It’s a Saturday morning in Nashville, and Kip Moore is in a cut-off tank top and ball cap that give off the impression he probably drove over in a big truck (he did) or has a thing for surfing (he does) or considers a parking lot the ideal spot for a party (he certainly has in the past). When he takes a sip of his coffee, you can just catch the tattoo on his right arm: Psalm 40:1-2.
“I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined unto me. He heard my cry. He steadied my steps and set me on solid ground,” he spits out. It’s a reflex-like response and an unexpected mantra for a guy who, from a public-facing perspective, doesn’t seem like he’s had to wait patiently for much. He went from virtual unknown to arena tour opener and platinum-selling single artist with “Somethin’ Bout a Truck” in 2011, and followed it up with recognizable radio hits “Beer Money” and “Hey Pretty Girl.” But it wasn’t an overnight success story, and Moore describes himself best on “Comeback Kid,” a number on the forthcoming Wild Ones, out August 21: “A new used car with a couple of dents.”
“We toured in a 12-passenger van way before anybody ever heard us on the radio, and we were playing every dive around the country,” Moore says. The singer’s pit stops en route to Music City from his South Georgia home ranged from a standing gig at a pizza restaurant (“It was actually a pretty happening live joint!”) to sleeping outside for a couple months surfing in Hawaii (“It rained on us every night.”). The move to Nashville was his first that felt like a permanent decision, which made the rocky first few years that much harder of a blow for Moore. “I heard the word ‘no’ five trillion times. ’You’re too aggressive — it’s too aggressive. It’s not going to work on country radio.’”
The hits that have built him may lean on country’s most ubiquitous tropes—trucks, girls, beer—but Moore’s growling vocals and anthemic Bryan Adams vibe have given him a distinctive sound within the genre. It’s an individuality he holds onto by co-writing on every track he’s released — a feat that, in country, is less than common for artists at any level. He also passes on collaborations that don’t feel right, even if they seem like slam-dunks.
“I’ve always believed that people might not know they spot bullshit, but they spot it without knowing it. They can see when something’s phony and fake,” he says. “I have to be able to put myself in this music that I’m writing, and it has to feel real to me.”
He credits that resolve in part to the company he keeps. Cowriter Westin Davis has stuck with him since their shared beginnings in the city, while producer Brett James has continuously encouraged Moore to embrace his own peculiarities in the writing room.
“There’s leaves and there’s branches and there’s roots,” he says. “Those are the kinds of people. Somebody told me a long time ago that the leaves’ll fade out really fast and the branches’ll break here and there. But the roots stick. There’ve been a lot of roots for me.”
James, a Grammy award-winning songwriter with cuts by Carrie Underwood and co-writes with Taylor Swift, has been a champion of Moore’s work in particular, producing his debut Up All Night as well as Wild Ones.
“He saw something special in me as a songwriter and didn’t try to change or mold that into the Nashville machine,” Moore says. “If I wanted to write four verses before I got to a chorus, then he let me do that. He encouraged me to be me, but helped guide me in crafting songs.”
Between nostalgia number “That Was Us,” the heartfelt “Comeback Kid” and the resignation to not-so-saintly ways on “I’m to Blame,” Wild Ones reckons the good-times guy you see on stage with the doubt-ridden newcomer who took such solace in that Psalm.
“I don’t claim to be some saint,” he says. “I know I’m not; I know I have tons of flaws and I know that I’m not good a lot of times.”
For all its confessional moments, Wild Ones embraces seeking truth in bars and backseats rather than Bibles, chronicling the struggle one moment and relishing the party in the next.
“When I first moved to Nashville, it was hard,” he says. “Everything was fear-based for me. It was, ‘I’m living in a piece-of-shit place. I’m a
low-life. What am I doing?’ That Psalm was a Psalm that I read over and over and over and over because it gave me comfort. It kept me in the game and it kept me in Nashville, which has given me the life that I love.”
Kip Moore performs September 3 at the Constellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center in Canandaigua and December 3 at Terminal 5. For a full list of Moore’s tour dates and ticket information, click here.