Blair Daly never intended to write country music when he first moved to Nashville in the early 1990s. Instead, the Louisiana native had his heart set on rock music. A chameleon when it comes to songwriting, Daly has penned hits for artists in countless genres including country, pop, rock and alt-rock. He continues to be a mainstay in the Nashville songwriting community, having signed a new publishing deal with Concord Music earlier this year.
During an in-depth three-hour interview at his studio in Nashville, Daly explains how writing for multiple genres of music keeps songwriting from feeling like a job. A lover of all types of music, Daly tries his best to keep his calendar balanced with a mix of rock, country and pop co-writes.
“To me, writing rock songs makes me better at writing country songs and writing country songs makes me better at the other,” he explains, settling into a desk chair at his studio. “[You’re] exercising all the muscles and it keeps you fresh.”
Daly has penned songs for a wide range of artists. His studio’s walls are covered in plaques from songs he’s written for Kip Moore, Kelly Clarkson, the Backstreet Boys, Carrie Underwood, Halestorm and Little Big Town. Just a glimpse at his catalog, other acts who have recorded his music include Rascal Flatts, Uncle Kracker, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Veil Brides and Sixx:A.M. While he’s found success in the country genre, it was rock music that laid the groundwork for his lifelong passion of music.
Daly grew up in a small town in Louisiana playing in rock bands. His high school only had two bands so he found himself alternating between both and playing whatever instrument was needed. The songwriter admits that he never thought about writing songs until it came time to decide what he would be doing after high school. He wanted to move to Los Angeles to be in a rock band and play famous venues on the Sunset Strip like the Whiskey a Go Go. His parents vetoed the idea and suggested looking into colleges in Nashville instead.
“In 1990, Nashville was still mostly country music and I was like, ‘What? Nashville! Country music?’ I grew up on rock and hard rock in the ’80s when rock was king,” he explains. “When I started investigating Nashville and coming up here to look at schools, I started running into people who wrote songs for a living. I never knew it was a real job until right before I moved here.”
Daly attended Middle Tennessee State University for a while — until he found his first “legit out” going on the road with a family member of his, Will Rambeaux, who was pursuing an artist career. His experience qualified as an internship and he got credit for helping with radio promotion. Soon, he began co-writing with his cousin. Daly realized that he could potentially make a living as a songwriter if he worked hard at it so he and Rambeaux continued writing songs throughout the ’90s, eventually amassing several hits with John Michael Montgomery.
“He really, really encouraged me to write and sing and play live and he pushed me out of my comfort zone way more than I ever would have,” Daly says of his cousin. “At the time, he was writing for a company in town called Wrensong that Ree Guyer had and still has. He was writing there and I was hopping from one thing to another to pay the bills and writing when I had a day off, or at night, or on the weekends.”
Daly says he and Rambeaux hit a sweet spot and started writing some cool songs with another friend, Troy Verges. Rambeaux took them both under his wing, helping on co-writes. Eventually his cousin’s publisher took interest in him and Daly signed with Wrensong Publishing around 1995. By 1997, he had his first single on the radio with Montgomery’s “How Was I to Know.”
The songwriter vividly recalls penning “How Was I to Know” with his cousin at his old house in Sylvan Park that he and Verges were renting at the time. He had several ideas and melodies prepared and played one of them on his tape recorder for Rambeaux.
“I played it for him and he was like, ‘Yeah, this is something. This is definitely something,’ and he picked that title to go with that melody and we wrote it,” Daly recalls with a smile. “I don’t remember us really having to wrestle it down or anything. I think it was a pretty natural write and I do remember being in that old dingy rent house in Sylvan Park writing it. Most of that time period was kind of blurry but three dudes living in a rent house and then all of a sudden you get publishing deals and you’re getting a draw. It’s like, ‘Wait, I don’t have to go to a day job? I can go and buy beer and write songs and play guitar all day?’”
The song’s success surprised Daly, who thought he was writing a rock song that he could envision Aerosmith, Def Leppard or Bon Jovi singing but his publisher saw otherwise. She felt he was creating country songs and Guyer suggested Daly sing them because she also saw an artist career in his future. While Daly wasn’t keen on being in the spotlight, he continued to sing the songs he wrote, pitching himself as an artist as well. His career soon shifted, though, when Montgomery cut his song.
“John Michael was killing it at the time. He had, ‘I Love the Way You Love Me,’ ‘I Swear,’ ‘I Could Love You Like That’ and all those big massive ballads, and I had the next one in mind and that was when it all changed,” Daly reflects.
Daly was invited to the Atlantic Records office to hear his song recorded by Montgomery and says it was an out of body experience listening to the country singer’s take on “How Was I to Know.” While Daly’s demo wasn’t country, once Montgomery’s baritone was heard on the track alongside steel guitar, all of a sudden his rock song transformed into a country ballad.
“It was very, very surreal and that’s when it was like, ‘Okay, this is what I want to do.’ It was released as a single several months later and then a few months after, it got to number one,” he says, still in disbelief. “[My] first cut was a single and it went to number one and that’s when it was like, ‘All right, I think we’ll hold off on this artist thing and let’s see how this pans out.’ A huge weight was lifted.”
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Kip Moore is learning to take life one step at a time. The singer/songwriter has been moving full speed ahead since the release of his debut album Up All Night in 2012 with little to no time off. In late 2016, he announced he’d be taking a much needed break from the road. This doesn’t mean he’ll stop releasing new music though. In fact, it’s quite the opposite as his new single “More Girls Like You” was released on Feb. 10.
