Behind The Music: Mikey Wax

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusmailby feather
Photo by Cameron Rad

Photo by Cameron Rad


In my words: If there is one piece of advice I can pass along to Artists, it’s to stay in touch with Industry folks you meet. Don’t hound them but politely let them know about important happenings, accolades, member changes, or anything else of note happening in your career.

Timing is everything and know that when you reach out to an Industry Professional, the timing might not be right at the moment or they may not be in a position where they can help you but that doesn’t mean that when it is, they won’t. I can assure you, if you don’t stay in touch, nothing will happen. Be respectful of their time, don’t just contact them when you want something, but instead send short periodic updates as to what’s going on in your career.

My first contact with Pop Singer/Songwriter Mikey Wax of NYC was when he wrote to me back in 2009 asking for some advice on crossing the border into Canada. At the time, I was managing a band that had successfully crossed the border several times. Mikey somehow came across me on the internet and dropped me a line. We’d never met yet Mikey had always dropped me a note at least once a year telling me about a new album, single, tour news, music placement, etc. He had never inundated me with FB posts or invites, Kickstarter donation requests, or emails, and I appreciated that. I was able to give him some advice on the border back in 2009 and it has taken five years for Mikey to be come to Seattle and for me to be in a position where I can help him. Five years and we will finally meet tonight, October 1st, when he tours through Seattle with Parachute and Matt Wertz with an All-Ages show at El Corazón.

Photo by Justin Steele

Photo by Justin Steele

GC: Mikey, I had to actually look back though my emails to find our first point of contact in 2009. You were trying to cross the border and got turned around and asked me for some pointers.
MW: Yes, I was just getting started and was booked to play my first Montreal show and had sold around 50-60 tickets but the booker wouldn’t help us with the paperwork or anything as to getting us over there so he said we should just lie. Well, we got detained and then eventually turned around and sent back.

GC: You and a ton of other bands on any given day or time. Back in the day, I made a call to both sides of the border and without giving my name or my bands, told them I was bringing an act over and wanted to follow protocol that would give us the best chance of a successful crossing, and asked what I needed to do or have ready to do that. They had told me to never lie or, as many of you know who are reading this, you’ll be blacklisted for several years or more. I was told to have paperwork in order which included the US Customs form #CBP4455, where you list an inventory of all the gear you’re taking over so when you return to cross, they can see you didn’t buy or sell anything.
MW: Funny, I finally did play my first Montreal show this summer and at the border they asked us if anyone had ever been denied access and I was tempted to lie because I didn’t want to get turned around or questioned but I told them I had been turned around a couple of summers ago and I think not lying is the best policy for they obviously can see all that stuff online by checking your name, band name, and venue.

GC: I recommend that Artists stay in touch with Industry Professionals they meet letting them know of noteworthy happenings but not hounding them. You did just that.
MW: I think that’s the way to go about it. You don’t want to annoy, just treat people the way you want to be treated. I just like to check in once in awhile with people I’ve started up communication with regarding career highlights. I think it’s the same as you would want from someone even if you weren’t in the Music Business.

GC: Sometimes we only hear from someone when they want something from us. I might not be in a position to help them today but at some point I might be able to hook them up with someone, get them a gig, write an article, etc. I can guarantee if they don’t stay in touch, nothing will happen.
MW: You should want to stay in contact with someone because you genuinely care about what you’re doing and other people in the business.

GC: I’ve followed you for five years now and feel you really know your niche because you’ve been very consistent from album to album as far as your sound. I feel a lot of Artists keep switching their sound if things don’t take off or success doesn’t happen as fast as they’d like instead of staying the course and remaining true to their original sound and who they are. One of the things I admire about you is that I think you know who you are and you’ve stayed consistent.
MW: That’s a huge compliment, thank you because sometimes in my own head I battle with that. I think for the most part lyrically and emotionally I stay pretty consistent because you’re singing from the same place, but the production around it can vary. I think this album is definitely more Pop than anything I’ve ever done before. I think that’s okay because it’s what I wanted to do and it still incorporates a lot of the stuff I’ve done previously.

