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“Hi! Happy Monday to you!”
That’s how Chris Bandi greeted me after I answered the phone; he was calling at precisely 10 am on a Monday morning. Musicians aren’t generally the most punctual people, but Bandi is rightfully excited to talk about his self-titled EP, released late last month. The challenges of putting out a debut release during a pandemic are formidable, but his single “Man Enough Now” is gaining momentum, and may just end up being one of the biggest breakout hits of the summer. He’s happy to talk about it, and rightfully so.
So, tell me about “Man Enough Now.”
I wrote that a few years ago with two of my favorite people in Nashville to write with: Jason Massey and Jason Duke. I was thinking about a relationship that I was in. I was in college and I made a lot of young, dumb mistakes like young dumb 21-year-olds do. I was thinking if we had met a little bit later in life, it would have worked out. But when I wrote the song, I was a few years removed. I felt that I was man enough now for a relationship. I brought that idea into “the Jasons”; they loved it. We were done in maybe an hour and a half. We knew that we had something special, but we didn’t know how special.
I was playing shows almost every single weekend. But we didn’t have anything to leave with other than, “Hey, go like us on Facebook!” or “Check out our Instagram.” So we kind of just threw it up online and people started listening to it. People started sharing it. They started coming out to shows and singing every word back to us and coming up to us after a show and saying how much they have related to it or how much it has helped them. It’s just been crazy to see its growth since we wrote it.
There’s a saying in Nashville that three minutes can change your life. I never really believed that until I saw it firsthand. I used to always just think, “Oh, that’s such a cliche. That’s not how it works.” This completely changed my mind!
Did you get signed because of that song?
I did! That song actually got me my publishing deal, which gives me the opportunity to write more songs every single day. I get to tell my family that I have a “real job” now. It got me my record deal, which means I get to go out and tour this amazing country playing all those songs that I wrote. It really did change my life.
When I moved to Nashville, everybody told me to talk about my truth in my songs. I moved to town when “Cruise” was the biggest song in the world. But I didn’t grow up like the guys in Florida Georgia Line. I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, I lived a suburban life, but I grew up loving country music. It was all my mom listened to. But I had a very different path than a lot of country artists. To tell my truth, I had to write my own songs.
You recently made your debut at the Opry. Was that before the quarantine?
It was right before. Thank goodness. It was February 24. It was incredible. I remember we got the call, a few weeks prior to our debut release, and my manager called me and said, “Hey, we’ve got your Grand Ole Opry debut set up.” And he seemed so nonchalant about it.
It was incredible. My family came down, my girlfriend’s family came down. My drummer, who grew up listening to the Opry every Saturday with his grandpa, his mom and dad came down.
To be able to walk out onto that stage was a feeling that I will never, ever forget. I hope we get to do it many more times, but I will never forget my first time. I swear to you, I feel like the people in the front row could probably see my heart pounding out of my chest. As I walked to the microphone, I kind of took I took a second; I took a deep breath, looked out at the crowd, looked back at my drummer, and he kicked it off. It was amazing.
I saw the promotional photo that went with your first release, 2017’s “Gone Girl.” Your look has changed a lot! Was that your choice or a record label decision?
That was all my decision. I chopped 11 inches of hair off. I donated all of it to Pantene to make wigs for children with cancer. I had long hair for probably about six or seven years at that point, and I was just ready for a change. I did not tell anybody because I didn’t want anybody telling me no. You’re trying to build this “brand” and cutting ten or eleven inches off of your hair definitely throws a wrench into that. But I was ready to let it go, so one day I just woke up and decided to go to the barber and chop it all off.
I understand that you’re a Prince fan.
My dad loved Prince. My dad was always the rocker. He listened to Prince, Bruce Springsteen, this band called Sonia Dada. He loved all of that kind of music. I had [the 1993 collection] The Hits/The B-Sides. He would never let me listen to the B-sides because there were some inappropriate songs. But I wore out The Hits. I had a little blue Walkman that I would have in the school bus and I would just listen to Prince over and over and over again. I was the only second grader weird enough to listen to Prince.
So if your dad is a rocker, I guess you can both enjoy Eric Church, who I know you’re a fan of.
Absolutely. My dad loves Eric Church. And when I first started playing, you know, little bars around. St. Louis and Illinois and Mississippi, I would play a bunch of Eric Church songs and those are the ones that my dad always loved the most.
When I moved to Mississippi for college, Eric Church and Luke Bryan and guys like that were really up-and-coming. The first time they’d come through, maybe 250 people showed up. Next time they came back, it was maybe 500 to 700. Then the next time, they were selling out bigger venues. It was awesome to see their trajectory. Seeing those guys do it firsthand was incredible and gave me the sense that that’s how you had to do it. You had to go out and play.