Hi Robert! How have things been going since the release of your album, "Live At the Mattress Factory?”
Did you ever hear the song by Ray Wylie Hubbard, “Mother’s Blues?” The last line goes something like, “The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, I have really good days.”
I just got back at 3:30 this morning from The Josie Music Awards in Pigeon Forge, Tenessee. The Little Wretches received the award as Multi-Genre Group of the Year.
I just got an email from a Menachem Vinegrad, a dee-jay in the Holy Land, and he’s playing our songs for the people of Israel and Palestine. Juergen Kramer is playing our songs in Germany. We topped the iTunes Folk-Rock charts in South Africa.
I’ve had a chance to play some live-shows for audiences that haven’t already heard me.
I could go on and on. Eternity exists. God is Good. Life is precious. The Little Wretches rock. I’ve got it good, don’t I?
I have so many reasons to feel gratitude. But I also have really high expectations. I have to remind myself to keep those expectations in check and to focus on all the things I have to be thankful for.
2. You've had quite a ride with the a number of singles doing very well on the charts. What has been the most thrilling thing that's happened to you in the past year?
The other day, a kid in the eighth grade watched the ALL OF MY FRIENDS video and told me, “Wagner, you’ve definitely got bars.” That’s a very big compliment. I DO have bars, and it is refreshing that people outside of our old fan-base are noticing. You know what “bars” means, right? Look it up. I got ‘em in spades.
I really like the lyric-videos we made for ALL OF MY FRIENDS and WHO IS AMERICA. Have you seen them? Those videos balance the spirit of fun with the substance and gravitas of our stuff.
I don’t know if you’d call this thrilling, but over the years, a handful of journalists have gone to bat for The Little Wretches, predicting major success for us, and it seemed like maybe that success was never going to materialize. The biggest thrill for me, personally, is that those supporters are able to say, “See? I told you so.”
Our recent success has been the best possible way to say thank you to those who’ve supported us.
3. What do you like to do when you're not making music?
I’m a Renaissance person. I love the outdoors—hiking, biking, fishing, exploring. I like poetry and classic literature. I try to stay abreast of science, archaeology, physics. I’m a church-goer, a person of faith. I go to plays. I go to museums. I swim and exercise daily. I follow a number of sports teams. I teach and counsel at-risk teens. I work with kids with autism.
I had a high school teacher, Dr. Switala, who suggested that Michelangelo was the last person on earth to possess the entire body of knowledge theretofore acquired by mankind.
I want to be like Michelangelo. I’m interested in learning and the pursuit of wisdom.
4. You are originally from Pittsburgh, PA. What is your favorite thing about the city?
I like OLD Pittsburgh. I like driving through all the old wastelands that used to be slag dumps. Slag dumps are these mountains of ash, waste from the steel mills.
Look, Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania have a lot of cool history—the French and Indian War, the Whiskey Rebellion, The Homestead Strike of 1892, the Meadowcroft Rock Shelter.
Pick a highway and drive it. Get on Route 50. Get on Route 51, Route 56, Route 28, Route 88. Route 130. Route 8. Route 60. Frankstown Road. Just pick a road and follow it. Follow those roads through the small towns, the river towns, the farm lands.
Follow the Blue Belt, the Orange Belt, the Red Belt, the Yellow Belt. Or get on a bicycle and hop on one of the rails-to-trails systems. Or follow one of the rivers.
And DINOSAURS. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The Scaife Gallery at the Carnegie Museum of Art. The Warhol.
I have no favorite thing about Pittsburgh, I guess. I love the TOTALITY of Pittsburgh.
5. If you could perform with anyone in the world, who would that be and why?
I’ve played with some pretty cool and talented people in The Little Wretches. You probably want me to mention somebody famous or some prodigious talent, but I wish the band that recorded UNDESIRABLES & ANARCHISTS could tour that album. Rosa, HK, Mike, John and me. That’s not the answer you were looking for, but that’s it.
And if we couldn’t do the whole band, I’d perform as a duo with Rosa. Rosa Rocks. Rosa Colucci. I love her voice. I love the way she intuitively knows what to sing to make me sound better and the songs more effective. Dylan had Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, Clydie King. I’ve got Rosa.
Why Rosa? Why Mike, HK, and John? Because we have great songs. We have something to say, and there’s more people whe HAVE NOT heard us than have heard us. Because those guys are a great band. They deserve to be heard, and audiences deserve to hear them.
And if not The Little Wretches, all right, let’s say MICHELLE SHOCKED.