GC: I agree, I noticed this album was more Poppy, but not so far removed from what you were doing. It has that Pop relevant Radio sound of today’s Top Artists.
MW: Yeah, exactly. You still gotta keep in mind what’s going on but you don’t want to disown everything you’ve previously done. I think it’s about finding a balance. It’s like the old saying, “everything in moderation”. I think it even goes that way stylistically too.

Photo by Cameron Rad

Photo by Cameron Rad


GC: I feel some Artists who continually change their sound confuse their fans and sometimes lose some of them. It also confuses the Industry as to who is this Artist, how do we classify them, who do we pair them up with, and what’s going on internally in their camp that is causing the constant change?

MW: I think you need to define your territory but you can still experiment with pushing it further as long as it maintains the initial groundwork of who you were as an Artist. I think that’s important. Like you were saying, you never want to alienate your fan base if you have had some sort of success going but instead, use it to your advantage.

GC: I notice you write a lot of songs about love, relationships, both found and lost. So are you unlucky in love or are you a serial dater for material?
MW: (Laughs) A lot of the songs previously were written when I was in a five year relationship that ended. I was in my early 20’s and now I’m actually in a really great and stable relationship. I’m not a serial dater. I’m what you call a hopeless romantic but some of it is made up in my head or based on other people. It’s not always personal but it’s always very cinematic. I always like to think that life is like a movie. I remember in that first long relationship, a lot of these songs come from that and when it ended, you wonder if you’ll ever meet anyone like that again? Just stuff you and other people go through.

GC: Do you ever hang out in coffee shops and eavesdrop on conversations?
MW: It’s one of my favorite things to do. I like writing about things that spark an idea that you’ve emotionally been through yourself, overheard, or a friend is going through, but you don’t necessarily have to have gone through all of it yourself. I think it all stems from the same place that’s heartfelt. You feel it when you’re singing it even if you’re not going through it right now because we’ve all been there at some point in our lives.

GC: I saw good news that you are American Airlines’ Featured Artist of The Month for October.
MW: Yes, I found out about a month ago and I’m really excited.

GC: So you’ll be flying American just so you can hear yourself at 30,000 feet?
MW: Yeah, I’m wondering when the free flights are coming. (laughing) I think people who know my music might think it’s cool and it definitely gets me in front of a lot of new potential fans.

Photo by Justin Steele

Photo by Justin Steele

GC: I’ve noticed lately that collaborations seem to be the “in” thing. I know a lot of Seattle Artists who admire each other’s work have come together to make some amazing music. Are you finding that happening in NYC as well?
MW: It’s interesting, I think it seems to be going on everywhere. This album is the first time I’ve actually co-written with anyone. My previous albums were just me musically and lyrically and this album was recorded in Nashville and I was open to the idea of co-writing with the producers I was working with and even the people in the studio. It’s all about what’s going to make the song best. The song is destined to be a certain way, but what is it going to take to get it there? Sometimes you have certain ideas and some initial content and then someone else throws out a line or a chord and you’re like, “whoa”, it takes it to a whole new level that you never imagined. I’m all for the co-writing thing now because you realize how much different creative minds bring to the table.

GC: If you work in the Industry long enough, you recognize the potential in an Artist but it can take some time to coax it out of them. I’ve been known to say, “If they only knew their potential, they’d be dangerous.” You know what’s inside of them but they haven’t yet discovered it or learned to unleash it.
MW: I see that too and even battle to allow myself to open up freely like that. It’s very challenging. It’s interesting when you can see it in someone but you just can’t do it yet. It’s like knowing a baby is going to walk and talk, you know they’re going to do it but they’re just not doing it yet.

