Muscadine Bloodline – Gary Stanton and Charlie Muncaster – have been forging their own lane as an independent Country duo for the past few years.
Having tried to play the Nashville game, the duo decided to do things their own way and that approach has been paying off. They recently released their new single ‘Dispatch to 16th Avenue’, the title track from their upcoming new album, and it takes a bold swing as just how tough the Country music is.
I spoke to Gary and Charlie recently to find out more about the song, discuss their upcoming album, and to talk about the realities of being independent…
You recently released your new song ‘Dispatch to 16th Avenue’, the title track from your upcoming new album. It’s quite bold lyrically. Tell me about the inspiration for the song…
Gary: It’s a true story of what we’ve been through. We’ve been in Nashville for about six years and flirted with the Nashville industry getting a publishing deal, signing an artist development deal to upstream to a label and that sort of thing. Honestly, we just didn’t really like that model and it didn’t fit where our heads were at. (The song is) a true story about our journey coming through Nashville and people aren’t really writing about this kind of stuff. Like you said it is bold. We’re coming out with a left hook on this record. The title just feels cool and we used some parallels with first responder kind of things like dispatch and using a homicide of this guy who moves to Nashville to pursue Country music and whether he gets the deal or not. It’s that whole selling your soul to the man or whatever you want to call it. It felt right.
Charlie: I would say, honestly it’s a pretty true story like Gary said about what we’ve been through. For the longest time, we toed this line of playing along with the industry and this record is a statement saying we’re here to stay but we’re here to do it our own way.
Gary: It’s an ode to the guys and gals that are coming up. When a new musician comes in to this town, you realise what you thought this town was, is really not what it is pertaining to Nashville. It’s a song for the underdogs and it’s how we molded our career, being a light for independent artists. There’s a lot of stigma that comes with being independent and we’re trying to break that mold.
There’s this idea that you move to Nashville, play a few bars, get signed to a label and then you’ve made it. That’s simply not the case. So many artists now are choosing to be independent. Does that give you more freedom to shape your career the way you want to?
Gary: Yeah, Charlie and I get to wake up every day and if he’s not into something, or I’m not into something, we don’t do it. It’s very nice. Nashville is slow. Country music is always the slowest genre to pick up on how trends are working. Independent in pop in and R&B and hip-hop has been a thing for a while. There’s a lot of super successful acts doing that, but Country music no one’s really done it yet. Our goal now is to try to be the biggest independent act that Country music’s ever seen. It’s more just a principle thing and even if we’re not the ones that reap the benefits from it, it’s creating that lane and creating that mold, or the blueprints to be like, ‘hey, you can actually do it this way. You don’t have to listen to you know what everyone in Nashville tells you need to do with your career’.
Charlie: Streaming really was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We think it’s what gives independent artists such big legs now because you don’t have to have the radio to be discovered. You don’t have to have a record label, theoretically, to be discovered and that’s just the beauty of being independent right now. There’s so much overstimulation of music, anybody in the world can find your music now and that’s just a huge benefit that we have.
Country radio is still so integral to commercial success in the US but being able to build that direct to consumer relationship with your fans, is helping artists like yourselves side-step it and find success. You’ve really leveraged that, and particularly social media, to build a fan base…
Gary: Social media 15 years ago really wasn’t a thing. You might have had maybe MySpace or something like that but there really wasn’t an infrastructure for independent artists to succeed. Now there is. It’s just really how much you want to put into it.
Charlie: Everyone has the tools right here at the tip of their fingers with their iPhone. You’d be surprised how much you can get done with this (iPhone) right here, you can get a long way.
You can save a lot of money too when you’re doing it yourself rather than paying a team to manage it all for you…
Gary: At the end of the day, it’s a business – cash in, cash out. We’re not gonna sell 3 million copies of our record probably, that’d be awesome if we did. We don’t have the system behind us and we don’t have 100 people on a team trying to do that. But if we sell 100,000 and it’s just me, Charlie and our manager…
Charlie: And you own 100% of it…
Gary: If you look at brass taxes, probably what you’re going to bring home is close to the same after the pie is split on the other end of that spectrum.
