It’s not often we get something that sounds truly fresh in the world of music. Sure, every artist seems to have their thing but it’s pretty rare that an artist steps up with something genuinely new and different than everything else around them. It’s easier for an established act to attempt, but a new artist? Someone who’s entire career relies on that first album roll of the dice? Almost never.
At first glance, you might think you know what Ian Munsick is all about. Growing up on a ranch in the Rocky Mountain region of Wyoming, Munsick name checks Chris LeDoux as one of his musical heroes and played a lot of bluegrass growing up. Armed with just that info, chances are you’d be expecting a straight ahead, cowboy country kind of sound. Right?
If you did, you’d be wrong. Instead, what you get is a sound that’s absolutely country but with an entirely different flair. Or, as it has been said, a sound that marks the return of Western pop by pulling a thread straight from Chris LeDoux through Post Malone.
Trained by his fiddle-sawing father, Munsick and his brothers all grew up to be a multi-instrumentalists. Not unlike other teenage boys, alongside his bluegrass favorites, Munsick loved pop and rock acts like Sublime, Blink-182 and Eminem. Even with that well-rounded musical palette, it wasn’t until he moved to Nashville for Belmont University’s prestigious music program that his creative boundaries truly started to expand.
“Growing up in Wyoming, I had my two brothers and my dad who also play, so I always had them to create music with,” says Munsick, “When I went to Belmont though, I got to be around and play with so many great instrumentalists who opened up whole new worlds of music to me. I became obsessed with people like Jacob Collier, who is just a genius, and Jon Bellion who can manipulate noises like nobody else on Earth. I was exposed to so many different types of music that weren’t in the country realm, but I spent a lot of time figuring out a way where those elements could still translate into country music.
“Being exposed to all these amazing guitar players and drummers and engineers, it really inspired me to up my game. There’s a lot of great players out there, not just the three players I knew in Wyoming who were in my house all the time. I thought if I really want to get it, then I’ve got to figure out my unique way of portraying the message that I want to get out to the world.”
One of those unique ways Munsick figured out was how to best use his God given gift of a high tenor voice. Much like Vince Gill, Freddy Mercury or even Train’s Pat Monahan, Munsick can get his voice to places reserved for only the special few. It’s a gift for sure, but one Munsick works hard on as well.
“It is a unique way of singing but I think it’s a combination of being born with it and working hard to maintain it as well. I’ve always had a high voice. Up until high school I would always sing with the altos, who are the lower range of the girls, and there’s a lot of that in bluegrass too. It really opened my world though, when I started to listen to more R&B. That’s when those guys who have the control up there really inspired me. I could hit those notes, but I knew I’d have to work to have the amount of control that those guys have. Over the last three or four years, I’ve really taken the extra steps to take care of my voice and be more conscious of ways to keep it healthy and exercise it.”
In addition to his unique voice, Munsick’s songwriting stands apart from most of his peers as well. While most of his country songwriting peers often take a more direct path to the story they want to tell, Munsick and his co-writers find ways to seamlessly blend his Wyoming western imagery with a story that on the surface might not seem to be an obvious fit.
“When I brought the idea for ‘Long Haul’ in, my co-writers said ‘…wow, like that really sounds like Wyoming. I wonder if there’s a way that we can get all of Wyoming in one track.’ So that’s kind of where [the lyric], up through the mountains where the coyotes cry, down in the Canyon where the wild things hide, came from and getting all the natural elements of the Wyoming landscape in one track.
“It’s also tied in with the journey of love and a girl, because, you know, love is a long haul. It ain’t a one-day ride, it’s a long journey. I feel like that’s really why the landscape hits harder because everybody can relate to that. You know it’s going to have its ups and downs, but it’s worth it if you’re in it for the long haul.”
Therein lies just a few of the reasons why Munsick’s debut album, Coyote Cry, is so different than everything else out there right now. As a man who enjoys the co-writing process over writing on his own, his songs seem to benefit from an east-meets-west collision of ideas. After all, it’s a lot different growing up country on a ranch Wyoming than it is a farm in Georgia or Alabama. When you bring those two worlds together in a writing room, they can either smash into each other or they can mesh and create something new and awesome.
As with most music, sound and melody are the initial things that reach through the speakers to grab you and Coyote Cry is not exempt from that rule. Still, even with the musical discovery Munsick went through, that allowed him to push the walls out and keep him from sounding like any other artist in the room, he was conscious not to do it at the expense of the lyrics.
“In my creative brain, I always am immediately inspired by melody, but I always try and feel where that’s dragging me lyrically, so I try and be sure there’s a strong marriage of the music with the lyrics. Often times if it’s orally pleasing, then the lyrics are kind of throw away or the other way around. Like the lyrics will be really, really good, but the music doesn’t really hold up or compliment that. There’s always a mood with every melody that comes out, so I always try and really be sure that the lyrical content on top of that is a good handshake with the melody. If you can have a strong compliment of the two, that’s how you really take the audience where you want them to go.”
Photo by Greywood