Call of the Wild: A Conversation with Kip Moore

By: Lauren Tingle

Kip Christian Moore lives his name. His faith in God gets him out of bed every day. And it was a miracle of Biblical proportions that we were both functioning adults on a Monday morning, chatting in 90-degree heat at Nashville’s Frothy Monkey. Kip had just arrived home five hours before our interview from Columbus, Ohio, where he was booked to play a private function for the Jason Day Foundation. Then a late night listening session of Wilco, Son Volt and Jackson Browne kept Kip up on the bus with his band until 3 a.m. Back in Music City, his sophomore album Wild Ones kept me up all night with a head spinning with questions.

An album delay is frustrating for any fan, but I thank God the advance of Wild Ones hit my inbox when it did, just when I needed it most. I had received a call that my sweet 94-year-old grandmother was in hospice suffering from congestive heart failure and the prognosis was that in less than a week, she’d no longer be with us. She passed the next day. Music has always been there for me in times of loss and I had faith Wild Ones would be the answer to my prayers for comfort. When I listened to it for the first time, it was that and so much more. Moments of Muse, Bruce Springsteen, Kings of Leon, Smashing Pumpkins, Tom Petty, Steve Miller Band and Avett Brothers can be heard throughout the 13-track collection. The balance of banjo and steel with lyrics about authentic blue-collar living give the album its country color. But what I love most about Wild Ones is that some of the most imaginative lyrics are saved for the choruses. In “Magic,” Kip sings, “It’s the way you look when you hold me close; When your hair falls down raining glitter and gold; Oh, give me some of that magic.” When I heard those words for the first time, I thought, Women should never settle for anything less. Listen to all that detail! It reminded me of one of my favorite scenes in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.

After catching up on our summers, Kip’s first question for me was, “What’s your favorite song on the record? I’m curious.”

I love them all. “Magic” struck me hard with its imagery. “Lipstick” is one of my new favorite state songs. It reminded me of “Today” by Smashing Pumpkins. “Come and Get It” is so strangely empowering for women. It’s erotic in nature, but it’s not putting the woman down.
No, not at all. I’m basically transitioning my fan base into a whole other kind of sound. I’ve got three more bodies of work ready. This is going to segue way into that. I feel like I have a ton of colors as a writer. I don’t want to express just one. I can’t wait to put out these different bodies of work.

That’s good news. The last time we chatted, you were frustrated over the delay of your sophomore album. Did that experience affect the creative process with this record?
Absolutely. I wasn’t in a good place mentally for about two years, battling all kinds of different things for different reasons. But I’ve always been a spiritual person. I walk a line of good and bad a lot. But I’ve always had a heart for God. Faith has been a center of my life and when I stray from it, I get very empty. And it’s not necessarily straying by doing bad things — doing hard drugs and those kinds of things — it’s more of, when I’m not spending that time to stay close in that realm, I get lost. And I got really lost. About nine or 10 months ago, I found my spiritual sense again and the record completely changed. It morphed into something else because I never stopped writing. I let a lot of that frustration go, and the record just took on a whole other shape.”

I was wondering, did it hurt to skip an entire evolution of your art by scrapping a collection intended to be your sophomore album?
Yeah. It hurt bad. I still believe in that other body of work. It just wasn’t time for that body of work right now. It will definitely find a home.

A friend put it to me this way, “It’s like you’re working on a huge painting. Sometimes you have paint over it to get to a more elevated piece of art.”
I feel like I’m constantly doing that. That’s the double-edged sword of the whole thing. I’m always searching to get better creatively. I’ve never cared about money. I think about friends of mine who have been so driven by money being their success. A lot of that is brought on by parents, family and how you were raised. My dad was never one of those dads. He was a very blue-collar guy. He was always about doing the things that he loved to do. I was never driven to play music to get women, fame or success as far as money goes. I always wanted to be a master at my craft. It’s going to always be changing and evolving for me. I know people are going to get Wild Ones and think, “Well, this isn’t like the last record.” Well, I’ve already made the last record. I think it happens in our world a lot where each record sounds the same. It’s the same topics. It’s the same guitar sounds because that’s safe for a lot of people. Something’s working. I can’t live like that. I feel like I’m always changing and growing. So, my music is going to change.

Well, I have to know everything about this album.
Go ahead. Start firing away.