Retaining and communicating with that fanbase is the key isn’t it? Obviously, you’re always looking to expand, but maintaining that relationship with the hardcore fanbase is what’s going to keep shows selling out, and music and merch sales up…
Charlie: Yeah, the model that we’re in we had no choice in the beginning but to cater to our fans so much because that’s what we built our career on. Subconsciously in the beginning that was just all we knew and we didn’t know it was gonna pay off for us like this. We see, all the time, record label acts that just don’t really acknowledge their fans or pay attention, or even interact on social media. For us, it’s just something that’s so easy to do and I just don’t understand sometimes why you wouldn’t want to utilize that.
Gary: We obviously want it to grow and the independent thing is not that overnight (success). It’s a very slow build, but it’s a very intentional integral build that these people come in and they’re like, ‘man, we’re a part of something really cool and we got in early’. There’s like a certain threshold you cross, and I don’t know what that is or when it happens, but it does and like people say, ‘oh, they’re they’re at a certain big point’. It’s this weird thing that the consumer feels and right now it’s just us and them, which makes it very tangible and that’s how we want to build this brand. Even if it does grow and you can sell out amphitheaters one day being independent, it’s still tangible and people feel like they’re a part of something. I think there’s a sense of pride when people can put other people on to music that they probably haven’t heard. I take pride in that too, letting Charlie, or my wife or a friend be like, ‘have you heard this before?’ and they probably haven’t. That’s like a really cool feeling because you feel like a trendsetter.
Having taken this approach to connecting with fans throughout your career, did that leave you better equipped to stay in touch with them during the pandemic?
Charlie: The only thing that changed for us during the pandemic was just no shows. We kept on living our life and we kept on figuring out intriguing new ways to connect with our fans. We recorded a couple of EPs over the break on our phone and we called them ‘The Quarantine Work Tapes’. We literally just cooped up in our closets and Gary sang six songs, and I sang six songs. We were like, ‘hey, what can we do? What can we give them? What can we present to the fans here and give them a little gift or something?’ and that’s just one of the cool things about being independent. We didn’t have to ask anybody.
The album ‘Dispatch to 16th Avenue’ is in the pipeline. What can your fans expect?
Gary: We actually did something fun for the first time. Our touring band that we tour with, we did this record together and that’s pretty uncommon in Country music. Usually there’s studio musicians and there’s touring musicians, but we run our camp like a family. These are the guys that are gonna be playing this out live every weekend. It has a cool nuance to that fact because it’s not very polished. It’s how we play it live and it’s very raw. There’s not a lot of modern techniques or modern sound snap tracks, (there’s) no auto tune… we just went in there and played like a five-piece band would. It’s very traditional, most of the record. There’s a lot of pedal steel, a lot of odes to the 90s era of country, even the 70s era of country, it’s just very traditional compared to what we’ve done in the past.
Charlie: It definitely feels like a turning of the page creatively for us. We’ve done so many different genres and people for the longest time didn’t know what genre to call us. For once in our career we were like, ‘hey, let’s change that for this record or this timestamp in our career moving forward, let’s be a damn country band’. That was just one thing that really inspired this next record and was the driving force of our creative process during it all.
Gary: All the songs were written during the pandemic. I think some of the best songs of this decade are going to come out these next couple years or already coming out because people really had time to have some depth. It wasn’t just like, ‘OK, when we get off the road let’s just write a hit jingle song that feels good listening to the radio at five o’clock when someone gets off work’. A lot of people were going through stuff so therefore I think when people do that the art gets better. All these songs are written over the pandemic and we went back to what we listened to (growing up) and what we still listen to now that’s always on rotation. We’re like, ‘why are we trying to like fight for space in a Country radio sound when we’re not even in that space? Let’s just go with what we love’ and that’s what we love. There’s a lot of depth, a lot of ode to our southern heritage and we talk about different topics that aren’t just your surface level love, breakup, party that you really get in top 40 Country right now.
When are you going to bring your music over to the UK?
Gary: That’s a dream for us. Honestly, three years ago or four years ago, playing out of the southeast sounded unimaginable and now it’s crazy that we have fans in the UK and Australia and other parts of Europe, and Canada. It’s nuts!
Charlie: It’s mind-blowing just to think that that’s even a possibility.
Gary: Hopefully soon!
Charlie: It’s definitely on our bucket list of things we want to do, is be a global act. That’d be so cool to come to the UK and play. We’ve got some fans there that reach out to us all the time. That’s just a flattering thing and I know for a fact we’ll make it one day.
Muscadine Bloodline’s new single ‘Dispatch to 16th Avenue’ is out now. Take a listen to it below: