Chris Mann Does it His Way
I think it may be hard to find anyone out there who would give up steady work recording on studio albums for FOX's hit series "Glee" in the uncertain world of the music industry, but that's exactly what "The Voice" Season 2 finalist Chris Mann did after listening to his inner voice. That voice basically told him to do things "his way." Breaking away from what he called "vanilla" work on "Glee" led Mann to find his confidence in his voice again and put him back on the right path.
The path led him to NBC's hit competition reality TV show "The Voice," a type of show that Chris would not have seen himself doing only a few years earlier. Admittedly, "The Voice" offered the right format for Mann and his voice, and his wanting to be half Josh Groban and half pop. As Chris puts it, "I really wanted to represent myself in a sort of classical crossover way."
After a fourth finish on "The Voice," Chris was quickly signed with Ron Fair's (Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige) new record label Faircraft/Republic, releasing his first full-length studio album, "Roads," in the Fall of 2012. Led by Mann's covers of Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now," Damien Rice's "The Blower's Daughter," Coldplay's "Viva La Vida," Frank Sinatra's "My Way," and Willie Nelson's "Always On My Mind," "Roads" quickly moved to the #1 spot on Billboard's Top Heatseekers Chart, and #5 on Billboard's Classical Albums Chart.
Acknowledging his admiration for the way Elvis Presley connected with his audiences, Mann recreated, to a certain degree, the set design of Presley's " '68 Comeback TV Special" in his own TV special, "Chris Mann in Concert: A Mann For All Seasons" on PBS, which began airing in March of this year. With "A Mann For All Seasons" now available on DVD and CD, Chris has been on an aggressive U.S tour that will take him through the rest of 2013.
While on tour, I caught up with Chris, the man I call Sarah Brightman's male counterpart, and had a chat about his previous dislike for competition reality TV, why The Paul Anka penned "My Way" fits with his eclectic album "Roads," his upcoming PBS Christmas special, and why he doesn't take fan compliments lightly.
BeBe: Had you thought of doing a reality competition show before "The Voice?"
Chris Mann: A friend took me to audition for "American Idol" once many years ago toward the beginning of the show's run. I didn't make it through, and I don't really care. At the time, I was not really a fan of these types of shows. However. I saw "he Voice" during Season 1, and it was more open-minded about what constitutes "the voice" than say "American Idol." It was the first time I thought I would be interested in trying something like that. I just love the show.
BeBe: Contestants of "The Voice" have said that the show's format, being chosen from a blinded judging panel, and coached by current music industry professionals worked well for them. Would you agree?
Chris Mann: It's great because, in my case, I could go in with my own identity and say 'I really want to represent myself in a sort of classical crossover way, and whether you like it or not is up to you, but that's how I'm going to go into this.' The show allows you a lot of artistic freedom, the prejudice is cut way down. Of course, the coaches are a positive influence as opposed to being critics. They are actually in it to win it themselves. It is a very encouraging show. If you go into the competition show with an open-mind, you can come out of it better.
BeBe: Soon after being on the show, you went on to release your first album "Roads" in October of 2012. On the album you have a song, a cover of Damian Rice's "The Blower's Daughter" featuring your coach on "The Voice," Christina Aguilera. Your voices really blend well on this song. I truly dig it.
Chris Mann: Well, thank you.
BeBe: On your debut album "Roads", you included a cover of "My Way." Was this choice an ode to Sinatra, or is it a personal statement song?
Chris Mann: I grew up listening to Sinatra. My granddad played him constantly, so I'm a huge fan. But, the reason why "My Way" came about was because Paul Anka called me right after "The Voice" and asked if he rewrote the song with a younger man's perspective, would I record it? Of course, when Paul Anka asks you, you jump at the opportunity. (My version) is the only official version written by Paul besides Frank's. And grammatically, it makes sense with "Roads" because "Roads" is about staying on your road that will lead you home. What Paul wanted me to say (with "My Way") is that I'll always do things my way. That's what I did on "The Voice." It made perfect sense.
BeBe: That explains its inclusion on the album well.
