Song Writing

Quarterfly - Rock's Next Big Thing

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Every now and then a sound comes along that makes you lean forward and pay rapt attention. Quarterfly is like that. Singer and main songwriter Kip Darby possesses the raspy, rugged type of voice that is perfect for their hard rock style. The vice president of ASCAP loved Darby's voice so much he interrupted a studio session to present him with a contract. Some tough lessons followed, but the band hunkered down and powered through, arriving in the spotlight relatively unscathed and stronger for it.

Based on sound quality alone, they will soon be joining the ranks of fellow South Carolinians Hootie and the Blowfish, Band of Horses, the Marshall Tucker Band, and Iron & Wine in the world's consciousness. If you haven't heard of Quarterfly, prepare to get addicted.
Shawna Hansen Ortega (Songfacts): Let's start with your current single, "Addiction." On the surface you would think it's obvious, but I want you to tell me what that song means to you and where did it come from.

Kip Darby: That's a tough one. That song had a bunch of different shirts on before we stripped it down in the studio. I guess about a year and a half ago we were at rehearsal and our guitar player walked in with that guitar riff, the beginning hook. So we got to playing a little bit. And the way we write as a band is somebody will have an idea and we'll come into rehearsal and we'll just take the idea, and if the idea has legs, then we will all put everything together. And I've got to be honest with you, sometimes it's just really easy and sometimes it's really hard. And the hard ones we kind of put on back burners, the easy ones we take 'em and run with 'em. Then we come back to the hard ones and see if there's anything there. Sometimes we take parts and put them with different songs.

But that particular song was named "The Cliff," like the edge of the cliff. I named it that and we were calling it that because I was trying to think of a relationship between - not a father-and-son relationship, and it doesn't really have to be family. It really just is, I guess, a projection of an older man through a younger man's eyes. And you're seeing this older man, what he's done to his life, what he can't get rid of, his bads, his goods, his demons, his angels. And it doesn't really mean drug addiction, but it kind of is. I laid it out there like that, but it really just means a young man looking through the eyes of an older man and his addictions. Does that make sense?

Songfacts: Let me stew around that for a just a minute. The verse in there where it says, "and two years later you told me that you kicked it all clean," can you maybe expound on that a little?

Kip: If you hold the paintbrush and look at the canvas, it is drug addiction. The first line is, "Old man, did you ever think of flying? You said the needle had led you to a fool." Well, that's drug addiction. The same kind of thing, but at the same time, it's not really… But I don't want you to think it's heroin addiction. I guess what I'm trying to say is, it's not my father, but I've got friends whose fathers have addictions, and they've seen their fathers who didn't do the right thing. And that's what I really mean, as far as specifics about lyrics.

There's people who write and when they write, there it is, clear as a bell. We don't really do that. We kind of lay it out there to where you may take it and apply it to what you think. And I wrote it to mean one thing to me, but I kind of put a spin on it to be general. I mean, somebody could sit down and listen to the song and go, "That's clearly a drug addiction song." Yes, you're right. But at the same time, if you were in my head and we were sketching the whole thing, it's really about whether it's a mentor or whether it's a grandfather, whether it's a father, whether it's a friend; it's a younger man looking through an older man's eyes.

Songfacts: One of your songs that is just hauntingly beautiful is "Not Like Me."

Kip: "Not Like Me"… where to start. Again, it's down the same kind of avenue. Our guitar player and our bass player, about 4 years into the band, they lost their fathers in the same month, both fathers. Jeff is the guitar player and Tim is the bass player. And they both lost their fathers in the first of '09 as we were getting ready to go in and do the record. Knowing those guys so well and seeing what they went through, losing their fathers, and I still have my father, I kind of wrote the song - man, this is a tough question.

You may think I'm a weirdo. (laughs) But basically with me and my father, it's the typical story of the musician and the father, the baby boomer who doesn't want the son to be a musician. And that's my story in a roundabout way. And when I saw that they lost their fathers, it was a turning point for me, because I was like, Wow, I've still got my dad. But when we wrote the song, I wanted those guys to know that I realize they missed their fathers. At the same time, I put myself in their shoes, but I also wanted to tell my father he's not like me.

It's tough to explain, but through their experience and what they went through losing their fathers, I just really wanted to express, (singing) "Can you feel me? Feel me standing here?" Like when we're on the road and we're alone, can those dudes feel that guy? Do they see him, do they taste him, do they breathe him? And once again, that's just what's in my head. If you listen to the song, it could mean something else to you.

