Jensen Ackles, Kim Rhodes and more Supernatural stars feature on Recovering with Friends, a classic rock cover compilation created by musician Jason Manns. Manns went through the album track by track with us to share some details about recording with the cast.
Music has always been a huge aspect of the Supernatural phenomenon, both on-screen and off. The show’s classic rock backbone — on The WB, a network that, at the time, was dedicated to showcasing the latest indie pop and marketing those soundtracks to teen viewers — was a prominent part of creator Eric Kripke’s original pitch, and it remains a touchstone for Supernatural’s identity to this very day.
With that in mind, it makes all the sense in the world that the Supernatural cast’s off-screen engagement with their fandom is often heavily rooted in music as well. Many — and I mean many — of the show’s lead and recurring cast are musicians, which is a major factor of why Supernatural-specific conventions famously stand apart as something very unusual on the scene.
At any given Supernatural convention, you’ll see a live band on stage the entire weekend, playing musical interludes to introduce panels, and you’ll attend a concert on the Saturday night: not, like some cons, a “wizard rock”-esque celebration of fandom music (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but instead just a straight-up rock show, featuring covers and original tunes performed by the musically inclined guests — usually, every single actor in attendance.
Jason Manns is not, in fact, an actor on the show, but he’s a staple of these events nonetheless, because he’s a huge part of why this musical convention culture even exists. Manns is an old friend of actor Jensen Ackles – the pair met at a party in 2002, when they were both starting out in LA, and immediately began jamming together in private.
When Ackles was offered his first Supernatural convention appearance in 2007, Manns, familiar with musical performances by the talented cast of the Buffy-verse through another friend Christian Kane, asked about the possibility of music at these events, and was invited along. A video of the pair performing together at a friend’s wedding had already gone somewhat viral, and when Manns brought a shy Ackles onstage to sing in person for the fans, the rest was history.
Eleven years later and the Supernatural conventions have, along with fostering new friendships that lead to TV spin-offs and stuff, become a hive of musical cross-pollination. Supernatural star Rob Benedict’s band Louden Swain serves as “house band” all weekend long, as Benedict and partner in crime Richard Speight Jr. MC the entire event, and Manns is a guest of honor, with his own panel to kick things off.
Artists who have met through the Supernatural con circuit have gone on to collaborate, forming new bands of their own and producing each other’s records, and Manns in particular has a knack for drawing the actors out of their shells and molding some who had never even sung in public before into genuine rockstars, onstage and in the studio — Ackles, who was once only confident singing back-up harmonies, can now do, well, this, and he’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Jason Manns’ music is, rather ironically, somewhat comparable to the indie crooners that Eric Kripke was originally trying to eschew, but nonetheless, it’s been featured in the show, in a very tongue-in-cheek way, as Dean chides Sam for “douching up” the Imapala with an iPod dock and soft, sensitive music. In reality, his music is extremely listenable — as is Louden Swain’s — and both artists have hordes of fans who discovered them via Supernatural but who now follow their careers in their own right.
However, in order to make the convention gigs even more accessible, both for the audience and for the actors that they tempt up onstage, the musicians pepper their sets with cover songs, and it’s this practice that led to the creation of Manns’ “Covers” series – full studio albums featuring the cast on a compilation of cover songs that he facilitates, orchestrates and curates.
First up was a Christmas album — Christmas with Friends, which is a good sight better than any Christmas carol album has the right to be — and then Covers with Friends, featuring mostly rock songs that Manns and the Supernatural cast have performed onstage before or since. The third installment, Recovering with Friends, has just been released, and Manns was kind enough to provide us with an exclusive track-by-track breakdown of the ten songs he chose for the album.
“I actually picked all of the tunes for this album, which wasn’t the case on the other two Covers with Friends albums,” Manns told us via email.
“I had a big list of potential tunes I wanted to do and then I sent a shortlist of 2 – 3 choices and then the singers would pick the one they liked the best. There were only two that I can remember that were a single tune sent with a “Please sing this one, please. If you hate it you don’t have to sing it, but I think you’ll sound awesome on it?” that those were ‘Renegade’ and ‘Cripple Creek.'”