Moore co-wrote the soaring power ballad with Steven Olsen, Josh Miller and David Garcia. The radio-friendly track details how he’s been “living like a wild ol’ mustang out in Montana fields” before he meets the lady of his affections. Now, he’s switching his lifestyle and thinking about settling down.
“So God made girls like you make guys like me / Wanna reach for the brightest star, set it on a ring / Put it on your hand, grab a piece of land / And raise a few / More girls like you,” he sings in the chorus.
The song came to fruition when Moore began discussing how crazy his life has become since moving from South Georgia to Nashville more than 10 years ago. Since his artist career has taken off he’s seen much of the world, and throughout his many travels he has noticed one constant theme: the joy a family brings people, no matter the ethnicity.
“Watching a man with his kids, and especially when they have a little girl, if you watch that complete sense of awe they have for that kid, I paid attention,” he tells me over the phone with a slight Southern drawl. “I’ve seen all different walks of life with that.”
While Moore admits that he has never eagerly awaited fatherhood, he is slowly becoming more open to the idea of having his own family one day.
“I’ve always felt that chapter would be fun, but I’ve just never chased after it,” he says, pausing. “For the first time in my life, from all my travels and everything that I’ve been doing, I look forward to that chapter. I think it’ll be a blast teaching my little girl how to surf, or my kid to play basketball, or whatever it is, hanging out and living that life.”
The song is a romantic one, in that it details how strongly the main character feels about his significant other.
“He thinks that she’s so incredible that hopefully when we do have kids they turn out just like you,” Moore explains. “I look forward to being so crazy about somebody that you want to have kids that turn out like them.”
“More Girls Like You” is the lead single off Moore’s upcoming project. He wrote the song four months ago and says he felt like it was a good way to start the flow of his third album. While he’s tight-lipped about the release, he revealed that he has produced most of the record by himself.
Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Dan Couch shares what he has learned as a songwriter.
Dan Couch moved to Nashville in 1995 with the dream of being the next Garth Brooks. When things didn’t happen exactly how he envisioned, he found a new passion: songwriting.
The Indiana native spent years attending writers rounds and open mic nights in the late ’90s, meeting hopeful artists like himself including Kenny Alphin of Big & Rich, Ira Dean of Trick Pony and James Otto. Meanwhile, he continued to hone his craft as a songwriter. After being in Music City for three years, he soon realized that what he loved most was not being on the stage but writing songs.
“I was in love with the idea of being a star, but I’m thankful that I was because it got me here and I found songwriting,” Couch says over the phone. “I started doing more songwriting and really became passionate and fell in love with songwriting. Then I was determined to get a writing deal and become a songwriter and let that dream go about being the next Garth Brooks.”
In 1999, nearly four years to the day of moving to town, Couch signed his first publishing deal with BMG and continued attending writers rounds and setting up co-writes. Chart success would not come to Couch for a while. In fact, it was 13 years later in 2012 when he would see his first No. 1 with Kip Moore’s “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck.” The two-week No. 1 is what he calls “a dream being realized.”
It was a long journey to his first No. 1 hit and Couch pauses when asked what kept him going all those years. He says it was blind faith and support from his parents, friends and especially his wife, who is a labor and delivery nurse.
“We all had the mindset that if you wanted it bad enough, if you worked your butt off, that you can get there. I never doubted that I was going to be able to do it,” he shares. “Obviously, it took a lot longer than I thought it was going to, but that ended up being our journey. We’re on this journey and I wouldn’t change any of it.”
Couch adds that being hard-headed and holding the belief that success can happen is what often kept him going. Following his first No. 1 with “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck,” he’s had several hit songs including Moore’s second No. 1 “Hey Pretty Girl” as well as “Young Love” which went to No. 22 on the country charts and Canaan Smith’s “Hole In a Bottle” which went to No. 23 this past summer.
He credits his wife, who he calls the breadwinner, for allowing him to have a normal life and the livelihood to pursue songwriting full-time. “I couldn’t have done it without her,” he says. Couch’s wife is also his muse and was the inspiration behind his second chart topper, “Hey Pretty Girl,” off Moore’s debut album Up All Night.
“I remember wanting to write a song in honor of my wife, in appreciation. To tell a real story,” Couch recalls of the day he wrote the song with Moore. “I remember mostly throwing out a line that said, ‘Hey pretty girl, you did so good. Our baby’s got your eyes, and she got your nose like I hoped she would. Hey pretty girl, you did so good.’ Kip said, ‘No, man, and a fighter’s heart like I knew she would.’ That just absolutely floored me when that line came out of Kip’s mouth. I do very much remember that moment.”
I’ve been a Kip Moore fan for years. I can’t remember exactly what song or video first hooked me, but there was something inherently different about him from the other country artists I had been listening to. He is one of the most honest artists I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing and our chats over the past two years remain some of my favorites.
The more I interview Kip, the more I notice his fan base. They are unlike any fans I have ever come in contact with over the years and by far the most rabid. Any time I mention I’m interviewing him on Twitter, I have several RTs and numerous questions from his fans within seconds.
It’s more than that, though. They have made some of my interviews with him into photo essays and are the first to reach out and compliment me on my chats with him. They’re a supportive group that I have watched in awe over the past two years and decided that there is definitely a story here. So, I pitched the idea to Nash Country Weekly and they loved the idea. I interviewed several of Kip’s co-writers and fans, but unfortunately the fan portion didn’t make it into the published piece so I wanted to share it on You Sing I Write since they are the ones that inspired this article. You can read my complete article in Nash Country Weekly. Below is an interview with some of Kip’s biggest fans and fan sites.