Tell me about some of the wild souls that helped you make this album. I think it’s important people know that one of your co-writers, Luke Dick, is not a porn star.
There’s a new name behind this record, but he’s not new to me. Westin Davis is someone I met 10 years ago. We were both new in Nashville. Back then, even though we were riding around in our trucks that barely started and living in our little shithole places we were living in, in our minds, we had already made it. We are truly blood brothers. There are maybe two people in my life who I feel like would literally take a bullet for me, and he’s one of them. I think he knows I’d take a bullet for him. I can only hope other writers have that kind of bond that we have. It killed me when he didn’t make the first record because we had been writing together for years. We wrote “Dirt Road” together. We wrote “I’m to Blame” together, plus two other tracks on this new record. There’s the familiar face of Dan Couch, who co-wrote a lot of the first album with me. He and Westin are the backbone of what I do. You’ve got Brett James, who’s another familiar face from the first record. Then you’ve got the new guys like Luke and Chris DeStefano. I met Luke through Westin. And Westin was telling me how interesting he was. As far as musically, Luke would be a root. Every now and then in your life, you find leaves that float away kind of fast and branches that break off slowly. Westin’s a root and Luke’s going to be a root. Luke is not scared to try crazy things musically. Me, Luke and Westin are going to be a powerful combination for years to come.

How did working with some of the newer folks affect your philosophy toward music?
I don’t know if they changed my philosophy toward music. But they definitely helped bring out things in my mind and put an interesting spin on it. Anytime you get around people like Chris and Luke who are amazing musically, they trigger a whole other piece of your brain. I’ve always been a visual person — painting a very clear picture and having an exact direction of where a song is supposed to go. For me, Luke has opened my mind to writing in a different poetic style where the music can be interpreted in many different ways. “Hey Pretty Girl” is clear and cut to the point. Working with Luke is like creating a painting that looks different to every single person that passes by it.

I do hope that women pay close attention to “Magic.” The imagery sets you in a scene. It’s so imaginative. I did want to know more about “Complicated.”
“Complicated” came from me thinking about how messed up I can be at times. I was sitting around with a really close friend of mine. He and his wife had been married for two years and they were just having a baby. I’ve never been around another couple that insanely in love. They can’t keep their hands off each other, and they both think the world of each other. But for the first time in their lives, they were kind of having problems. I think the stress of that and at the same time, I had somebody in my life say to me, “Why are you so afraid to try this? Why are you so afraid to give this thing a shot?” I don’t realize it until I step away from certain relationships that I constantly have a wall up and I don’t let anyone [get close] in that kind of way. I think I’ve always had excuses. There’s always going to be reasons to not be together. There are always going to be things in life that make love tough. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. With those two things happening at the same time — seeing my friends struggle as a married couple and then having somebody say this to me because I’ve been so driven by this career — I walked into the writing room that day talking about it with Chris and Rodney Clawson. That’s how the whole idea for that song started.

I’m very excited about the new tour coming up in the fall. Talk about the special bond that you have with your road band, too, because their names are on the Wild Ones, as well. Not many people are doing that in Nashville.
My guys play on the records, too. I’m sure a lot of bands feel this way, but I don’t think there’s a tighter-knit band in this town as far as a band that loves each other and will do anything for each other. I’ve always gone out of my way to try to make it feel like a community rather than, “I’m the artist and you guys are the players.” I want them to be a part of it because they’re super talented people. At sound check, I encourage them to come up with grooves and ideas. “Break My Heart” was written with the whole band. It’ll find its way on an album at some point. Manny Medina (bass) is on “Come and Get It” with me. Adam Browder (guitar) and Erich Wigdahl (drums) are on “Heart’s Desire,” which is one of my favorites on the record. Nashville’s a revolving door of musicians in each band. But Manny, Adam, Dave and Wigs are my guys.

