Ian Munsick on a horse

Ian Munsick on Preserving the Spirit of the West

April 10, 2024 11:57 am GMT

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Over the past three or so years, Ian Munsick has become the flag-bearer for the often forgotten ‘Western’ half of what was traditionally known as Country and Western music.

In recent years, Texas and Tennessee have been considered the two pivotal spokes on the ever-evolving wheels of country. Within today's continuing discussions around the roots of the genre, the touchstone for ‘true’ country is typically in the realm of what Munsick calls ‘Southern’ country music. Even the mainstream artists venturing into the genre, Beyoncé and Post Malone, have roots in Texas.

Now, though, Western culture and its associated aesthetic is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. As Lainey Wilson wisely decreed in her 2024 birds-eye-view assessment of the genre, ‘Country's Cool Again’: “Everybody wanna be a cowboy”.

When Ian Munsick released his debut full-length album, Coyote Cry, in 2020, his mission statement was to ‘Bring the West to the Rest’. In 2024, with the arrival of his deluxe White Buffalo: Introduce You To God album, his objective has become more nuanced. Now, as he powerfully showcases via the vignettes of his recent documentary, Voices of the West, he's aiming to bring the real, authentic West to the Rest.

With ‘the West’s newfound commercial viability, rather than seeking a crossover hit, Munsick has doubled-down on the sound and instrumentation he grew up around on his father's Wyoming ranch. The five new songs added to White Buffalo as part of the revamped deluxe edition extend the expansive Wyoming-inspired imagery and rich, visceral storytelling that pervaded the original project.

“I definitely feel like there's a little bit more pressure, now that Western culture is trending in country music, and really in pop culture in general”, Munsick explains, “But I've been doing this since 2013, and I'm just able to do my own thing, man, and do what I've always done for the last 10 years. I'm just glad that country music is starting to turn the corner to be more open to the Western kind of country, because for a long time, the focus has been on Southern and Texas country. Western is making a comeback, and I'm just proud to be a part of it”.

Given the ‘More Than Me’ singer-songwriter's dedication to preserving the spirit and legacy of the West, is there any hint of resentment at Beyoncé and Post Malone's portrayal of the genre? You learn over the course of any conversation with Munsick that he's far too generous and good-natured for anything close to bitterness. Nonetheless, he again stresses the importance of sincerity, “Both of those artists are from Texas, so naturally, it's going to be that [style of country]. What would bother me is if they start to write about being a cowboy. I'm not even a cowboy - I live in Nashville. I've lived here for 12 years now. To be a cowboy, you really have to earn that title. That has to be your lifestyle. You can't half-ass being a cowboy. You can be in the country, you can be a redneck at heart, you can do all that stuff - but being a cowboy is a job, it's a lifestyle”.

Munsick qualifies this, “It's a good thing for country music for other artists that aren't necessarily country artists to be coming in, because it broadens the audience. Just as long as those artists are representing themselves accurately in their songs”.

The vividness and lucidity of Ian Munsick's depictions of his home-state are intensified by the fact that, as he explains, he now lives in Music City. Throughout White Buffalo: Introduce You To God, he looks longingly back at the soothing plains and stark landscapes of Wyoming, with a sense of heartfelt, wistful appreciation you can only gain after tradeding in this bucolic quietude for the buzz of city life.

Alongside the loyalty to fiddles and dobros, the evocative scenery and the playful bolo references, White Buffalo: Introduce You To God is underpinned by a commitment to highlighting the lasting Native American influence on the culture of Wyoming, and indeed the West in general. On ‘Seven Sisters’, Munsick deftly retells a tale linked to the Kiowa tribe, of a group of young girls whose attempts to escape a Devil-possessed bear led to the formation of the Devil's Tower, an immense rock formation in Wyoming, and The Pleiades constellation.