Breaking down ‘Recovering with Friends’ with Jason Manns
Steve Miller Band – ‘The Joker’
Featuring Jensen Ackles.
“This track was kind of a throwback to the first one Jensen and I ever sang together, which was [Van Morrison’s] ‘Crazy Love.’ It’s just a classic tune you can’t help but love. That’s Jensen on all of the harmonies (just like ‘Crazy Love’) and he steps in for the lead vocal on that second verse.”
Buffalo Springfield – ‘For What It’s Worth’
Featuring Jason Manns.
“I’ve always loved this tune. It was originally the one I picked for Misha, but unfortunately we couldn’t work the schedules out (he’s a busy dude, always saving the world and stuff, more on that later…) Then actually when Jensen and Jared came to visit me in Virginia, we were jamming a little bit at my house and they both sang this one, Jared the lower part and Jensen on the harmonies and it sounded AWESOME!! I tried, but again, schedules got in the way. I loved what the band did on it, and couldn’t let it go to waste, so I jumped in and gave it a go.”
Etta James – ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’
Featuring Briana Buckmaster.
“I love Briana’s voice, and I can’t wait to produce her solo album next month! She has amazing control and power, but I think because she has done so much musical theatre, she would try to kind of cover her vocals or smooth them out. It was fun to tell her that scratchy part of her voice that she may try to cover on stage is actually my favorite all the vocal colors she has. The trick is using it with out overdoing it, and I think she nailed it here.”
The Band – ‘Up On Cripple Creek’
Featuring Jensen Ackles, Mark Pellegrino, Rob Benedict and Richard Speight, Jr.
“As previously mentioned, the thing I fight most with this project is everyone’s crazy schedules. That being the case, there’s no chance I’d be able to get all five of us in the same place at the same time in a studio! So we did these verses one singer at a time and kinda built the track over the course of recording the whole album. I think first to last vocal this song probably took 9 months to record. Side note: it’s the only track Mark Pellegrino and Richard Speight, Jr. appear on. It was the first time Mark had worked with me and I love that his grit and delivery fit perfectly in the mix for this tune.”
“As for Richard, we actually had another track 99% finished for this album with he and myself singing it, but I just couldn’t get it to sit right and it was really bumming me out. He sounded great on it, just the song itself didn’t feel right to me for some reason. We had recently had a conversation about him doing his own solo record – a country album! – and I thought that would be a good opportunity to go back to the drawing board with the track we were working on and make it perfect, so I asked him what he thought and he agreed.”
James Gang – ‘Funk 49’
Featuring Jensen Ackles.
“I love seeing folks’ reaction to Jensen’s voice. I’ve known it from literally the first time I met him 16 years ago; the dude can just flat out sing. He has gravitated toward a more hard driving rock & roll type of music in recent years so I was excited to explore that with him a little on this album. We had the standards covered with ‘Joker’ and ‘Cripple Creek’ so I figured we could take a chance on this one. It took a little convincing to go for something this aggressive, and originally we said we’d try it an octave down and do a different take on it.”
“Then once he was warmed up I suggested he just go for it one time, if it sucked we wouldn’t use it. But of course he nailed it. He could absolutely do it live, those takes we ended up using were long takes, it wasn’t a go back and try to hit this word or line, or use a bunch of vocal tuning or any of that. He just sang it. The original takes in the lower octave ended up being the vocal layering you hear on some parts throughout the song to kinda give it that call and answer vibe.”
The Doobie Brothers – ‘Long Train Running’
Featuring Rob Benedict.
“This has been our Sunday morning call to arms at the Creation Entertainment’s Supernatural conventions. It’s such a fun tune to sing with Rob Benedict and Louden Swain and it’s one of the tunes that really hit the sweet spot in both of our voices when he sings the harmony a third up from me. That comfort level of our voices naturally resting a third away from each other is one of the reasons we decided to form The Station Breaks. Billy Moran, who plays guitar in Louden Swain, and plays amazingly on every track on this album, is also in that band with us!”
Styx – ‘Renegade’
Featuring Emily Swallow.
