The mythical ethos of “what is country music” is a continually evolving genre box as the traditional Nashville sound opens up to the world through the incorporation of sounds more familiar in different parts of the musical spectrum. We hear of Country Rock, Bro Country, Alternative Country or Pop Country but intertwining it with punk is something that may not appear an obvious pairing. Punk has an image and a lifestyle that may appear a long way from stereotypical ideas of “Country” but if there is growing enthusiasm for blending more typically urban flavours or rhythm and blues or hip-hop or even rap into the genre surely there is an opportunity and an intrigue to see what punk can offer the genre?
Country Punk is exactly what Canadian native Manny Blu defines his sound and style as and the result is what would sit comfortably in any playlist. Somewhere between Lynryd Skynyrd, Machine Gun Kelly, The Cadillac Three and Fall Out Boy, what you hear on his sophomore release “New Ink” which came out at the back end of last year really does bridge that gap with the loud live sounds, fascinating ideology and the raw honest storytelling we are familiar with. We recently caught up with Manny over Zoom to learn more about this idea and where the future is looking to take him with it.
Where did the idea of putting country and punk together as a brand originate from and what was it that you felt was the way this best described what you do as an artist? “We had always said, “Country Rock” and I think that it has become such a subgenre on its own that I fell in the scenario of it has this look or it has this vibe, so you’re putting me back in a box that I didn’t want to be in! When we were talking about it, my manager was saying there are so many things we can unpack with you that you have put away to be part of country, how do you want to go about opening this up to things that liked previously, before Nashville? What do you want to do to bring some of this authenticity that you have? MGK put out his record that was like a modern pop punk and I was a teenager in the two thousands so there was some of that which became nostalgic. Country Rock, I love it and it has its place but is missing a little bit of that pop and a little bit of that swagger that rock and roll has! It’s a bit of a modern interpretation of Southern Rock which is great but there is just a gap somewhere. I don’t know why you can’t do country music without having style, fashion, swag and glam. There’s no rule against that so that’s where the idea kind of came. Even though I was super excited to put “New Ink” out, it was called too heavy for country but too country for rock & roll. We were talking about booking shows and how you’re able to book shows in bars or clubs that are wanting either very traditional or party country songs when I’m going in with loud drums, loud guitars, playing Lynyrd Skynyrd and then playing The Pretty Reckless, so it’s how do you do that? “Country Punk” which are two words that don’t go together is the best way to describe what I think is my music. My manager said punk goes country but I saw a crisper way to put that and we went with country punk which I think is a great way to say it and we get both sides that some people can see as their two worlds colliding. You don’t have to pick a side, you can enjoy metal as much as you enjoy super traditional country music. I’ve always liked pushing the envelope a little bit and intelligently standing outside without trying to be rebellious but doing things that nobody else thought of as there is no reason not to!”
How strange was releasing your sophomore EP at the back end of last year without the opportunity to tour it fully and did the arrival of the pandemic have an impact on the timing of putting “New Ink” out? “It was the weirdest thing. We finished the EP in October 2019 so we were holding on to it for a year. It was something that I was super proud of and felt that it really started cementing the music and the sound that I wanted to bring to country music. I was getting irritated and impatient with wanting to put it out because I only had one EP out, which at that point I felt wasn’t a correct representation of the music that I wanted to do. Even just being out and about, when you tell people that you do music and they ask do you have music out? It wasn’t the go check this out feeling. We had planned to showcase early last March but it got cancelled because of the tornado which hit Nashville. We had some really cool people and connections coming to the showcase and we were hoping that would have been the start of rolling out this EP. We had a three-week tour booked, played five shows in six days then COVID kind of cancelled that too. The whole thing was weird and frustrating because we started to feel like we were getting momentum where things were starting to look up and everything was starting to fall in place then for lack of a better term, everything went to shit! We were holding onto the album the whole time through COVID and looked at how do we put this out? When do we put this out? Looking at things starting to open up in Nashville back in July, which was when it started to get pushed out, thinking let’s try and blow this up with a single release party, play an outdoor stage and do something really cool but things hadn’t opened up to the degree that we had hoped. We decided to start putting it out because we had been working on what we have coming out now called “Devil” which is a whole other experience to record and talk about.” “New Ink” came out at the back end of last year during the pandemic and as you have said, there already was other new music in the pipeline at the time of releasing the EP whilst you hadn’t had the opportunity to fully tour and expose this project so was there any thought towards releasing it differently whilst it was sat on the shelf? “It was a project that I was really proud of so I didn’t want to burn it and I think it really put a stamp on where I want to be with the sound that I like. We are always looking to be working on stuff ahead of time anyway. That’s always been kind of our concept where once one is done, what do we do next? We almost had “Devil” in terms of the concept and songs done before “New Ink” came out apart from the final touches and stuff and adding features, then we’re constantly working on more new stuff and even with “Devil” which is coming out on August 20th, we are working towards the next new ideas and new concepts beyond that so that almost starts to feel old already.”
