Chris Mann (an alum of Vanderbilt's all-male Dodecaphonics) was riding high earlier this year. He was a solo artist signed to a major label, Sony/Victor. He was finishing up his debut album. He met Prince! And then, a snag: His label folded and he had to reboot his career. “I was crushed,” Mann says. “And had what I now refer to as The 72 Hours of Darkness.”
Eight months later, he’s back in the studio writing some of his best music to date and fielding fresh offers. Oh, and he’s got a side job. “I’m a studio singer for Glee.”
Dude, how did you get involved with Glee?
I play tennis. One of my tennis buddies is the music director on the show. We played tennis for a year. He asked me if I wanted to sing on this new show. It ended up being Glee. This was before Glee was Glee.
What do you actually sing on the show?
Technically, the cast sings everything. But there are back-up singers. There are eight of us, and we sing on the soundtrack, too. It’s the job to have in town. I stood behind Jane Lynch at the Post Office. I’m like, “Hey, I sang on your song!”
What’s the song?
I’m not sure I can say. It’s an iconic pop song by an iconic pop artist.
Musicals are hot right now. As an a cappella alumnus, what do you think of The Sing-Off?
Ben Folds said something so real on the show. Another judge commented that someone’s pitch was off. Ben said, ‘No, it’s not off. We’re just not used to hearing actual live singing.’ Everyone is so faked-out now. Everything is fake. I appreciate that they’re singing. I was actually in the running to host the show. I had meetings six or eight months ago. My agent sent me in.
Really? Did the casting department know you had a cappella experience?
No. I went in for the meeting. I said, ‘You don’t know this, but I have this huge background in a cappella.’ I was in the Dodecs. I told them all about my experience. They were really wondering about judges at the time. They were hoping to get Ben Folds, which they did. I suggested they talk to Sara Bareilles. They didn’t realize that she had that background, too.
Yes, she sang with UCLA’s Awaken A Cappella. Tell me about your time with the Dodecs. Was the group well-respected on campus?
We were a big deal. We had that frat-y factor. There was a lot of swagger going on in that group, for sure. Girls would freak out. We sang at the high schools around town. As dumb as this sounds, we had to have a police escort to get away from a show once.
A police escort?
It was ridiculous.
That’s unreal. Did the group travel much?
We did a little bit. But honestly, that frat factor won out. We stayed in town on the weekends and partied. We were really good, but we were kind of half-assed. We were the a cappella group that would rather get drunk.
What was your big solo?
“Anytime” by Brian McKnight. We also had the sex medley—that’s we called it. It was a mash-up of 80s and early 90s hip hop songs about sex.
Why do you think Glee has taken off? The show just received a bunch of Golden Globe nominations.
Glee is just so fresh. Aside from the fact that it’s hilarious, it warms your heart. It’s a story about normal kids who can do extraordinary things. I tear up over it and laugh my ass off.
You’re back in the studio working on your own music. What’s the vibe on the new disc?
It’s kind of like retro George Michael.
Like, Wham-era George Michael?
It’s like George Michael but with a 60s cool hipster vibe on it. It would be more like Wham/George Michael, with a little bit of Faith. But with my spin on it. It’s more me than what I was doing at Sony. They wanted me to be an adult artist.
In the vein of Josh Groban?
That’s what they signed me for. That’s the record I made.
Your label shut down before your album was released. How did you get over the disappointment?
I was crushed. I was a wreck. But I had this really random encounter that made me realize that it’s still in the cards. I ran into Clive Davis on the street. He’s like, ‘Come on up!’ I had a meeting with him immediately. And I felt like I was going to bounce back. I spent about six months writing for other people, getting stuff out of my system. Then I went to London and in ten days I wrote 14 songs—like it was nothing. The songs just fell out. And it’s the best stuff I’ve ever done. I got a lot of exposure last year. I have a couple of offers on the table. I’ll finish the record first and see where it goes.
Check out Chris Mann’s music—including an unlikely cover of Kanye West’s “Heartless”—at http://chrismannmusic.com.