The Northwest Music Scene recently got to hang out and interview Michael “TeeWanz” Wansley on Friday… and what a time it was! The interview was scheduled for noon at the Clear Channel building, home of the most famous cubicle in the world, “The Schubicle”. When Elise Woodard found out Wanz would be in the house again, she asked if he’s be so kind as to stop by. What transpired was some really great radio for the next 15 minutes or so. We were lucky enough to have a seat on the big comfy couch in the KJR 950 studio as Elise talked Wanz into singing his uber-famous hook. The hook heard round the world, you know the one… “I’m gonna pop some tags, I got twenty dollars in my pocket” She didn’t have to try hard though, because it’s clear this man loves what he’s doing and is more than happy to share the ride with others. The last few months have been a thrill ride for this northwest music veteran as well as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. The journey has taken them to Saturday Night Live, The Ellen Degeneres Show, and all over the world …and it ain’t over just quite yet.
Our interview became an extension of the KJR segment so here goes:
NW: Let’s get this question out of the way first: how different is life now, has it all sank in?
When it’s happening it’s hard to put into perspective and sometimes it’s big, it’s so big. It’s like trying to take the Olympic [Mountains] and put them in a box. It’s hard to fathom. It’s hard to get your mind around.
The thing about music that makes it easy is that I can always refer to a song, a line, a feeling… and it helps. Watching him [Macklemore] do 10,000 hours. He starts the show with that every night and I’m backstage every night listening to that part of the song.
NW: Do you know who originated the 10,000 hours theory?
Yeah I know that part of the story. I know the story behind all the songs and the 10,000 theory, some of it is true.
You know when you get to be my age it’s like you start thinking about what you were doing in your twenties and how you did it. What you did in your thirties and how you did it, forties, what you did and how you did it. And then the math starts kicking in. I’d never heard of it before I heard that song. I just know that I’m blessed to be in the position that I’m in right now. That after playing all those gigs to nobody and staying up late at night writing all those songs, all those rejections, all those non-responses, all those people who said they didn’t get or like my music, that’s all part of… it’s the other side of the coin. Take the interview I just did and now this one and the one after this. It’s all a benefit of no matter how much it rains, you know the suns gonna shine… you just have to keep going.
NW: So at the age of 45 you gave up music, tell us a little more about that.
I was in a relationship, trying to be mister family guy because when you get to your forties there’s no such thing as an old rock star. There’s never been, since the 50’s. Andy Williams, Perry Como… those are middle age guys that had substantial hits. But the industry has changed and it’s not like that right now. I’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s always been part of the plan. I was gonna be famous, I was gonna be this and I was gonna be that. But when you get to be forty and it seems like that’s not gonna happen and all your peers have either made it or they’re doing something else like selling real estate, it makes you think. So I was in this unhealthy relationship, I did not know what unhealthy was, I didn’t know I was being poisoned but it was really taking away from who I really am and I had to walk away from that. Part of me getting sober was me walking away from that thing but I didn’t figure it out until I was like 6 or 7 years sober. Then came all the bullshit that came after that. Sometimes when you get sober life does not get better it gets worse and mine did. It got really bad in here[points to head] I had a sponsor that said never go into your own mind unattended. I finally figured out how to go into my mind unattended, I just got smart enough to take my shoes off so I don’t track my own shit out.
That’s what I do, I spend a lot of time in what is the most dangerous place in the world for me, the 4 inches between my ears and I’m fully aware of that.
At any given time I can tell myself anything and believe it and that is the good and the bad part about being human. When you’re like me and you’re an alcoholic, the trick is, the wisdom to know the difference. That’s the most important part of that prayer. The wisdom to know the difference, what the hell does that mean? We all know the difference between dark, light… sour, sweet but do you know the difference between yourself and your self? It’s hard, it’s a journey of discovery that’s different for everybody. But it’s something I had to do. Like I was saying in the first interview, in order to keep this stuff I gotta give it away.
Give it away in order to keep it.
So it’s like I’m out there telling all this stuff to kids it’s all program stuff… it’s stuff I learned in the rooms of a 12 step program but they don’t know that. I’ve been in recovery for thirteen and a half years. Somebody out there might need to hear that I’m in recovery.
NW: Speaking of kids real quick, who was your choir teacher when you were at Lakes?
NW: That’s my daughter’s choir teacher.
Really? Where is he?
NW: Spanaway Lake High School
Well I gotta find him. The guy that started actually believing that I had musical talent was Dr. Ben Keller who teaches at Lakes and I’m gonna go see him when I get back from SXSW. I went down to the fall concert and he says come back any time. So now that this has all got immensely huge, I’m going back.
