“We’re not a band that puts on a show, we’re a band that puts on a party,” says singer Derek Stipe, who, along with brother Kevin, leads The Stipe Brothers. “Not to say that we’re not good musicians, but we want it to be a little bit different. We want to have a good time — and if we’re having a good time, hopefully everybody else is, even if it’s not the most polished product.”
The Stipe Brothers are likely to cover everyone from Pink Floyd, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Lourde, and Huey Lewis to Gnarls Barkley, Phil Collins, and Young MC during an evening — they even lost a bet once and had to play Justin Bieber’s “Baby” for a room full of people.
Songs they’ve never played before are a “fun challenge,” says Derek. “They’re our versions, and they’re not exactly the same every time. You never know what the energy of the room’s going to be like when it’s played in the set, and so there’s always a little bit of spontaneity … hopefully that’s why people keep coming.”
Then he adds: “I don’t know why they keep coming, actually.”
The humor in their sets seems to be appreciated. “We do a couple songs that are almost parody, but they’re not really,” says Kevin, who plays guitar. He uses the ’80s pop hit “Take on Me,” by A-Ha, as an example. “We do a crazy version with all of these slowdowns and sing-a-longs, not just your steady rhythm through it all. [It’s] become a crowd-interactive, one that we play at almost every show.”
They won’t likely play any traditional Irish tunes at their upcoming St. Patrick’s Day show in Hendersonville. But they do plan to cover a couple songs by noted musicians named “Pat.”
“We went into this with no preconceived notions about being great,” Derek says. “It was more about having fun. So for us, if we screw up real bad, and we do, it’s like, ‘Oh, that just happened, that was interesting, we tried it, and it’s not a big deal.’ We’re just a band having a good time. If you’re here to sit back and listen to us nail every single solo and every single part that you remember from your favorite song, then you’re at the wrong place,” he laughs.
The band members’ love of punk and alternative rock weighs into the arrangements. “Sometimes it feels like you’re making fun of the original, when it’s not. It’s, ‘How in the heck are we going to pull off ‘Take on Me’ on two acoustic guitars and a hand drum?’” Derek says. “We just make it work for us.
“I’ve always been the loudmouth,” the singer admits.
“I’ve always been exactly the opposite,” says Kevin.
“We grew up like any typical brotherly duo,” says Derek. “We fought at times, in some ways we went our separate ways, but … we’ve really gotten along the last few years, and I really enjoy being able to work with him and get along well with him now. I think it’s pretty powerful.”
They share the same sense of the absurd. “It’s never out of the ordinary [for us] to pull out a kazoo for a sax solo, or a slide whistle, whatever ridiculous contraption we can come up with to try to emulate some sound in a certain song,” says Kevin.
In 2000, the Stipes started their first group together, the Christian alternative-rock group Monday Morning. After seven years of hard work, a number-one hit on the Christian Contemporary chart — “Wonder of it All (Next Year)” — a major-label debut followed by setbacks, and increasing family responsibilities, the group decided to give it a rest. But it wasn’t too long after moving back to Hendersonville that the brothers got the itch to play again. “We were like, ‘Let’s do something completely different from what we used to. Let’s not take it seriously. Lets do some cover songs at a coffee shop and see what happens,” recalls Derek. “If it’s fun, we’ll do it some more. If it’s not, we’ll hang it up.”
The brothers met guitarist/vocalist Dan Ruiz and struck up an immediate musical bond. “I mean, you just know when you connect with someone musically and when you don’t, and with these guys it was like, ‘Yeah, they get it,’” Ruiz says. For full-band shows, they add bassist Jeff Hinkle and drummer Kent Rector.
Three-part harmony is a trademark of The Stipe Brothers’ sound. “We like to tackle some crazy cover songs, any genre, songs that we’ve never played before. And the way Dan fits in, it’s like I already know what he’s going to be harmonizing,” Kevin says. “We can almost immediately start singing three-part harmony without having rehearsed the song. That’s weird, but it’s really cool.”