“This is one of the tracks I’m most proud on this album. It’s not a song that I think most folks would think of for her, but I just thought Emily would kill this tune. She was a little nervous in the beginning because I don’t think she’s done a lot of studio vocals – unless I’m mistaken, I think this might have been the first time? But she killed it.”
“I was surprised by her range, which we did not actually find the end of on that particular studio day. There was a point where she was riffing at the end of the song, just playing around looking for the right approach, and I kept saying “Go a little higher on that last one!” and then when she kind of launched into the stratosphere on one take, the engineer and I looked at each other like “Oh! Okay… I didn’t know that was in there!””
Eagles – ‘Take it Easy’
Featuring Gil McKinney.
“Gil and I were going back and forth on a few tracks for his spot on the album, and I’m really glad we ended up with this one. I produced Gil’s EP earlier in the year and was stoked we could display a different side to his vocal abilities. We did a jazz album, How Was I to Know, which debuted at #5 on the iTunes Jazz chart, and he’s got that silky smooth quality which is obvious and lends itself to that kind of pop/jazz/standard very easily, but he’s from Texas too! We went a little more country on this track and I love where it ended up.”
The Band – ‘I Shall Be Released’
Featuring Rob Benedict.
“Simply put, this is me and Rob being me and Rob. I love singing with that dude, and this is something along the lines of stuff we do with The Station Breaks, Although if we did it there, it would probably be a little more jammy. I wanted to really strip the production down and make it about the vocals, the harmonies, and the story.”
Bob Dylan – ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’
Featuring Kim Rhodes.
“I think Gil McKinney said it best: Kim’s like a female Johnny Cash on this track. Kim has an awesome ability in both acting and singing to make you viscerally feel stuff. When she was finished singing, and the engineer Zack Darling and I went back to kinda build the track up around it… We just didn’t. It was so raw and emotional and perfect, we left off all the bells and whistles we originally thought we were gonna put on it. We just let her voice give the listener “the feels” with out any other distractions.”
Recovering with Friends was recorded over the course of 2017, while Manns was simultaneously touring (both independently and with the Supernatural conventions) and producing records for other artists. Like the other two compilation cover albums he’s put together, the project was crowdfunded on Kickstarter.
Unlike most Kickstarters, where a project does not go ahead unless the full funding is met, Manns set his “success” goal at merely $1, happy to work with any amount of contributions the fandom deemed worthy, and ended up receiving over $68,000 to bring this baby into the world – you can read Manns’ blog updates about the budget and recording procedure on the project page.
Recovering with Friends is available now on BandCamp, iTunes, Spotify and most other music retailers and streaming services – but it can also be found on Stands, the Supernatural cast’s choice purveyor of charitable merchandise, where a portion of the proceeds will go the Jacmel Children’s Center in Haiti, an orphanage and school funded through Misha Collins’ charitable organization Random Acts.
The Stands campaign is currently the only online spot where a signed copy of the album is available for sale, and Manns told us a bit about his personal connection to the Jacmel Children’s Center, which he visited in 2013.
“A few years ago I had the amazing opportunity to accompany Misha and his Random Acts team to Jacmel, Haiti to see this truly remarkable center for children they built with donations from the SPNFamily. It was inspiring in so many ways, but I’ll just pick out two to mention.”
“Seeing true, joyous smiles on these beautiful faces in spite of the fact that they have literally nothing left after the earthquake was a gut check for those of us who have so very much by comparison and still let that consumerism drive us to forget that true happiness can still be found with zero material wealth.”
“And secondly, I was just so impressed with what Random Acts had accomplished. I’ve given to many worthy charities over the years, but I have never seen a more tangible, long-lasting, life changing use of my money than I did in Haiti. I truly hope that when I’m old and gray… scratch that, older and-grayer… I hope there are still young hopeful kids getting a new lease on life at the Jacmel Children’s Center.”
For this reason, Jason Manns has chosen to promote the album through Stands, where fans can purchase the digital download for a comparable price to any other music retailer, or, for a limited time, order a signed physical copy of Recovering with Friends.