GC: You’ve got a huge fan base. Many Artists struggle with developing theirs. They’ve got great music and a killer show but they (A) Don’t know how to build it, or (B) Don’t consistently work at connecting with fans. You have to keep filling the till with new fans. You can never rest for there are new fans to woo everyday. So what would you attribute your fan base numbers to?
MW: Honestly I think it’s my Manager who is also my brother. He’s very persistent that I stay connected to my fans. If I didn’t have him, I’d completely be the Artist that didn’t do that. I think it’s his business and managerial style and he’s good about keeping in mind that you have to keep at it to grow the fans and he checks on it daily, sometimes hourly to see if I’m Tweeting, posting, and getting back to the fans. You need to be talking to people or they’ll forget about you. I owe him the credit for the fan base continuing to grow over the past four years.

GC: Would you attribute the house shows as a part of the growth as it’s a very personal experience?
MW: The house tours are all me. They started when I got featured on the Home page of YouTube and overnight I got a half million hits and people started wanting shows but I didn’t have a booking agent at the time. For me, whether I’m playing for 15-20 people or 500, I just like the idea of connecting with people and playing is where I’m in my happy space so I was like, I’ll come out to your living room and play, and people kept showing up. Being on the road and performing is where I’m most content.

GC: What are some of things on the horizon for you?
MW: Right now, I’m rehearsing and prepping for the Brendan James tour and the Parachute/Matt Wertz tour and it’s really where my head is at. In October, I’ll be doing some house concerts and such on the way home from tour and then there are some tours I’m up for in November. We’ll see if I get them. So basically, we’re playing two to three months out plus the Label is continuing to push the single to HOT AC Radio so hopefully it continues to do well. We’ll see.

GC: Speaking of the single, You Lift Me Up, I love it!
MW: Thanks, I appreciate that.

GC: When I heard it for the first time, I wrote down my first impression: the words “Super Bowl”. That song is so big. It sounds like a National Ad I’ll be hearing on my TV constantly.
MW: You’ll definitely make my Manager and Label happy by saying that. The World Cup was our first thought but it came out a little late but we’re definitely thinking sports and teenage anthemic as ideas we have in mind.

GC: It’s what I hear.
MW: Glad you do, for it’s what we’re going for.

GC: I also like the song “Take Me Home”. I hear that for an Airline (hello American Airlines are you listening?), or something that takes you somewhere or takes you back to a memory that is good. I sold musical jingles for nine years for some boutique Jingle Studios and also one for one of the largest Jingle house in the world, TM Century in Dallas, so when I hear a song, I can’t help my mind goes to “who can I sell that to?” I’m just saying, some National Company needs to own that. Just the chorus “Take Me Home” along with the instrumental.
MW: I could see that. I’ll take it up with someone. To me it’s a very special song and if I could get that kind of exposure, I’ll take it!

GC: I have to ask, is that a banjo I hear at the end of that song?
MW: Yes it is. (Seems surprised by the question)

GC: It’s really subtle, but I noticed a little strum at the end and I’m kind of a stickler for detail. In acting, at the end of our audition you’re supposed to do something a little quirky that sets you apart from everyone else so they remember you. It’s called a “bug”. For Carol Burnett, it was tugging on her ear. Your song’s bug is that banjo. Know that people like me, producers, ad agencies notice and appreciate stuff like that.
MW: We’ve always been like that. I used to go to Disney World and paid attention to every little detail so I incorporate those principals into my music. I wish the attention to detail was more common for you’re the first person who has ever brought up the question, what instrument is at the end of that song? I think a lot of people just hit next before they even get through the whole thing. As the Artist, that means a lot so thank you for noticing.

GC: I also really like the song, “Bottle of Jack”.
MW: I think it’s going to be the next Single. Going back to collaborations, I had this idea where I knew the hook line “Bottle of Jack”, but I didn’t know what was surrounding it. Working with the record producers Ed and Scott Cash, Scott and I kind of lyrically arrived at it together in the moment and I was like holy sh*t, I would’ve never seen it like that! It would’ve taken me years to figure that out.

