Second set of Eastern Sierra twins head to Music City USA
There’s something about country music, Nashville, and twins from the Eastern Sierra. Eleven years ago, Sara and Erynn Lavagnino (aka The Lava Girls) headed to the Athens of the South to pursue their country-music dreams. In 2010, Derrick and Travis Kuppens, also born and raised in the Eastern Sierra, had the same calling.
You may remember the Kuppens twins from local football teams. Built like tanks, Travis (#59) played offensive guard and defensive tackle, while Derrick (#54) played center. The twins were a part of the very first youth football league, and then played in high school from 2000 to 2004.
They graduated from Mammoth High School in 2004 and really discovered their love for country music while in college. So, in November 2010 (narrowly missing the flooding that occurred earlier that year), they packed their bags and headed to the place where country is king. Today, they are two members of the five-member band, Diamond Hitch. Travis is the drummer and Derrick plays leader guitar and lends vocals.
The Sheet recently caught up with the brothers (specifically Derrick) via email to find out how things are going now that they have one year of the country rocker lifestyle under their belts.
Sheet: Who started playing music first, Derrick or Travis?
Derrick: Actually, we both started at the same time in the elementary school band playing trumpet. We played trumpet into our sophomore year but then stopped. Travis started playing drums and I started playing guitar while playing worship at Grace Community Church and with our group Achates. We actually cut our first CD for our graduating class with that band. Everyone got one when we graduated and we played at our high school graduation.
Sheet: Did you always want to have a full band or did you ever have thoughts of just playing together (brother band)?
Derrick: We always wanted a full band because drums and a guitar just don’t sound quite right together without everything else.
Sheet: Did you know the Lava Girls before you left Mammoth? Were you inspired by their move to Nashville and into country music?
Derrick: Yeah, we knew them. Our sister, Alicia Kuppens, was in high school plays with the girls and our parents were friends. We knew them through those links. As far as inspiration, we thought it was awesome that the girls were chasing their dreams and it was cool that someone was willing to take a risk to reach their goals. The girls’ music has always been great and we have always been fans. However, it didn’t directly inspire our move. It was through studying music in college and through different songwriting seminars that I attended that I discovered the reality of country music. It’s in Nashville! Basically, the “big fish” are here and it’s a lot easier to get a record label to come down the street than it is to come across the country to see the next big thing.
Sheet: Do you ever see the girls around Nashville? Hang out?
Derrick: Yeah. We both live busy lives here with music and everyday life but we see each other every once in awhile. We have seen a couple of shows, hung out at some holiday parties, and we get together to catch up. Actually, when we saw them over Thanksgiving, the girls said they are coming to our show on New Year’s weekend at Cadillac Ranch in Downtown Nashville. I am sure we will be seeing a lot more of each other at shows because we both have new CDs out.
Sheet: On your site you mention blue-collar days and honky tonk hero nights, what is a typical day like for you?
Derrick: A typical day looks like this. We wake up at 6:30 a.m. to feed the horses, chickens, and other animals that we have here on our place. Then, it’s off to work at Discount Tire where we change tires, balance tires, fix flat tires, and do pretty much anything you can do with a tire. After work, it’s back to take care of the “farm” for the night, and get ready to do some music. Some nights it’s band practice to prepare for the gigs and on show nights, we pack up all the gear into our trailer and head to that night’s venue. We set up all the sound equipment and instruments and do a sound check. Then it’s three to four hours of putting on a show. It’s playing our original music and whatever songs people want to hear. It’s doing cheers and whatever it takes to entertain the crowd. During the song Copperhead Road, you can usually find one of our singers, Preston Taylor, line dancing with the girls on the floor. During the song Sweet Home Alabama, all the band members take turns with solos to do introductions. Basically, we just have a fun time on stage, and it must be working because we have a lot of fans out here and we gain more all the time. The venues love having us, and always want us back.
Sheet: What are the ultimate goals and dreams of the band?
