me. I’m definitely more of the introvert, so I guess opposites attract.

Why were you in such a reflective mood?

There were different factors. I was starting to like the more spoken-word side of my writing, which was really fun. But I think my parents moving to Nashville added to it – I kind of had a death-of-the-home-town feeling, when your parents move away from where you grew up. Oregon was a big part of my identity and how I defined myself, so I ended up writing love letters to that period of my life. But I know I wrote about something that was really important to me.

And at least you didn’t peak in high school, right?

Ha! I was a punk rock graffiti kid who was probably high a lot. And no one in my town would ever have thought that I would one day move to Nashville and be touring the country right now, promoting my fourth major-label record. That wasn’t on anyone’s radar.

IF YOU GO

Mat Kearney

Where: Warfield, 982 Market St., S.F.

When: 7:30 p.m. March 10

Tickets: $25 to $35

Contact: (415) 345-0900; www.axs.com

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Tom Lanham

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