GC: Are the Cash Brothers related to the famous Cash Family?
MW: You would think they are based on how musical they are but not related but they don’t let the name down. They were working with Artists Matt Wertz and Dave Barnes and I like how the music sounded. I especially liked the instrumentation and mixes. They’re big. They got their start in the Christian market. Now they’re doing a little of everything. For me, the sound was so big and I was like, these guys know what they’re doing. I teamed up with them and sent them just the basic tracks for one song and they built some stuff around it and it came back to me and I was like “wow”, this is unbelievable! And from there I asked them to do the whole record.

GC: Of all the songs on the album, the one I thought was a bit of a different feel to it was “Baby Don’t You Let Me Down”. It’s got a Country feel.
MW: Yeah, I wrote that before I ever knew I’d be working with the Cash Brothers but it was so perfect. I wanted to give a little nod that I was working and recording in Nashville and I think that song has life and I probably could’ve written it for someone else but I loved it and thought, I’m going to put it on my record even if it stands out like a sore thumb.

GC: I didn’t think it was out of place but it had enough of a Country feel, especially Cross-Over, that it blended and no one would say, why did he put that on this album?
MW: We still wanted to make it Pop but still give tribute to Country. I think the common thread is when you’re singing and it comes from the same place where you’re not trying to be someone else, then it stays true to yourself.

GC: I also felt “Walking On Air” had a little R&B feel.
MW: To me, it tied together “Bottle of Jack” with the rest of the album because “Bottle of Jack” was almost a departure and we went back and forth about “Walking On Air”, as to keep it or leave it. I think when we play it live, we’ll do it on keyboard but we were just having fun so I threw it on at the end of the album, to tie together some of the other stuff that happened throughout the record. It’s definitely different than anything else.

GC: What Artists do you listen to?
MW: Saw Fitz and The Tantrums live and they’re a big inspiration, John Mayer, Ed Sheeran, and Coldplay are the top 4 on my playlist.

GC: I read you require 8-9 hours of sleep daily. You’re very disciplined when most Artist are out partying it up.
MW: If I don’t sleep 8-9 hours, I’m like a total different person. I need sleep to get the most from my voice. If I don’t, I feel it right away, raspy and it requires a longer warm-up. I’m out there by myself with nothing to hide behind so I feel I have to be on. 8-9 hours of sleep for me is what I’ve found to be the magic number. I also work out 3-4 times a week but I take good care of my voice.

GC: What do you want Seattle to know about your show tonight?
MW: We’re going to give it our all and hopefully it’s a show to remember. We’re a duo and we’re going to rock out on the piano and Joe Stroup plays guitar and sings. If you like the album, we’ll be playing all the songs off of it and maybe a few older ones.

Photo by Cameron Rad

Photo by Cameron Rad


Mikey’s new self-titled album is out and his Single “You Lift Me Up”, was featured on iTunes ‘Ahead Of The Curve’, has over 3 million Spotify streams, and just entered the Billboard Top 100 Radio Airplay HOT AC Format.  Find more on Mikey at http://www.mikeywax.com

Watch for our post-show slideshow later this week.

About Robin Fairbanks

Robin Fairbanks has spent 30+ years in the music industry in many capacities. Working in the Seattle music scene since 2006 as a Manager/Booker, she's known for her ethics and artist development skills. Robin has guided the careers of many, but most notable as the former manager of Seattle's Fox and The Law for 3.5 years. Robin has spent the last 2 yrs consulting with Artists who seek her help as a music consultant and publicist with Setlist Music Solutions LLC. She also gives of her time as an advisor to Seattle Wave Radio, an Internet music station where she helped shape its sound as the ROCK Channel Music Director for 2+ yrs upon its launch in 2010 and where you'll find her music blog, "Bird On A Wire".