I love the studio version of “Heart’s Desire.” To me, it’s your “Sunday Morning Comin’ Down.”
I wrote four songs over that melody before I landed on “Heart’s Desire.” That’s how crazy I was with this record in the sense that I wanted it to be perfect. Adam and Erich came up with the groove at sound check. I just started firing off a melody to it and the first thing I said was, “Ooo, heeey…. I’m a ragin’ fire …” and I didn’t know what was supposed to come after that. Dan and I wrote three or four different songs on top of melody and every time we’d finish, I’d say, “That’s not right.” What we were writing wasn’t capturing the power of that melody. At that particular time in my life I was dealing with something really heavy emotionally. I’m smoking a cigarette talking to you right now but I’ll go weeks without having a cigarette. Usually the only time I smoke is when I write music or when I’m nervous in an interview. But I never want to be one of those people who smokes when they drink or whatever. But when I write music, it’s something that makes my mind trigger. Late one night, Dan and I were trying to finish the song. We were back at square one. It was 19-degrees outside — freezing cold — and I walked outside, took a drag and I watched that smoke roll onto a window and fog it up. I had never felt so alone in that moment. That was the most alone I had ever felt in my life for different reasons. As much exuberance as this career can bring you, when you have a mind that I think works like mine, it can also make the journey feel completely solo. It’s a very isolated feeling. That’s when the first verse came, “Night’s falling on me like a big black coat; I’m staring through the window at the empty cold; Thick, white smoke rolling off my lips; My chest is feeling heavy like a cannon ball; Got sweat rollin’ down me like a waterfall ‘cause I let love slip through my fingertips.” I went inside and I knew I had the song then. I just had to keep fighting for it. You’ve got to fight for great songs. And within an hour, we were done. In “Like a lion in a rusted out cage,” I wanted to describe a feeling like I’ve been in this room with a million high walls keeping everyone away, but I’m dying inside to bust out. The “rusted out cage” part means that lion has been in there for a long time. It’s like being trapped in your own prison. You bring it on yourself. That was my poetic way of saying, “I’m tired of feeling this way and I want to get out.” That’s one of my favorite lines in the song.

Talk about some of the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition — “What I Do,” “Backseat” and “Burn the Whole World Down.” I recognize the titles as some fan favorites.

No one has ever heard “Burn the Whole World Down.”

It was the title of your 2013 tour, right?
I know. But nobody has ever heard it. We’ve never played it live.

What made it such an important song to keep secret?
I was waiting for the record to come out. There are songs like that and “Lipstick” that I wanted to leave something special the fans haven’t discovered yet. When we had that tour, we thought that the record was going to come out. But it never came out, so we never played it. “Backseat” has just been this underground thing for the longest time. We were headlining a show in Wisconsin the other night for 12,000 people. It was probably the biggest headlining show I’ve had. I had already played “Faith When I Fall,” which is my normal encore. Then the whole crowd started chanting, “Backseat.” That was a pretty cool reaction for a song that’s never been on a record and that’s never been on the radio. That’s when you know you’ve built a real fan base. We recorded that one super raw and in one take with all the amps in the room. It wasn’t like you normally track with amps in separate rooms where it’s clean. We made it really dirty, and it’s a bad ass recording.

Question about “Comeback Kid” — Who were some of your earliest supporters when they didn’t have a reason to believe in you?
Brett never waived. Shawn McSpadden, Joe Fischer, Westin and Dan — without those guys, I may have quit. But there was always a constant thing of, “We’re going to do this.” You need those people in this town. This is tough. I didn’t have one of those easy roads. I got kicked in the teeth over and over. I was told, “No,” by a million people. And I had different people in my life who were very encouraging to me at pivotal points where I was really down. I’m not going to say their names, but they know who they are. But there are definitely special people that have held me up through tough times.

What do you hope your fans learn personally about you through Wild Ones?
It’s not about what I want them to learn about me personally. I want them to be able to connect in their own way. I want them to be able to learn more about themselves. I try to write in a vulnerable style because I know somebody else is feeling the same. I think that’s what makes people stick around when you’ve had to wait three years for a record. When you tap into somebody’s soul, that’s when a connection is made. Any artist I’ve ever cared about — continued to buy records and go see live — are people who have tapped into my soul. That’s what I’m trying to do. You liked, “That Was Us?”

Yes. That is the best piece of storytelling I’ve ever heard from you.
Thank you. That was waking up at 4 a.m. and luckily having Westin on the bus with me. I picked up my guitar in the front lounge by myself and I started singing the chorus. Westin came out when he heard me. He quickly spat out that line, “Me and Teddy used to burn that old Chevy all the way out to Mary Lee’s; One of the guys, that kind of ride or die and we were thick as thieves.” Westin grew up in North Florida and I’m from South Georgia. Our way of life was very similar. We both had that girl our life that hung with the guys, and we felt like a brother to her. We were very protective of her. That’s how the whole song started. But to me, it has the sexiest groove. It’s such a hypnotic track to me. And I think that’s possibly going to be a favorite with the fans when they get it.”

That was another first impression I had when I listened to the album for the first time. I thought, There are going to be a lot of babies made to this record.
That’s a good thing.

You’re going to start seeing signs nine months from the release date saying, “Baby’s first show!”
I’ve honestly had so many people come up to me and say, “Your music brought on a baby for us.” I’ll take it. I feel like there’s a sexiness to the music. I don’t know if that’s because of what I was brought up on Sam Cooke and those guys. I don’t know.

I definitely thought about you when Ben E. King passed. I loved your cover of “Stand By Me.”
I’m going to have to come up with a new one. I’m not sure what that’s going to be yet. But we’re going to get it.

