Monday, June 7, 2010

Michael Grubbs of Wakey!Wakey! Interview

Photo by Kimberly Klaer

Wakey!Wakey! is one of my favorite bands right now and is fronted by my favorite One Tree Hill character...Michael Grubbs. His powerful voice is filled with both raw rock and classical elements, which is like no other musician I have ever heard of. When you aren't getting blown away by his voice, he hits you with some amazing piano solos that have a great classical feel to them.
Mike took some time before his show in ATL this past Saturday to sit down with me and Amanda. We discuss his musical background, the new album and shares some laughs at the expense of major record labels....

John Mouser: What is the inspiration behind the new album “Almost Everything I Wish I’d Said The Last Time I Saw You?

Michael Grubbs: It is just a year of my life. I just went through a lot that year and I made an attempt to write it all down as a way to process it.

John Mouser: I have read before that choosing your favorite song off one of your albums is much like picking your favorite child. What if you were able to choose the child you are most impressed by?

Michael Grubbs: (Laughs)The song that I most enjoy playing right now is "Got it all Wrong". It has been a really fun song to tour on, because we have never placed that song anywhere. It has never been involved with a television show, commercial or anything. Every single audience that we play to sings along and knows every single word. It’s awesome. It is very inspiring to me and very touching every time I play it onstage. I feel very moved that people sing along with that and feel that experience. I would have to say that it is my favorite one to play right now, but as far as favorite one to listen to off the album that changes every second. One day I will be like "Oh, I am really into 'Feral Love' today" and the next day I will love 'Almost Everything'.

John Mouser: How long have you been playing music?

Michael Grubbs: I have been playing since I was five years old, because I was raised in a very musical family. Most families had like a game room, but we had a music room with a piano and a bunch of instruments where we spent a bunch of our time playing.

John Mouser: So were your parents musicians?

Michael Grubbs: Yeah, my father was a singer. He had a day job obviously, but he was a singer. My family was very involved with the Church where they would lead worship services, so that's how I was thrust into things. My mother was also a middle-school choir teacher. I also have a sister who is a very talented singer and does her own music currently as well. We would get up every morning before breakfast and sight read a hymn and it was just kind of the way that we would start each day. It was always extremely musical at our house which was really cool.

John Mouser: You have a unique sound, filled with classical and pop elements. How did that develop?

Michael Grubbs: We didn't really have much music in the house that was pop music, growing up. We listened primarily to classical and religious music, and some oldies. So I guess that is why I am kind of obsessed with it now. Just like if you don't let a kid watch T.V. and then when they get old, all they do is watch TV (laughs). I guess classical music was such a part of my musical upbringing, I even played the French horn when I was in High School. I loved playing classical music on the piano, and one day I found this Billy Joel songbook at the Library. When I was twelve years old I decided that i wasn't going to play piano anymore and so i quit for a couple of years because it was all that we did. So I this songbook and I said to myself "oh, I guess i will try to play a couple of these songs and see how this works." So I started playing through the Billy Joel songbook, then i got the Elton John songbook and I became obsessed with their early works. I was really impressed so that really inspired me. I guess that is how we come around to where I am now, where there is a classical influence but also I really like pops songs. I really like a well structured song, so i guess that all went into a washing machine and became Wakey!Wakey!

John Mouser: Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians in regards to connecting with fans, maintaining a fan base and touring?

Michael Grubbs: Yeah, I think that the one thing is that you should make sure to touch your instrument every single day. Like the first thing you do after a long day, you should walk over to your piano, or your guitar, or your violin or cello and just touch it. It is the thing that will get you in the process of just maintaining your priorities. The first thing is that you are a musician, and then everything else happens. Or you are an artist or you are a painter or whatever your art form is. After that you should get a job that is the most flexible job you can, where you can make the most money. For me that job was bartending, so that you can support what you want to do and save as much money as you can. To get to here, there is a long process where you don't get paid and a long period of time. You are also working too hard to get a day job. Then just don't give up, keep going. If you want to maintain your fan base, then have a twitter account. Have a Myspace account. The other thing is, don't try to do everything yourself. If you can get a manager, that’s great. In the meantime you have friends and you can talk to them and be like can you help me out with this? And they probably will because working with musicians is cool, and its fun and you travel, and you hang out in clubs and you talk to really pretty girls. Don't try to do everything yourself, because it is a lot to take on. Never, ever expect that a major label is going to come down and swoop you up and save you. Just plan to do all the work yourself. If something happens, then that is fantastic. If it doesn't, then you are ready and prepared to do it the right way.

John Mouser:You mentioned Twitter and Myspace, how important is social networking to working musicians?

Michael Grubbs: I think that it is of upmost importance right now. Everything has changed, everything is changing. When we go on tour we get in the van, we turn on the air conditioner and we plug in the GPS(laughs). I can't imagine touring back in the day like Tom Petty, where the directions to the venue are like "When you pass the third bush on the right..." We have all these things working for us like Twitter, Myspace, Facebook (and probably what comes out next week and replaces those next week) are all very vital ways to communicate with people and show them who you are. I think that I and my band mates are the most fun people to hang out with in the world and we have a blast each time that we go out, so why not show people that? Why not hang out with them online? Like do live-streaming shows where we are just talking, hanging out, playing piano and doing little solo things. Be as accessible as possible, because why not? The people that listen to and enjoy our music are the people that allow me to live this crazy awesome life right now, so talk to those people and stay in touch with them.

John Mouser: You have been on a hit show, your album is climbing the ITunes charts and you are now getting some radio play. You seem like a down-to-earth kind of guy, so how is it that you stay centered?

