Group 1 Crew recently released their new EP #FASTER via Fervent Records on August 12th, and are set to release #STRONGER EP on November 4th. I had the privilege of interviewing lead vocalist Manwell Reyes via email, as we discussed the change in personnel, the upcoming tour with Big Daddy Weave, Chris August and Dara Maclean, as well as what he hopes listeners will experience when hearing the tracks, and any hopes he has of the upcoming year ahead as a band and personally. Check out the interview below.
1. It’s been an interesting last few years for Group 1 Crew. You were originally a trio, then Pablo left in 2011, you and Blanca recorded Fearless in 2012, Blanca left in 2013, and now you are the frontman of a band basically with new members- what is it like changing dynamics quite frequently over the past few years, and how is your mission and vision of the band the same or different as when you were a trio or a duo?
Well first off, there really are no new members. There’s just me and Jesus lol! My band is my crew, but there’s only one member now. The vision I have is one that was birthed in my heart from the beginning when I started the group in 2003. I wanted a unified unit that moved when God said and how God wanted. There’s something so important about being unified as a ministry and this new season reflects my desire for that. The people I have around me believe in me and the vision that God has given me, which makes the energy and spirit of our band truly aligned with my original desire. It’s amazing and such a great feeling! The vision is PEOPLE. The calling is PEOPLE. Everything I do is to help and inspire PEOPLE.
2. Your new EP #FASTER released on August 12th; can you describe how the recording process was like, given the change in sound and expansion in genre? What is the one thing that you hope listeners can gain when they hear it?
The process was crazy and absolutely fun! I wrote like 30 songs for this 5 song EP, so the hardest part was really picking which songs would go on the first EP. I love to write, so it was a blessing to be able to just get out what was on my heart and what God was showing me. I chose to have some features on it because I truly think combining forces in the family of God is so important! I love pop music, and in pop, all they do is feature with each other and its incredible when two artists of great caliber come together to make something beautiful.
Each person was handpicked because I believe in them and their music – from Moriah Peters to Jonathan Thulin and the wonderful Rachael Lampa. I pray people will let go of what they expect from Group 1 Crew just a little bit, and experience the new thing that God is doing in my heart and through my music. It’s still the same heart but with a celebration of new voices! It’s truly amazing.
3. For those who may not have listened to your style of music before, or who listened to Group 1 Crew’s entire discography, but want to know what you sound like with new members, who do you say you sound similar to at the moment, so that you can reassure listeners that they want to hear your music? Who in the music industry do you think you sound like- vocal and music wise? For me, I reckon TobyMac, Britt Nicole, Lecrae, Royal Tailor, and maybe Press Play, is a combination of what your music sounds like.
I would say I’m a transient person musically, meaning I swerve in and out of different sounds. Sometimes I want to sing and other times I just want to rap! lol… Not sure I would say I sound like those other artists though…the closest comparison would be The Black Eyed Peas. I feel like I’m the Will I Am of my situation =) It’s called Hip Pop.
4. Both musically and lyrically, how does #FASTER capture the experiences of yourself throughout the last few years of your musical journey? As you move into your next step in your Christian music career, as the lead singer for a band; is there anything you hold onto that God has spoken into your life?
Yes, at first I felt every insecurity that anyone could possibly feel until the Lord spoke to me in a very real way. He reminded me when He first called me that I was alone and there was no group, just me. When he birthed Group 1 Crew he did it in the quite place where it was just Him and I. So just because it’s just Him and I again, doesn’t mean that I’m any less called. Group 1 is not the people in the band, but the vision in my heart. I could remove myself from the situation and raise up 3 new people who have a heart for the vision and they too would be Group 1 Crew.
That’s why if you follow me on any social media you’ll always see me hashtag #WeAreTheCrew, and that means that anybody on this earth who believes in the movement is part of my “Crew.” We’re in this together! I can’t exist without the support of every listener. So I hold fast to the call that God placed in my heart from day 1 and try my best to not listen to any negativity from people who feel like expressing their opinions lol.