‘Seven Sisters’ and ‘Introduce You To God’ capture the symbiotic relationship between the land and faith, a recurring theme of various Native American belief systems. On the White Buffalo title-track and ‘Indian Paintbrush’, Munsick nimbly utilises spiritual symbols in Wyoming and Native American culture to convey feelings of heartbreak and regrowth. As well as using this natural imagery as a medium through which he can explore religion on the record, Munsick makes it clear that the surrounding environment is inextricably interwoven with his faith.

Munsick emphasises, “The spirituality between Native Americans and the West obviously had a heavy influence on the album. Then, on the other side of it, being a dad, being a husband and being a believer in God and Jesus - the whole album is very spiritually tied...‘Introduce You To God’ is me introducing my audience and my four-year-old to God through nature. It was the perfect way to tie in the culture of the West and Native Americans, and then also my personal belief in God”.

White Buffalo: Introduce You To God paints a vibrant, holistic picture of the West, rather than zeroing in on hollow tokens or superficial tropes. As he gears up for his aptly titled Country and WESTern Tour, along with a coveted supporting spot on Lainey's 2024 run, Ian Munsick's platform is rapidly growing.

But rather than getting swept up in the sheen of country stardom, Ian Munsick remains more connected to his Wyoming roots as ever. The new deluxe album consolidates White Buffalo's status as one of the most striking country records of the decade so far, and cements Munsick's role as the figurehead for modern Western country music.

On why he wanted to release a deluxe version of White Buffalo:

“After we put out the album last year, I was still in the headspace writing-wise of that whole theme. So instead of having the new songs be their own thing, we decided to tack them on”.

On the relationship between the landscape and spirituality:

“Growing up in Wyoming, you have no choice but to be humble because of the landscape. You can just look at the landscape and be like, ‘Damn, I am small compared to the grand scheme of the universe’. Also, working with the land being a rancher, that makes you humble too, man, because there are a lot of things that just aren't in your control, and that you have to let go of and give to God and nature”.

On infusing levity into his music:

“I think it's just who I am. Even in ‘Heartbreak King’ - it's about heartbreak, yet you still feel uplifted. A lot of that comes through the production and the instruments I use on my recordings: the banjo, mandolin and fiddle. Those three, even if they're playing the most melancholy melody, it still makes your heart feel good”.

On the story behind ‘Seven Sisters’:

“In Native American legend, there's the story of Devil's Tower, which is a landmark in North Eastern Wyoming. There's this rock that comes out of the ground - it's huge, and it's the only thing out there that looks like that. The lyrics of ‘Seven Sisters’ is pretty much the Native American legend my dad would tell my brothers. There were these seven Native American girls that went out, and a bear, which was the Devil, chased them down. They ran to this rock, and God lifted the rock up into the sky to protect them. But the bear was still trying to get them, so God made them immortal and put them into the night sky, and they're now the constellation of The Pleiades. I just decided it was a really cool story that probably not a lot of people knew about. It's a big piece of Western culture”.

On what he's learned from touring with Cody Johnson, Lainey Wilson and Morgan Wallen:

“With Cody, I learned the best way to grow your fanbase is to do it organically. It might take more time, but man, going to those CoJo shows a few years ago, before he had any hits on the Radio, people knew all of his tunes. I feel like now, when I'm playing my own headlining shows, people know all the tunes, they don't just know the one or two that have been played on the Radio, which I'm very, very grateful for.

With Morgan, I learned the sky is the limit, because you go to his shows and there are like 50,000 people out there. He's breaking all the records, and it's inspiring for me as a country artist, seeing that a country artist can be the most popular artist in the world.

With Lainey, man, I've been friends with Lainey for eight years. From her, I've learned how quickly things can change, because she was playing for not a lot of people two or three years ago, and then one year later, she's the biggest thing in country music. So it's pretty inspiring to call her a friend and to be on tour with her, and to see how quickly things can explode. More importantly, she has stayed true to who she really is. She's the same person now that she was the day I met her”.

For more on Ian Munsick, see below:

Written by Maxim Mower
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