6. Are you political at all? Do you get involved in social media debates?
I’m a working class kid. “Shut up.” “Do your job.” “Do what you’re told.” “Know your place.” Well, you ain’t gonna decide my place for me, thank you very much.
As Neil Diamond sings in his song THE BOAT THAT I ROW, “Ain’t no man alive can tell me what to say.” I speak for myself. Think for myself. I don’t need anybody curating the news for me. I don’t need anybody protecting me from information. I don’t need anybody protecting me from ideas.
My grandparents are from Czechoslovakia, now called the Slovak Republic. I remember eavesdropping on the adults talking about the impact on our family in “the old country”after Russian tanks rolled through the streets in 1968. My great uncle, who I believe was in “The Party,” was imprisoned for a time by the Stalinists.
So yes, I’m political. It would be impossible for a person with my background to NOT be political. I used to be able to quote Lenin and Mao they way Evangelicals quote The Bible. But I can quote The Bible, too.
I refuse to be placed in anybody’s box. I refuse to adopt anybody’s party line.
People in politics are always arguing about systems and policies. What I’ve discovered is that none of that matters. What matters is the cultivation of good people. Good people can make any system work. No system is good if the people are not.
I’m not in the business of persuasion. I’m in the business of touching hearts and souls.
7. What is one thing about yourself that you would change?
I’ve learned the hard way that my default mode is to be defensive. No matter how much encouragement and acceptance is shown to me, I never feel like I fit in. I always feel like an outsider. Now, that may be a quality that contributes to my being a good writer. As an outsider, I’m an observer, a witness. But I tend to isolate myself. My defensiveness became a habit which became a lifestyle. Dave Losi wrote an incredible song for The Little Wretches called I BELONG. Look it up. It’s on our album, JUST ANOTHER NAIL IN MY COFFIN.
If I could change anything, I would change that thing inside me that makes me feel like I don’t belong.
8. If you had any advice for an up and coming artist, what would that be?
If you have any quit in you, quit now and don’t waste your time and money.
The paradox of being a creative artist is that you have to be a sponge for learning, taking everything in, assimilating everything, but you have to hold onto whatever makes you unique.
Everybody has to bring something to the party. You have to bring something that nobody else is bringing. In the words of the Wright Brothers, you have to possess “DAUNTLESS RESOLUTION AND UNCONQUERABLE FAITH.”
Most people don’t have the stomach for it.
Scripture says, “Many are called but few are chosen.” Only YOU know if you’ve been called. If you’ve gotten the calling, ANSWER that call. How dare you NOT answer.
9. Any plans for a new single?
Singles, huh? As a listener, I pay attention to albums, to bodies of work. It’s usually a single, that tips you off to the body of work behind it. And if there is nothing behind it, you’ve still got a cool song. A lot of one-hit wonders can pack a considerable punch.
Our next release hinges on Rosa. We’ve recorded an incredible album. If you’ve heard UNDESIRABLES & ANARCHISTS or WHEN IT SNOWS or THIS TIME THE REBELLION WEEPS, you’ve heard how her voice and presence transforms my songs.
Whatever song she cuts first is likely to be our first single. Whatever song she cuts secone is likely to be our second single.
Rosa has had a hellish year and has been under tremendous pressure. She hasn’t had the peace of mind to sing. When she adds her vocals, we’ll be ready to mix the album. I thought it would have been completed by now, but it will be done when it’s done, and there are several potential singles on it.
So let’s say the singles are yet to be determined, but they’re on there.
Any budding young filmmakers out there wanna step up and make the videos?
10. Will you be releasing a follow up album?
It’s going to be called RED BEETS & HORSERADISH. Red like our blood. Beets like the earthy, edible roots. Horseradish like the firey and pungent root that can overpower a dish. The writing is the best work of my career. It’s folkier than UNDESIRABLES & ANARCHISTS, more narratives, more monologues, very character-based. Songs about sick people, old people, crazy people. Very real.
11. Any last shout outs or words for your fans?
After RED BEETS & HORSERADISH comes out, we’ve got a few more in us. But all the good stuff that is happening now and all the good stuff to come has been made possible by those who’ve supported and encouraged us The Little Wretches. My rattling off the names of fifty people isn’t going to mean anything to your readers, but suffice it to say that there are some people out there who’ve done more for me than I’ve done for myself. I hope the quality of our albums-in-the-pipeline justifies your support and encouragement. I hope we live up to and exceed your expectations. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.