5. The EP, though only 5 tracks, contains some of my favourite songs from Group 1 Crew, inclusive of “Psalm 23” and “A Little Closer”, the first single from the EP. What did the songs mean to you as you were recording it? Has “A Little Closer” (or any other on the new EP) been ministering to people on the road, and what are some of the encouraging stories you have heard from the impact of your songs (on any of your albums you’ve done, this one, or your upcoming EP’s #Stronger and #Power)?
I haven’t been able to do any of these songs on the road, but I am so EXCITED to!!! We literally just got all the songs in so I haven’t even gotten the music to perform the songs live! I’ll be doing “A Little Closer” on this fall tour with Big Daddy Weave, so I’m stoked about that. But these songs were all a declaration of what God can do when you give him your all. I honestly would pray to the Lord every time I got on the mic and said, “Jesus, this is all I got. This is me. Nothing fancy, nothing extra, just me and my heart. Do what you want with it.”
And that became my prayer. I realized that all I can give God is the best of me. Sometimes we feel like that’s not enough, but through this recording process I realized that’s all he ever wants from us. He doesn’t care that G1C is just me now. All he cares about is my heart and our relationship. He cares that I care about people. He cares that my heart is for His people! I prayed over all of these songs everyday when I was in NYC this past June – that each person that would listen would literally feel the presence of God. I think it’s working =)
6. There is plenty of reasons to enjoy this new EP- Moriah Peters, Jonathan Thulin, and Rachael Lampa are guest vocalists on 3 separate songs, and on another song “Psalm 23”, Sarah Sandoz, your new backing/lead vocalist, sings on the chorus. Can you tell us a bit about how those conversations eventuated into what we hear on the album today? How did you choose your band members, and the artists you are collaborating with?
Well I chose my band based on one thing…their heart. It was important for this new season to be seasoned with love and trust and unity. Those were the qualifications you need to be in my band. If there was any sense of self or division then you’re gone. We’re a happy family =)
The artists I chose to be on the project were really just friends who happen to be singers as well. I just wanted to collab with people who I love and listen to and have relationship with. I’ve known Rachael for a while now. Took her out on my first headlining tour and had a blast. She’s honestly one of the most amazing and humble people I know. Not to mention her voice is insane! Me and my wife are super close with Moriah and her wonderful husband Joel from for KING & COUNTRY, so it was a blessing to have her lend her heart on this record. I love her dearly and she seriously can’t be any sweeter than she already is.
Jonathan is seriously a beast!!! I’ve been a fan of him for a while and have been a part of his records as well. I think he’s someone to look out for. This guy is the hardest working man in the game!!!! I love and respect him for that and can’t help but to feel honored to have someone like him on my record.
7. Are there any artists/writers/producers you would like to collaborate and compose music with in the future (either for the #STRONGER EP or another project? Who were your favourite artists you admired and looked up to musically in your earlier years, and is there any artist or band that you admire within the music industry currently?
Ya man! I love for KING & COUNTRY. I have to do a song with them soon! I also want to do another song with Chris August, but something more R&B closer to his and my heart. Something funky! Would love to rock with LeCrae and even Mercy Me. They’re new record is insane!!!! Oh, and Need to Breathe. They’re phenomenal!
8. Who do you look up to in the music industry (CCM, or mainstream), either as a spiritual mentor, or someone you ask advice from? If anyone reading this interview is wanting to move into the music industry, what would you say to them as advice- how would you succeed in the industry with your values intact?
