Photo credit: Thomas Crabtree
When a well- tattooed former MMA fighter becomes a country music singer you are not sure what you are going to get. Manny Blu is exactly this guy. He refers to his sound as a “Country Punk” style. Don’t let that description fool you, he also is a sensitive love story ballad guy too. The former MMA fighter gave up on his fighting days when a leg injury kept him from competing. Armed with a guitar, Manny began to play for friends while his leg healed. He knew that he was onto something when his friends started to request songs for him to play.
Manny Blu’s just released track from his newest EP DEViL is a ballad called “Valet” that features Brittany Kennell, a perfect vocal pairing with Manny. Listening to their harmonies will make you want to hear more from this talented pair. Written by Nashville writers Aaron Eshuis, Ryan Hurd and Joe Clemmons, “Valet” is a fun loving song about a couple who heads into downtown Nashville for a night. They cruise the town as they fall in love with each other. After bottles of wine and fun times they decide to leave the car with the valet and take a cab home. The song brings Manny out of the comfort zone of his usual country punk sound, and expands his overall song range.
In 2019, the Montreal native debuted his first album, Leave It Like It Is. The well-received album was his gateway to thousands of new fans as well as his opportunity to hit the road. He spent time in Nashville and then headed back to his home in Canada with his band. The next two months were spent as the opening act for fellow Canadian artist George Canyon. In 2020 Manny followed up with a sophomore EP New Ink which was produced by Aaron Eshuis and has writing credits by Josh Osborne, Rhett Akins and Ross Copperman. The EP is a mix of blues, country and rock & roll.
Manny has kept busy writing music and now in 2021 has released his new EP DEViL. The new EP consists of five new songs from a collection of writers: Craig Wiseman, Ryan Beaver, Jessi Alexander, JT Harding, Brinley Addington, Anthony Smith, Michael Hardy, Aaron Eshuis, Joe Clemmons and Logan Wall. The new EP also features vocals of Blaine Holcomb on “Circle Up” and NBC’s The Voice semi-finalist Brittany Kennell on “Valet.”
Listen to “Valet” from Manny Blu HERE.
l caught up with Manny to talk about his new release “Valet,” new EP, what his MMA friends think about his career and what else he’s up to. Here is our conversation.
CN: Hi Manny, congratulations on your song release of “Valet.” Do you have more pep in your step today because it’s release day, or is it just like any other day?
MB: It’s not like a regular day, it’s fun whether it’s a music video or anything like that. Releasing a song and getting the reaction from people the way we have definitely adds an extra pep in my step like you said. It’s been cool, we were out last night and the song had just come out and it had hit three playlists before I went to bed. That definitely makes waking up a little bit easier.
CN: I bet. Do you feel “Valet” is going to be your song? Do you think it will be the song that defines you?
MB: I stopped putting expectations on songs, but if “Valet” can be that song, I would be extremely thrilled with that.
CN: I am so in love with “Valet.” Congratulations! It’s a great song!
MB: Thank you, it’s a song that almost didn’t make the cut to be honest. I was in my own head on what I wanted the EP to sound like. I talked to my manager and I was not sure it fit the project. He challenged me to push it. He said if I did not like how it sounded at the end we would pull it. I said “Okay.” He said “Why don’t you add something to the song that would be fun and super exciting.” The first thing that came to my mind was to have Brittany Kennell on it. I have been a fan of hers for a while. I think her voice is incredible. I thought it was right in her wheelhouse. It’s a love song about a night out. I thought having such an incredible female artist on the song would bring so much depth to it, she said yes right away.
CN: You sound great together, would you like to do more with Brittany?
MB: I would definitely love to do more songs with her. She is incredible to work with and I am such a fan of hers. If anytime another song comes up it would definitely be a yes with her. I shared my demos with friends and when I sent this around all my friends went nuts and loved it.
MB: This project is a collection of stuff I have done. It has two collaborations. It’s kind of like a mix tape. New Ink was very cohesive as an album, I think DEViL has a bit more dynamics and a different sound. That’s the beauty of an EP, you can make the songs feel the way they are supposed to, put them out in a batch of four or five songs, and then you get to start fresh with four or five new ones. I love EPs, and we’re hoping for a debut album soon, but the beauty of putting out an EP is that there is no stress on one song, or making it have one massive story or sound. Every song can have its own treatment. As long as they are given enough love they are going to fit.
CN: On your EP title DEViL, the “i” is lower case, what is the meaning behind that?
MB: No reason, I just thought it would look cool. I wanted to use one of the lines from “Might As Well Lead.” I was going to call the album Dance of the Devil, but I did not want it to get mixed up with another project that was being done by someone else at the time. So we just decided to go with DEViL and I thought it would make it a little interesting to look at. Let’s just put the little “i” to make it cool. I love spelling things wrong and weird, I am dyslexic so I naturally do it anyway. (laughs)
CN: I’m dyslexic too. (laughs) We are our own breed. When are people going to learn how to spell things our way, the correct way?
MB: Right, we have it right, they are spelling it wrong. It’s way too difficult the way they all are doing it.
CN: Yeah, too much work. (laughs)
CN: How do you describe your sound? You have a rocking feel, county and ballads.
