It was just over five years ago that Chris Bandi sauntered into a crowded Chicago bar, ready to kick off his country music career as a single man.
"It couldn't have been more than a month after we started playing shows," Bandi, 30, tells PEOPLE with a laugh. "In my head, I was like, 'this is going to be incredible.' You know, I'm a young, single guy playing music at all of these bars all over the country. I'm going to have the time of my life."
And then a woman named Aimee walked in. "It was very serendipitous and very crazy," says Bandi of meeting the woman who'd soon become his girlfriend. (They recently celebrated five years together.) "It really made me realize how small the world really is."
Five years later though, the only thing still leaning heavily on Bandi's heart is in that the love of his new life never got to meet one of the men he loved the most: his grandfather.
"He passed away six months prior to me meeting Aimee," Bandi says. "He was a Marine who served in the Korean War, and let me tell you, he was a man of many stories. He was a huge golfer and a huge country music fan. He taught me how to bet on racehorses. We had an amazing relationship and he taught me a lot about life."
The cruel timing between losing his grandfather and meeting his longtime girlfriend went on to serve as the lyrical backbone of one of Bandi's most endearing songs "Would Have Loved Her," a sentimental beauty of a song that pays tribute to the pings of pain that come with the beauty of destiny.
"His thing was always, 'You can't write a good country song without having your heart broke,'" Bandi says. "So, I think he broke my heart, and then sent Aimee my way."
It's this mix between the beautiful and the awful that had long been an idea that Bandi would bring into many a writing room, but in 2019, Bandi finally found the song's destiny when he teamed up with fellow songwriter Zach Kale.
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"It was the last writing session before Christmas break, and I remember saying, 'Zach, I've got this idea but if we decide to write it, we have to kind of dig deep because it's going to be a deep song," says Bandi, who has already made impressive waves within country music with his hit song "Man Enough Now. "I got the idea because I was thinking about my grandpa, but then Zach started telling me how his father actually passed away before he met his wife. And from there, we both knew that was the song that we needed to write that day."
In 2020, Bandi dropped a 30-second teaser on TikTok of "Would Have Loved Her," and the touching song began to take flight.
"I realized that this was going to be bigger than I think anyone really thought it was going to be," says Bandi, who also included "Would Have Loved Her" on his debut self-titled EP back in 2020. "As a songwriter, all we really want to do is spark emotion and have people relate to what we write. Just seeing people relating and sharing their stories about their loved ones that they've lost, who never got to meet their significant other…it just makes me feel complete."
"It's one of those very, very unfortunate facts of life that everyone at some point is going to have to go through the loss of a loved one," he adds.
And over Father's Day weekend, it was this special song with the bittersweet reminder that Bandi played on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry for the very first time.
"I actually invited my grandma down to see it," Bandi says. "My grandpa always promised that he'd take her to the Opry and, he didn't get to, so I'm very glad that I get to bring my grandma and play the song that I wrote about her husband."