Michael Grubbs: I think that it is very important that you assume that it is going to stop tomorrow (laughs). The other thing is that I am never in the mindset that "I am finally getting what I deserve". I am in the mindset of "Wow, how lucky am I to be here right now?" That and my friends that I am extremely close to (some of them I have known for over fifteen years), and we all try to talk as much as possible. They call me "One Tree Mike" and "Chad Michael Grubbs"(laughs), so they make fun of me and keep me centered. It’s fantastic.

John Mouser: When you were on One Tree Hill was it weird going from shooting the show one day and then touring with Wakey!Wakey! the next?

Michael Grubbs: Yeah, it is very weird. Touring is a very DIY (do it yourself) kind of thing. You figure it out as you go. When we roll into town, we don't exactly know where we are going to sleep that night. If our friends show up, and people that we know and they are like, "Hey want to come crash on our couch?" and we are like "Sure! Why not." We will go and spend the night; otherwise we will go out and get a hotel. We don't stay in a four star hotel executive suite room, and that's where we stay when we are shooting One Tree Hill. We travel in a fifteen passenger van with a big trailer on the back of it. When its One Tree Hill I fly first class, and people are like "Mr. Grubbs, can we get you a drink today?" I am like "Oh certainly!" Here on tour I'm like "do you think I am going to shower today? I'm not really sure?" They are two very different worlds. One thing that I think is important to remember, I was a musician ten years before I ever acted. The strange thing to me is the first-class stuff. The stuff that I am totally comfortable with is just sweating in a green room like this. This is my jam; I am totally comfortable with this. I can get used to first-class, but this is what I'm used to.

John Mouser: How has your role on One Tree Hill and your songs being played weekly affected the band?

Michael Grubbs: It is just astounding. One Tree Hill fans are the best fans in the world. If a song is played on the show and they like it, they will go find it. They will research and they will do whatever it takes to find that song. They will get it, they will play it and they will love it. It is so awesome; they are so supportive that I cannot believe. Here we are in Atlanta and the last time that we played here I played to like twelve people. Tonight there are hundreds of tickets sold at pre-sale. It’s the best thing that could possibly happen, exposure wise.

John Mouser: If it is a perfect day and you are in your car and you have the windows down, what are you listening to?

Michael Grubbs: Well it depends on what I picked up that morning and what mood I am in. I am an obsessive music listener and I love finding new bands that I am really, really into. Today, it would be Beach House and the album would be "Teen Dream". It is so gorgeous. It slipped by me at first, but my friend who is also a the manger for one of my all-time favorite bands Grizzly Bear came to me and said that I had to listen to it three or four listens in a row and just let it wash over me. I did that and let me tell you what man, it is awesome. A week ago it was Fever Ray, before that it was the Drums I got really into them. Before that it was the latest Hot Chip album. The most listened to song for me right now is the first some off of the LCD Sound system album, “Dance Yourself Clean." It's so good.

John Mouser: What is next for Wakey!Wakey!, after touring?

Michael Grubbs: Yeah we have been touring for a long time. We have August open right now. We will probably be in the studio recording some new stuff. More videos, more music and more playing to new great crowds. Just more of this awesome thing we are doing. Hopefully we can go tour in Europe? I have been one time to Europe, so traveling through Europe has always been a dream of mine. Our bass player is German, so she is dying to go to Germany, because she wants to make fun of us in German in front of other people (laughs). Which I am totally down with, because I enjoy being made fun of quite a bit.

John Mouser: Have you gotten any bites from major record labels?

Michael Grubbs: Yeah (laughs). The four major labels in the U.S. have called us in the last two weeks. That was just really funny to us, because we played our music for all of them like a year ago. They were like "this really isn't our thing" and now they see it on Sound Scan charting well and they are really excited about it. I mean I wish they would just be a little more forthcoming, because it is a little too obvious. I wrote that "the letter to a major record executive" on my blog as a joke, and it got re-posted more than anything I have ever posted (Laughs).

John Mouser: Would you be down with going with a major record label in the future? Or do you see yourself staying indie?

Michael Grubbs: It’s a really complicated thing, it really is. I have railed on major labels for a long time; a lot of them are really just dinosaurs. They have a really good place cataloging long-time successful artists. Like Madonna on an indie label just doesn't make sense. Bono on an indie label just doesn't make sense. Wakey!Wakey! is kind of a tough thing. I don't know if its indie or if it is major. I don't know what the market is for it. I got into music because think it is something that like really connects to people. I know that this sounds like the most pretentious thing in the world, but it can almost me healing when you have an album. I remember going through a really bad breakup and hearing the song "Get Better" and it literally healed me. I think music is really popular that way and I am not in the business of music to play to a small pretentious crowd. I am in the business of music to just have as many people as possible hear the songs, because that is what they are for. So if we decide to go with a major label probably a lot of people will laugh at me and say "Look at these guys!" There would probably be awkward meetings with executives where they are like "Didn't you say that we suck?" and I will be like "yeah, you do." Right now I want to do what's best for the music. What I think is best right now is for me to stay indie for a little while. Which is totally cool with me. I love family records; I love Timber Street and Mark Schwann. I think that my manager Wes Verhoeve is a visionary. He is just fantastic. I just feel so lucky to be here. Also, no one tells be what to do, no one tells me what to wear, no one tells me to cut my hair. That all rhymed (laughs). That could be a really bad country song. Yeah, but I really like the whole Indie thing and hopefully we will stay with it for a little while.


  1. awesome interview man this guys sounds real legit and a pretty grounded person. like just someone you could just call up and chill with whenever. Im lookin forward to more interviews and new artists. I love hearing new stuff and really need to start expanding. Grooveshark is your friend.

  2. woop woop! awesome article! and nice pic ;)