With humble beginnings performing soulful renditions of “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog” on the school playground, Michael Wansley developed an affinity for music at an early age, performing wherever he could for anyone who would listen. As he worked towards his degree in music education, the newly nicknamed “Wanz” started his first band, Central Connection, eventually performing as a savvy stage man in groups such as The Ghetto Monks and Life Ring — soon sharing the stage with artists like Joe Williams, Bobby McFerrin, and Dizzy Gillepsie. Little did he know when starting out that his love of music would take him to such great heights.
It was only a matter of time before Wanz grabbed the national spotlight. Rising hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis recruited Wanz for a hook on their song about shopping for second-hand clothes, a humble and forward-thinking track against the traditionally flashy hip-hop status quo. Partly thanks to Wanz’s unforgettable hook, “Thrift Shop” quickly climbed the Billboard charts before landing at number one and holding that spot for six weeks total, certifying the single as seven times platinum in the United States and earned the title of three time Grammy Award winner! Wanz now tours the world with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, charming fans from all walks of life with his captivating vocals and unparalleled stage presence. One this is for sure; Wanz serves as a terrific example of how hard work, determination and dedication to your true passion can transform your dreams into reality.
Wanz now finds himself in the process of navigating the uncharted waters of his blossoming career. For latest chapter in his incredible journey Wanz has partnered with Warren G to pay tribute to legendary American singer, rapper and actor Nate Dogg. Premiered by Red Bull, the single, titled “To: Nate Dogg” is now available via Wanz0matic Records. Of the powerful new single Wanz said; “Thrift Shop” changed my life, no question. I’ve been able to experience dreams I’ve had since childhood. Living that dream turned into me being compared to one of the greatest hook singers of all time, Nate DeeODblGee! “To: Nate Dogg” is my way of paying respect to him for giving me a lane in Hip-Hop. Working with Warren G has been an honor! I’m excited that Warren-Nate’s best friend-drops the first verse! Grynch and Crytical fill out “To: Nate Dogg” and they complete what I hope to be a BANGIN anthem for BBQ’s, parties and all things summertime!! Let’s party in the spirit of the Dog, Nate Dogg!”
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Wanz to discuss his musical roots, life after “Thift Shop,” teaming with Warren G for a tribute to Nate Dogg and what he has in store for music fans in the future!
Take us back to your earlier years. What are your first memories of music in your life?
Well, my very first memory has me on a school yard in Anchorage, Alaska singing the choruses of songs that were on the radio. A kid would say, “Betcha don’t know ‘X’”, I’d sing it. “Betcha don’t know ‘Y’”, I’d sing it. My family and I lived across the street from the school and out of nowhere, I hear my mom calling my name and turn to see her running towards me. When she reaches me she asks, “Michael, are you alright?” I looked up and said, “Yeah mom, I’m just singin!” She thought I was in a fight or something. Since then, I remember singing in church choirs, middle and high school choirs, singing while I rode my bike, around the house…I sang all the time!
Who are some of the other influences and artists who have impacted you?
I grew up listening to the radio. Back in the mid to late 60’s and early 70’s, formats were wide open. You’d hear The Beatles followed by The Temptations and then B.J. Thomas and The Grass Roots followed by Simon & Garfunkel. I loved Stevie Wonder, Bread, Sly, & The Family Stone, The Cowsills, Jackson 5 and so many more! If it was on the radio, I knew it and I sang it. When I started buying records in high school, it was all about dancing! A Taste Of Honey, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Sylvers, and The Commodores. Oh yeah, that was my ish!!!
You experienced plenty of ups and downs on your journey. What has kept you inspired throughout the years as an artist and continues to fuel your creative fire musically?
The fire is inspired by life itself. The older I’ve gotten, the more similarities I find that people share. Fear, love, hate, celebrating…happy, sad, apathetic, helplessness, all of these are feelings we all go through, I’ve tried and still do try to relate my experience and thoughts about these things in song, because I tried stopping and it was the worst year and half of my life. Music is who I am, it’s what I do.
What can you tell us about your songwriting process and how you bring a song to life?
My process varies. An idea can come from a sentence, a bass line, a short melody or beat. I record it on my phone and when I go through my phone snippets, I translate them into instruments on my laptop in Cubase. I then work out a song structure then transfer the song idea to my studio computer where I do a base mix, then write and record lyrics. I used to write lyrics with a tune in my head, but I don’t as much anymore because I ended up with all these pieces of paper with lyrics but no tune for them.
As a songwriter, where do you find yourself looking for inspiration these days?
Everywhere. With all that goes on in the world, all that I see, places I’ve been or am going, how I’m getting there, the people I see and what they may be thinking about, inspiration is everywhere! The frustrating thing for me is that my brain ‘hears’ everything all at once. My brain has to slow down to create each part and some of those parts get lost. My greatest challenge these days is capturing what I hear in my head, and reconstructing it piece by piece in my studio until what I hear on the outside matches what I hear on the inside.
When it comes to creating music, what do you consider the most fulfilling part of the process?