Derrick: Our ultimate goal is to get the big record deal and be able to tour the country playing our music. We want our music to be on every country radio station. We all just want to make records and play for a living!! This year we were able to go to the CMA Awards through a lady who saw us play at a showcase and loved our music. She got us in front of one of the concert stages on the floor level! It was awesome, but you could tell that we all wanted to be there performing and/or getting awards. So that is definitely a goal, too! We just all want Diamond Hitch to make it big and leave our mark on the history of country music.
Sheet: Do you both (Derrick and Travis) write songs? Which songs, from the music on your site, have you written?
Derrick: Yeah, we both write songs. Everyone in the band writes songs. But for this album, myself and another member, Jacob Boyd, wrote the majority of the songs. “Burnet County Jail,” “Fame,” and “Sixteen” were written by Jacob Boyd. I wrote “Can’t Outrun Her “and” Heaven and Hell.” Travis and I wrote “Country Proud.” Jacob Boyd, Travis and I wrote “Nashville Nights.”
Another benefit of living in Nashville is the great songs that are out here to cut by artists. Three of the songs on the album were pitched to Preston Taylor when he was a solo artist before Diamond Hitch, but we took the songs and put the Diamond Hitch sound to them. Actually two of the songs were written by some big names. Jason Aldean co-wrote, “Unbuckle the Bible Belt” with songwriters named Philip A. Douglas and Don Pfrimmer. And “Stay Close to Me” was co-written by Terry Clayton, Kevin Mason, and Brett James. Brett James worked on the songs “Jesus Take the Wheel,” “When the Sun Goes Down,” and more number one hits for big artists. Tim Sillers, Mark Selby, and Clay Mills wrote the last song of the three pitched, “That’s Who I Come From.” We are the first band to cut this song and we are excited about it!! Hopefully we can make it a big one!
Sheet: Where did the name Diamond Hitch come from?
Derrick: The name Diamond Hitch comes from the mule-packing knot known as the Diamond Hitch. Travis and I used to work as “packers” for Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit for many seasons and we used that knot to secure the gear on the mule trains. Actually, Rex Hayes worked there too during the summer before we moved and we competed in Mule Days 2010. So, he learned the knot, too. We feel like it described our “western” lifestyle and who we are.
Sheet: Do you feel like you are making headway in the country music scene?
Derrick: Absolutely! They say Nashville is a ten-year town, but we feel that in the short year we have been a band we are making leaps and bounds. We play every weekend and have gotten into a few venues that take bands a long time to get into. Cadillac Ranch is one of those. We had to be pretty persistent at first to get our audition night. But after the first three songs we played they wanted us back the next night! They loved us and still do. We have been playing there since then.
Whereas it takes many bands awhile to find their sound and really figure out what type of band they want to be, ours fell right into place and gets better every time we play. Plus, we are rare to Nashville due to the fact that we are a self-contained band. You will see that many artists in Nashville hire musicians to play, sometimes the same musicians, but we are a unique all-in-one package. Recording and self producing our album within a year is also a big feat, and through this album we have made contacts that have allowed us to start recording new singles and starting in on a second album at the Sound Kitchen in Franklin, Tenn., where artists like Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker, Taylor Swift, etc. have all recorded! We are also looking at upcoming showcases in front of some pretty big people. One is in February at the Hard Rock Cafe downtown and representatives from Universal Music Group will be on hand. We have our album being reviewed by multiple independent music magazines and online sites, too. We’re also working on getting our merchandise line together and it should be out soon. All in all we think we are doing really well, and each day get closer to accomplishing our dream!
Sheet: What made you lean toward country music versus other music?
Derrick: There are a couple of things. One is getting to grow up in a small town like Mammoth and enjoying things like camping, four wheeling, fishing, and the outdoors. That is what country is all about. The second is that after high school, we began to work around horses, cattle, packing, and that type of western lifestyle, so we easily leaned toward country music. Lastly, there is the fact that country music is an open genre. There is room to say what you want and add your own style to the music. The possibilities are endless, especially in today’s country music.
Sheet: Think you’ll ever play in Mammoth?
Derrick: Actually, both Diamond Hitch and the Lava Girls would love to play at Mule Days!
Check out the band’s website, www.diamondhitchmusic.com where you can purchase their CD, or visit them on Facebook (Diamond Hitch) and Twitter (DHITCHMUSIC).