Spend half an hour in the company of Michael Grubbs, the creative force behind indie band Wakey Wakey and you’ll come out with a renewed enthusiasm for old school music making – and you’ll also laugh a lot. I recently interviewed Grubbs and his producer and long time collaborator, Chris Cubeta, to talk about Wakey Wakey’s new album, Overreactivist and I remember laughing a lot but nowhere near as much as was evident when I listened back to the interview. I can only wish that all interviews were so enjoyable.
Overreactivist is Wakey Wakey’s third album and a radical departure from the previous pop album, Salvation, in more ways than one. In contrast to the first album which was full of youthful expression and captured the spirit of making music with no money and no expectation of success, Salvation was a collaborative experience with a team of writers, producers and musicians and the end result turned out to be even further from Grubbs’ first intention of making a pop album. Whilst acknowledging it was an amazing team experience, Grubbs says this experience and way of making music made him feel “disconnected from myself as a musician” and as a result he returned to the ‘old days’ and decided the next step would be to write and record an indie rock EP. The natural choice would be to use producer Cubeta’s studio which as it turned out was shortly to be demolished (it now no longer exists). Happily, they managed to find enough studio time to record enough material for not just an EP but a whole album.
Talking to Grubbs and Cubeta it is plain that the recording of Overreactivist was a form of therapy and respite for both of them from (Cubeta’s words) “an insane part of my life”. Telling only a very small number of people that they were making a new album and taking the decision to only allow those people to hear it if they came to the studio meant that the two of them had complete creative control over the entire process. Cubeta says that as a producer his job is “to find the essence of the artist at the core of the music and bring it out…to make them the best version of themselves. People connect to music that captures the artist at their core”. Unknowingly, they did just that with the first Wakey Wakey album and in Overreactivist they have gone full circle in finding the core of the music they were making and then doing what felt right. Happily, the urgent need to make this album quickly meant a perfect harmony in doing what was best for the song and makes for a tribute to a great collaborative partnership.
Listening to Overreactivist as a whole feels like a very personal album and indeed Grubbs confirms that this is his most personal album so far, even autobiographical. To me, at least, the songs can be read in a number of ways with a strong political current throughout but when asked, Grubbs laughed and says that “although I am very political in my personal life…at home, I make an effort not to be on the right or the left publicly as I don’t want to spend my life justifying my position”. Grubbs then goes on to talk about the “undeniable reality that people don’t pay for music anymore, people don’t pay to support artists in the way that they used to. How did we get here? How am I supposed to support myself as an artist?” These are questions that are brought together in the stand out song of the album, Homeless Poets and in a previous interview Grubbs touched further on the ups and downs of braving the creative dream. I love the video so much I have to show it to you again (Buster the dog is a superstar in the making):
Leaving aside the political undertones for a moment, Overreactivist is an album that challenges the listener on many levels; there is an upbeat message and sound throughout although there is also a touch of disilusionment (Golden’s”if I believed all the things we said when we were young I’d be a broken man with a broken heart and broken dreams”) apparent too. Listening to the album left me with a strong emotional connection to the music, it hangs together very well as a whole and this is due in part to the arrangement and structure of the songs. Grubbs wrote all the songs and proves to be an accomplished songwriter; his early musical influences of Billy Joel and Elton John are apparent with the piano driven melodies. Having said that, the guitar playing of Chris Cubeta is one of the many joys of this album.
Wakey Wakey are lovely people and ahead of the release of Overreactivist on 26 February they have given me a free track to share with you – told you they were nice! If you liked Homeless Poets click here to go over to the Angry Baby blog to get your free track, Adam and Eve (my second favourite track after Homeless Poets).
Overreactivist will be released on The End records on 26 February. Pre-order the album here:
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