Hmmm…that first time I play something for someone. To see someone’s face after I say, “Hey, what do you think of this?” and the music starts. That’s also the scariest part because not everything I create is good. Finding the courage to actually play my music for others is sometimes really hard these days. With the success of ‘thrift’, a higher standard of musical quality is expected I think. Not every song idea reaches that standard but that is also apart of the process.
You recently collaborated with Warren G to pay tribute to the legendary Nate Dogg. Can you tell us about how this collaboration came about?
After a Macklemore show, a fan kind of scoffed at me saying, “Oh, he’s just riding Nate’s coattails, he’s just tryin to sing like Nate Dogg.” Well, when I got back to the bus, I said to myself, “Ya wanna hear me ‘try’ to sound like Nate? Ok!” Within a couple days I had made the beat on my laptop and recorded the hook. I had met Grynch some months before and loved his “Perspective” record, so I took a chance and asked him if he’d listen to my song. At the same time, I had been in contact with Crytical on and off for about a year. He and I had worked together back in 2003 or 4. I sent it to him as well. Both guys loved it and wanted to get on the track. Now I had met Warren at SXSW in 2012 and we had talked about me doing “Regulators” with him but I passed having never performed that track before. I told him, “I have way too much respect for Nate to possibly mess it up.” Now, some months later, what I didn’t know was that Warren and Grynch were homies! Grynch sent Warren the track!! Imagine my amazement when he replied, “…save the last 12 for me.” The verse he sent hit me so hard, I had to put it up front. One friend missing his best friend? Man…
Where are you in regard to a full length release and what can we expect sonically?
I’ve started looking at local producers here in Seattle, had a few writing sessions with some cats in L.A. trying to figure out what ‘my sound’ is away from “Thrift Shop”. The problem for me is that I’ve performed so many different styles of music I feel I can do pretty much anything. The biz as it sits today really wants to pigeon-hole ya, so trying to split the difference between what I create and what radio will play is challenging. I would like to present a wide variety of feels from funk to dance to hip-hop, neo-soul, and jazz. We’ll see where inspiration takes me. Ultimately, I have to be happy with what gets recorded. I can’t be anyone other than myself.
What do you consider the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far?
Public perception vs. stylistic direction. I’m known as ‘The Voice of Thrift Shop’, one of the most popular songs of 2012, for Christ’s sake! Finding a musical path that doesn’t alienate those who embraced ‘Thrift’ while reaching out to new potential fans is the big challenge. “To: Nate Dogg” is paying my respects to the man I’ve been compared to since I met Ben and Ryan. There’s no clear lane for me, I have no other examples of 50-year olds starting their career. So, I have to make my own lane and that’s not very easy or obvious.
What is the biggest thing you have learned about yourself along the way both personally and as an artist?
The biggest thing I’ve learned is that I still fear both failure and success. Not a very unique thing, but the fact is, this is a business built on ego. I’ve spent a lot of my life taming my ego with humility and trying to find more similarities with people instead of emphasizing the differences. Fear is one thing everyone goes through, especially teens learning how to be adults. Surprisingly, the emotional fears they have are the same as a lot middle-aged folks I know. Lack of confidence, body image issues, abandonment, loneliness, depression; as an artist, I’m seeking that musical common ground that exists between both. What’s left to do is put together stories that speak to listeners and hopefully, my message will resonate with them both.
You have had a wild ride over the past few years. Congratulations on all of your hard work and accomplishments. As a musician, what do you consider your biggest milestone so far?
Thank you! Biggest milestone has to be receiving a gold statue with my name on it. Getting a Grammy is pretty huge! I’ve dreamed of getting one since I was in single digits and thanks to Ben and Ryan, I have one! Even if I’m not successful in my solo efforts, I’ve realized past dreams and have shared them with my family and friends these last couple of years. No one can take whats happened to me away from us.
Is there any musical ground you are still anxious to explore and where do you think the future will take you musically?
Well, I’m currently exploring it! It’s one thing to be on someone else’s hit record, quite another to have one of your own! I’m anxious to explore almost everything! The buying public is very fickle. Who knows what they’ll like? Hopefully, my musical future includes a song produced by Quincy Jones, collabs with Ed Sheeran, B.O.B, Dre, Ice Cube, and Snoop, maybe even Michael Buble or Adele. A friend of mine told me once, “The future has yet to be written.” To me, that means I have something to do with what happens next in my life. Exactly what? Well, that’s another reason to get up every day, to simply find out what is possible, what I’m capable of and how successful I can be at attaining aspirations; just like everyone else.
What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to someone who wants to pursue a career in music in the industry’s current climate?
Well, I try hard never to give advice but I can tell you what my experience has shown me: If you do something that makes you happy, especially if it makes someone else happy, never EVER stop doing it because you never know where it could take you. None of us read minds or can tell the future. So if you want to pursue a career in the music industry, make the best music you can, share it with as many people as possible, and let the chips fall where they may.
Wanz’s latest single “To: Nate Dogg feat. Warren G, Grynch, & Crytical” is now live! Check out the song premiere and feature interview at Red Bull Music, and you can get your copy on on iTunes – Click Here!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.