In witnessing the runaway success of his debut single, “Man Enough Now,” Chris Bandi is a firm believer in music’s power to unify others. He has a multifaceted voice that immediately resonates with any soul listening. And his music gives a natural sense of roots for those who need it most because he is among the few artists making music in Nashville today to have lived in three of America’s most musically sacred places.
Bandi is proud to follow in the lineage of legendary musicians from his native St. Louis. He was raised on his father’s taste in obscure rock with a heavy dose of his mother’s affinity for ’90s country music. He remembers CDs being on the grocery list as a child and browsing the aisles of the city’s many great record shops. He grew up loving Sister Hazel, the Sonya Dada song, “You Ain’t Thinkin’ ‘Bout Me,” Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”
The soundtrack riding with friends to high school football practice was a mix of Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and fellow St. Louisan, Nelly. However, performance became life after attending his first concert where he saw Garth Brooks fly over the audience in a harness at St. Louis’ Enterprise Center. In high school, he started his first band, a rock outfit that played throughout the city, including the iconic Duck Room at Chuck Berry’s Blueberry Hill.
He continued music in college at the University of Mississippi at Oxford by playing in a cover band with an alternative ambition to mostly get into bars and drink for free. It was his time in Mississippi that enriched a deeper dive into country music. The songs of early Luke Bryan and Eric Church spoke to the life he was living at the time. He honed his craft relentlessly playing the same small clubs that built Bryan and Church’s loyal followings in college towns within a reasonable driving distance of Oxford.
“I decided that I wanted to write songs when I heard that Nashville is where you could write songs for a living and make this crazy dream a reality,” Bandi says. “It was three hours from Oxford and four hours from St. Louis. It was the best of both worlds.
“Six days after receiving his degree in marketing and communications in 2013, he moved to Nashville to become a professional musician. He arrived with 100 original songs, and his first place was a friend’s closet, where he slept on an air mattress. In his first few years in Music City, he got by on the money he made going back to play gigs in Oxford and St. Louis on the weekends. During the week, he treated Nashville writers’ rounds and open mic nights as if they were their own tour, and he played constantly. Within two years of his arrival in town, he reconnected with booking agent Brendan Rich, a college friend he knew through music at Ole Miss, and wrote a song with hit-makers Jason Massey and Jason Duke that would change everything for him.
On the day Bandi got together with Duke and Massey to write what became “Man Enough Now,” they were fresh off the success of Kelsea Ballerini’s The First Time. Bandi revisited a memory of a girl he dated in college and offered the idea of “I’m Man Enough for a Relationship Now.” “I was thinking if we started dating today,” he says, “would I have made the same mistakes that I made as a 21-year-old, dumb college kid? I feel like I’ve grown up a lot since then. I feel like everyone has had a relationship where they didn’t see what they had when they had it.
“We get so many comments on YouTube and Instagram of people saying, ‘My ex-boyfriend sent me this song and saying that he’s changed now.’ I think that’s really cool that someone can relate to a song so much that they’re sending it to someone hoping for a second chance.
“Keeping his relentless touring schedule, Bandi released “Man Enough Now” independently on Spotify in 2017 so that his crowds could have something original to enjoy between concerts. The song received an immediate reaction and accumulated just over 5,000 streams in its first day. By the end of the week, they had 25,000 organic streams.
“We sent all the numbers to John Marks, Head of Global Programming for Country Music/Spotify, and he added it to a playlist,” Bandi says. “Then, from there, I became a data nerd. I would look at how many streams we’d get in a day, and I’d look at how many streams everybody else on the playlist was getting a day. I’d average it out and show how well we were doing versus how well they were doing.
“Music Row caught on to the viral success of Bandi’s runaway hit when the song started receiving 1,000,000 weekly streams. He rereleased a radio edit of “Man Enough Now” in October via RECORDS, a joint venture label between Barry Weiss and Sony Music Entertainment. The song, which impacts country radio in early 2020, serves as a preview of the true to life storytelling Bandi has to offer. “I want to write stories that I truly know,” he says. “Growing up in St. Louis, we didn’t ride around on tractors or hit a dirt road every Friday night, but it was something that I experienced later on in life. One thing I know very well is how to make mistakes in relationships,” Bandi adds with a grin.
“Storytelling has been a big part of my life, and I always want to convey that and write songs that are true to me because music’s the biggest part in helping you through anything in life, be it a bad breakup or a good time. Any song about being 16 again, makes you go back to that time in life.”
“I think love is the most universal theme in my music because everybody has experienced all different sides to it. For the most part, everybody’s experienced a bad breakup, and everybody’s experienced the honeymoon phase and stuff like that. I try to put a little bit of love into every song. I like to write songs about who I was growing up at home and how I got to where I am today.”
Bandi has joined American Idol Season 17 winner Laine Hardy on tour this fall before hitting the road with Matt Stell in January. A new EP is expected to release in early 2020.