“Passionate. Rabid. Loyal. Stubborn like I am. Gritty. Blue-collar.”
These are the adjectives that Kip Moore uses to describe his fans. When I ask Dan Couch, Erik Dylan and Westin Davis — three of his frequent co-writers — and four fans — Kristen Diotte, Kristin Hamlin, Linda Alberts and Twinkle Zaman — to describe him, the depiction is the same with ‘authentic’ thrown in several times.
Since releasing his debut album Up All Night in 2012, Moore has seen much radio success with “Somethin’ Bout a Truck,” “Beer Money” and “Hey Pretty Girl.” As he geared up to release his sophomore album Wild Ones however, the radio hits didn’t come as easily but that didn’t deter his fans. In fact, he says his fan base doubled in the past year without having a hit song in steady rotation.
That fan base is building as quickly online as it is the concert setting. Kristin Hamlin, the woman behind Twitter fan page Kip & the Slowhearts has steadily built a community of over 130,000 Kip Moore fans. She says she decided to start the page two years ago to showcase his character. In doing so, she’s met two of her best friends at Kip’s concerts and is constantly interacting with fans who travel out of state to see the singer live.
“They’re so loyal to him. I see so many people travel to Timbuktu for his show numerous times a year,” she says. “The people going with me to his Chicago show, it’s probably their 30th show and their 25th out of state show.”
As with any artist with celebrity status, there are some downsides to fame.
“What Kip does, he’s just got this thing where he makes people feel like they know him. He’s admitted that it’s one of his biggest Achilles’ heels. Fans get the wrong idea sometimes. He gets the crazies,” she explains as a recent Dr. Phil episode demonstrated.
“I think that’s why his fans are so loyal to him. He makes them feel like they’re a friend. He pays attention to them and you don’t hear that every day from celebrities.”
Part of the reason fans feel like they know Kip is because he makes an effort to sign autographs after nearly every concert, something he confesses he might not be able to do for much longer. But it’s this dedication that has the fans coming back for more, including Kristen Diotte from Ontario, Canada, who frequently travels to the States to see Kip.
“I actually left Lady A’s encore early to find the spot where he would be signing and there was already a line waiting for him and that line damn well went for probably two hours,” Kristen recalls of her first Kip Moore concert experience. “I’ve never met another artist with that commitment.”
Singer-songwriter Erik Dylan has a cut on Kip’s latest record called “Comeback Kid” and says the fact that he converses with, takes photos and signs autographs for fans makes that fan a lifer.
“The hour-and-a-half you’re onstage is very, very important but the time you spend after the show and before the show making sure people know that we respect them as fans too is very important,” Erik explains. “I see a lot of Kip fans who go to three and four shows in a row. You don’t see that in country music often. You see that in rock music and a lot of that too is because Kip’s show is a band that’s been together. The fans see those familiar faces every time. They’re not just hired players, they’re his guys. They’ve been through thick and thin.”
“When an artist can keep and gain fans it is a testament to who they are as a person,” she says. “If your music is good and it touches people, it doesn’t matter where it lands on the charts. It just matters that it’s good and your fans know it. Kip never gave up and we knew he was fighting for his music, so we never gave up on him.”
While Kip’s sophomore album Wild Ones was delayed, he admits he was in a dark place and had “every single fear that you could possibly imagine.” During that time, it was his fans that kept him going.
“You doubt what you’re doing because people are telling you it’s too left field. And people are telling you it’s not enough alike the first record and the first record was so successful and you’re gonna lose your fans and they’re not going to play this on the radio,” he explains. “To see the fans coming out in droves like they are and singing every single song from top to bottom, it validates everything for me for sticking to my guns. It was a hard fight.”
Kip writes every single song on his albums and this is a major reason why fans gravitate to him, because they know each lyric he sings is his truth and comes from the heart.
“He does it in a way where as you’re listening to his music you’re picturing exactly what he is saying and it just makes sense,” Twinkle Zaman, who runs Twitter fan site Bad Girls Want Moore explains. “It paints the perfect picture.”
And with that, he leaves his greatest mark on his fans. Kip’s songs are affecting their lives, some who say they depend on his music to get through each day. It’s a compliment he takes very seriously.
“It’s made me realize that there’s a lot more at stake now,” he says. “It’s made me realize I have a voice now. It’s also made me feel more responsibility in my writing.”
Songwriting Session is a new weekly column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, singer-songwriter Erik Dylan shares what he has learned as a songwriter.
The path to a career in songwriting is different for every writer. In Erik Dylan‘s case, it took rejection from a songwriting program at Middle Tennessee State University to fuel his determination to make it as a songwriter. The Kansas native transferred from University of Kansas to MTSU in Murfreesboro, Tenn. with the goal to get accepted into the songwriting program. Erik recalls the professor of the program said he wasn’t cut out to be a songwriter. Harsh words for any aspiring songwriter to hear, Erik put his songwriting dreams on the back burner and gave up writing for two years.
“When somebody says that to you–that they don’t think you’re qualified to even be in their program–it makes you question whether you’re on the right path,” he says over the phone from his home in Nashville. “It took a little while but I realized I wasn’t happy unless I was writing and that was what I was meant to do. If one guy said I wasn’t a writer it didn’t matter to me, I was still going to chase it. I’m 100% glad I did that. I proved him wrong.”
