Universal Music Group Nashville
"There's a rawness to this record, and that helps it be a little unique," says Kip, whom one critic smartly dubbed the "hillbilly Springsteen." "There's a very raw grit to the whole thing all the way through. There's a lot of hope on the record. There's also a lot of heartache on the record. The songs will make you feel so many emotions."
Leaning back in his chair on a sunny afternoon at the Universal Music Group's Nashville headquarters, Kip is upbeat and happy to talk to The Boot about his debut album and the years of hard work leading up to his current success. An energetic guy with kind eyes and a quick smile, Kip spent years performing in clubs and earning a devoted following long before he signed a record deal.
He also spent a great deal of time honing his songwriting skills, which was time well spent as Kip wrote or co-wrote all 11 tunes on Up All Night. His songwriting has also caught the attention of other artists. Thompson Square, James Wesley and Jake Owen are among those who have recorded Kip's tunes. As much as he appreciates the validation of having other artists cut his songs, he says there's nothing like seeing the reaction of the fans. "I've been having a blast watching people singing these songs back. Seeing them singing something that I wrote is pretty wild," says Kip, currently on tour with Billy Currington and David Nail.
"To hear people saying, 'The music you are doing has really touched my life and it's moved me in a lot of ways. It's helped me get through some tough times.' That's the best compliment that you could get," Kip continues. "Just seeing people appreciate what you do, come out and support it, and sing the songs back, there's not a better feeling in the world. You can take people out of their reality, if only for 30 minutes. It might be a tough reality that they are living in and if you can help somebody escape from that, it's a gratifying thing."
Kip first began interacting with fans while playing clubs in his native Georgia, but country music stardom didn't seem like a possibility. "I started playing guitar like when I was 17 or so, but where I'm from, you just don't hear about people moving to Nashville and making it," says the musician, who grew up in a family of six children. "It was such a foreign thing to me. I never knew music was an option for me."
He played clubs during college and after graduation decided to move to Hawaii and indulge his passion for surfing. "I lived out in the woods about two miles from the beach," he says of life in a remote hut on the big island. "I hitchhiked to the beach every day and surfed and backpacked all over. I had a little Yamaha guitar and was writing songs. Living out there was when I discovered I'm not going to be happy doing anything else. You might not know it because I keep on a good front, but I have a kind of a tormented soul to some extent, and I learned that that's the only thing that I'm going to be fulfilled and happy doing. So there's no plan B for me. I decided I'm going to make this happen. I'm going to move and do this thing."
So he did. He moved to Nashville in 2004 and began playing clubs and developed a loyal following. Music Row executives took notice. Joe Fisher, who has since become UMG Nashville senior director of A&R, became a fan and he introduced Kip to Brett James. An acclaimed songwriter who has penned such hits as Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel" and Kenny Chesney's "When the Sun Goes Down," Brett has a reputation as one of the nicest guys in the business and is a much sought after producer.
"I owe so much to Brett. He's like a brother to me," says Kip. "The main thing Brett did for me is Bret let me be me. He believed in what I was doing and the way that I was wording things, and he helped me shape and hone things. He gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted to and to find my way as an artist. He's such a brilliant guy and I've learned so much just being around him."
When he first met Brett, Kip was about to sign a deal with Broken Bow Records, but changed his mind. "Brett heard me playing and asked me to come in," he recalls. "We just hit it off so great and he said, 'I can't offer you a record deal right now. I won't have the fast track, but if you can stick with me, I think we can create something great.' I just felt that's where I was supposed to be, so that's what I did."
Following his instincts has paid off for Kip. His hit single, "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck," is approaching gold status, having sold more than 485,000 units and ranking No. 9 on Billboard magazine's Top-Selling Country Digital Songs for first quarter 2012.
"Small town America is everywhere," Kip says of the song's widespread appeal. "It's in every part of the country and there are so many teens and college kids that are living that song, and even people that are a lot older than that. There are people going out in fields, fishing, drinking beer and sitting on tailgates. That's just he way so many of us grew up and that's why the song has resonated. It's very relatable for anybody coming from these small towns."
Earlier this year, just as the single was gaining momentum and Kip was looking forward to hitting the road with Billy Currington, he had a scare when he ruptured a vocal cord. "I'm back 100% now," Kip says. "I sang a few shows while I had strep throat. I kept pushing and then my vocal cord popped one night and it started hemorrhaging. I just had to shut it down for two weeks and not do anything. It took a little while, but I'm back. Luckily it wasn't during the tour."
When he's not on tour, Kip still loves surfing and enjoys rock climbing. "I just took a surfing trip to Folly Beach, [SC]. I've got a buddy that lives over there and I surfed for five days and had a blast," says Kip. "I'm going to do some surfing in Mexico this winter. I try to take some trips whenever I can.
"When I'm home, there is a rock climbing place in Nashville. I'll go do that and I do a lot of running outside, but I'm such a fanatic of what I'm trying to do that I'm usually in my studio. When I'm not on the road, I'm in there working. That's where I am."
Right now music is an all-consuming passion for Kip, who says he doesn't have a significant other at the moment, and doesn't even have time for a pet. "I love dogs," he says with a big smile. "I want a German Shepherd one day, but I don't have any pets right now. I will one day. I'll have a wife and a pet one day. Right now all I have is guitars and that's about it."