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Mattea digs for ‘Coal’

By Staff | Jun 3, 2008

Kathy Mattea, born in South Charleston, has been creating the modern sound of country music for decades. She’s a Grammy winning singer who’s world-famous for such hits as “18 Wheels and a Dozen Roses,” “Where’ve You Been,” and “Battle Hymn of Love.” Recently, she’s taken that sound back in time with her new CD, “Coal.” You can read more at www.mattea.com.

Graffiti: You just played an environmental benefit concert in Nashville. How did you get involved with that?

Kathy Mattea: It was a large clean up for a recreational lake. It had not been touched in 50 years. I’ve been involved in environmental causes for a long time. It’s nice to be of service. I spent lots of time on that lake, with friends who had a sailboat when I was waiting tables in Nashville.

Graffiti: Though you grew up in West Virginia, your Web site says you didn’t think you had an ear for Appalachian music. How did you study up on the genre?

Kathy Mattea: I grew up listening to it, but not singing it. I didn’t have any mentoring. I had to go steep myself in it. I took six months on one song. Stylistically, I had to strip away the layers of my own style. Then, I focused on the lyrics. If there aren’t any words, people won’t believe it. I learned hundreds of songs, every week I would drop one or two. I wanted to make sure that there was a wide range, melodically and stylistically. I also wanted to have songs about the social justice, black lung, the community.


Graffiti: Do you have any family members who were miners?

Kathy Mattea: Both my grandfathers were miners. My dad was the first out of the business. My brother works for the mines, but on a barge.

Graffiti: How often do you perform in West Virginia?

Kathy Mattea: Pretty often. I do a few gigs a year there. I also go home to visit my family.


Graffiti: Were any of your family members musical?

Kathy Mattea: My dad had a gorgeous voice. My mom couldn’t carry a tune to save her life. But my mom really stewarded my interest in music. She took me to my guitar lessons, piano lessons, for my musical plays. She worked very hard not to be a stage mom, but she was a fierce advocate for her kids. Before I had a driver’s license, I auditioned for a play and she waited in the car. Even when I got the part, she’d drive me to all the rehearsals, but stay outside.


Graffiti: You’ve rediscovered Appalachian music. Are there other genres you’d like to explore?

Kathy Mattea: I kind of explored Celtic music for a while; I went to Scotland and I have an Irish fiddle player in the band. But when I discovered Appalachian music, I thought, “This is a whole world.” I’ve been listening to sacred harp singing, which is a folk choral tradition in the South. There’s a group that meets a block from my house and I just dropped in. I haven’t decided if I’m going to do a “Coal, Vol. 2” or some other approach. I feel so alive when I’m singing! The songs are so simple … I’m constantly fighting not to put more bells and whistles in. I have a friend in Nashville who said, “Anytime you’re trying to record music in a commercial way, you subvert its purpose.”

Contact Tamar at tfleishman@graffitiwv.com