Erik graduated from MTSU with an audio engineering degree and started working on his songs. It was that early rejection that gave him the fuel to keep writing. He says it took six years working day jobs in Nashville and getting better at his craft until he felt like he was ready to start playing open mics.
“That’s where Kip [Moore] saw me and that’s how I got my publishing deal,” he adds.
In 2011, country singer Kip Moore heard Erik performing from the speakers outside of an open mic in a nearly empty room as he walked by the venue. At a time when Erik himself was wondering why he was even there, playing to three of his own friends, his luck was about to change. Clearly moved by what he heard, the country singer introduced Erik to his publisher, Brett James, and shortly after Erik got his own publishing deal with Cornman Music. Since then, he has written with a wide range of artists including Kip Moore, Eric Paslay, Randy Montana and Logan Mize.
“One thing I’ve noticed after writing in town for a publisher for almost four years is that I write my best stuff when it’s coming from the heart and it’s exactly what I want to be writing,” he explains. “If I’m trying to chase something that’s out right now, that’s on the radio…some people will ask you to write songs to sound like this type of song that’s out on the radio right now. I’ve noticed when I’ve tried to chase things that I don’t feel the songs aren’t going to be that good. Write what you know and write from the heart and you hope someone else understands that.”
Erik adds that the listener can always tell if the emotion within each song is true or fabricated.
“If it’s real and from the heart, people notice that. They believe it,” he adds. “In general, the best songs that I write are always ones that have a personal attachment, that something has happened to me or I see a friend go through something. That’s where I tend to write my best stuff. When it comes down to it, I like to write about personal experiences and things I go through. I try to channel back to where I grew up in Kansas. It’s a very blue collar farming community and I write songs that relate to the people that I grew up with.”
One of those songs is “Comeback Kid,” which can be found on Kip’s new album Wild Ones. Erik wrote the song with Kip, Ross Copperman and Jeff Hyde and recalls what was going through his head in the writing session.
“As songwriters you understand struggle and that it takes a while for things to happen. I was thinking about my wife in that position,” he recalls of the songwriting session. “Me spinning my wheels in Nashville trying to get a publishing deal while she helped out economically more than I could.”
He explains that the hardest part of writing a song is whittling down a story into three minutes while trying to describe a large idea in as few words as you can. He says the best person that does that is Ernest Hemingway. While he wasn’t exactly a songwriter, he was a storyteller.
“In five words he could tell any story. He could whittle any idea down to five words and you could understand what he’s talking about,” Erik asserts. “A lot of that is trial and error when you’re writing and realizing what needs to be in a song and what you can leave out of a song and still get your point across.”
Erik explains his writing process as trying to write whatever is on his mind that day. He has lists of different titles and song ideas he has compiled over the years and often brings those to his co-writes to brainstorm.
“It always seems like the strongest songs and the strongest ideas are the ideas that show up on your way to co-write,” he admits. “I turn off my radio for 30 minutes on the way to Music Row and try to think. You hope an idea falls out of the sky. Fifty percent of the time it does and the other 50 percent you hope the other co-writer had an idea fall out of the sky.”
While Erik writes mainly on acoustic guitar, he says many songwriters are also track writers. The writer will get a track going with drums, bass and guitar and begin writing melodic and lyrical content to that track. For Erik, his first step is guitar and then the lyric and trying to make his lyric melodic. He admits this is often the toughest for him.
“I’ve always been great at lyrics but I’ve always had a hard time making that lyric work melodically. A lot of writers who don’t play instruments, I recommend to get karaoke music to the genre that you’re trying to write to and sing along with those songs. A lot of the chord changes are similar no matter what song it is. You could start finding other melodies just by listening to that music.”
He adds: “It’s a really good way to think of new melodies. You don’t have to think about playing guitar or lyrics. I’ll play karaoke from different artists–they have instrumentals of everything–and I’ll start singing melodies along with that music. Usually I’ll find something that falls out. It’s always a good way to cure writers block. It works, I’m serious. Because you’re singing along with songs that are on the radio and you’re not hearing that melody, you can take the melody and take it to a different place and change the music to what you’re doing and you have a song. It’s a good thing to do if you’re not an instrumentalist.”
While he admits songwriting is a lot of trial and error, Erik stresses the importance of finding people you feel comfortable writing with.
“What I start seeing in certain writers that I write with a lot is I know we write this type of a song well together. I know how to pitch my ideas to certain writers. We know each other so well in the room that we don’t have to think about whether the other co-writer is going to like the idea. We already know.”
So how does he know if he wants to keep the song he wrote for himself or give it away to another artist?
“The cool part of what I do is seeing the song shine whether it’s coming from me or coming from a different artist. I’m prouder of the song than anything else. That’s a win win for everybody. To a songwriter, the song is always ours,” he stresses. “Getting a song into commercial radio is such a difficult task anyway that there’s no way I would hold songs just for myself and run the risk of maybe they’ll never get released. I would rather see that song out there and that it means something to a listener. A lot of artists bigger than me can reach more people with a song. I’m more than willing for them to take the song and make it their own.”
Songwriting Session is a new weekly column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, songwriter Westin Davis shares what he has learned as a songwriter.
Last week, I kicked off my songwriting column with Kip Moore. During our chat about songwriting he raved about his frequent collaborator, Westin Davis, who shares four co-writes on Kip’s new album Wild Ones including current single “I’m To Blame.”
