Under the watchful eye of a Bob Dylan painting hanging over his right shoulder at Bantam Pub in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, singer-songwriter Chip McGuire is in a good place, both personally and professionally, these days.
Being proactive about a bipolar depression diagnosis, McGuire is in therapy and taking meds to treat the disorder. He’s now friends with his ex-wife and the mother of his two children, he’s moved into the city and is even seeing someone romantically. Tucking into his order of loaded macaroni and cheese topped with pulled pork BBQ, the songwriter behind “Nashville” and “Whole New Low” is also now riding high, thanks to a brand new record deal with Nashville’s Iron Gate Records. On Aug. 17, Iron Gate will release “Drag The Waters,” McGuire’s debut single for the label, featuring Sarah Rose of the Atlanta act Sara and the Safe Word.
The label, co-founded by Greg Upchurch, the drummer in 3 Doors Down feels tailor-made for McGuire’s trademark grassroots approach to music, emphasizing artist independence and valuing the connections built between artist and audience in live performance.
“It was a lot more fast-moving than I thought it would be,” says McGuire. “Throughout the pandemic, I was thinking about what the pursuit of music in a digital age was going to be and what it would look like. I realized in terms of distribution, if you wanted professional results, you needed to hire a professional.”
Some pals in the local act Rusted Soul had just gotten picked up by Iron Gate so McGuire took a gander at the label’s website. “I did the thing you’re never supposed to do,” says McGuire laughing. “I filled out that public submission thing. In an email I wrote, ‘What you guys are doing looks interesting and I hope what I’m doing looks equally interesting to you.’ I remember thinking, ‘This is ridiculous but whatever!’”
A few days later, McGuire received a reply from Iron Gate co-founder Mark Skoda. “It was clear to me that they had done their research,” says McGuire. “They had listened to the music, they liked what I do live and they totally got my story. They loved the idea of a Filipino who plays banjo and my whole adoption backstory. This is exactly what I had been looking for. It’s a blessing and honestly, a little mind blowing.”
In terms of reach, it doesn’t exactly hurt that Iron Gate’s artists are distributed by the Universal Music Group either. And in an era where TikTok stars become recording artists overnight with a few thousand clicks of a heart icon, the creatives behind Iron Gate Records value artists who do the hard work live on stage, building an organic real-life following of fans.
“For me,” says McGuire, “it was just the right amount of passion without feeling like someone was blowing smoke up your ass. Sure, like with anything, there’s always a level of fear but I’m all about making realistic goals with unrealistic optimism. This feels like a great fit for me and my music and what I bring to the table.”
In a July 15 post on the label’s social media accounts, Iron Gate Records told followers, “We are thrilled to announce the newest addition to the Iron Gate Records family, the one and only, Chip McGuire! His music cannot be confined to a single category. Think bluegrass meets country, Americana meets rock, folk meets emo — all wrapped up in a unique style fondly referred to as ‘NuGrass,’ ‘Dirt Emo’ or ‘Sad Boi Americana.’ Together, we will create extraordinary experiences that transcend boundaries, unlock creativity and establish meaningful connections with audiences. We are proud to provide Chip with a groundbreaking platform to maintain his unique artistic voice while enhancing his connection with fans.”
As he does the work on himself personally, McGuire says he’s also seeing a shift in how he approaches songwriting these days — with new-found clarity. “I’m writing less and less about these fictitious characters and actually sitting down and writing about what I’ve been through,” he says. “It’s a way of processing trauma by talking about it through my music. I used to start with writing the music. Now, it’s less about finding a melody and a bunch of hooks first. Now, I’m starting with the lyrics and figuring out where I want to go from there. Being able to examine these things in an artistic and a relatable way has been very positive for me. I’m excited for people to hear the new material. It’s very real. Somewhere, there’s someone else feeling the way I do, thinking no one else could possibly understand what they’re going through. No two people are exactly alike. But I’m hoping with this new material I can say, ‘This is my experience. I hope this helps.’ I want to pass along that glimmer of light.”
At his upcoming September 17 gig at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, McGuire plans to preview two of his new songs. “’Hero and the Martyr’ is as artistically candid as I can be about what it’s like to have bipolar depression and what’s it’s like to have this ghostly apparition that looks like you and behaves like you lurking around,” says McGuire. “’Will You Still Love Me in the Mourning’ is about embracing this disorder as my superpower. It’s painful but it’s also a superpower. It’s about embracing having this different perspective on the human experience.”
Longtime fans can also look forward to an old McGuire standard in the set, “Long Way to Go.” “It’s an old song that I wrote when I was maybe 22,” the singer says. “I’m discovering that there are things that the younger me was perhaps wiser about or maybe it was just that he wasn’t distracted by all of the noise. Being able to sing it now from my current perspective is great.”
As he continues his onboarding at Iron Gate Records, McGuire is also currently road testing some of his new songs at various live spots across Atlanta and digging into his roots, sampling some of the new Filipino cuisine currently popping up across the city. But tonight, as plates are cleared and he pays the tab at Bantam Pub, McGuire’s vibrating phone informs him of his current priority — bringing home a goat cheese pizza.
McGuire grins as he shoves the phone back into his pocket and says, “Since our last interview, I’ve learned I can’t be everything I need to be for other people if I’m not the best I can be. I can’t fill someone’s cup if mine is empty. It’s all about creating balance. I’m loving learning how to navigate this new life.”
Chip McGuire & The Renegade Saints will appear Sunday, Sept. 17 at 8 pm at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur. For tickets and more info, visit the Eddie’s Attic website.
To pre-order “Drag The Waters,” McGuire’s new single due to be released Aug. 17, click here.
Richard L. Eldredge is the founder and editor in chief of Eldredge ATL. As a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta magazine, he has covered Atlanta since 1990.