Kip Moore’s third album, Slowheart, ends with a song that looks at where he began: “Guitar Man.” It’s an almost six-minute ode to the delirious highs and gut-wrenching lows of a musician’s existence, told through the story of a guy he spotted one night at a bar, singing for his supper. Moore delivers the LP’s closing track on a stripped-down recording, done all in one take. His voice is intimate, while the lyrics trace each thrill earned from an audience that will move on and forget once the house lights come on. “Another day in the life of a guitar man,” he sings.
“That song is my life story,” says Moore, sitting on a couch at a Nashville restaurant, sipping a coffee with a lone American Spirit cigarette resting in front of him on the table, which he’ll save and smoke later. “I remember being that guy, having all those dreams. Constantly feeling like, ‘Am I ever going to get where I want to get?’ And that night, I overheard someone say, ‘Man, that guy is good.’ No one knew his name, he was faceless. I just remember being him, giving everybody the time of their lives one night. And then I would go home by myself and feel empty, because there was so much more I could accomplish.”
After two records, 2012’s Up All Night and 2015’s Wild Ones, Moore is no longer nameless or faceless – those days of playing covers in lonely bars have long faded into venues packed with diehard fans from Atlantic City to Australia who hang on every note and word. But Moore’s still that “Guitar Man.”
Wild Ones, a terrific, sonically adventurous record, was a critical but not commercial success, and the pressure to leave that stage with every last bit of himself wrung out on the floor was taxing to the core. So he took a break, traveling through Costa Rica, Hawaii, Utah, Iceland and along the East Coast. He surfed, backpacked and spent time alone at a coffee shop in Lahaina, Maui, leaving his phone behind and finding company in his own head after a morning surfing. It was a salve, in a way.
“I believe in music so much, and I care so much, that it’s a double-edged sword,” he says, sitting forward on the couch in well-worn boots, jeans and a T-shirt. “It’s what has made me successful, and it’s what has made me a depressed human being at times. I face that pendulum swing so much. The toils of facing a crowd, 175 shows a year. Maybe other artists can have a show that is not that great and walk away. Me? I will spiral. I’ll think of that one despondent face in the crowd and ask, ‘Why couldn’t I sway that one person?’ That’s the fiery human being I am.
“I’m trying to find that balance better, and I’ve come to be more at peace with knowing that,” he continues. “So I took this year and let go of the steering wheel. I let the music make itself.”
That music – Slowheart, styled in all caps and due September 8th – came casually at first. Moore didn’t even tell his label he was settling down to make another record, and the process was more organic than it had ever been, landing somewhere between the rough edges of Americana, rock and the evocative storytelling of country, produced to let every guitar lick ring true and every edge and wail of Moore’s voice reverberate raw but strong. The first single, “More Girls Like You,” gives a sonic clue, but things only expand from there. Moore made the LP on a relatively cheap mic often used for demos, played much of the instruments himself and came out with his own kind of near-analog sound. Though Wild Ones often captured that “band in a room” feeling, these tracks have the gut-punch of a vintage album, the vocals out front and clear as crystal, not muddled by dials and tricks. Moore simply laughs and calls it “magic.”