Mat Kearney

Mat Kearney has a lot in common with pro golfer Larry Nelson. After Nelson returned to the U.S. from a tour of duty in Vietnam, he picked up some golf clubs, went out to the course for his very first game and broke 100. Within three years, he was playing professionally.

That’s the kind of story no golfer really, truly wants to know about. Kearney has a similarly enviable tale if truncated: He learned guitar in college, went to Nashville, got an agent and manager in the same weekend, and went out on tour with John Mayer and Sheryl Crow.

Of course, this omits the recording sessions in a mouse-infested apartment, an independent record called Bullet, and playing the usual Nashville clubs, but his litany of woe is not nearly as long as some artists.

“Honestly, that whole season of my life was serendipity,” he told Pollstar. “I had to stop and wonder, ‘This must be what I’m supposed to be doing because some great people came out of the woodwork. I know a lot of artists that are better than me that haven’t had that much ease at finding people they want to work with.”

That team includes ASquared Management and Creative Artists Agency. He said he was grateful to get a chance to talk about them.

“I’ve never talked about my booking agent. And Scott Clayton and Tim Beeding at CAA were pivotal to me finding my place in this agency. Most people don’t understand that or want to hear that,” he said.

“A friend named Matt Wertz, who was booked by CAA, brought my CD in to them. I was in the process of finishing an independent project of my own and Scott Clayton and Tim Beeding kept calling me, saying, ‘Hey man, we’d love to have a meeting with you.'”

Beeding was Kearney’s initial advocate at the agency, bringing his music to the office’s attention. Clayton took it from there, once Kearney agreed to sign on.

“[Clayton] said, ‘Hey, can I send your CD off to this label, and I agreed. Kind of. He sent it on that Friday and then, on Saturday, I happened to be playing in Chicago when his buddy at Aware Records, Gregg Latterman, said, ‘I want to manage you and I want to represent you to Columbia.’ That began putting my team together.”

Clayton and Latterman had worked together on several projects, from John Mayer to Train.

Mat Kearney

Kearney, who came from California State University at Chico, booked his own tours of the Northwest and was “just playing wherever anyone could take me.” He was playing to audiences of five to 200 in colleges and bars, and sometimes performing as an opening act. Up until last fall, that is, when everything took off.

“Usually when people speak of William Morris or CAA, maybe some of the stereotypes are they just field phone calls, that they’re not out there beating the cement for you. They’re more for when you’re at a certain level to answer phones. I’ve heard people say, ‘Phones don’t dial out at CAA,’ which I didn’t experience.”

Beeding agreed that CAA certainly played a role in Kearney’s success, but wasn’t about to take credit for the whole enchilada.

“His music speaks for itself,” Beeding told Pollstar. “It was just a matter of getting it into the right people’s hands. Once people hear it, they get it. Between management and label and everybody else, he’s got a great team around him.”

Along with Mayer and Crow, Kearney has played with The Fray, Train, and Jason Mraz while doing his own gigs.

He’s about to start a headlining tour in earnest and doesn’t see a break.

“Break? Not unless I break my leg, I guess. I don’t see an end to what I’m doing. You only get one shot at your first record and we’re definitely digging in right now.”

Kearney is managed by Latterman, Jason Rio and Dave Wagner. Kearney knew Latterman’s history of selling the Aware compilations from the trunk of his car, helping to introduce the world to Dave Matthews Band, Hootie & The Blowfish, and Vertical Horizon. There isn’t a “plan” on paper for Kearney’s career, the artist said, which suits him fine.

“Gregg is maybe one of the best people in the industry at developing artists,” Kearney said. “I think we all dream big, but I think we gauge it as to how we’re doing right now. And I think we’re doing great. The crowds keep getting bigger every show and we’re selling more records every week. I don’t think he’s interested in having a career with a checkpoint every week.”

There’s dates on the books through November 18th but Breeding promises Kearney has more in the works. Meanwhile, his music is expected to appear in episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Friday Night Lights.”