I love the album artwork, too.
I felt like the cover was so important. I wanted the cover to capture the angst and the power of what I felt the record was. I got with Bruce McPeters from my merch company Future Shirts. I had a live shot from a concert and I told him I wanted it to look like war paint. He sent it back to me and I was just blown away by it. The label loved it when we turned it in.

As someone who has completely devoted your life to making art, how do you make sure that you are emotionally present for the people you love in life?
I’m not always emotionally present for the people in my life. There are certain people that will draw it out of me. But I can completely admit I’ve had a problem with that. I shut people out. It’s funny — when I spend my time isolated like I do so much I can tap into what I’m honestly feeling inside. But a lot of times, I’m too guarded to tap into it in real life.

It’s a way of protecting your point of view. When I went to see a girlfriend in Los Angeles earlier this summer, her friends were unafraid to speak their minds. But at the same time, they were very careful with the words they used — in casual conversation and in music. Is that true for you?
Yes. There was someone really close in my life about three-and-a-half years ago, and I always knew the things I wanted to say to her. I knew how I felt about her, but it just never came out. Then I tap into the regret of that and that’s where my best lyrics come out — when I go off by myself. But that person never gets to see or feel that regret. It’s not a tangible thing for them. There will come a time for it.

In a business where anything can happen, how do you have trust in your present and your future?
God. That’s the center of everything for me. I’m not going to sit here and say I don’t have my struggles and my doubts. But at the end of the day, I truly believe that I’m taken care of 100%. I’ve always had a strong faith. I’ve prayed for the right people to be around me, and prayed to have the discernment that I can distinguish when it’s not right. I’ve gotten rid of those people in my life. I feel I can read people well. I’ve managed to stay away from the people that will take advantage of me. I’ve got a super solid team of people around me. But that’s all a God thing to me. I’ve given that to Him.

Same here.
I’m not scared to talk about that stuff. I’ve always been a spiritual person. That’s why I go on these crazy adventures surfing and rock climbing by myself. Those are the moments that make me feel small and make me feel close to God. I need those things to get back in tune. Regardless of what happens in my career, deep down I know I’m okay.

You do have some really wild fans who love you. I think the delay was kind of a blessing in disguise in the way that it made them hungry for new material.
That was a big fear of mine. I was worried the fans were going to leave because it takes so long between records. The hardest thing for me, too, was playing the same material. I’ve been worried they were going to get tired coming to shows hearing the same songs because I only have one record. I think the reason the fans are so passionate is they can see every night I completely immerse myself in a show. I’m present and pour my soul onstage. I never take a night off. It’s a special relationship I know that I have with my fans. I believe there’s a difference when the audience knows you’ve earned it, and you know you’ve earned it with the audience. There’s a different kind of connection that you have, and I’m trying to fight for that audience constantly. I never take it for granted.

When my grandmother passed, I remembered growing up on her farm. Everything sweet, slow and wild about me comes from her. I would help her and grandpa shell peas. To honor her memory, I went to the grocery, bought a bunch of pea pods and spent an entire afternoon shelling peas. Do you ever get to honor your father in a similar way?
There are different ways for me. Music is a big thing. He always listened to Bob Seger, Little River Band and Jackson Browne. I went surfing in Hawaii recently. I got in my rental car, put on the Little River Band and just rode the whole island listening to that record just to feel him in that moment. We had such a special bond fishing. I grew up with him taking me and my two brothers fishing down in Florida. The last fishing trip we had was a special one in so many different ways. It was three-and-a-half years ago and a month before he passed. He was in so much pain every single day, but on that day everything was perfect. He had no pain. Watching him be his old self, pain-free and all the fish we caught, I knew that day would be the last time were going to get to fish. At the time, he hadn’t been diagnosed with a brain tumor. We just knew he was very sick and that he was in bad shape. But I knew God was giving us that day. All day long, we caught something every cast. He was laughing and felt good. So, I hope to start fishing again soon. It’s been tough for me to go back. My brother’s got dad’s old boat, and I’d like to start an annual fishing trip with my brothers every Thanksgiving. But we haven’t been fishing since.

Every walk in nature will remind me of grandma.
I know exactly what you mean. Dad was the biggest man’s man you’ve ever met. He would fight at the drop of a hat — no bullshit about him. He could be mean as a rattlesnake or he could be the sweetest guy on the planet. He was one of the most unique characters ever. One of his soft sides was he loved to pick blackberries close to the house in the woods and bake blackberry pies. We recently had a show in the middle of nowhere at some festival. Backstage, you get a fruit tray every single time and they’re always the same — melons, strawberries, grapes. Except this time, they had a tray of blackberries, and it was the only time that’s ever been done. That was the first time since he passed that I truly felt his presence. And it hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew that it wasn’t a coincidence.