“You kind of have to go backwards, when I’m talking about the process you have to delve into the memory bank a little bit to pull that out. Having a catalogue sitting on the shelf for a little bit is cool when you’re releasing music because it’s not stopping. We’ve got new music on the way and especially this year, the idea is just to be super busy with releasing content, whether that’s new official music or videos or the “Live & Turned Up” series that we have; which we are also in the middle of releasing so, if you’re paying attention it makes it super fun and if not it can be super confusing. When people search up Manny Blu on Instagram, Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube there is new stuff coming all the time. That’s what we are priding ourselves on. We don’t know if we are going to get tours yet because right now, all of the big guys are heading out so all of that energy is going into them going out and we just said we would be as busy as we can be filming and recording as much content as we can throughout the year so we can have stuff constantly coming out even if we can’t get out and tour.”
In regard to the socials and looking to bring out content, how have you enjoyed TikTok in particular as a medium for creating this and connecting with fans? “Initially with TikTok, I was a little bit reluctant too. I’m not great with socials, when I grew up my parents were always saying “Hey, you can have fun, enjoy your life and there’s nothing wrong with that but the entire world doesn’t have to see it!” When I turned into an artist, it’s almost the opposite where people need to see everything that you’re doing and to break that barrier has been very interesting and very challenging. I love TikTok as a consumer of things and getting into being a creator of some of that content has become part of it. It is very time consuming a lot of the time but it does make you get creative and think a lot.” You had talked about the Live & Turned Up series where you recorded the live performance videos of some of your tracks along with some covers from across the musical spectrum and you recorded the second volume at EXIT/IN which is such a historic venue Nashville that after the sale of the property was under threat from closure. How important are independent venues like that in Nashville and how significant was you having the opportunity to record there? “Nashville is not just about country music, it really is music city! I think it’s the best place here that has music in it even when you put it up against New York, California or even Texas just because there are so many different styles and I don’t think I get to being “Country Punk” without being in Nashville! Without the energy and the influence that Nashville brings. With EXIT/IN being known as more of a rock bar, you get that vibe whilst getting to see country music is really cool. We did our second “Live & Turned Up” there, we weren’t able to do the first one there because of COVID but it was my number one location when we even had the thought of the project. We were thankful enough to be able to get in there and I’ve been to shows there, there’s so much history, so much vibe, so much energy and inspiration that for us to play there with our songs, doing our thig and seeing that neon sign would be a tiny little thing for most but it was massive for us and we will be able to look back and see that we have a tiny little piece of that stage.”
With the landscape starting to change back for the better and more new music on the way, how are things looking like for you in regard to getting to play in front of crowds again? “Things are starting to open up which is nice. We have played shows without the social distancing thing so it’s really great to feel like we are getting back to normal a little bit. For me and the team, I think the next step is just getting back on the road. Right now, we have a festival in Canada at the end of September which is one that was rescheduled from last summer to this summer and the way things were going they pushed it back to fall. We’ve got that, we’re keeping it moving and as some of our friends go out, we’re looking to try and jump on the bus with them.”
The latest single “Might As Well Lead” from Manny Blu is out now, which you can listen to HERE. You can stay up to date on news and announcements from Manny including the latest on his next project due on August 20th by checking out his website or following along on Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook.
True country music is honesty, sincerity, and real life to the hilt. Garth Brooks