And I don't want to paint a picture like my father doesn't want me to be a musician. I'm looking through how they miss their father, but I still have mine, and then the chorus is if my father was deceased… I just looked at it as I'm talking through one of those guys who lost their father, if they were able to come back down to earth, then, through my eyes and my father, realize you're not like me. I know it's confusing.

Songfacts: But it makes sense. It's really beautiful in its complexity. I really get into words. That's really cool.

Kip: Thank you. I don't want to confuse you and you say, "Man, you're so complicated." (laughing) I mean, I don't want to paint a father/son thing. I'm 39 years old, I have a wonderful family with two kids and a wife, and my dad is a great guy. But who I am today, the tattoos and the long hair and the rock band, he told me when I was in high school, he looked me dead in the eye - and he did it for my own good - he said, "Learn a trade, because you'll never make it as a musician." He did me a favor there, because this is record number 5 for me. Every time he gets to pick my kids up, he sees it. (laughs)

Songfacts: That's a good segue… you're married and you have a happy marriage and a great family life. And what's interesting to me is that, in spite of that, these are such tortured songs. They're just tortured. And going right into that, "The Wrong Thing," what did you say? What did you do?

Kip: Oh, man, what night? What day? (laughing) We're all human. And especially from a male's point of view, it's really easy to open your mouth and say the wrong thing. You should just insert foot sometimes. I've been married - it'll be 10 years at the end of the month - and it took me a long time to realize that.

Songfacts: Ten years is nothing. It took my dad until - I think they were married for 40 years before he finally realized, "I gotta screw my head back around the other way." (laughs)

Kip: Yeah. "Just shut up, Kip." (laughing) Just let it ride. "The Wrong Thing" is exactly that. There's no hidden meanings, it's exactly that. How many times have you just sat in a conversation and you said the wrong thing and it messed you up for a couple of days? (laughing) And at the same time, I do think it's a beautiful song. We wrote that together, me and the guitar player. And the ending of that song to me says it all. It's always been my fault, this band, this life that I've infused with this marriage can be tough. She's a trouper, let me say that.

Songfacts: We'll put that in big fat letters and shining neon so she can look at that and go, "Yeah, that's me." On a different subject, I have talked to a lot of songwriters who do just songwriting. They don't perform, they just write for demos and pitch their songs, that's all they do. And I'm curious as to how that would affect somebody like you, who's obviously busting to get out and sing your own stuff.

Kip: That's a good question. I tour managed a rock band when I was 24 years old, so that was back in '95-'96. And I got a songwriting deal after that that led into two projects. And Quarterfly's the second project.

Songfacts: Who was the band?

Kip: It was a group called Albert Hill that's actually from South Carolina, and they got signed to Universal. This leads into how I met the president of Rock Ridge Music. They got signed to Universal back in the mid-'90s, put a record out, did very well, did two major tours. I saw a lot, learned a lot. But I also really got into songwriting. That's how I met Tom Dürr. He was at Universal. He is now president of Rock Ridge.

But the band got signed, they were in New York at Universal. They did the record in Nashville. And this gave me the opportunity to get out and go see everything. So we went to Nashville and stayed for three months, and I met a really good friend, his name's Herky Williams. And he ended up becoming vice president of ASCAP. And, man, he loved my voice. I'd sit around with an acoustic guitar, and he was just a guy that just loved Kip's music. Just me and a guitar. That dude thought I had it. (laughs) So he jerked me out of a studio session one day and next thing I know I'm signing ASCAP papers and he gave me a songwriting deal. He basically started a publishing company with me, and I came home from touring with the band and I would do like you said, I would just write songs and pitch music to him. Whether it was country or whatever he wanted, I just did it on an acoustic, recorded it, I sent in four songs a month.

So I did that for probably two years and had a couple of chances to get some songs recorded, nothing ever panned out. I had a band here in town and I just always liked performing. I just really like the stage. Growing up in the latter part of the '80s and early '90s, I just wanted to be a front man. I wanted to be as big as those front guys that I grew up seeing. So I guess what I can say is it gave me a chance to really learn the business and the songwriting part of it. I still write songs - I still write a country song and send it to Nashville - but it just didn't feed what I had inside. Whether I did it for 15,000 people or 5 people, I like to perform.

Songfacts: And that is the sign of a true performer. You'd do it for just a party. You don't need a huge crowd, you don't need it raining money.

Kip: Honey, if this was about money… (laughing) Don't get me wrong, it's been great. I'm a lucky guy to get to do this. But if I'd been chasing money, I'd have gone with computers and science.

Songfacts: Are you a geek?