“Me and Westin are thick as thieves, and he keeps my sanity a lot of times,” Kip asserts. “There’s nobody I’d rather have a hit with than Westin.”
He adds: “Westin and I, we’ve been scratching and clawing for a long time. We met when we both first moved to town 10 or 11 years ago, and we were writing together from sun up to sun down. He’d crash at my house, and then we’d get up and do it all over again, and we’d go to work and come back and meet that night.”
All that hard work is now paying off as Kip and Westin’s song “I’m To Blame” is now in the Top 20 on the country charts. “We had dreams of having songs on the radio together, and now we have them. To be able to have a big hit with him would mean more to me than having a hit by myself, that’s for sure.”
Westin moved from Florida to Nashville to pursue a career in songwriting but the journey wasn’t easy. He moved back to Florida after a short time in Nashville, but Music City called him back. He now has a publishing deal with Magic Mustang Music and in addition to cuts by Kip Moore, he has written tracks for Thompson Square, A Thousand Horses, Hinder and many others.
In a candid chat, Westin opens up about his songwriting journey (it started in the 4th grade), why he doesn’t hold back in his songwriting and much more.
“I carry all of my yesterdays into my co-writes,” Westin asserts. “I carry my hometown, I carry everything bad that ever happened to me. So when I’m writing, I’m giving everything I have just like an entertainer would if he was performing for an audience.”
He adds: “You never know where writing will take you. The beautiful thing about writing is it gives you freedom and a sense of pride.”
Take me back to the beginning. Do you remember the first song you wrote?
I kind of stumbled into writing. I lived in a pretty rough area when I was a younger kid. In 4th grade they gave all the 4th grade and 5th grade students something to do: go home and write a song to stop the violence in the area and the drugs being sold at the school and the killings. Before they even finished giving us that task, the song was already wrote. I ended up winning. I would like to say it started there. I always had a knack for it I guess. I didn’t think about it till years later.
I left writing and focused on sports. Played basketball in college. It wasn’t until I was going through more things in life and putting a pen to paper and words to melody that I remembered the first song I wrote. “Oh my gosh. Am I supposed to be doing this?” One thing led to another. I started writing more and more only to find out that the songs I were writing were terrible. I did have something. I had that natural way with melody and words that I would say an inner city black dude would have. But I didn’t start learning the craft until I rolled my sleeves up. I said, “You know what? I’m going to put as much work into this as anything else. I’m going to learn how to write, the proper way to write. I’m going to learn, not only songwriters but people who write books, Hemingway, Robert Frost. People like that.” That’s when it became almost an addiction. I was about 23.
Why did you decide to move to Nashville?
I moved to Nashville and luckily became friends with a guy who was very successful in the business. He took me under his wing and told me the do’s and the don’ts. I never would want to get the cart before the horse. I didn’t want to start knocking on doors on Music Row until I was absolutely ready. I’m my toughest critic. I’m glad I had people open those for me or I’d probably be still sitting on the sideline.
I moved back home to Florida because I missed the beach and after about a year I flew back to Nashville and said, “Look, I’ve been writing these songs by myself.” And he said, “Shit. You’ve been writing by yourself?” And I said yeah. I started writing with my buddy Kip [Moore] and we just had this crazy dream that we were going to write songs and he would sing them but we knew we could make it a reality as well.
Do you prefer co-writes or writing by yourself?
I like writing alone but I also like co-writing as well. I’ve done it long enough now to know my circle who I mesh really well with and vibe with. It’s fun to go into a room with another person who you trust and they trust you and you walk out with the best finished product.
What’s your songwriting process like? Do the lyrics or melody come first for you?
It’s different every time. I’ve written so many songs. There’s a number that started with just me picking up the guitar, there’s been a number of them with me driving down the road and thinking about my life. For example, “I Killed a Man” and thinking how I killed that person. And then thinking, how would that go? The only way that I know is to be totally honest. I draw inspiration from everything. Billboard signs, somebody saying something to you. I draw inspiration from so many things. You may say something on the phone and I may go, “Oh what was that?”
I’ve sat in place–back home especially–looked at somebody and not know anything about them, their name, whatever, but could tell a lot about them by the clothes they had on. I created a character and wrote a story about them not even knowing anything about them.
Do you have to be in a certain mindset to write a song?
I refuse to fail. I’m very, very…I don’t know. I wrote with a guy the other day and my publisher called me and said, “You killed it. The guy was a little intimidated by you. He said you were pretty intense.” And I said, “I’m not fuckin’ around. This is business to me. I’m not going to write just a bunch of cliché stuff.”
I carry all of my yesterdays into my co-writes. I carry my hometown, I carry everything bad that ever happened to me. So when I’m writing, I’m giving everything I have just like an entertainer would if he was performing for an audience. It used to be, before I quit doing things, even if I was writing a good song, a happy song whatever, I needed to get up, I’d take a little sip of cough syrup, do other extracurricular activities and light up cigarettes. I had to be that guy. Now I learned how to not do that. There still is that thing deep within me where the only motivation I need is my past. I take what I do very seriously. Kip is a prime example of he takes what he does very seriously and that connects with people and my writing is the same way. It’s not fabricated.
Songwriting is often described as therapy. Is it difficult to open up in a co-write?
