PreViews - Kathy Mattea Interview

Uploaded by CPAPSU on 14.01.2013

[Music] >> Kathy Mattea: [Singing] I remember the
year that my granddad died
Gone, gonna rise again
They dug his grave on the mountainside
Gone, gonna rise again
I was too young to understand The way he felt about the land
But I could read his history in his hands
Gone, gonna rise again >> Laura Sullivan: Kathy Mattea is a two-time Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the
But on her two most recent albums, Coal and Calling Me Home, Mattea celebrates
the folk music of her native Appalachia.
PreViews Editor John Mark Rafacz speaks with Mattea about her journey through
the music of the mountains. The West Virginia native discusses the songs she
chose for Calling Me Home and how she wants them to convey a sense of place.
She also talks about how the traditional music of Appalachia has changed the way
she sings and thinks about her family history.
>> John Mark Rafacz: Why
record an album of music, folk music, from Appalachia, or as you would
say, I'm sure, Appalachia? [laughter]
>> Mattea: Well, this was a follow-up record to my last album which was called Coal.
That album kind of started it all and
came about after a big mine disaster had happened, and I was just torn up about it,
and I was shocked at how torn up I was about it.
I would just randomly burst into tears for these people that I'd never
And a friend of mine said, You know Kathy,
this is what music is good for,
processing emotions we don't always understand.
You know, kind of getting up into our grief.
I thought, well maybe that's what I'll do with all of this
feeling that I have that I don't understand. I'll just make a record
about Coal mining, and then I'll
get it out of my system.
And I thought it would be just this interesting side project, a little
exploration of the history, and
it just changed everything for me.
I thought the songs would be sort of simple, and kind of dark, and a little boring.
you know, it all came to life, and it changed the way I think about my own
family's story, and the way I think about singing songs, and
the way I was able to see how music can be used to help people
remember history, and heal, and communicate with each other.
I mean, it was amazing. And so it was like finding some new chunk of music
that had been missing, and so I wanted to make this record
as like a deepening of that exploration.
>> Rafacz: In Calling Me Home
there are certainly some songs that deal with coal miners and the
lives that they lead and the sort of love- hate relationship that
the coal industry has for people in Appalachia, but Calling Me Home
you cover a lot more territory. How on earth did you narrow down your choices
for what you would record?
>> Mattea: What I wanted to sing about
was a sense of place.
I wanted to sing about that, and I wanted to celebrate
that kind of relationship people have with the land there and
highlight the beauty of it and the
subtlety of what is lost when progress gets to be more important.
And just sort of subtly bring up the question of how do we hold
what's being lost and what's being gained both. And how do we make wise decisions
about that stuff?
>> Rafacz: It struck me, that there's a core of songwriters that you
chose, all of whom are women. About eight or nine of the songs on the CD are
by those four songwriters, and one of them is Jean Ritchie, who at this point I
guess is the godmother of Appalachian folk music. And then sort of the next
generation with Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, who for a long time
performed together, but you have songs written by both of them.
And then Laurie Lewis, who I wasn't familiar with, and I see in my research was
born, actually in California, but is a wonderful bluegrass songwriter and
I would imagine musician and singer, as well. >> Mattea: Yeah
Tell me a little bit about the choice of those women and what they mean to you?
>> Mattea: Well, the first two songs that I started
the album with were Jeans songs ... Now is the Cool of the Day and Black Waters.
My sense is as that as I'm looking for a record, as I start to focus on the next
I start to sort of walk through my life
with a sieve [laughter], you know, kind of looking for songs and looking for scenes and
listening for
you know, what resonates. And so
having these two really strong songs that were both about the environment
kind of gave me a point of view.
And then, you know, West Virginia Mine Disaster
I learned for a workshop that I was doing with Tim O'Brien at a bluegrass
festival. We did all songs about West Virginia. And I wanted to surprise him
with some songs that I that he might not know that I knew. 05:14.590,0:05:17.400 So I sang that, and it just stayed with me. I mean, it wouldn't leave me.
The Maple's Lament song of Laurie's
I have loved for many years.
But it never seemed like something I could do that would fit on a record
and I suddenly -- somehow it came back into my field of vision, and
I realized, Oh my God, it fits perfectly on this record.
Gone, Gonna Rise Again
came out of a conversation with Si Kahn about what I wanted to sing about. And he's like,
Yeah, I got this old song that might fit for you.