Kip: No, no. I'm a studio geek as far as when computers took over the recording industry, I had to dig in. But as far as a geek, no, I'm not. I'm really laid back, what you see is what you get.

Songfacts: Since you brought this up about the studio, I want to know what is so special about (Edwin McCain's) Whitestone Studio?

Kip: It is just a regular studio. I gotta say it's a really cool place. Is it over the top? No. We've mixed a record in Nashville and the studios in Nashville just blow it away. You just know you're in a big studio when you're in Nashville. And when I'm in Whitestone, I know I'm in my backyard. I love that place. It's nothing over the top, it's just a really nice place. The engineer there is a buddy of the band's and he does a good job cutting the groove.

Songfacts: Is it more intimate? Do you feel comfortable because it's not so huge?

Kip: Let me say this; it's very comfortable, but it's not got what Quad Studios has, when you walk into Quad in downtown Nashville. At the same time, the economy's so crappy it was smarter and cheaper to do it here than take it to Nashville and record. So what we ended up doing was cutting the tracks here in Greenville at Whitestone, and then we went and spent the big money in Nashville. And we mixed and did all the record and all that stuff.

Songfacts: Okay, let's get back on track. We went on a tangent. (laughing) Let me ask you about "Show Me" before I go back farther.

Kip: "Show Me" is basically another one that's right there in front of you. "We're in this together, is this fragile? Don't leave, show me you're going to be here." That's a really cool song. I won't take but a minute to go into the story. I don't know if you're familiar, but pick up every record that you had as a kid, every rock record, or just Google Michael Wagener, he's produced everybody. He's the man. From Alice Cooper to Ozzy to Janet Jackson to everybody. Anyway, we met him and he liked us so much that we got to spend a week with him and write that song. I guess if it all ended today, taking that moment on that porch sitting there with that legend writing that song was pretty cool.

Songfacts: And how is it different writing a song with a legendary producer than it is with just you and one of your bandmates?

Kip: It's kind of the same. It wasn't in the earlier stages, because my songwriting was… till I learned the formula, I would take songs in 5 minutes and they would make them 3 minutes. And I'd watch two minutes of stuff go in the trash. (laughing) But once I learned the formula of, Okay, this is how these records are done, then it's a great thing. Because once you turn the idea in, you can go back and do your thing and let them have it. But to work with them and shape and mould that, that's pretty cool.

We struggled as a band. The first record we did totally ourselves, didn't have anybody to do anything other than master it and print it. And we went and did our second album, and (producer) Greg Archilla did that record with us, too. And, man, it was the first time we met Greg. We were all like, we're in the wrong business. Because we just brought all these songs up and they all just cut 'em on the floor and made 3-minute songs out of 'em. And what was funny is we had to leave the studio and re-learn our own music re-written by a producer.

Songfacts: Weren't you kind of disgusted?

Kip: That sends a lot of artists home. A lot of people who hold the baby too tight, that'll do it. If you think that's your baby and you won't let anybody touch it, then you're very limited. You've got to open up and let people do that. And that's one thing I learned. What you're hearing on that record is Greg Archilla after we turned the music in.

Songfacts: Let's go back a little bit to one that's not on any albums: "Forever."

Kip: We've recorded that, but we've altered it. It's a couple of years back when I first wrote that song.

Songfacts: Why isn't that included on an album?

Kip: At the time, we took about 20-25 tunes in and it was a 2-year process, and we felt "Show Me" was a better ballad type song than "Forever." Don't get me wrong, I got "Forever" in my back pocket. I've tried to pitch it to country artists and maybe I'll put it on a Quarterfly record, and it may go on a Kip solo project record. It's a good song. It's just one that right now, with the collection that we have on Do You Believe, it just didn't fit.

Songfacts: "Forever" is kind of at odds for me, because it seems happy, but then it seems sad. It's like you're talking to somebody with depression.

Kip: (laughs) That's one of those things where if that's what you got out of it, then that's right. It's basically a feel-good thing. The way that song came about is we were on the road, our bass player had a girlfriend, and let's say time on the road she wasn't too good with. And being the nicest guy that he is, he could not wait to get back home and show her that he's there forever, but we're going play in this band. (laughs) So it's kind of like that. It's not really somebody who's depressed, but somebody who's behind you that you've always got to turn around and pick up.

Songfacts: You know what, though? I like your version better than mine. See, that's the beauty of being able to find out what was really behind it. That's romantic and it touches my heart. And the other one I was just like, "Get over it." So I like your version better.

