“I realised in an early age that I was never going to be happy.”
Kip Moore defines himself by his struggles. He’ll admit that his latest album ‘Wild Ones’ has yet to yield a hit radio single in the same breath as proudly declaring that it’s massively deepened his audience.
“I was trying to explain to somebody the other other day – when we toured for two and a half years off the ‘Up All Night’ record, people sang the songs. The shows were selling out, but we’ve tripled the fanbase with an underground record like ‘Wild Ones’. And people aren’t singing this record, they’re shouting this record. It’s a different passion for this record, which is really neat to see because I fought so hard to make these songs.”
The 35-year-old singer-songwriter is open and relaxed as we chat backstage at CMC Rocks QLD 2016. He shrugs off the sweaty Queensland heat (“I’m from Georgia”) from under a baseball cap he picked up surfing in California. The night before our conversation, he won the crowd over with a blistering set and he will have thousands oblivious to the pouring rain the day after, pumping their fists in a front of stage mosh to his catalogue of nuanced country-rock anthems. It’s his first visit to Australia.
While many artists only seem to be truly comfortable on stage, Moore has spent a lot of time coming to understand himself, with a level of blunt self-awareness that a lot of performers would find hard to own up to.
“I think that so often as human beings, we avoid solitude. We rely so much on human interaction to make us feel secure in our selves. That’s why people jump from relationship to relationship, because they’re scared to be alone and with their own thoughts.”
He credits Bruce Springsteen’s classic album ‘Born to Run’ with helping him become more secure in his own imperfections.
“I rediscovered it when I was about 23 and it changed my life, as a writer and everything. It made me feel comfortable in all the insecurities that I had, with all kinds of things in life. It made me tap into who I was more.”
It’s hard to separate Moore’s growth as a person from his growth as an artist. So much of his life seems to be lived in the service of becoming a truer and more fully-realised songwriter, and he’s happy to publicly illuminate the fuel behind his music.
“I’ve openly said that I struggled with depression sometimes, and it’s just one of those things inside of me, but I try to tap into that and understand it at the same time. I feel like once I was really able to live and spend long moments by myself, I was able to understand myself better. And that’s going to make me a better writer.”
It’s also made him increasingly willing to stick with his guns and push for the subject matter that resonated with him, especially on ‘Wild Ones’.
“There is a lot of desperation on that record. I love what I do, but I’ve literally been on the road for probably 250 days out of each year for the past five years. That does a weird thing to you mentally. It mentally breaks you down and it’s caused some failures with people that I care about.
You get a taste of that from this record, and get the true sense of desperation I feel like with songs like ‘Hearts Desire’, which took me ages to write, and then it just finally made sense.
This record was definitely written from the wear and tear of what the road does to you.”
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Moore from our conversation is that he never strikes me as cynical or even pessimistic. He describes himself as a “searcher for joy and peace” and seems genuinely committed to that emotional journey, even though sitting in a groove of struggle and desperation has served him well musically.
“I kind of thrive in misery, I’ll be honest. I write best in my most miserable states. Sometimes I worry that if I was just completely able to tap into joy and peace, even though I’m always searching for it, what would come out of me?”
Perhaps in spite of the voices in his head that warn him of the artistic perils of being well-adjusted, Moore is becoming a happier man. The acclaim around ‘Wild Ones’ and the passion he feels each night from his audiences is undeniably validating - and that feeling of satisfaction is creeping into the songs he’s currently writing for album number three.
“We’ve been doing this ‘Wild Ones’ tour and it’s been so incredible. I fought so hard to write and make this record. I did it my way and it’s paying off. I care so much about my craft that it makes me feel really good inside, so my writing has changed during that time.”
I joke that if he gets too happy, his records might harken back more to Jimmy Buffett than Bruce Springsteen. He bursts into laughter, then considers the prospect and shrugs.
“That might not be so bad. I’m sure that my life and music will always take twists and turns. I think about how I’m constantly trying to make something of myself and I’m constantly trying to see how far I can take this thing musically, and how far I can take myself as a writer. I’ll never make the same record twice.”
Kip Moore might be still be comfortable with misery, but it seems that maybe for the next go around, he could be willing to take a risk on happiness.