Wakey Wakey

Wakey Wakey is the project of singer/songwriter and pianist Michael Grubbs. It's a somewhat amorphous entity… one that has taken shape in a variety of forms, including providing music for the American television drama series One Tree Hill and an eventual role on the teen sudser.


That's what keeps things interesting for both the Brooklyn, New York-based Grubbs as an artist and for his dedicated legion of listeners. Currently, Wakey Wakey has signed to The End Records and will release the Homeless Poets EP in Fall 2015, followed by the full length, Overreactivist, in February 2016.


The Wakey Wakey origin story is one of passion and procrastination. When cross-pollinated, the results were pretty spectacular. Fans gravitate towards what Grubbs does as Wakey Wakey, because no one else occupies that space. It's all him and it's 100 percent real.


Grubbs, who is loquacious and candid in such a way that magnetically pulls people into his orbit, explained, "I was going to do one set of songs and it was going to be an art project with a ton of people on the Lower East Side. I was going to get 12 people that wrote lyrics, 12 awesome painters, 12 awesome composers, to do stuff under Wakey Wakey, like a political call to action. Like 'Wake the fuck up!'"


Grubbs planned to curate the entire project and "turn it into this thing." It was ambitious, to say the least. He booked the show at Rockwood Music Hall in Brooklyn, spread the world, told friends, and then… paused. "I procrastinated and procrastinated," he said with a laugh. "I was working my ass off and partying a lot, too. Two days before the show, I was like, 'Oh shit. I haven't done anything!' By that point, I had the name and I had better do something.'"


"Something" meant taking snippets and fashioning them into songs. In true hair-on-fire fashion, Grubbs bunkered down. "I locked myself in my room for two days and came out with eight songs completed," he said. "I was passionate about what I was doing but still, it was really quick. That made it a pure effort. I did the show and played those songs, with notes. It was almost like a poetry reading."


He survived and continued under the Wakey Wakey name. He did open mics at Sidewalk Cafe, Bar Four, and more in New York. One night, he tried to impress an attendee, who just so happened to be a One Tree Hill writer. She was engaged and not having any of it, but liked his music enough to get it featured on the show.


It was the big break moment. Or so Grubbs thought. "I had been playing music for eight or nine years without a break," he recalled. He didn't expect this missed connection, romantically speaking, to amount to a professional elevation. But it did.


One night, he was on a date and not at the open mic spot when said writer and creator of the series showed up looking for him.


Wakey Wakey music was used in the season finale of Season 6, when a main character exited. So it was a big deal. He made an album, had a role written for him on the show, performed songs, and launched a worldwide touring career that included dates with James Blunt.


"Then we made a pop album. It was a goose egg, but we went on tour and I [performed]it solo. Fans loved it," he recalls. "Fans like what I do, since not a lot of people do it. I thought it wasn't working. I thought I'd need to move forward or change careers."


He noted, "I called engineer/producer Chris Cubeta, who produced the first album in a cave. I wanted to do an art rock album. I was told they were going to knock down the Galuminunfoil studio at the end of the month. Everything successful that I had done... was done there. All the studio time left was already booked. I had no budget." Make that zero ducks in a row.


Grubbs continued, "Two days later, I got a text and we decided to make the album in the middle of night, early in the morning, working around everyone else before the wrecking ball came. It was, 'Fuck it. Let's do it.'"


They recorded in piecemeal fashion, with five minutes here, five minutes there, securing bro rates. But the project  grew too big to be confined to the space of an EP. They had unintentionally made an album… that needed to be mixed and mastered. He sought out assistance, and people were either cool and couldn't help or uncool and couldn't help.


Undeterred and fortunately, while working at Brooklyn’s Studio G (known for churning out great works by the likes of John Zorn, Ani DiFranco, and Frank Black to name a few), he had become tight with the crew. Cubeta eventually became a partner and Grubbs had a new studio home.


And that brings us to the here and the now. The Homeless Poets EP is a musical amuse bouche that gives you an idea of what you are getting with Michael Grubbs and Wakey Wakey. It's confessional without any coffeehouse pretense.


"Homeless Poets came from my general frustration with the music business," the artist explained. "This is my reality, what's happening with me. To be a musician is frustrating. If these negative things continue, there's not a bright future."


Spoken like a true starving artist that never loses touch with his hunger.

"Adam & Eve," which is epic, sweeping, and sprawling in its instrumentation, yet guided by his voice, was the result of feeling isolated. Grubbs says, "I felt isolated and alienated from my own career almost. I wanted to have that feeling of a fresh start. You lose your center and go back as far as you can. In my mind, as far back as you can go is 'Adam and Eve.'"

Then there is "Golden," an old song written after the first album. "Someone taped it and put in online" he  said. "My fans were using the lyrics. I am fortunate to be important to a small group, as opposed to unimportant to a lot of people. There are hardcore Wakey Wakey fans and we are a family. A fan named Tsuua posted it and called it one of her top 10 songs of all time. I knew I had to record it. It is a pop song, but doesn't fit the rest of the album." And that's why it lives on the EP, which serves up a taste of what to expect.


At this point, Michael Grubbs is happily married and has an awesome dog. He has nothing to hide and nothing to prove. He lets his music do all the work.


"My career has been long, and up and down," he says. That is why he has no problem yanking back the curtain and exposing what many artists work to keep secret or buried. That's why the line between him and his fans is erased and a true interaction and bond is formed.


Grubbs and Wakey Wakey remind us that we're all Homeless Poets in some way or another. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Matt Hanner

Rob Challice
Rob Assisted by: Laura Wenborn laura@codaagency.com