'Supernatural': Jason Manns on music, movies, and twisting Jensen Ackles' arm

jason-manns.jpgWhen the perfect song meets a poignant scene in a TV episode, careers are made. Shows like "Grey's Anatomy," "One Tree Hill," and "The O.C." have lifted musical artists from obscurity into iTunes heavy rotation. It happens all the time. Singer/songwriter Jason Manns managed to do something far more remarkable, becoming a "Supernatural" fan favorite via word-of-mouth (and YouTube) long before his music was ever played on the show.

In 2007, Manns' longtime friend, "Supernatural" star Jensen Ackles, flew to England to do the first "Supernatural" fan convention. Manns sensed an opportunity. "I told Jensen, 'Ask them if they want music,' and they ended up flying me out to play a concert on Saturday night," he tells Zap2it.

It wasn't Manns' first convention. His friend Christian Kane, of "Angel" and "Leverage" fame, introduced him to the scene. (We know - Manns has friends in high places. We'd like an invite to their BBQs, too.)

"Years and years ago, Christian was doing 'Angel' conventions," Manns explains. "He has a band called Kane, and they played a convention in L.A., doing off-site gig at The Whiskey. He asked me if I wanted to open for an acoustic set, and that went really well. The next day I went over to the Burbank-whatever convention center, and I sold some CDs. That's the only non-'Supernatural' one I've done."

Manns was a hit at the first convention. It didn't hurt that while he was there, Manns invited Ackles on stage to sing "Crazy Love" with him, a song they'd rehearsed a few times to perform at a friend's wedding. Ackles sang along with the harmonies. "The video was put on YouTube, and as a result I received emails almost daily asking me to record it with him," Manns says.



It wasn't exactly easy to get Ackles to agree. "I dragged him to my brother's studio," Manns says. "And with even more arm-twisting, got him to sing a verse by himself. Up until that point he had only been comfortable with the harmonies. I've been trying to get him to sing more since!" The song - with Ackles singing all by his lonesome for a whole verse - can be heard on Manns' MySpace for free, and if you've just got to have it on your iPod, you can buy a copy at JasonManns.com.

After that, Manns became a regular on the "Supernatural" convention circuit. When we ask how many he's done, his eyes widen. "Oh god," he says. "I have no idea. Probably twenty. It's up there."

This summer, Manns traveled around the world, playing for "Supernatural" fans in places like Germany and Rome.  "One of the main differences about playing overseas, especially in regards to 'Supernatural' fans, is that a lot of times in the U.S., they look at me as a 'Supernatural' artist. Like their description of me is 'He's friends with Jensen and his music was on 'Supernatural'. Whereas over there, they look at it more as part of the whole. They'll describe my music before they mention J or the show."

Over the years, he's seen the way the show's stars have adjusted to their intensely devoted fanbase. "At Misha [Collins'] first convention, he wasn't really prepared for the fans," Manns laughs. "Just the level of devotion, I guess. He'd just say whatever, do whatever. I've kind of seen how he's progressed. Now, when he's at conventions, he'll peek around the corner, or ask where the elevator opens, if it's going to open to 500 screaming people or not."

It was at one of these conventions that Manns met creator (and then-showrunner) Eric Kripke. "In the green room, Kripke was there, and I just struck up a conversation with him. He said 'Give me your C.D., we'll see if we can find a place for it,'" Manns says. He handed over the album, but not without a healthy dose of skepticism.

"I told him that I wouldn't be offended if he didn't find a place for it. I mean, it's a show about two brothers who drive an Impala and hunt ghosts with a shotgun. It'd be tough to find a place to put a love song in there, and that's pretty much all that first album was."

Kripke assured him that they'd find a place for it. After a few false starts, Manns' song "Vision" was heard in the Season 4 premiere. Upon returning from a four-month tour of hell, Dean (Ackles) discovers that his brother Sam (Jared Padalecki) has mounted an iPod dock in their beloved Impala. "I told you to take care of her, not douche her up," Dean, a strictly Led Zeppelin and AC/DC kind of dude, says.

When he starts the car, Manns' music pours from the speakers. "Really?" Dean snarls incredulously, before tossing the iPod into the backseat. Ouch?

"I loved it," Manns says. "It was very funny. It was kind of a tongue-in-cheek joke toward the fans who knew that [Jensen] and I are buddies, since it was him saying 'This guy sucks,' you know? It was cool." He grins. "Sam likes my music. The sensitive one!"

Manns released his second album, "Soul," this past April. Without venturing too far from his love song roots, Manns explores an occasional dark edge and introduces more R&B influences. "I love Motown," he says. "If I could have one C.D. for the rest of my life it'd be Sam Cooke's Greatest Hits, but I love Marvin Gaye and all those guys. They're my big influences, but when I'm filling out all those 'sounds like' things, I put John Mayer, Jack Johnson, Ben Harper. I love listening to them, too."

The album, which includes a striking cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," can be found on iTunes, but you can play the title track (and his favorite off the record) "Soul" right here at Zap2it at the end of this article.

When he's not attached to his guitar, Manns occasionally dips a toe into the filmmaking pool. When writer/director Chris Dowling spoke to him about a satirical detective comedy he wanted to make, Manns signed on to help produce the movie right away. Their shockingly low budget didn't prevent "Rock Slyde" from attracting big-name stars. Patrick Warburton plays Det. Rock Slyde, with Elaine Hendrix, Jason Alexander, Lea Thompson, and Eric Roberts supporting. Of course, we can't leave out Andy Dick, as the villainous cult leader Bart.

Manns himself even played the role of Homeless Pete, a role that was small but gave him the opportunity to work with both Warburton and Dick.

The part ended up bigger than Manns originally intended. Literally.

"At the time I was in shape, and Chris Dowling said, 'A skinny bum is sad, not funny. You need to bulk up,'" he says. "Somehow, we walked out of there having made a bet that I could get up to 270 pounds. I got up to 280!" It should also be noted that he grew a bushy, long beard. "I went on tour like that. There are pictures everywhere now. Awful."

The movie had a successful festival run, and now is available from Netflix OnDemand. Don't miss the Funny or Die clip below.

Manns credits plenty of his recent success to the support of "Supernatural" fans. He says sincerely, "I have no idea how or why, but I'm very thankful. I'm riding this wave until it crashes."

That said, if he ever worried that TV fans liked him for the wrong reasons, he's been reassured. "A lot of them say, 'Well, if you sucked, we wouldn't care that you were friends with Jensen.' So I guess that's kind of a compliment," he laughs.




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Photo Credit: JasonManns.com

Listen to "Soul" by Jason Manns: