Imagine this scenario: A guy walks into his usual hangout one night and notices a cute girl he’s never seen there before. What better way to get her attention than by performing one of his swoon-inducing piano ballads?
That’s exactly what frontman Michael Grubbs of Wakey!Wakey! did when he walked into Bar 4 in Brooklyn, New York, and saw a girl who grabbed his attention. He asked his friend who was running the open mic night to put him on the list. After impressing the girl with his song, he found out she was a writer for the CW TV show, One Tree Hill. The writer then recommended Grubbs to One Tree Hill creator Mark Schwahn.
Schwahn became so impressed with Grubbs that not only did he use Wakey!Wakey!’s song “War Sweater” during the season six finale, but he also wrote the loosely-based reoccurring character “Grubbs” for season seven. Since then, season seven’s last episode aired in May and Wakey!Wakey! released their latest album Almost Everything I Wish I’d Said The Last Time I Saw You… in February.
Grubbs sat down with Red River Noise before his show at Mohawk to discuss how One Tree Hill helped his music career and also shared the unexpected music genre Grubbs has a sweet spot for.
Most bands, they dream of that moment of getting discovered. A lot of bands like to play SXSW because they think, “Oh, if I play to these important people, one person is gonna notice me and pick me up.” So you kinda like happened to stumble into a bar one night and unintentionally played for a One Tree Hill writer.
Michael: Yeah. I think that’s the testament to just always play your best because you never know who’s watching. There were so many times that I would play shows and it would be like maybe a noisier bar than I’m used to or whatever. Because if I’m playing solo shows, it’s very quiet music. So if anyone is talking, it can be really distracting. Sometimes I get a little distracted or whatever. I felt like I’d be off my game a little bit, but then I would realized there’s someone in the back row who really really loved the music and really focused in, and I just sing to that person. You never know what’s gonna happen.
So that gave you an acting job with One Tree Hill, which I’m sure you’ve talked plenty about.
Michael: Uh huh.
But I read that you kinda play yourself. Like you were a bartender and you are a musician. You’ve been doing music for 10 years and you were raised by it from your mom.
Michael: Yeah, family musicians.
After all that happening, being a musician for 10 years and being on One Tree Hill, what was that one moment you realized, “Oh my god, people are getting it?” Getting the music.
Michael: I think it would probably be the beginning of this tour was the first time that I really saw the full-on reaction to the album and to the music. Actually no, it would be at The Bowery Ballroom show, which actually was the kick-off of this tour, but it was in New York. I remember going out to play and it was just a completely different thing. Suddenly it was just a completely different audience and it was no longer like our friends. I had no idea who these people were and they were screaming and excited and they knew every word to every song and they sang everything back at us. It was just something we were just so flattered and felt so appreciated in a way that we never had before. It was just very very much life changing. It’s funny because I talked to the rest of the band about it and we always say that’s the show. That Bowery Ballroom show we’re gonna remember forever. Like that’s when it went down.
How long has the band been together?
|Wakey!Wakey! at Mohawk|
Michael: I guess everyone that’s in the current band plays on the album. Anne Lieberwirth, our bass player, was the first member to join the band and she’s been with us since the start. Tanya Buziak, our backing vocalist. She actually used to run the open mic at that place Bar 4 that I went to and I would sing the song “War Sweater.” She really liked it so she would always ask to sing with me when I sang it. Our voices just worked really well together, so she started doing that. Then we started playing bigger shows, I was like “Hey do you want to come sing this song with me?” So she would come out to sing that song and then she started singing another song and then she just kinda never stopped. Then next thing you know she was part of the band. We were actually adding instruments for her to play to the music. Patrick Doane, our violinist. We had a huge open call to find a violinist. We were playing with this really fantastic violinist named Gene Back who is also a writer. He really wanted to write and pursue his own projects. He’s doing great right now. He’s a fantastic guy, but he wanted to do it, play his own music. So we had to get a replacement violinist. We had this huge call and Patrick walked in. Just from the first second, we’re all like “This is the guy” and he totally is. He’s like the best violinist ever. And then our drummer situation, we kinda play with a different handful of drummers. We just have a bunch of really talented guys. They’re all awesome and we love them all. It’s more flexible because they’re all really busy people. This tour I’m doing with a violinist named Caitlin Moe. Austin was actually our first show ever together and she’s just amazing. I met her through a friend and Patrick couldn’t do this tour so she came out.
So with writing music, how much input do you allow them to have?
Michael: It’s always like a case-by-case thing. This album I wrote more pretty much entirely by myself, but now as we tour together and travel together and spend time on the bus together and share music all the time and become more and more of a family, the writing becomes much more collaborative. So I’m excited to see where it goes in the next album.
|Photos taken at Mohawk on July 9, 2010|
You mentioned The Bowery Ballroom show, the crowd seemed different, things like that. What else would you say has changed since the popularity of the TV show?
Michael: It definitely exposes us to a wide audience and to an audience that’s very much music lovers which is really cool. People that watch One Tree Hill watch for the storyline and watch to see just what music is going to be on there. Everyone that I’ve ever talked to is a fan of the show is always really excited about the music on there so it’s just given us exposure to this great group of fans. So that’s been the main thing. Yeah but it’s been mostly about the awesome exposure and also I’ve made a lot of great friends there. The way that production runs is very inspiring because it’s very professional, very well put together. They kill it every time, so it’s cool.
And why the name Wakey!Wakey!?
Michael: The first song cycle that I wrote was the one with “War Sweater” and there was a bunch of songs that actually I don’t really don’t play as much anymore, but I really wanted to write political songs. I was never really a good political songwriter. I could never do it. I probably could write love songs really well but I couldn’t write political songs. I don’t know why. Just my brain doesn’t work that way. So I decided to try to figure out why and I thought perhaps I could write as I though I were writing love song to the government or to the whatever political people I’m speaking to. So I ended up kinda writing a break up album to the government and that was the set of songs but it was disguised as just a regular break up album. You’d never know it was about the government unless you listen closely and then certain lyrics wouldn’t make sense anymore. You’d think oh, and then things would click and then it would open up. So Wakey!Wakey! the name was inspired to be like, “Wake up. Figure out what this is about.” Like it was supposed to be more of a key to the whole esoteric opening of that. Now, of course, the last album because I’ve written just entirely personal, very separate from politics because perhaps that political breakup stuck but the name had been too widely recognized so I had to just stick with it.
Yeah. It’s a very distinctive name. So I saw photos of one of your SXSW sets at Mercury Lounge. You’re wearing an Iron Maiden shirt. Obviously that would mean that you don’t only listen to your genre of music; you listen to all kinds of stuff. Is there anything else people be surprised you listen to?
Michael: Actually it’s really funny. I have a huge sweet spot for hip hop. Like I really enjoy hip hop music. I really enjoy dance music. People might be surprised to find out that the last few albums I bought…. the most recent one was Sleigh Bells but then before that it was Drake and then the new Eminem and the Kayne West single. The music that I enjoy is so widespread like from old metal to new hip hop to old hip hop, you know Notorious B.I.G., like all those greats, stuff like that. Also I just really love… I really love just beautiful indie rock music, like the Beach House or The National or Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors. I’m pretty all over the place with it.
Do you ever see any of the hip hop ever inspire you in the studio even though it never makes it on the album or find yourself heading that way?
Michael: Yeah. I think the next album will definitely not be a hip hop album by any means. We’ll see a lot more that influence. I’m excited to see that come through it, especially the dance music. We’ve been listening to a lot of Fever Ray and more like the new LCD Soundsystem. I just love all that stuff so much. So I think the next album is gonna be kinda crazy but I’m excited to do it.
Do you have any tentative plans for the next album? Or is it still up in the air?
Michael: We got a long ways to go on this one still. We haven’t even released it in Europe yet so I think we’re releasing in Europe in October now. Early September, October. After that we got a lot of touring coming up. So after that we’ll see what happens
That’s a long time to get different stuff and ideas going.
Michael: Definitely. I have to have a couple of minutes to process this whole crazy ride that I’m on before I start to make the next thing and I also have to have a second off. There’s not very much downtime in my life right now which is a good thing. It gets a little hectic, but it’s great.