What becomes of the broken hearted?
With the help of an old friend, Matthew Kahler hopes to come Out of the Blue
Matthew Kahler shows up to the Brick Store Pub in Decatur wearing what appears to be the same shorts, sneakers and blue T-shirt that he sports on the cover of his latest CD, Out of the Blue. When this symmetry is pointed out, he glances down to check out his wardrobe, slightly embarrassed.
"Well, just the shoes and the shorts," he says, defending his choice of outfit. "This is a different blue T-shirt though."
Sitting at a sidewalk table outside the Brick Store Pub, Kahler's just a stones' throw away from Eddie's Attic, where he'll introduce Atlanta to Out of the Blue this Saturday. Although still largely a nobody outside downtown Decatur, here Kahler's a mini-celebrity, frequently recognized and accosted by passers-by.
Maybe they're just glad to have him around. It was a little less than a year ago that Kahler played what was billed as his farewell show at Eddie's Attic. He was rumored to be moving to Alaska, sick and tired of the music business and looking for a new start. Now he's back with a strong new album, produced by his old friend Shawn Mullins for Mullins' small label, SMG Records. He's also co-written Mullins' new single, "Everywhere I Go," which is practically guaranteed to become ubiquitous on 99X any day now.
In short, things are looking good for Matthew Kahler these days. Or so it would seem anyway. But a close listen to Mullins' "Everywhere I Go," (to which Kahler wrote most of the lyrics and the hook melody) or to Kahler's own album reveals a man in turmoil. So what happened? Why is Kahler getting ready to tour behind a new album when most thought he'd be living in an igloo by now?
"I had big plans for Alaska," he explains. "I wanted to run away. I was getting out of this relationship that I was in for so long. It was so hard. The only thing I could think was to totally isolate myself. And then Shawn came to me about doing this."
For longtime followers of the Decatur acoustic scene, this collaboration between Mullins and Kahler, who used to do shows together on a regular basis, might seem like a reunion of sorts.
"It is," Kahler agrees. "I mean, [after] all that wacky stuff for Shawn started to settle down a little bit, we finally talked and just reconnected. This is a project that we worked on out of the love for music and our respect for each other. Shawn is all over this record — from producing to playing. He even did all the back-up vocals. He was totally committed to this project, one-hundred and twenty percent, despite all the other things he had going on."
For his part, Kahler seems to have drawn much of the inspiration for Out of the Blue from being dragged through love's sewers. Whether he's bumping into ex-lovers in the street on the title track, or musing about relationship addiction and living life outside the comfort zone on the song that follows it, "It Will Not Come," it's clear his heart's been broken and he wants the world to know it.
"It's kind of a shitty thing," he says, staring down into his beer and then looking away at nothing in particular. "Because I would trade that song ["Out of the Blue"] for it to be different. That song wouldn't have happened unless all this shit happened to me. I do not think you have to be in turmoil all the time to write, but I do think as a result of what happens, some of the more stark things pop out."
And keep popping out, again and again. Pain and heartache seep through the album, and Kahler holds nothing back, letting us get a good, long look at — as he puts it in the song "You" — "the wreckage of my heart." And as is often the case, that wreckage makes great fodder for songs.
"Affairs of the heart are the most difficult," he says. "I mean, I've given up cigarettes and that was hard, but compared to this, it was nothing. If there's something that you only want to share with one person, and then you can't share that anymore, it hurts. And you've just got to express that in some way."
Or as the great songwriter John Prine once said on the same subject: the last thing you want to do when you're having a great time is to sit down and write a song about it.
"Exactly," nods Kahler.
Kahler is obviously proud of his latest effort. He eagerly points out certain parts of certain songs, lauding the players on each track. Players include local wunderkind guitarist John Mayer, who has a skyrocketing solo career of his own, and stunningly talented bassist Dave LaBruyere. Of course, the one everyone seems to focus on is Mullins, whose involvement automatically raises the project's profile.
"He was already done with his record but they [Columbia Records] wanted to put some more songs on it," Kahler explains. "He was working on my record, which has this song called 'Somebody' on it. There's a melody in that song that we didn't use. Shawn started adding to that melody and singing the words 'everywhere I go.' He said 'Will you help me write this song?' and I said 'yeah'."
Though Kahler is a known and respected songwriter in certain circles, he has never had a hit. His work with Mullins threatens to change all that.
"Somebody called me today and said they heard ["Everywhere I Go"] in TJ Maxx," Kahler says with a slightly embarrassed chuckle. "[But] I don't worry about things I have no control over. There are so many levels to it. This was a mutual exchange between me and Shawn, and now Columbia says it's going to be the single? OK, fine."
But does he think it will become a hit?
He stares back down into his beer and then off at nothing again, this time with a little smile on his face. "Umm...yeah, let's say that. Let's go against my nature and say it's gonna be a hit. Why not be positive?"
Matthew Kahler's CD-release party is Sat. Oct. 7 at Eddie's Attic with special guests Shawn Mullins and John Mayer. Two shows at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Cover is $10 per show at the door. Call 404-377-4976 for more information.