After independent duo Muscadine Bloodline’s rapid-fire, flat-picking track “Me on You” went viral in 2022, the independent duo’s Charlie Muncaster and Gary Stanton have found themselves hearing from labels eager to work with them.
“We’re flattered by that, but it’s just not the right thing for us,” Muncaster tells Billboard via Zoom. “At this point, too, just from a business-savvy perspective, it’s like, ‘How could we be willing to give away a large percentage of our equity, of what we have already built?’ It would be painful, just knowing what we know now after being in the business for eight years — it would be hard to forfeit that, even for the price [of] whatever may be on the other side of the door. We’ve built this team, from booking agents to management and our business manager. It’s like family. We want to keep our team small and take care of those people well.”
Muncaster and Stanton followed their individual musical dreams to Nashville from their Mobile, Alabama hometown before meeting in the city in 2014. Discovering both their geographic and musical connections, they began performing together and issued Muscadine Bloodline’s self-titled EP in 2017. For the past nine years, the duo has built up their fanbase, finally upgrading from a van to a bus last year. Along the way, they’ve become one of Nashville’s indie success stories, earning an RIAA gold record for their 2016 single “Porch Swing Angel” and furthering their audience with last year’s Dispatch to 16th Avenue album.
Stanton and Muncaster cut their teeth writing songs and recording with leading independent Nashville publisher Creative Nation in 2016, before deciding to remain independent.
“When you’re 22 and someone’s willing to pay you to write songs when you’re eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and sharing a room with an air mattress just to make ends meet … We just got in the rat race and got tired of that,” Stanton says. “We did some recording with bigger-name producers, but we realized we missed the feel of just going to Ryan’s basement and feeling like we had a recording home. And since then, of course, his catalog has grown, and he’s grown as an engineer and a producer.”
Their latest album is the 16-track Teenage Dixie, which was released on Feb. 24. The duo revels in nostalgia on the set’s title track, while elsewhere on the album, the lyrics are filled with odes to characters and images of the South — most notably with the unofficial “Devil Went Down to Georgia” sequel “Devil Died in Dixie,” and the Hatfields-and-McCoys tension of “Shootout in Saraland.”
While the album does include a few ballads, such as the sweetly romantic “Azalea Blooms,” the bulk of the set reveals a duo armed with more songs aimed at keeping a live audience on its feet. Muncaster’s industrial-strength vocals add an urgency to songs like “Knife to a Gunfight” and “Pocket Full of ‘90s Country” – the latter of which namechecks numerous ‘90s country artists, including Travis Tritt, Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Reba McEntire and Martina McBride.
Similarly, the bluesy, a cappella vocal that introduces “Me on You” was tailor-made to draw the attention of those scanning through any playlist.
“Charlie came out of nowhere and was like, ‘Dude, what if [“Me on You”] had a line like ‘Girl, I hope your daddy doesn’t own a gun/ If he does, I’m done, from the things that you’re doing to me.’” Stanton says. “We wanted a lyric kind of drastic, like, ‘What if we started the song with that instead of an intro?’ And if someone’s going to see that on a playlist and they just heard all these mid-tempo, top-40 sounding songs, this is ear-catching.’”
Muscadine Bloodline also eschewed the typical Music Row recording process, opting to record Teenage Dixie with their live band instead of the usual collection of studio musicians who play on the majority of Nashville’s country releases.
“This is the most collaborative we’ve ever been with the band,” Muncaster says. “It was cool to see these guys shine and express their ideas on the music. That freedom makes the live show even better, because during the live shows, these guys aren’t just playing something they’ve rehearsed — they are playing something they’ve created. And it’s helped give the band an identity as well.”
Teenage Dixie reunites Stanton and Muncaster with co-producer Ryan Youmans, who also contributed production duties to 2022’s Dispatch to 16th Avenue. the duo holed up at Youmans’ Amber Sound studio for six weeks. Stanton met Youmans while each was on the road working for another artist. “I was trying to get my foot in the door. I had a camera, so I told a couple of artists that I could make recap videos for concerts,” Stanton says. “They took me on the road and I did my best. I mean, the videos were terrible, but I got paid. Ryan was subbing on bass for one of the guys one weekend and we got to know each other. When Charlie and I got together, the only guy I knew who recorded was Ryan, and the first song we did together was ‘Porch Swing Angel.’”
As their hard-driving music attests, the duo has spent the better part of the past decade on the road, playing everywhere from clubs to arenas — like so many artists, Muscadine Bloodline makes the bulk of its income from touring. In 2023, in addition to the pair’s own headlining shows, they have prime opening slots for Turnpike Troubadours, as well as for Eric Church.
“We were honored when we heard that,” Muncaster says of opening for Church. “We know how particular artists are about who they bring out on the road, so it’s a very prideful moment for us as artists and for what we’ve built, that he wants us to come open shows for him. To have that opportunity to open for one of the GOATs of country music — I mean there’s not an Eric Church album that we can’t pretty much sing front to back.”
The duo, who is repped by Red 11 Music, has worked hard to hone its live show. “If we get you to buy a ticket and come to our show, we’re gonna work to keep you coming back. We ain’t the best-looking guys in country music — I don’t look like Riley Green or Parker McCollum,” Muncaster says with a laugh. “You get one shot of a first impression on audiences, and that’s why we want our shows to be the best they can be.”
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