Kathy Mattea has long been a favorite for both the writers and readers of Country Universe. Earlier today, we had a chance to speak with Mattea about her current album, Coal, and covered many other topics along the way.
Coyne: I see Coal as the culmination of what you’ve been doing musically, which has always been introspective and focuses on the bigger issues of life. But you’ve also always done a lot of public work for social justice, especially with AIDS and the environment. It seems like it all came together on one album this time around.
Mattea: It’s been an evolving thing. It wasn’t intentionally that way. Interestingly, it came to me to do the album because of the Sago mine disaster. I had just been torn up by it. My grandfathers were coal miners, and my mom worked for the United Coal Miners and my brother used to work for the coal industry, and I was just so emotionally torn up by that event.
I was asked to sing on Larry King Live on the day of the funerals to close the show. A bunch of musicians came down to work for free, just because there were so moved by the event. And I thought, “This is a great thing. This is what music is for. I’ll make a record of this story. I’ll go back to the songs and make a record about coal mining.”
That was really my only thought about it, and the journey took me to a place that I could not see on the front end. It threaded together family stories. It led me to people who taught me about mountain top removal, which is a form of strip mining that’s going on in Appalachia right now. It also put me in touch with people so I could see that a lot of these stories are ongoing. A lot of these songs are very much the same today as what was going on in the coal fields forty years ago, sixty years ago, and longer.
You had said a few years ago that you’re now in this period of your career where you’re checking off the list. You wanted to make an acoustic album, which was Right Out of Nowhere, and the Celtic album Roses, and you made another Christmas album and now this coal mining album. What’s next on the list? Have you decided yet?
I have decided, but it’s just coming into focus, so if I tell you now, the thing will evolve in another six months so that it won’t be relevant to what I say . You have a jumping off point, but it always turns out to take you places that you don’t expect. I am starting to look around for songs for the next record, and it’s definitely a roots record.