Nashville-based singer-songwriter Mat Kearney is a firm believer in heeding metaphorical messages from the universe. So in 2016 — when his wife Annie lost her father unexpectedly, then received the news she was pregnant with their daughter Olive the very next day — he sensed much deeper implications. “And it was just a moment, like, ‘Life is short. What am I doing and what do I want? And more importantly, what don’t I want?’” he said. After some serious discussion, the couple decided it was time for a few sweeping, career-related changes.
Since Kearney — who plays Oakland next week — had signed with name-brand imprint Columbia for his 2006 sophomore effort “Nothing Left to Lose,” which featured his first breakthrough singles, “All I Need” and the title track, the business had changed dramatically. In the Spotify-streaming era, record companies had lost their cachet and relevance, and could no longer deliver the hits like they once did. “And I’d been on a major label for four records, and I was tired of the bureaucracy,” he said. “So I thought, ‘Let’s get out of this game and get more DIY.’ And we did.”
Bravely, the composer, 39, switched management, crowd-sourced the funding for his rock-solid new album, “Crazytalk,” then licensed it to hip indie Caroline afterward. Aesthetically, it’s his most inventive, as well; there’s a bubbly electronica edge to his usual classically crafted material, like “Kings and Queens” and “Better Than I Used to Be.”
“There’s kind of a chill tropical house influence there,” he said. Reviews, he recalls, initially savaged his “Nothing” disc for its combination of folk and hip-hop sounds. “But now, every artist blends genres — the kids are borrowing from everywhere, and that’s always been very exciting for me,” added the maniacal music fan, who listens to every new release he can each Friday.
It’s a message the trailblazer wants to share with any of his pop peers who feel trapped in the showbiz system. “A lot of times, you don’t know a lot, because you’re kind of like a spoiled kid,” he said. “So you only know one way: You make a record, wait three years, then go make another. But the music world now is not working that way, and it’s almost like the ’50s, very single-driven. But because I know my fan base, I know what I can accomplish on my own.”
In fact, only one aspect of Kearney’s life eluded change: his signature stage fedoras, of which he has nearly two dozen mothballed at his Nashville digs. On tour, he totes three or more along in a protective hard-shell case. “The hat is like my Superman cape,” he said. “If you take it away, I lose all my power!”
IF YOU GO
Where: Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 27
Contact: (510) 302-2250, www.ticketmaster.com