I don’t think he’d even remember me but Crouse was a great teacher. Crouse was the one teacher that inspired me to teach myself instruments. I taught myself how to play piano, taught myself how to play guitar, taught myself how to play bass, and I already knew how to play drums. I taught myself how to do that. But Crouse is the guy that got me into chord patterns and stuff when I got to high school but he was only there two years. Then I go to college and have a great choir teacher that worked for like 3 years and then I get this woman and she and I don’t get along. This changed the course of my river, because I was gonna be a teacher. But I had this woman for a teacher, I did not like her and she did not like me and so I went from thinking about teaching to creating my own major in music.
NW: Did you ever in your wildest dreams think about this happening?
Absolutely! Well you know, you grow up watching the Grammys and you picture yourself there. They used to have this thing called Don Kirshner’s rock concert, so they’re showing all these acts of the day performing live on television. You watch American Bandstand every week and you watch Soul Train every week and yeah you imagine yourself there. I’ve always imagined myself there. I just watched the DVD of Coldplay and they’re playing in front of 130,000 people. Right? You think I don’t imagine that being me? If you think that I don’t, you’re gonna lose that money. That could happen but then again it might not.
NW: You’re preaching to the choir here, brother.
Yeah I know. I know who is in the room, I know what this is all about.
NW: Let’s go way back. What was the first show you ever went to?
My first real concert was the I Am tour of Earth, Wind & Fire. At the Seattle Center Coliseum. They descended from the ceiling in see-through tubes and then all of a sudden appeared on stage.
At this point Wanz turns to our friend Clyde Parrish and asks him “You remember that show?” [Clyde] “I want my attorney”… room erupts in laughter.
So yeah, that was my first concert, just the whole spectacle of it. Earth, Wind & Fire was my group. To this day it still is. I went to some function recently and they’re playing EWF over somebody else as a mashup and it’s like my friend’s amazed that I know the songs. And I’m like, are you kiddin’? I knew everything there was to know about EWF. So that was my very first concert and I got a taste of it and I’ve been going to shows ever since. I can’t remember where my first club show was though.
NW: What was the first music you ever bought?
The very first album that I ever purchased on my own that wasn’t a hand me down from my brother and sister was A Taste Of Honey. And I still have it.
NW: Do you remember where you bought that?
Nope, somewhere in Lakewood. That doesn’t exist anymore.
NW: Obviously the music industry is way different than it was back then, so many changes, like record stores closing, how do you feel about that sort of thing?
Ya know that lends itself to a bigger thing. Life, well people who don’t believe in evolution aren’t paying attention. Because everything changes. That old jazz standard [he sings] everything must change… it’s prophetic because it’s true. Since I live my life based on my own experiences, my experience has been that nothing stay the same. Be it music, be it relationships, be it anything. The attention to today lends you a new piece of knowledge and tomorrow if you wake up. Then you make tomorrow better than today was. But really people aren’t very conscious of it.
And since the 70’s when I was runnin’ and gunnin’ on my little bicycle with my AM radio tuned into KTAC singing, the world has changed, it has evolved. The 80’s were a big part of that when it became the “Me” generation. And people began becoming more selfish and yuppies were all the rage. The kids of those yuppies are the guys running the companies and they grew up only knowing certain things. They, unknowingly and unwittingly have destroyed the fabric of what America used to be. The one that I remember when I was a kid being a grandchild of the second world war. Look at the second world war and the heyday that was the 60’s and you look at America at that time and all the principles. If you take out some of the bad things of the day and just look at the people on the street and that’s what America was supposed to be. We got a glimpse of it for about a month after 9/11 when the country was galvanized and it meant something to be an American and everybody was helping everybody else. Nobody cared about where you came from, they only cared that you were here. They didn’t care where you were going, they only cared that you were here. Because you were here they were going to lend themselves to the cause and so on and so forth. That spirit disappears because money enters everything. Money has polluted everything. It killed the music business, it killed the movie business. almost everything. It’s the big evil. That obsession for money, that obsession that I’m not going to be “A” unless I have X amount of dollars. That’s what destroys more people than anything else.
The people that get emotionally moved by just walking in a meadow… those people have it right. Because it’s those simple things. the simple things that we forget. Life is like the program, it’s just not that easy. It’s not that easy because you’re going to have to make choices. It’s in those choices that you make and why you make them, that’s how life works. That’s the evolution. We’re living with the effects of choices that were made 25 years ago.
NW: Would you be doing this if you weren’t sober?
If I weren’t sober, I may be doing this but definitely not on this scale. I might be that guy on the corner with a guitar and a cup. I might just be slogging it out. Maybe slogging it out in some blues club somewhere. But it would definitely be different without question.
NW: Who’s your favorite band right now, who you listening to?
NW: I was hoping you’d say that. What’s the name of the new song and where can we find you?
Tell Me One More Time: www.cdbaby.com/wanz, or you can go through the website and you can read all about me and see what I’m doing at www.wanzmusic.com On Facebook and Twitter I’m TeeWanz or just google Wanz and you can find me, I’m not a secret, I’m out here dude.
NW: Final word goes to Wanz.
Do something good for yourself and then go do it for somebody else.