What a powerful moment. I spent most of last summer picking at an organic berry farm in Tullahoma. That was my good clean fun.
I get you. I understand it.

How often do you get to write with female songwriters? I saw on Instagram that you were writing with Jewel.
I do write with female writers. I love their take on life. Hillary Lindsey is one of my favorite people on the planet to write with, and we have some stuff that I know is going to find its way at some point.

I think you do a really great job at celebrating a woman’s spirit. How important is it to you to give your female fans songs that inspire them to strive for something better in their lives?
I don’t know if it’s because I think the world of my mom, because she’s such an amazing woman, but I’ve always felt that a woman’s heart is a very special thing. And I haven’t always been good with it. I’ve always wanted to capture them in the light they deserved. That’s been a conscious thing.

Wild Ones is available now. Kip will be on NBC’s Today show on Tuesday. The Wild Ones tour starts October 8 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Recommended Listening: Get ready to get wild. A few months back, I interviewed Kip for Nashville’s launch of the Comeback Kid Skatepark Project and asked how he wanted fans to experience the new album for the first time. He said, “I hope that the first time that they get this record, and I know not everybody is going to do this, but I hope that they wait. I hope that they wait until it’s midnight, 1 a.m., 2 a.m. … get in your car, get on a back road, put the throttle down and let the windows down. That’s what this record is.”

Our Favorite and Most Tattoo-Friendly Lyrics:

Worry ’bout tomorrow when tomorrow comes

I can feel the steel sticking to my back; Feel the wind howling through the trains on the track; Counting every star; Crossing every line; Always thinking that you’d be mine.

Want you to strike a flame; Ignite it full on fire; Girl you got me burnin’; So take me a little higher; I wanna walk that wire; Stop the hands of time; Forever right here; Leave me blind baby; ‘Cause my only fear; Is that you’ll disappear; Now your lips do something to my kiss make me want you more and believe again.

We crossed a county line for a kegger one night for some girls we had never seen; Teddy had his eye locked on a dime; Mary said she was looking at me; Standing there sipping on a smoke on a cheap ass bottle of rum; She said, “My name’s Katie you’re my kind of crazy and it takes one to know one.”

Mary Lee started hangin’ started talkin’ with a boy with a checkered past; It wasn’t long before he showed his true colors and he left him all blue and black; Cops stopped us runnin’ 90 with a loaded pistol and a bottle of booze; And it’s a good damn thing them blue lights got us before we did what we was gonna do.

I rode a lot of miles just to feel your smile

Is it your racy little red dress? Your rock ‘n’ roll tank top or nothin’ but a t-shirt ‘cause it’s bedtime? Hot pink knee high? Argyle socks? I bet you’re wearing that ball cap; Top Gun Ray Bans; Looking like a star from the 1980s; Tell me honey how did I become your man?

When I finally settle into a midnight dream; Go walkin’ through a field of flowers smilin’ at me; So I reach right out; And try to touch your skin; Then a mornin’ breeze blows and I almost taste; Your sweet scent drifting off my pillow case; Damn this day; Here I go again.

Roll the window down; Baby wave goodbye; To your momma standing there in the drive; From the day we met; We were going too fast; We were born to run; We were built to last.

I’m to blame for breakin’ your heart; Takin’ this livin’ a little too hard; Drinkin’ too much and playin’ too loud; Where there’s a scar I carved it out.

Even if it’s all just death and taxes, well that’s alright with me.

I’m gonna miss you; But baby there’s no way that I can go with you; So go on and chase it; Yeah, I know, I know, I know you can almost taste it; Yeah time is a-wastin’; But if the rain starts fallin’, fallin’ on you; And your heart starts breakin’, breakin’ in two; If the light starts fadin’; Baby don’t move; Just say my name; Stay right there; I’ll come runnin’ for you.

Someday I’m going to get you that white picket fence; And the little pink house just like Mellencamp said; ‘Cause I wanna taste the good life before the Lord puts us to bed; Girl, keep holdin’ on; Keep hangin’ in; Don’t ever do what you never did; Don’t give up on this comeback kid; Girl I’m glad that you never did; Lose faith in this comeback kid.

I’ll send you love; Through the cold black dark; From the bottom of my heart; You said it’s hard to say, “I love you;” But it’s hard to say I don’t; And that ain’t enough to keep me hangin’ ‘round.