Kip: (laughs) The funny thing is I like your version better. I almost don't even want to tell you the real thing, because yeah, it's about somebody talking to a depressed person now. I mean, that's funny.

Songfacts: Last one that I want to ask you about is "After This." The last lines of that song, "the last time I saw you, you were yelling at me." Talk to me, Kip.

Kip: "After This" is basically just an ex relationship that has gone to a level of non-repair. And some people don't understand when it gets to that level, to where you just need to end a relationship. And let's just say when it's very clear and that person still wants to come over and work things out, and instead of moving on with their life, they're still knocking on your door. After all this, here you are. And then it's like you let 'em in, and you hold 'em by the shoulders, and you tell 'em again, and then when they leave your house, they yell at you. (laughs)

Songfacts: That sounds like stalker stuff.

Kip: Well, at 39, yes. But at 25, no. At 25 it was normal. It was a typical, normal ex-relationship. Or let me say pre-25. And it could be a guy or a girl. Of course, it was an ex-relationship of mine and it was a girl. It happens to the best of us sometimes. And I guess the reason I left the line in at the end of it is because that's what I remembered the most, is any time I grabbed her and held her hand and talked to her, she ended up yelling at me. (laughs)

I will tell you a little bit about me, before the 10-year marriage and the kids and all this. Let's go back to where you said these songs sound tortured. Maybe I can draw a bridge for you. I was in a very messed up relationship as a kid. My first relationship was where I draw a lot of this from. You went into "Forever," you went into "After This," and those recordings are from the 2007 album we did. I draw a lot on past experiences. So yeah, I went through a relationship where it was tortured. Not "tortured," but verbal abuse, crazy crap, you know what I mean? I'm sure we've all been through something like that.

Sometimes I do draw from that era, I do take it from past experiences. I've had other people sometimes go, "Man, you're just tore up." They meet me, they see my wife, they meet my family, and they're like, "Why do you write these dark songs?" And I'm like, "I'm just now letting go of some stuff that happened 15, 20 years ago." And it makes for good material. If I didn't go back and find things that either hurt or pulled emotion out of me, then I'd have nothing to write about.

Songfacts: That is back to you being a songwriter who needs to sing your own stuff. Because you can put that emotion behind your own words like nobody else could.

Kip: Exactly. The feeling and emotion, if you can learn that about songwriting, then the correct words evolve from the feelings and the emotions.

Songfacts: It's definitely all real. I wanted to ask you to tell me the story about your van catching fire.

Kip: (laughs) Oh, man, that's some funny stuff. I'm trying to think where we were at. We were touring with Future Leaders of the World, and I think we were in Kansas City. And we had an interview to go to. And we played the show, played a little early that day. We packed the equipment up in the trailer and the van. And we went back to the hotel, just kind of chilling out till we had to go meet the guy for dinner and do the interview. We got on the freeway, our drummer was driving. And all of a sudden the inside of the van filled up with smoke. And there's some smokers in the van, but - everybody lit up at one time?!? (laughs) So I was like, "What in the world?" And then it just locked up, one side of the positraction just locks up. And then we had to get it out of the road, because Kansas City traffic was just flowing. We got out of the van, all went to the back where the wheel was smoking, and the brake and the wheel - anything metal - was glowing orange. I mean, it was bad. We were only three exits from our hotel. So we let it cool down and we drove it back and spent two extra days in Kansas City.

It burned up inside a little bit, but it didn't catch flames and destroy the whole back end or anything. Just underneath we had to have extensive metal work done because we drove it back to the hotel.

Songfacts: I bet you went and installed a fire extinguisher after that, huh?

Kip: Let's just say we had a lot of work done and we said a lot of prayers for the rest of the tour.

Songfacts: This is where I give you the opportunity to tell me about any particular songs on the newest release that you are especially proud of that you want people to know about.

Kip: "Between the Lines" would be a good example. I get a lot of people that say, "Man, we really like the song." Every time I turn on that song, it gives me cold chills. I turn that song up, I get lost in that song. And that would be one that I would like everybody to listen to twice.

It's from a relationship to where you need to read between the lines; it's not gonna get any better, it's not gonna get any worse. You can stay there if you want to, but if you want to change things, this is the way to do it. Which is basically step back, look at the big picture and see that, hey, that's not working for you.

Songfacts: Sounds like marriage counseling.

Kip: Sometimes. (laughs) It could be that, I guess. That's kind of funny. You don't need therapy, just put Quarterfly on.

We got to know Kip better on August 24, 2011.

Make time to have a listen: Quarterfly on Myspace

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