Artists | Wakey Wakey
“There was a point in my childhood when I thought I was going to be a preacher,” says Michael Grubbs, the frontman-songwriter behind Brooklyn’s Wakey Wakey. “I was going to have a congregation, talk to them about life, about how to get by. I guess this is kind of my pulpit now.”
Ever since his single “War Sweater” jettisoned him into stardom five years ago (thanks to a game-changing plug on One Tree Hill), the indie-pop singer has built a following that’s as passionate as his compositions. His fans have bought 45,000 copies of his self-released debut, the exquisitely tortured Almost Everything I Wish I’d Said the Last Time I Saw You. They’ve permanently inked his lyrics on their bodies (you can find them on display at the “W!W! Tattoos!!!” Pinterest board). And in the ultimate gesture of support, they crowd-funded his self-released follow-up album, the fittingly titled Salvation—and even exceeded the goal by 141 percent.
“My whole childhood was like boot camp for music,” he says, fondly. “When we were growing up, I think my mom wanted me and my sister to be The Carpenters.”
A fan of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, Grubbs majored in theater during college, but upon graduating, high-tailed it to Manhattan to chase his dream of being a serious actor..” He soon quit to pursue a more storied New York occupation: struggling-artist bartender. After 10 years of playing bars and open mics—notably, as a regular during the anti-folk scene at the East Village’s Sidewalk Café—he simply gave up. Around that time, he’d penned songs such as the sweeping “War Sweater,” mostly out of necessity. “I wrote stuff that was so syncopated, so aggressive, because half the time you played in bars, people wouldn’t shut up,” he says, laughing. In May 2009, the creator of One Tree Hill discovered Wakey Wakey through a friend. He placed “War Sweater” on a season 6 episode of the show and cast Grubbs in a small role as a bartender. “Literally a day after ‘War Sweater’ debuted on One Tree Hill, it was Number 13 on the iTunes chart,” marvels Grubbs. “Being an artist feels like you’re in a marathon. You see what you think is the end, but you realize it’s the starting line. You run, and you run, and you run. I was so beaten down. But…here I am!”
What he has now is vantage. On his upcoming third album, Wakey Wakey combines experience and lessons learned through the filter of the emotionally-political landscape of being an independent artist, pushing the bounds on his music to push the bounds on this exploration of self.