>> Rafacz: I had first heard Gone, Gonna Rise Again from a folk singer in Chicago about 25
years ago. And when I heard the song, I didn't know who Si Kahn was.
The name sounded kind of familiar, but it didn't necessarily ring a bell.
The song sounded to me like a real old timey song. It sounded like
something that was probably written in the '20s or '30s.
And it wasn't until later that I discovered that it was written in the 1970s.
It wasn't until very recently that I discovered that Si Kahn spent
the first 15 years of his life right here in State College. >> Mattea: That's right.
Part of what I was sort of
trying to do was to sing about Appalachian culture
in Kentucky,
in Virginia,
in Tennessee, in Pennsylvania, in West Virginia.
I tried hard to sort of,
you know, in a subtle way consider
all of it, you know, not just
West Virginia.
And so I kind of checked that off my list when I found that song. And really it
came out of a conversation. I was saying I really want to try to sing
environmental --
I want to take an environmentalist's point of view.
But instead of saying, don't destroy this, I want to celebrate
what we want to save.
I want to do it from the light, not from the darkness. Aand so
he said, You know, I got this old song --
and we talked about how both of our grandparents were buried on top of a
And that's what you do in Appalachia, you bury them up high
because the floods that come. And we just started reminiscing about
our common memories about that. It really felt --
when I sing that song,
I think I'm aware of my
grandparents graves on top of the hill, but I put myself in Pennsylvania.
It's funny,
till you just said that, I didn't realize that. I mean, I have
a little picture in my head of a place in Pennsylvania, and that's where I
am when I sing that song.
>> Rafacz: The older songs here and songs like them, did they resonate with you when
you were younger or did it really take you to get to middle-aged for this to
start having a deeper meaning?
>> Mattea: That music was going
like a screen saver in the background. I would hear it ...
but there was nobody to teach it to me.
I messed around with bluegrass with a friend's family band. I'd sit in and play
when I was young, but there was nobody to teach me the old songs.
When I got to Nashville,
I was 19 when I moved here, and I got a job
at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
They had these old films of Jimmie Rodgers, and Merle Travis, and
Gene Autry, and Bob Wills, and I
started to get into more roots music.
There was a film of
Merle Travis singing Dark as a Dungeon,
and I would go watch this film on my lunch hour every day.
And I remember thinking,
Merle Travis is singing about my grandfathers --
this is what it was like for them.
And it really made an impression on me, and I sort of filed that song
away in the back of my mind.
But it was vague.
It would surface every now and then, and I'd think, you know I want to make a record
something about home, or
being from West Virginia, or being from the mountains, or something. But I couldn't
get it to gel,
and the Coal record was
that. -- >> Rafacz: That was the catalyst.
>> Mattea: That's when it finally showed its face ... yeah. >> Rafacz: The late, great American playwright August Wilson
liked to talk about something he called Blood Memory. I guess
the concept is that even if you didn't personally experience it, if your
ancestors did, it was sort of in your blood lines. So
perhaps that's what,
in part, this music was just
in your system, in your DNA,
and you didn't necessarily know about it until it started coming out.
>> Mattea: You know, it's funny you would say that because I've always kind of rolled my eyes about that concept. Although, I've never
heard the term Blood Memory, I think it's fantastic!
But there are a couple of moments like that in my life. Like
I remember saying to Marty Stewart, who produced the Coal album,
I said, you know, Marty some of these songs are just almost too easy to sing.
And he said, That's because it's in your blood, pal.
And there was another moment.
When Ken Burns made The Civil War series for
PBS, he followed it up the next year
with just a one-night special on
the music of the Civil War. And I got to sing several songs in that.
And there was an old song called
The Vacant Chair that they gave me, that was the most popular on both sides
in the Civil War.
And when I came on TV singing that song, my mother and her sisters went crazy
calling each other on the phone because my great grandmother used to sing that to them
[laughter] and they all remembered. >> Rafacz: That's a great memory.
>> Mattea: So, I do think there is something to that.
It's a mystery to me, but I've come to respect it.
>> Laura Sullivan: Tickets are on sale for Kathy Mattea's concert Calling Me Home
February 1, 2013, at Penn State's Eisenhower Auditorium.
Order online at
or by phone at 1-800-ARTS-TIX.