Makin' Tracks: The Five-Year Journey of Newcomer Chris Bandi's Debut Single 'Man Enough Now'

Chris Bandi
Leah Puttkammer/Getty Images

Chris Bandi performs at the Chevy Breakout Stage on Day 4 of the CMA Music Festival on June 9, 2019 in Nashville, Tenn.

If Chris Bandi has a big future in music, he can safely say it got started in his past.

“Man Enough Now,” his debut single with the New York-based RECORDS and Nashville-based Wide Open, is a page out of his youthful romantic history, a belated realization that he let a good relationship go when he was too immature to realize he was immature.

“I was thinking about an ex-girlfriend and whether or not we would last if had we met that day [we were writing],” says Bandi. “When I was in college, I was a dumb 21-year-old and made mistakes -- as young, dumb 21-year-olds do. I think I was 25 or 24 when I wrote this song, and I hadn’t matured that much. But I feel like I’d matured enough to really be able to not make those mistakes again.”

Since patience is a sign of maturity, Bandi certainly makes the grade in the way he managed the development of “Man Enough Now.” The song is five years old -- Jan. 27 marked the anniversary of the writing session -- and it emerged from the writing room to streaming platforms to a recording deal in slow increments. “It has definitely been the little song that could,” says co-writer Jason Duke (“Dibs”).

It was a fairly quick process on the date of creation. When Bandi walked into the basement at ole music on Music Row, he had that story about his old girlfriend on his mind and even had the “Man Enough Now” title to go with it. Duke and their co-writer, producer Jason Massey (Kelsea Ballerini), were onboard from the outset.

Massey started strumming some light, lonely chords on an acoustic guitar, and they began working through a personal story that resonates with a big chunk of the population. The verses sketched out Bandi’s failings in the old relationship in a conversational tone, starting out with a confession: “I was scared/ I wasn’t quite ready yet.”

“I feel like the first verse is almost like a laundry list of excuses, like, ‘This is why boys screw these things up,’ ” says Duke. “In the second verse, you kind of give yourself a little bit of space to be wrong. You almost justify yourself in a little tiny way.”

The chorus shifted into a higher register and into more forceful phrasing. It suited Bandi’s skill set, though Duke and Massey were careful not to let the notes get out of hand, since Bandi’s ability to get it recorded was then unknown.

“Where Chris was at that stage of his career, he didn’t have a publisher, he didn’t have a record deal,” recalls Duke. “We believed in him as an artist, but while we were writing for him, we were also just trying to write the best song we could get cut, because if we get the song cut, it’s still good for his career. So it’s kind of a two-pronged attack in the stage that he was in when we wrote it.”

The original chorus was frank about the challenge of maturity -- “Grow up, get my s--t together” went the opening line -- and that proved to be the biggest hurdle in getting it finished.

“The longest time that we spent on one line was wondering whether we should say ‘s--t’ or not in the chorus,” says Bandi. “We sat there thinking, ‘Man, you know, if we ever take this to radio, they’re not going to be able to play it.’ But that’s really what you want to say.”

“Get my s--t together” would eventually morph into “get myself together.” Meanwhile, the original chorus proved expansive, occupying nine lines on a lyric sheet. It’s long enough that it has been split into two sections in print, streamlining the look for the reader.

“Timewise it’s not really that long, but there’s a lot crammed into that time,” says Massey. “So then you end up with a long lyric.”

The first line in the second half of that chorus becomes its own moment with an emphatic change in phrasing — “I can’t go back/ Girl, I hate that” — before receding back to its original pace. “I’ve got a 2-and-a-half-year-old, and he’ll ask to hear Daddy’s song,” says Massey. “He calls it ‘I Can’t Go Back’ because those are the biggest notes in the song.”

Bandi led the charge on the bridge, where the protagonist’s focus changes from looking at his weaknesses to underlining some of the ways in which he has grown up. The biggest of those is overcoming pride. “When you’re writing, you want it to be right around 2:45 to three minutes, and so we were trying to add time,” says Bandi. “We wrote a bridge that encompasses everything that we just said, but in a different way.”

They recorded a guitar/vocal work tape and set it aside. Bandi started playing it live, and around summer 2016, he decided he should just record a version and put it out on his own. Massey did the entire production, with Bandi providing one stipulation: He wanted the verses to employ a stark electric guitar, similar in tone to Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” (and, for older pop listeners, Jamie Walters’ “Hold On”). Massey’s Strat launches at the same time as Bandi’s voice, essentially scrapping the typical instrumental intro.

“I think it’s attention-grabbing to just come in cold, so we did,” says Massey. “We did try [an intro], and it wasn’t that it was bad. Part of that was that as a new artist, we just wanted to start right in with his voice as an introduction to him as artist.”

Bandi used TuneCore to load it on numerous digital platforms, and “Man Enough Now” started gaining traction. The original video has earned over 6.5 million views on YouTube alone, and one of his buddies believed in both the song and Bandi. UTA Nashville agent Brendan Rich booked Bandi, and when he opened a management agency, he signed Bandi as a client. When Rich had a baby shower, Bandi met Wide Open owner Ash Bowers, who had teamed with RECORDS to release Matt Stell’s “Prayed for You.” In short order, Bandi signed a similar deal, and they collectively decided to remix “Man Enough Now” before going to radio.

Massey hired Evan Hutchings to overdub a muscular drum part and Justin Shipper to melt tangy steel guitar in key spots. The label serviced the remix to terrestrial radio through PlayMPE on Dec. 18, with a long lead time before a Feb. 17 add date. Most of the audience is certain to relate to some part of the message, whether it’s the regret, the breakup, or the personal transition from pride to vulnerability that Bandi recognized in writing “Man Enough Now.”

“One of the things that I feel like comes with maturity, comes with age and wisdom, is being able to take the blame,” says Bandi. Thus, the singer-songwriter uses his past to move into what he hopes will become a successful musical future. He’ll gladly take the blame.

This article first appeared in the Billboard Country Update newsletter. Click here to sign up for free.