MB: I think versatile is how I would describe my sound . Songs like “Valet” are really sweet and romantic. It’s not in your face as a love story, it’s almost like a movie. I think it was so well-written, I wanted something acoustic and I am happy I stuck with it and we kept it. I think I just needed that thing it was missing and it was the extra “oomph” that Brittany brought. I think my sound is just versatile. That’s the whole beauty of Country Punk, it’s that those two words together don’t make any sense. It allows me to have fun with some things, like adding heavy drums or guitar to some songs or taking something down and almost stripping it to make it softer. At the end of the day, I have been working hard on my vocals to be a dynamic vocalist. I sing all the time at my very best as much as I can. I trust myself to push a song no matter what the instrumentation is. It’s a fun different side that I brought with “Valet” which I think is super cool.
CN: What do your MMA buddies think of you becoming a country singer?
MB: Everyone back home is super supportive. Anyone involved with MMA or any sport at a high level knows how much dedication you need for a specific sport. When your head is not there anymore, that’s when severe injuries happen. That’s the time to get out. There was a fight I pulled out of because my head was not in it. My trainer said if you pull out of this, I will not let you fight this fight for sure because your head is not in it and we are three weeks out. I think the point is, when you’re in it you can tell, and when someone is not in it you can tell. The advice is to get out. Whatever they choose to do after that, most are very supportive. I am very lucky that I have a lot of friends who are supportive. I think I made the right choice. My mom certainly prefers to watch my shows than to watch me fight. (laughs) Definitely that encouragement on my side.
CN: (laughs) I bet! Is there a point in your mind that you think “When_____ happens I will have made it?”
MB: That is a very interesting question. I guess touring consistently and being able to further support myself with doing music with my own songs and playing music where I want would be that thing. It’s an interesting question because I always think there’s some sort of barrier to break. I don’t know what that barrier is, I don’t know if anyone knows what that barrier is. I don’t know if anyone ever knows when it happens. It’s a weird thing that I feel comfortable in my career now. If we get to a point where we are not searching for a tour, the moment when the more we are asked for, that will be the moment. When people want you on tour, people are coming to you with things as opposed to hunting for them and being requested. That’s one-half of feeling like you have made it in my opinion, for me.
CN: Do you ever go to your YouTube videos and read your comments?
MB: I do.
CN: I hope you do, because they are very impressive and flattering. I am going to read this comment to you: “I typically don’t like country music, but this was a very good song, keep it up, I will be following you, best of luck in your future.”
MB: That is very sweet, country music seems to be the genre that gets left out. Most people when asked “What kind of music do you like?” say “Everything but country.” The beauty of country now is you can find a more traditional artist who is doing that real traditional guitar/pedal steel/fiddle type of stuff. I think country music is now more versatile and plays with different styles. I think anyone can listen to country and find something they like. I think it’s cool loving different styles of music. I feel I can be that bridge or gap for people who don’t like the traditional ways. There are artists like that for me. I grew up in the city and country wasn’t really anything we would listen to. Typically the top 40 stuff, then I started listening to different things like The Cadillac Three, Cody Johnson and Jon Pardi. I can be that hybrid versatile artist.
CN: I 100% agree, I also think your look will open eyes to country music as well. They will like your tattoos and look. You will bring over people who were not ready for country yet.
MB: Yeah, I think there is something for everybody. There seems to be a standard look for country. I’m singing country songs and I don’t look like a guy who does, so that’s part of the fun.
CN: Do you have a nickname for your fan base?
MB: We have been going with BLU CRU.
CN: love it, it will look great on your concert merch.
MB: We have merch with BLU CRU on it. We are trying to build it one song at a time, one concert at a time, one interview at a time too.
CN: Any tours heading out, anything to keep an eye on?
MB: Yeah, we have a festival up in northern Quebec. Hopefully by mid-September we can have a nice tour and have some fun. We have a really nice end-of-year planned. I think a song like “Valet” doing as well as it is now will make that sweeter. I am looking very forward to what we have coming for the end of the year.
CN: I will wrap it up with something I call “one grab.” The scenario is that you have to get out of your house. Your family and pets are all fine. You can run back into the house to grab one thing. What do you grab?
MB: Oh man, I will have to grab my phone because I have everything and everyone in it, for a really boring answer.
CN: Now I know you can never lose your phone, I hope you have it backed up.
MB: There have been a few close calls. We were just away on vacation and we had the bag on a chair and someone was going through our bag. I jumped up and said “Can I help you?” He was startled. The first thing I looked for was my phone. I was on vacation, I didn’t have my computer or laptop. My girlfriend didn’t have her laptop either. If we both lost our phones we would be stuck on the island and that would have been pretty tough. That’s why I think that losing the phone is pretty fresh in my mind. It was the first thing I looked for, they could have taken anything else except my phone which is my mode of transportation at home to a degree. I need to have that.
CN: I get that! Thank you Manny for taking the time to talk with me. I look forward to hearing “Valet” playing in my car over the radio.
MB: Thank you so much Catherine, see ya.
Photo credit: Yve Assad
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*Featured photo credit: Thomas Crabtree