Back when Aaron Kirby fronted a band called Southern Revelation, he started fielding some curious performance inquiries.
Churches, it seemed, latched onto the “Revelation” tag and assumed that the band play music with religious or spiritual overtones. After so many of those calls, he and the boys — who return to the stage on Saturday at Two Doors Down in downtown Maryville — decided a name change might be in order.
“We’re now called Aaron Kirby and the Union, and we do things a little differently,” Kirby told The Daily Times this week. “I promote all my shows as Aaron Kirby, and The Union are the guys who play with me. For bigger shows, they are the opening show, so everybody gets their time. Derek (Jones) and Austin (Stepp) are both amazing singers, and I want to highlight what they do. I never want to limit anybody, because I was fortunate enough in my musical career that when I backed people up, they gave me opportunities. So when we play, these guys sing and play as much as I do.”
Kirby is a familiar face in the Blount County music scene, having graduated from Heritage High School in 2009. The son of Debbie Kirby and the late Lewis Kirby, he took piano lessons as a teen, moved on to his mom’s guitar and progressed mostly as a self-taught musician, aside from the occasional lesson from local pickers. By 17, he’d established the bluegrass outfit Mountain Skyline Band, and short stints in other local projects followed — the Jeff Jopling Band and Randy Woody and Southbound, to name a few.
Two Doors has been his hometown bar, giving him an outlet for all of his projects, from Aaron Kirby and the Tennessee Jam Band to Southern Revelation to The Union. Although he and the guys — Jones on keys, Stepp on guitar, drummer Al Sosa, bassist Chad Silence, fiddler Nate Chestnut and multi-instrumentalist Will Tate — have other shows on the books, returning to Two Doors is always something of a homecoming, he said.
“We usually play there at least once a month, but we took last month off,” he said. “Even though I still played on that stage three times last month, whether filling in or at a jam night or whatever, because we didn’t go in and play our regular show, it feels like we haven’t played there in six months. So we’re going in a little fired up, and we’re excited about that.”
Currently, he’s pushing a single called “After Party” that’s he plans to release in August, followed shortly thereafter by a new EP. While it draws on the pop-country formula of high-energy grooves, it’s also outside the wheelhouse of the usual mainstream country radio fare, he added.
“When you hear the title, you think of throwing down, but the premise of the song is that your lady is your after party,” he said. “You play all night, but your goal is to get home as quick as you can, because she’s what matters. It’s not a typical new country song, but it follows that new country feel. I’m all about the lyrics.
“I know a lot of people are about the groove and the beat, and then the lyrics fall second, but I’m totally backwards. I don’t care if the whole song is set to a groove machine, as long as the lyrics are powerful and telling a story.”
After years of casting a wide net, he said, he feels like he’s finally found his niche. He’s working with other songwriters, guys like Tyson Leamon (who co-wrote “After Party”) and girls like Sarah Beth Terry out of Nashville. He and Stepp are still actively involved with Louie K Productions, the studio and production house they own in the Wildwood community, and he’s now a part of the Hepperly Auto Sales West team, where owner Steven Hepperly has given him free rein to bring his personality to bear while selling cars.
“It’s been a huge blessing, because he lets our creativity go — whatever we want to do to promote ourselves, he’s 100% behind, as long as it’s positive,” Kirby said. “So I came up with the ‘Singing Car Salesman’ thing. I’ll bring my instrument to work, and I’ll sing ’em a song and sell ’em a car. I love all these guys, and it’s kind of weird how we all landed in the same place for the same reasons — Austin is out here now, and the Jason Kelly is out here, and he taught me my first bar chords on the guitar.”
Kirby and Kelly have also established “Cars for Heroes,” a discount program through Hepperly that offers $500 off to emergency responders, law enforcement officers and military veterans. It’s all part of giving back, something Kirby tries to do through his music and his newfound commitment to his faith, he added. He’s actively involved with the praise and worship team at his church, and he even tried to pitch his old band moniker to them.
“I told them, ‘Guys, I’ve got a great name. I used it for years — Southern Revelation!’” he said with a laugh. “They decided to pass on it, though.”