In 2010, Brad Cunningham and his band, Man in the Ring, have already done what many local bands wish they could: successfully released their first full-length album and won a $2,000 cash prize at 100.1 The Buzz's battle of the bands contest, Bandamonium.
Man in the Ring's self-titled debut, released earlier this year, is impossible to categorize or even attach to a genre. It combines elements of reggae, funk, folk and Latin to create a sound unlike any other in Columbia today.
Cunningham's boomingly mature voice and Kyle Pudenz's violin stand out immensely in both recorded material and live footage of the band. Rounding out Man in the Ring is Toby Runyon, Parker Siddall and Drake Detwiler, who play guitar, bass and drums respectively.
Citing influences, such as the RX Bandits, Bob Marley and John Mayer, Cunningham said the band's inspiration comes from everywhere and can't be attributed to a single source.
"When you take five musicians and put them in a group together, everyone sort of has their pool that they pull from," he said.
Last year, Cunningham and the rest of the five-piece band brought their written material over to Mansion Studio in Columbia to record their debut record. The 10,000-square-foot colonial home-turned-studio, located on a lush seven-acre plot of land in the heart of Columbia, is owned by Bruce Barkelew, and many local bands have used it since its opening.
Adam Roehlke, a former front-of-house sound engineer for Wilco, mixed and mastered the album in the same studio, which leaves the record oozing with experience both musically and technically.
Its distinctive sound has recently been brought to the stage as Man in the Ring has been booking more and more shows in Columbia over the last few months.
"On stage, we combine improvisation solos and jam elements," said Cunningham, the bands chief singer and rhythm guitarist, while sitting in the Underground Cafe in Columbia. "Sometimes we include guest musicians too."
With an album behind them, Man in the Ring is continuing to develop as a band with hopes of gracing the stage at some bigger shows this summer and later this year.
"The great thing about recording is you get those songs behind you, and you can move on to new stuff," Cunningham said. "We're hoping to play some festivals this summer, and there has even been some talk about sending in our material to some labels. But at this point, I think we need to gain a little more momentum before anyone is going to show us any interest as far as (signing to a label) goes."
This weekend, Man in the Ring will be playing two benefit shows to support important causes. On Friday, the band will play a quieter and more intimate set at the Underground Cafe for a Haiti benefit. There is a $5 suggested donation for entry. The next night they will play at Bambino's Italian Cafe and later at Cafe Berlin for an Afghanistan benefit. Anyone interested in purchasing music from Man in the Ring can do so on iTunes and CD Baby, both of which have the band's full-length available for download.