"Our goal, in the grand scheme of things, is to be the most diverse country duo ever," Muscadine Bloodline's Gary Stanton says.
That seems a tall order for a new duo who didn't even have a name before releasing their first set of music. After all, country music carries a rich tradition of diverse male musical partnerships. From the Everly Brothers to Willie and Waylon to Florida Georgia Line, male duos occupy a unique, often trend-setting position in country music.
But Stanton, along with partner in crime Charlie Muncaster, seem up to the task. At least when it comes to sweat equity and approach. After their self-released song "Porch Swing Angel" took off, Muscadine Bloodline had the perfect launching pad to seize that diverse duo dream.
From All the Way Down I-65
Muncaster and Stanton both grew up all the way down in Mobile, Ala., where Interstate 65 ends (or starts, depending on who you ask). Ironically, they both moved away before every really coming together.
"We didn't really get to know each other until after we both left for college," Muncaster says. Charlie attended Auburn for Business Management (he had no idea what he wanted to do at the time), and Gary shipped off to Southern Mississippi in nearby Hattiesburg, Miss.
There, they each expanded upon their own independent musical leanings. For Muncaster, that meant touring around the college scene and taking in the songwriting of regional favorites. "Adam Hood is from Opelika, which is like 20 minutes from Auburn," Muncaster says. "He used to play around our campus. And Charlie Starr from Blackberry Smoke is 30 minutes from there, and they're one of my favorite bands. Vocally, I model a lot of what I do after those guys."
For Stanton, college actually provided his first real immersion into country music. "I front a hardcore band in high school," Gary says. "And I used to want to be a rapper.. to do indie rock. I've been through all the different phases." He didn't really start listening to country music until he turned 18.
But when he did, it had a big impact on his writing. "One of the first songwriters who really affected me was an Alabama guy named Jamey Johnson," Stanton says. "You can close your eyes and really picture yourself in every song. That's what turned me on to country music."
What's in a Name?
One night, Muncaster returned to Mobile for a show and asked Stanton to join him as local support. That evening nurtured a friendship and kickstarted several collaborations and performances down the road. After a while, it just felt natural. "We thought, 'Heck we sound pretty good together!'" Muncaster says.
In May 2015, Gary made the decision to move up to Nashville. A few months later in October, Charlie joined him. One week after that, the pair gathered up some buddies in East Nashville's Forty-One Fifteen studio and cut three tracks.
The songs came from a mix of things they'd already written and ideas they were kicking around. Basically, the line of thinking was, "You can't have fans without music." Then again, they didn't even have a name yet. "You gotta pick something you really like," Charlie says, "Cause you're stuck with it forever."
After kicking around a few names for a few months, Muscadine Bloodline stuck. The concept is rooted in the Southern muscadine grape and the concept of bloodline and heritage. "We're damn proud to be from where we're from," Charlie says. "A lot of people said we were stupid at the time for picking the name, but we're sure glad we did."
Of the three songs the duo put out from the Forty-One Fifteen session, the second -- "Porch Swing Angel"-- really took off. The song is fast approaching one million streams on Spotify and over 500,000 views on Facebook.
"It amazes us that song took off that way," Muncaster says. "We didn't even know we were going to put that song out." And indeed, it's an outlier from the other two songs -- but one that represents a level of promise and sincerity in the pair's writing.
Growth. And Gigs.
The pair eventually signed a publishing deal with Creative Nation, songwriter Luke Laird's company. That put them in company of other esteemed writers, including Lori McKenna and Natalie Hemby.
And they continued performing whenever and wherever they could, growing their fan base the organic way. Meanwhile, co-writes with buddies like Ray Fulcher proved very successful.
The pair went in to historic SoundStage Studios in Nashville to record their new five-song EP, featuring tunes like "CB Radio," "WD-40" and "Crickets and Cane Poles." True to their mission, each song features a certain flavor.
"CB Radio" is the tale of a man who was saved by a backwoods preacher pouring his heart out over the radio waves. The tune originated on one of Gary's late night drives back from an ex-girlfriend's house. "I catch myself writing a lot of songs on the road," Stanton says. "Even on a 5 or 6 hour drive I may not listen to music at all. I'll just sit and think and come up with melodies."
Another stand out track, "Crickets and Cane Poles" turns the "dad song" concept of country music on its side. Instead of an ode to fatherhood, it's more of a bittersweet (mostly bitter) tale of a son dealing with the conflicted feelings of losing a father he never really connected with.
Unlike a lot of modern country duos, Charlie and Gary pretty regularly trade off vocal duties. And when one isn't singing lead, the other is likely singing harmony.
While the male duo world may be increasingly crowded in country music, Muscadine Bloodline stand out, even in the early stages. They possess a certain ruggedness and like a certain sheen, which actually makes their brand of country music that much stronger.
So while they'd love to capture the whole gamut of country fans -- from the old timers to the 18-year-old girls -- Muscadine Bloodline is mostly concerned with just capturing who they really are.
"We're just going to keep going out on the road, seeing our fans and putting out music that's important to us," the pair says. Sounds like a winning plan to us.