When Nashville Meets London hits the capital this August, one artist will be as pleased as punch. For Canadian-born Manny Blu, self-styled country punk and former MMA fighter, a trip to these shores has been a long time coming.
With three EPs to his name so far – accumulating over 1 million streams and listeners in 128 countries – Blu is quickly establishing himself as a global artist, helped in no small way by his commitment to social media. Check out his TikTok (2.5m+) and his two YouTube series, Live & Turned Up (1m+ views) and the latest Live & Unplugged.
Having started 2022 with the release of his Country Punk EP, Blu has dropped two new singles this year, the latest being Put Your Whiskey Where Your Mouth Is featuring PJ North & Cody Parks & The Dirty South (listen here).
As he grabbed some downtime fresh off a successful run of shows as part of the Dallas Smith’s ‘Some Things Never Change’ tour in Canada, Six Shooter Country’s Alison Dewar caught up with him for a chat.
AD: Manny, thanks for making time to talk to us. The Dallas Smith tour looked great fun and you were touring with James Barker Band, who were a big hit when they appeared at Country2Country.
MB: Yeah, I had seen James Barker Band as a fan back in Montreal opening for Keith Urban in 2018 and opening for Florida Georgia Line the same year or the year after. I met James real quick when I first moved to Nashville and saw him play a writers round. They are great guys, so much fun to be on tour with and such fun music to watch every night. The way they interact with the crowd, and just the professionalism, it was awesome.
AD: Are you desperate to get back on the road again?
MB: It was quite long to be away from home, I think you go from not doing anything to being super eager to do it, I miss it for sure. There’s a love hate (relationship) with the road, you love doing it, but at some point you’re ‘I need my bed’ as opposed to the bus bunk, but….two weeks rest and I think we’ll be ready to hit it again.
AD: Tell me more about coming to the UK for Nashville Meets London.
MB: I’m playing the reception night on August 22nd and then we’ll grab some fun on the 24th. I’ve been wanting to come to the UK for a while and it’s been a long time coming. I’m super excited and the boys are super excited and I think we’re gonna have fun.
AD: I presume it’s going to be full band then rather than stripped down as you’ve been doing for Live & Unplugged on YouTube?
MB: Wes is coming, he’s my band leader and drummer, and we’re bringing Paul, who’s a guitar player, so we’re going to roll as a trio. Paul has been in and out of my band for a while doing different things, but he’s an incredible musician with a unique personality and character, which is fun to have.
I’m really looking forward to it, we haven’t done a lot with this line-up so I’m really excited to turn up to the UK and blow the roof off the place. We’re gonna have some fun and be wild. Party!
AD: First time thoughts on visiting the UK?
MB: I don’t have a huge expectation I am just really excited. I know the country scene here in Nashville and the US, and I’ve done a lot in Canada too, and obviously country music is country music, but there’s some subtle differences so I’m super curious and excited to see what the UK vibe of country is.
A couple of years ago I spoke to two girls from (Canadian band) Nice Horse, who were here in Nashville. They had done a run through the UK and Europe and were saying how awesome country fans are in Europe.
AD: Do you see this as a potential breakthrough moment in your career?
MB: I hope a lot of things are breakthrough moments. When I first got to Nashville in 2018, I sat in a room with some people who were helping me move along.
They said you’re Canadian, do you want to be a Canadian artist, I said no, I want to be global. I want to be able to play shows and festivals in Canada and the UK and in Australia and in the US and tour anywhere.
I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of big things in Canada and that’s really cool, but I’m not putting the US and the UK aside at all. I think everything helps it build up.
I’ll get to play shows in Canada, US and the UK this year, and coming off a year of not much touring, I think that’s pretty awesome.
AD: Will you get any downtime for sightseeing?
MB: Yeah, I hope so. I’m sure we’ll find some time. I’ve been to Europe, I don’t know how the UK compares to a place like Italy or somewhere, I’m very curious to explore.
New music plans
AD: Where you are with new music, what can we expect?
MB: I think this year goes to playing and being around, we’re working on some new music with no end date. It’s just about getting something really, really good.
We put out two EPs last year and since New Ink in 2020, we released new music every six to eight weeks for 24 months, so we were extremely busy while not being on the road. Now we’re taking time to enjoy being on the road.
Every EP has been a different process, which is kind of cool. We put out two new songs already this year that really didn’t belong on any of the projects, so we said why not release them while we’re working on other stuff. We released Playback before I went on tour across Canada and Put Your Whiskey Where Your Mouth Is before the end of the tour.
AD: I love that, it’s a real gig drinking song.
MB: Yeah, it’s meant to be a fun summer song, you know, get your best friends together. I got PJ North and Cody Parks, who are friends down here who are also doing some alternative country, and I thought it would be a really cool vibe to make this one sound like a bit of a house party.
I think the boys crushed it and we had a lot of fun making it. We got to perform it here in Nashville and that was super special. You don’t always get to perform with your collaborators and luckily Cody made that happen, he has a residency here in Nashville every month, so he got us on, and the song played and we had a lot of fun.
Moving forward, country punk is my vibe and it’s what we’re doing. Like I’ve said before, it doesn’t mean there will be an extreme amount of punk in everything, it’s more a vibe than it is a sonic genre but we’re not straying away from that.
It’s my brand, I got an idea and a concept that is exactly what I want to do and within that I make things that I want to make. I think DEViL was a really good example of that, but obviously naming the album Country Punk that followed, kind of really hit that home.
Everything is coming along, we have some really cool new songs I’m really excited to record and release, but we’re taking our time, we don’t want to rush it, we want to make a masterpiece of this one.
AD: For Live & Unplugged on YouTube, you’ve stripped back songs like Valet and you’ve talked about how that showcases your versatility. Is it harder to revisit and reinvent a song than it is to start from scratch?
MB: No, I think it’s easier and more fun. The tempo and the melody doesn’t change so for my own self it remains quite the same. The delivery might be different with the vibe that is going on, we had strings, cello, acoustic guitar – getting all of that together was cool and fun.
I say easier because it’s already laid out, we’ve played these songs a lot of times so the fun thing is to find a new creative way to play it. Alternative versions are always exciting to me. I really enjoyed the experience of co-producing the Country Punk EP and I think this was kind of led into it, where I pick a song from the catalogue that would lend itself to being stripped down with strings – I love the idea of piano and strings – it’s not something I do a lot.
Adding a live backing vocalist in the same room was really cool, it brings a different creative idea that I find exciting and fun and relatively easier than to build a new song from scratch.
AD: How does it fit into the punk genre?
MB: I think there’s dynamics in an album regardless of what you call it. You listen to Eminem and one of his records, the encore is extremely Eminem, but he’s got Mockingbird, it’s a much softer type of song, he does have piano in it too.
What I wanted to do with country punk is not put myself in a box, so if I want to do a piano song or do an acoustic song, I can do all that. It comes down to the storytelling in country music at the end of the day. I’ve always loved the sort of continuous story that a country song tells. How I want to produce it, be it pianos and strings or loud drums and guitars, doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a country song. 100% it’s the storytelling.
AD: I’ve enjoyed seeing you doing your stuff on TikTok on the back of a truck with Wes. I want to see you doing that in London on top of an open deck bus or something.
MB: You know what, we were talking about trying to get a sort of drum riser on stage when our shows get bigger, that would look like the back of a pick-up truck, where he would have his drums and I would sit on there for moments of the set.
TikTok is part of a thing everyone gotta do now it seems like, so you have to find a creative way that is still us, that is still fun and still gets the music across, which is why we do this social content. I think we found a recipe that is enjoyable for us to film and it’s kind of fresh and different.
AD: You have a huge social media presence, have you been quite surprised on tour that people already know the songs, even though it’s the first time they will have seen you play them live.
MB: Yeah, the craziest experiences were being on tour with Dallas Smith and James Barker Band. I was the first one on of the night and coming out big with the country punk thing, watching the crowds every night was unique and different and interesting. A lot of times people singing Train and Valet back, for people to know the words of the songs was an incredible experience, it’s been really cool. We have a lot of music out we can tour with, so we are just enjoying the process.
AD: Are you handling socials yourself?
MB: I have a great team here in Nashville that help me with it. I still like posting comments and all the creative ideas and discussions I am involved with, it’s just the actual tediousness of putting the captions and the editing of the videos they help with, things I haven’t quite got a grasp on.
But I go on and respond to everybody with comments, I respond to DMs on Instagram as well, that’s still me doing it. I think that’s part of the thing, I don’t get to do what I wanna do if nobody’s listening, so it’s very important. Anyone, positive or negative – the negative ones are fun to play with – but I really appreciate the positive comments and if they don’t like it then I don’t get to do what I do. So I like to show a little appreciation back to everybody.
AD: You posted on Tik Tok saying ‘middle school you would lose his mind if he knew what was to come’, followed by you on stage with the caption ‘livin’ the dream’. How does that make you feel?
MB: Oh man, you know at middle school I never thought I’d be a musician, even thinking about it, having moved to Nashville three or four years ago and really taking my career more seriously.
To have that as a caption and then seeing myself on an arena stage – that was the Saddledome in Calgary, where the Calgary Flames NHL hockey team play. You keep working, but when you take a step back and you really think about it, it’s really crazy and the next goal is to be the headliner on all those shows.
Right outside this window now is the Ascend Amphitheater, which is a dream venue right here in Nashville, and right behind it is Nissan Stadium. Garth Brooks sold out three nights in a row at Nissan, I mean hey – it’s fun to joke and to talk about and you don’t really think about it – obviously you strive for it, but anything that falls somewhere in between there is, and you can make yourself a career. I’ve been bold before and yeah, three nights at Nissan Stadium would be…that’s the top of the tops. Don’t stop ‘til you get there – right?
Manny Blu’s music available to download from the usual streaming services.
For the latest on Nashville Meets London visit www.NashvilleMeetsLondon.com