I really look up to TobyMac. I just love that guy. He’s done it all right. Every time we talk I leave with this one thought…be understanding, loving and generous. That’s what Toby is. Heart of Gold!!! For anyone wanting to move into this industry, I would say be sure that you’re called. It’s not for the weak hearted. You truly find who you are when you put yourself in the spotlight. It can sometimes bring out the ugly in you or the best out of you. Work hard and be the best at what you do! Your talents will bring you before kings, but your character is what will keep you there. So above all things…be a real believer
9. Any artists you have toured with in the last few years that have impacted your life the most? Any new tours you are excited for in 2014 and beyond? Are you excited to tour with Big Daddy Weave, Chris August and Dara Maclean on the Beautiful Offerings Tour? Any artists (either on Word Label Group, or another label) you’d like to tour with but haven’t yet?
Ya I’ve done a lot of tours and they’ve all been pretty amazing! I loved being on the hits deep tour with TobyMac and friends. All we did was play basketball and corn hole lol!! It was seriously like family. Being on the stage was fun, but not as much as backstage being a family. I loved being out with Brit Nicole and Royal Tailor. That tour was just dope! Brit’s heart is so legit and her band is just amazing friends. The Royal Tailor guys are my homies till the end!
I’m stoked to go out this fall with the Weaves, Chris and Dara. God is going to move, you can count on that!! Lives are going to be changed and it’s going to be amazing! I’d love to get on Winter Jam again and do the Hits Deep Tour again. But I’d also love to do something in Europe, Asia and Australia.
10. Which of your new songs are you the most excited for in terms of playing it live at concerts? Has there ever been a song that you have sung in concerts that you didn’t think would have the impact that it currently does? Or has there been a song where you thought should’ve had the impact that it currently doesn’t? What has God shown you through both/either circumstance? For me, I think that all the songs from #Faster ep would be great live- not sure how you would do the guest vocals though!
I’m excited to play “Heaven” live. That song just gets me so pumped!!!!! All the songs will be done with my band. I try not to do anything in the studio that I can’t do live with my band. I’m also so stoked to do this song called “Rise From the Ashes” from my #STRONGER EP. It’s powerful!
11. For anyone who is reading this interview and is feeling discouraged or down, either because of something in their life currently or something spoken over them, what can you say to them?
I would tell them to look up, cause the God that made them is more on their side now than ever before. We tend to think that the things that people say or do to us actually affects our standing in the heavenly realms. That’s the biggest lie the enemy can convince us with. No one has the power to change your destiny unless you give it to them! That almost happened to me in this new season. I let a couple of bad reviews literally put a weight on my shoulders of depression and disbelief and the crazy thing is the reviews came from Christians!!! I was so hurt that it threw my week off. Then the Lord reminded me that His word is the final word and that no man determines my future. God will bless me in the midst of everyone else cursing me. That’s powerful! God is for you!!!!!
12. As you are just starting out in a new era in your band, is there anything in your life that keeps you grounded and places things in perspective as you travel and create music? Is there any song, or Bible verse, or even famous quote that reminds you about why you do what you do and why you chose music as a career and ministry?
My wife keeps me grounded for sure lol. She speaks the truth over me every time my faith waivers or I feel down. My life verse is Phil 1:6- “Be confident in the work I have started in you for I will complete it…” Man that just gives me all the assurance in the world that my life is not going to fly or fall because of my inabilities but because of God’s power and grace.
13. What do you do in your downtime- any music that is on your iTunes playlist currently? Any TV shows you are currently binge-watching?
On my downtime I hit the gym a lot. I love to work on other artists projects. Right now, I’m producing my wife’s comedy rap record that’s coming out under Atlantic Records this year. I’m also producing a girl named Paige Bryan’s record. I LOVE to watch every movie that comes out and I do mean every movie. I have too many favorite shows to list…Parenthood, Greys Anatomy, Scandal, Suits, Friends and the list goes on!!
14. Is there anything else that you would like to add that hasn’t been covered in this interview yet? Any parting words, and encouragements that will impact the readers of this interview? How can fans stay connected with you via social media?
I truly love every one of you and appreciate any and all support. Nothing goes unnoticed. Thank you for even wanting to interview me. I’m humbled by that. Love you guys and please check us out on Facebook, twitter and instagram @group1crew