Chris Mann: While in concert on my current tour, "My Way" is the song that everybody is consistently waiting for. Pretty interesting. You're right, "Roads" is a pretty eclectic group of songs, but it all makes sense because they all tie-in well together. Whether it's "Viva La Vida" (translates to live your life) or "My Way" it's all sort of in the same bag.
BeBe: "My Way" was a big signature song for Sinatra. Is this developing into one for you?
Chris Mann: Totally! I end the night with it at every show. It's hard not to. I love singing it. It's a lot of fun. Now that I know that people are real excited to hear it, it makes it even more special.
BeBe: On your PBS special "Chris Mann in Concert : A Mann For All Seasons," you recreated a kind of Elvis Presley thing reminiscent of his comeback TV special in 1968. Are you an Elvis fan?
Chris Mann: I am! I am just from an entertaining stand point. He's incredible. If you watch his " '68 Comeback Special," which my set is sort of designed around, it's amazing with his connection with the audience. I really like to be close to an audience, so I wanted it in the round which allows me to really connect with whom I'm singing to.
It's also set in a boxing ring, which symbolizes fighting for your dreams. There is a lot of metaphor happening that might not be very obvious. It was all dramatic and exciting or me because I grew up watching PBS, and I still watch it. My special aired originally in March and again in June ( June 23 in the Richmond, VA area). I have a Christmas special on PBS in December also featuring Martina McBride.
BeBe: You do a duet with Martina on the "A Mann For All Seasons" special. You actually turned one of your album's solo songs into a duet with her.
Chris Mann: Yes, we did "Always On My Mind."
BeBe: I kind of thought that "Always On My Mind" would have been the follow up single to the title track off your "Roads" album because of its massive familiarity crossing many age groups, but you have instead released "Unless You Mean It," and labeled it a "remix." But, it's not really the kind of remix one might think of in association with the word. It's not a dance version.
Chris Mann: No, it's a little bit faster and a little more energy than the album version. That's what I wanted out of the song. The fans love "Unless You Mean It." I self-made the stop-motion music video using the fan's submissions on InstaGram about things that they love and mean it.
BeBe: With your vocal training and study at the Vanderbit's Blair School of Music you have the rare ability to sing everything from opera to pop. Is classical crossover music where you feel at home?
Chris Mann: It is. In the big picture, I want and am planning on getting involved in recording, stage work, movies, and TV. That's always been the big picture I've dreamed of doing. But, right this second, the type of music I'm making currently has allowed me to do the things I've always wanted which is sing internationally, sing emotional performances like on the PBS National Memorial Day Concert before the President of the United States, and sing with symphonies, which I'm doing on tour right now. So, it's all coming together. When I evolve, which I want to with "Roads," I would like there to be a little more energy on the record, but in general, this is beautiful music which is where I want to be.
BeBe: I'd like to get your response to this quote made by Christina Aguilera when describing you: "When Chris Mann sings, I believe the heavens open up."
Chris Mann: I definitely smiled when I heard that. It's a great compliment. I'm real excited about being on the road and touring right now because I get to come face-to-face with people listening to my music, and who have been supportive. I get a chance to meet them after the show and get to hear what my music has meant to them. That means a lot to me. It's such an honor. I don't take that lightly.
Chris Mann will be making a tour stop at San Francisco's legendary jazz nightclub Yoshi's on Saturday, June 22. For more info and tickets www.yoshis.com/sanfrancisco
Chris Mann will be in concert at the following for Pride month:
June 28 Humphrey's, San Diego, CA
June 29 Tower Theater, Fresno, CA
For more 2013 Chris Mann tour dates, visit www.chrismannmusic.com
As an actress, BeBe was introduced to film with a lead role in the independent film "Under One Sun" with her character dealing with religious, racial and gender issues. Additionally, she appeared in the campy musical "Devious, Inc" (Australian Film Festival, San Francisco Short Film Fest) also adding additional vocals to the musical soundtrack. Both of these performances led to her selection for a lead role in Aisha Media’s next short film series, "Con-tin.u.um" to be released in 2012.