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Interview: Ian Munsick on ‘White Buffalo’ spiritualism and revenge songs sung by men

It’s been a great year for Wyoming native Ian Munsick. Three years after introducing the world to his music on the ‘Coyote Cry’ album, Munsick signed a major label deal with Warner, released the strong sophomore follow up ‘White Buffalo’, made his debut at the Opry and was named amongst the Opry NextStage class of 2023 too. We reviewed Munsick’s ‘White Buffalo’ album, saying “It’s not a million miles away from what artists like Morgan Wallen are doing right now, yet it’s something timeless too, something spiritual and something rooted in the very heritage and origins of America itself.” You can read the full review here and we were thrilled to grab some time with him to talk all about it.

Ian, it’s so great to talk to you today, thank you for your time.

Thanks for having me, it’s my pleasure.

We’re absolutely loving ‘White Buffalo’, congratulations on that. Your track ‘Cowboy Killer’ was our first introduction to you.

(laughing) Nice! That’s a good start for sure!

You grew up in the least populated state in America, Wyoming. Is that where you got your love of music and nature from?

Yes, absolutely. I grew up on a cattle ranch and my dad and my two brothers all played music so from a young age I really had no choice! (laughing) My dad is a fiddle player and he worked on the ranch so a lot of his music was about that lifestyle and my two older brothers are both cowboys so I was surrounded by it.

The ranching and the natural influence of Wyoming and the Rockies is heavily part of my music.

Can you remember how old you were when you decided to pursue music for a career?

Man, yeah. I played with my brothers and my dad in our family band back when I was about 10 years old. We played at this restaurant in the town of Story, Wyoming. Afterwards, my dad handed us all a $20 note and I was, like, ‘Oh man, we get paid to do this?’ I thought that was incredible and so I always knew that that was what I wanted to do! To know that I could get paid for playing music was incredible.

And you’ve not only played your own music but you played bass for BlackJack Billy out on tour for a while too. Do you think travelling the world with them gave you a slightly different perspective on music and life that many people who don’t leave the south don’t have?

Absolutely. The more ‘jobs’ or ‘roles’ you have in the music industry gives you other perspectives on things. So for example, playing bass in BlackJack Billy, someone else’s band, taught me how to treat my band now. Being a songwriter taught me how to collaborate in the writing room and being a producer in the studio taught me how to speak the language of music to the players that helped me create my record.

The more you know about the other roles in your team, the better an artist you are.

Your EP from 2017 is the earliest thing that can be found, music wise, on Spotify. How have you grown as an artist and a writer since then?

Oh man! Such a lot! That EP was the first time that I got to produce a body of work and I made it pretty much all alone in a small bedroom that I turned into a studio. That was just me figuring out who I wanted to be as an artist. It kinda started to grow some legs when ‘Horses Are Faster’ started to get some organic attention and I saw that people were liking the elements of mountain strings and the natural landscape of the lyrics in that song and I knew that that was going to be my thing.

After that, I needed to learn how to evolve that sound and style whilst always keeping true to my roots.

‘White Buffalo’ has been out for two months now. Have you been pleased with the reception to it and what songs do you perceive are resonating the most with people?

I’m thrilled with how it’s been received. It took me a couple of years to create the album and it’s definitely different to a lot of Country music out there right now. There are some commercial aspects in it but there are also some red dirt aspects to it as well: it’s kinda a hybrid of the two worlds which I think people are enjoying right now.

There is one side of Country music, however, (laughing) that are, like, ‘this is too radio for me,’ and then the other side is, like ‘this isn’t radio enough,’ right? (laughing) but I have to stay true to who I am and what I want to say.

The tunes on there that I see gaining traction are ‘Long Live Cowgirls’, obviously (the duet with Cody Johnson), the title track and ‘Cowshit in the Morning’, man, that is a popular song! (laughing) My personal favourites seem to be the songs that people also resonate with the most which makes me feel like I know what my fanbase wants to hear.

Tell me about the importance of the imagery of ‘White Buffalo’ and why you used that as a title for the album.

Yeah, so in native American culture the white buffalo is an omen for the return to the old ways of life and a sign of good things to come. Green grass, plenty of food and good times. I grew up just a couple of miles away from the Crow native American reservation back in Wyoming so their culture and influence on me growing up was very strong. People are very spiritually drawn to the West because of their influence and the landscape too which I try and reflect in my music.

I thought that it was time to really dig down into that influence in the forefront of my music and also the representation of good things to come and respecting the land – those ideals have always been important to me.

Songs like ‘River Run’, ‘White Buffalo’ and ‘Indian Paintbrush’ are very spiritual. Not religious but spiritual. Are you that type of guy that takes comfort in that type of way of life?

Absolutely. I absolutely believe in God but that God maybe the earth, right? People tend to cherish objects too much and ownership of things rather than cherishing what the earth has given us. The rivers, the mountains and the flowers. Those are the things that cowboys and westerners really believe in. Country music has the best platform to be the advocate for those things.

You sing a lot about men and male role models on songs like ‘Little Man’, Field of Dreams’ and ‘Ranch Hand’. Do you think men don’t sing enough about other men in Country music in terms of what makes a ‘good man’?

You know? I probably do. The majority of Country music is about a guy singing about a girl. I have some of those songs too, like ‘Long Live Cowboys’, ‘Cowboy Killer’, you know, there’s plenty of that and there’s nothing wrong with it but I think that the way my parents raised me is the way I want to raise my kid. Again, Country music has the best platform for that because we hold values like hard work and honesty in high regard in this genre but we need to sing more about being a good dad and about being a good husband so that we can be role models for the kids growing up right now.

The world needs more positive messages, for sure.

There’s some great humour in your songs too. You’ve already mentioned ‘Cowhsit in the Morning’. I love ‘Barn Burner’ too. There aren’t many male revenge songs knocking around are there? It tends to be a subject covered mostly by female artists.

(laughing) That’s exactly right. There’s plenty of women slashing tyres and breaking windows but I feel like in Country music the guys are always trying to please the girls, which is great, but man, when you get your heart broke and it’s the girls fault, why can’t the guys get into that too? (laughing)

(Inspired by this question we recently published an article on the best revenge songs ever sung by men in Country music – you can read that article right here)

You use the phrase ‘birthday suiting’ as a verb in that song! Did you invent that phrase for the song or is it a term you’ve used in common parlance before?

(laughing) No, man. We just made that up in the writing process. I grew up listening to artists like Eminem and the Hip Hop of the early 2000’s and what I loved about the lyrical word play of that genre was that they could create new words to help the rhymes and I was, like, ‘well, if they can do it, why can’t we!’ (laughing)

‘Birthday suiting’ feels right with the style and the feel of the song.

Have you got a favourite memory or achievement that has happened to you in the last year that you never dreamed would have happened and what’s next on the bucket or goals list?

You know, last month we sold out the arena that’s closest to my hometown in Montana and that was really special, to pack that out. ‘Long Live Cowgirls’ and ‘Long Haul’ both went gold, which is something I never imagined would happen. We sold out the Ryman in Nashville a couple of weeks ago, too, being able to go to the mother church of Country music, far away from where I grew up and sell that out was something special.

It strikes me that the next obvious thing is a little international tour?

Absolutely! Oh man, I need to get over to the UK, Europe and Australia. We definitely get a lot of requests to play in England, Scotland and Ireland so hopefully we’ll be able to do that next year, in 2024.

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