I think writing in general is therapy. Somebody told me recently, they said, “Man, I can hear you in every song that someone else sings or every song that I hear you play. I can hear your life story in it.” I’ve been very fortunate to have very rainy days and sunny days. I’ve been very fortunate to live in black neighborhoods, to be poor, to be around crack dealers and drug dealers. To drive to a family member who lives 30 miles down the road and has more money than he knows what to deal with and to see that side of life. And also be in love and out of love and heartbroke and losing somebody.
I know that might sound crazy. It wasn’t until I started writing, that I looked back and actually thanked God for hard times because I can draw from a deeper well than most people. It’s cool to write about, “I’ve had a hard life, I’ve done this” when most people’s yesterdays are a walk through Candyland compared to mine. You can tell it’s all fabricated bullshit which comes with them but with me it’s real.
What’s the most honest song you’ve written?
I have no idea. They are all pretty honest. Even in songs I haven’t had cut yet I have lyrics that are pretty honest to me that I have tattooed on my body. I wrote a song called “I Killed a Man.” Killing the old Westin. There’s so many.
The big man has blessed me. I can’t complain. There’s always somebody way worse than me. I have put several buddies in the ground and seen them laid to rest from a community that is constantly going through uphill battles. I’m just thankful to still be alive and still be here and doing what I do. I know at any minute it can be all over. I’m just very thankful.
Are you ever afraid to reveal too much in a song?
No. I’ve learned with anything…I’m a very, very vocal person. What you see is what you get. I’m never trying to impress everybody. I’ve always respected the people that who they are is who they are. I can smell out a poser from a mile away. I respect people who are not gonna be nobody else but them. I’m not trying to be nobody but me. Even later in life, I’ve battled demons with addiction and drugs. Most people, they try to hide from that. To me, it’s therapeutic to get it out there. This is who I am. I’m a long way from perfect but I’m trying.
I’m not trying to knock anybody and I would never do that. When you take somebody from my side of the tracks it’s comical when someone is pretending to be a character that they’re not. We can tell right away. It’s the people that have been through the rain that I respect. They learn more, they look at life differently. I just love those people.
One of the songs you wrote with Kip Moore is “Lipstick,” which is so catchy. Do you have any tips on writing catchy choruses?
To be honest, I don’t even know. Whatever melody hits and it feels natural to go with I go with. I’m not one to think too much about melodies because they come so easily at times. I don’t know if that is because of my black past where I can rap and flow, I don’t know. When a melody does hit and it seems to stick the verses just write. Obviously, married to the right words you’ve got a good song and a hit song.
Do you need to play an instrument in order to write songs?
No. I told a guy one time, [he asked] “How’d you come up with that line?” and I said, “Dude to be honest with you I’ve considered myself to do the ebb and flow, had the words and melody in me.” To come up with those lines that stop you and make you feel something it proves you’re on top of your craft or your art. It’s just like if you went to the gym everyday and worked out your biceps every day, they’re gonna grow. If you exercise your brain it’s going to grow. If you want to be the best writer, read books. Find out words. Follow the people you look up to. See how they said something and, “Oh my gosh, they said that in a different way. How could I do that?” It’s like anything.
Guys in prison who are on a death sentence, when they went in they didn’t know they were artists. Then all of a sudden they find out they can paint or draw. They’re locked in a jail cell, they’re locked in their own mind and talent. You discover that and you work on that and get better and better and better.
Is there a song that means more to you now then when you first wrote it?
There’s a few. I have the ability to tap in. I wrote with somebody recently who I asked them straight up, “What are you going through right now?” He said, “Man, I just ran into an ex two days ago and I was just stopped in my tracks. She didn’t see me.” I could see his pain and I know that pain. Luckily I had been in his shoes before, even though I’m happier now than I have ever been, I’m more in love, I knew what it was like to feel that heartbreak and to see that somebody.
I think that’s maybe a gift as well. To be able to get that low. I thrive on misery anyway. To get that low and to feel that pain. I wrote the first line of the chorus and he looked at me. A lot of that is from working on my craft but also being addicted to being sad. I would say that sometimes I’m the happiest when I’m sad.
Is that because you know you’re going to write a song from that?
I’ve pulled all night therapy sessions on myself asking that same question.
How do you know when a song is done?
When I write alone I’m really, really hard on myself where I’ll go back and make changes and make changes that I’ll make it so damn good that it will be horrible and I should have just kept it the way it was. If I’m co-writing with someone I’m not hard on myself at all. I’m really hard on the other person. I’ve been doing this professionally now for 5-6 years. Writing every day you find your circle of people that you connect really well with. And then also they’re seasoned as well. I still have days when I go into a room with a newbie that comes into town and I remember being that newbie and thank God for people like Dan Couch when I first got to town, he showed me right from wrong. He’ll tell you that I was great. But me, knowing my own limitations, I was good at making things rhyme but he showed me the correct way to write a song.
What’s the best advice on songwriting you’ve ever received?
I’ve gotten some great advice from some old-timers. If I’m gonna do something I’ve gotta be the best at it. I can’t fake my way through it. If I’m going to go into a write with another writer, say someone who has 10 No. 1’s, I want them to know that I’m there pulling my weight, too. And hell, I have. I’ve proved it several times. If I ever came across somebody and I have, who ask what can I do to be a good writer, the best writer, I would say, “Look, man. Study writing. Don’t just study songwriting. Study writing period. Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, go all over the place.” Study lyrical geniuses too.
One guy said, “Florida Georgia Line aren’t saying that.” I get it, but you can do that. When somebody sits down with you and they want to be able to write a song you wouldn’t be able to deliver. Study the writing. I’m not chasing the radio. Yeah, I need a little bit of money to put food on the table but I’m not going to sellout either. I take what I do very seriously. Take yourself seriously, don’t give a shit what everybody else is doing. Run your road, study your craft. Work on your craft and your art. Study the best writers. Read. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.
You never know where writing will take you. The beautiful thing about writing is it gives you freedom and a sense of pride. A lot of people can’t do what you do. It’s a cool thing. When you can be on top of your craft where it just comes naturally and you can connect with people, then you’ve done it.
Songwriting Session is a new weekly column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, country singer-songwriter Kip Moore shares what he has learned as a songwriter.
Songwriting is a serious trade. It’s not for the faint of heart. In fact, as Kip Moore once told me, he doesn’t encourage people to take the path of songwriting as a career.
I have to preface this by saying that Kip Moore is my all-time favorite country songwriter. While I’ve interviewed him four times now, my most vivid chat happened last November backstage at New Jersey’s Starland Ballroom, a venue I grew up seeing shows at. It also consisted of him telling me that songwriting isn’t for everyone. It’s all or nothing he basically told me. It was a bit of a slap in the face, but something I’ve come to realize I desperately needed to hear.
You see, before that interview I had dabbled in songwriting. I took an online class over the summer that taught me the basics of songwriting and wrote my first song. But nothing quite prepared me for his honesty. As he told me, though, songwriting isn’t something you necessarily can learn but something you have to pursue with every ounce inside of you.
“I always tell people to chase their passion,” he tells me. “My advice to songwriters is, unless you’re truly serious about it, and it’s all you can think about doing, it’s all that’s in your heart, leave it alone. Trying to do it for a career, it has to be all or nothing. It’s gotta drive everything in you.”
Kip is a passionate guy. If you’ve been to one of his shows you can see that unyielding energy he leaves on the stage every single night. In person, he’s quite serious and even a bit intense. When I mention this to him he laughs and says he can be playful, too.
In an interview with Kip, you have to know your stuff. He can read right through you if you don’t. He says he’s a no BS type of guy and that couldn’t be a truer statement. Lucky for me, I have lived with his excellent debut album Up All Night for three years now so I’m pretty well researched before our big chat on songwriting. Possibly a little nervous too.
A photo posted by Annie Reuter (@yousingiwrite) on
At first, he admits that he truly doesn’t know where to start when I ask him how to write a song. And then there’s a long pause. Right away I’m thinking maybe this wasn’t a good topic to discuss. But before I have a chance to ask another question he begins to tell me about his journey as a songwriter. He explains that he used to sit down for years and years and make himself write two songs every day.
“I would force myself to write, write, write,” he admits. “Now it’s more of an organic process where I almost always come up with the guitar groove or melody in my head and then I sing it into a recorder and then I live with it for days in my bunk and let it soak into my brain and what I feel like it’s supposed to be saying.”
Like many songwriters, he said the process varies every time. Sometimes he has an idea for a song, sometimes he has a title and other times he has a groove. While he says that you can teach the craft of songwriting, ultimately songwriting has to be in your soul to succeed.
I explain to him that what’s most difficult for me is writing a catchy chorus. I want to create something people want to sing along to–like a big Kelly Clarkson chorus–but often struggle getting there. Then he gets honest, simply saying, “You gotta fuckin’ study.”
He elaborates on that point. “You’ve got to sit down and you have to listen over and over for hours and hours of laying there at night and trying, understanding who your greats are, who your favorites are and paying attention to how they did it. It will soak in your mind and teach you how it’s done. That’s what I did. I studied the greats and the guys that I loved, and that’s how I learned how to write songs.”
Some writers are lucky enough to find mentors the moment they step foot in Nashville, but Kip is quick to admit that was not the case for him. In fact, he couldn’t get in the door to save his life. So, instead he had to teach himself. He did this by listening to the people he loved. By the time he got into the room with guys like his producer and songwriter Brett James, he was ready to go and just paid attention.
So why is he hesitant to urge others to follow his path into a songwriting career? He admits that things are even more difficult today than when he first started and often he doesn’t know what to say to songwriters.
“I don’t encourage people to take this path. It’s fucking hard and the window is getting smaller and smaller and the publishing companies are going away every day. I don’t know if I want to encourage someone to chase something that seems so out of reach all the time.”
But if songwriting is truly the career path you want to pursue? He says to study your butt off like he did.
“I can remember how discouraging the whole process was for me and how much it beat me up to where I just don’t know how to tell people. It was such a tough road. It was all I wanted to do, that’s what kept me going.”
Kip Moore’s sophomore album ‘Wild Ones’ will be released August 21. Pre-order it on his Website. His single, “I’m To Blame” is out now.
I spoke with Kip Moore last month when I was in Nashville for the Country Radio Seminar and he told me the story behind his gritty new single, “I’m To Blame,” which he wrote with Westin Davis and Justin Weaver. He confessed that the songwriting for “I’m To Blame” came to be while he was going through a frustrating time in his life, both personally and musically. He then got serious and began speaking about his father, who has since passed away.
“My dad has always been such a….” He pauses, catching himself speaking about his father in the present tense. “He was just a very gritty, down and dirty, no bulls–t kind of guy, but he was so kindhearted at the same time. Being around him so much and looking up to him, he was so charismatic. I think a lot of that grittiness rubbed off on me.”
Getting back to the song, he went on to explain that we’re in a day in age where no one wants to take the blame, and instead we point the finger at others. That is very different from the sentiment on “I’m To Blame,” where Moore places the blame squarely on himself.
“People are so concerned with fitting in and being part of the in crowd. Nobody wants to ruffle any feathers. I’ve just never cared too much about that kind of stuff,” he admits with a serious tone in his voice. His answer also adheres to the “gritty” quality he claims to have picked up from his father.
“I stayed true to who I am, and I don’t apologize for that,” he continues. “I care about other people’s feelings and I respect other people’s feelings, but I’m going to always go by what I feel like I’m supposed to in my heart.”
Moore says that “it was essential” to have “I’m To Blame” be part of his upcoming album. “It set the tone for what’s coming.” While he was tight-lipped on album details, he promises many surprises, saying many of the songs on his forthcoming sophomore album fans have not heard.
For more of my interview with Kip Moore and Westin Davis, visit Radio.com.
I was incredibly lucky to interview Kip Moore twice this year, first at the ACM Awards in Las Vegas back in April and again last month at Starland Ballroom in New Jersey. To fully understand my excitement (and nerves) to sit down with Kip for a lengthy interview, I have to tell you that his debut album Up All Night is by far my most listened to country album ever. He released it back in 2012 and for the past two years it has been the soundtrack of my life. Whether at home, at work or traveling around the country, it’s one of those timeless albums that I put on no matter the mood I’m in and it always makes me feel better. So to interview him twice this year truly was a dream come true.
What struck me most about our interview was how serious Kip was. While answering some of my questions he at times seemed intense, especially when talking about songwriting and his last single “Dirt Road.” A complete departure from his fun and flirty stage persona, it was interesting to witness the two sides of the singer-songwriter in one night. Below is an excerpt from our chat.
It’s no secret Kip looks up to The Boss. He even covered his song “Atlantic City” twice that day at the Starland Ballroom, once during soundcheck and again when opening his show later that night.
Kip closed his soundcheck set raving about Bruce Springsteen, attributing him as “the guy that really saved my life and the life I was living.”
“You know, Springsteen gave me hope,” he says. “Gave me hope that I could get to where I was trying to get and also gave me comfort. It’s a scary thing to face yourself when you’re feeling like you’re irrelevant. That vulnerable feeling. His music gave me comfort to feel that way, but he also gave me hope into a better life.”
Much like Kip looks up to Springsteen, his fans look to him for inspiration—something that is difficult for him to believe. But it is knowing this that makes him work harder and has him choosing his lyrics more carefully.
“It’s awesome and it’s scary at the same time, because you realize how much weight your words hold. And when you realize your words hold that much weight, you actually think about what you’re saying a lot more,” Kip says. “It means a lot to me because that’s why I do what I do. I always wanted people to hear my music and I wanted it to impact them in a profound way, so now that it’s actually doing that it means a whole lot to me.”
When asked what the hold-up with his sophomore album is, Kip explains his record label isn’t to blame—in fact as he describes it, they’re “protecting” him.
“People need to understand this is not my record label’s fault,” he asserts. “To be honest, it all comes back on me. I wrote a song, ‘Dirt Road,’ that I thought was going to get further up on the charts and high enough to release a record around, but my label is protecting me in a lot of ways. In my own stubbornness, I just want to put the record out. They know what they’re doing, and it’s hard to release a record around a song that didn’t get past number 40 [Moore’s first three singles all reached No. 1]. And that’s just the fact of the matter.”
So, adds Kip, “hopefully we can come with something next time with some more traction and we can put a record out around it.”
For my complete interview with Kip, visit Radio.com.
It’s crazy how after just one phone conversation your whole perspective on songwriting can change. That’s exactly what happened after I interviewed Westin Davis. The songwriter behind many of my favorite songs by Kip Moore (“Dirt Road,” “Young Love,” “Lipstick”), the more I talked to Westin the more he gave me faith in my dream to be a songwriter. He told me he didn’t learn the craft of songwriting until he rolled up his sleeves and started putting the work in.
Westin explained that inspiration for a song comes from everywhere. He could be driving down the road, remembering a conversation he had or just thinking about his own life. What struck me most throughout our chat was his honesty. He opened up about his past and his struggles, never holding back. He even gave me advice when I confessed that it’s my goal to write a song.
Below is some of the transcription from our chat. Stay tuned for my article on songwriting, which will feature Westin, early next year.
“I carry all of my yesterdays into my co-writes. I carry my home town, I carry everything bad that ever happened to me. So when I’m writing, I’m giving everything I have just like an entertainer would if he was performing for an audience. There still is that thing deep within me where the only motivation I need is my past. I take what I do very seriously.
“I think writing in general is therapy. Somebody told me recently, they said, ‘Man, I can hear you in every song that someone else sings or every song that I hear you play. I can hear your life story in it.’ I’ve always drawn from my life. I’ve been very fortunate to have very rainy days and sunny days. I’ve been very fortunate to live in black neighborhoods, to be poor, to be around crack dealers and drug dealers. To drive to a family member who lives 30 miles down the road and has more money than he knows what to do with and to see that side of life. And also be in love and out of love and heart-broke and lose somebody. I know that might sound crazy. It wasn’t until I started writing, that I looked back and actually thank God for hard times because I can draw from a deeper well than most people.
“If you want to be the best writer read books. Find out words. Follow the people you look up to. See how they said something and say, ‘Oh my gosh, they said that in a different way. How could I do that?’ It’s like anything. The beautiful thing about writing is it gives you the freedom and a sense of pride. Take a leap.”