04/21/2014 05:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Other Side of The Wanz


Courtesy of MAK Media Productions

You know him best as the man that is pimped out on the hit video from the hit song Thrift Shop by Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and Ben Haggerty.

Yes, people -- we're talking about Michael Wansley, but you know him best as The Wanz.


Courtesy of MAK Media Productions

The Wanz is not merely a rapper -- he is an artist, a singer, and a performer that transcends the lines between multiple music genres.

In the near future, you'll be able to read a book of coined sayings that The Wanz has come up with and used to keep himself motivated through different periods in his life. It is aptly titled The Book of Wanz.

The Grammy award winning singer has just recently released his first video (below) from a song off of his EP Wander which is available on both iTunes and Amazon.

The Wanz and I chatted about his recent successes in his career, some not so great times, and the soul search that he went on to rediscover his true passion.

Thank you so much, Mike for taking the time out to converse with me this evening. I appreciate that, man.

My pleasure, Bryan.

Congratulations on winning three Grammy awards! That's huge! Were you anticipating this much success?

None of it.

How did this whole thing come together?

It all came about from my meeting a few guys who asked me to sing something. So, I sang it -- and that was that. I thought it would be like all of the others, people I would never hear from again. Then all of a sudden, they called me back and asked me to be in the video.

Then the video takes off.

Yes, and then the video takes off wildly and we're all just sitting there looking at each other, like, what?? So, they asked me to go on tour with them and I had never been on tour before.

How was your first experience going on tour?

From going all over Europe, to going on TV, concerts -- for me, it's been like Cinderella, like a dream come true. This all culminates in my sitting on the floor of the Grammys, when a buddy of mine sends me a picture message. It's a picture of a Grammy award that just says Wanz at the bottom.

I can't even begin to fathom what the emotions you were feeling were like when you saw that picture.

My eyes welled up with tears. My manager asked me what I was doing, and I told her that I was trying to figure out whether this message was real. I grew up lying on the floor in the family room watching the Grammys. It was just surreal to be there and be part of what I was watching as a child.

You've had all of this success as being the man who contributed that hook that everyone remembers in Thrift Shop with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. I was just listening to some of your solo music in the car on my morning commute -- I have to say, I'm actually more fascinated with your sound as a solo artist. Your songs are fantastic. After listening to them, it dawned on me that you weren't a rapper, you're an artist. I'm curious, is there a difference in your preparation for a rap versus a song that you've written?

The thing about being any artist is they have their own creations and you feel a certain connection to it. When you're asked to come in and sing or perform something, you don't have the time to make that same connection. When the light goes on, you're singing -- you're performing. It doesn't matter if you're doing it from your bedroom at home, like I did with my EP or whether I'm in a studio. Every song that hits the airwaves requires hours, days, sometimes even weeks in order to capture that certain something.

Now, you're speaking about your work from your soul -- this is more than just music to you.

The song Wander was very emotional for me. It was the medicine that was bringing me back to who I've always been. I had given up on trying. I had been playing in different bands here in Seattle for almost 30 years. I watched Soundgarden and lots of others make it. I was drinking buddies with some of these guys that made it. I was starting to give up.

You were in a pretty big band in the 90's in Seattle, right?

I had a band that I was in called Lifering; we were big for about 5 years. During that time, we were playing gigs and we were on the radio every day.

What happened to Lifering?

It just seemed that no one knew what to do with it, so it just went away. Then here I am, in my 40's thinking about all this time I've spent trying to get a break -- and that feeling came; this isn't going to happen for me, I had given up. My relationship at the time headed south and all of this drove me into a deep depression.

However, you persevered. One of the things that I find most fascinating about you is that you never allowed your day job to sway you from the pursuit of your dreams. I can personally identify with that because I have a day job now, and I hope to do this full-time one day. Tell us about your day job, what did you do?

I was a software test engineer working on contract out of Microsoft. I would work for 365 days and have to take a hundred days off and get a new contract if I wanted to continue working at Microsoft. That was the cycle. I needed to get up the gumption to do something else -- I had already told myself that there was no such thing as an old pop star.

How did you pull yourself out of this?

It was a yearbook that saved my life.

A yearbook?

The yearbook saved my life. It took me back to elementary school, junior high, and high school -- that's when I was at the happiest time in my life. I wasn't drinking, no dope, my brother was still alive, my parents were in good health, I didn't have any kids, I didn't have any debt -- I was at my happiest during that time and I was singing like a bird. So, I called some of my old friends from that time and asked them what they remembered most about me. People started sharing stories with me that they remembered from that time. It reminded me of who I was and I knew that there were still inklings of that kid left in me. I knew a lot about computers so I started to record myself and I started writing songs.

So, you went on a soul search to find out who you really are because you had been suppressing the real you.

Right. In 2008, my father said something to me that really kicked things into high gear for me.

What did he say?

My father told me that what he admired most about me was that no matter how much I got knocked down; I would always get back up. When a father says that to his son, it's a powerful thing.

Yes, it is a very powerful thing -- I don't think people hear that enough from a parent.

That was what inspired the song Been Knocked Down.

In terms of your music style, what is it that you prefer to listen to or perform? What is your choice genre of music?

I find myself going back to the mid to late 70s Earth, Wind, and Fire, mid 80s The Gap Band and Zap.
I still have a thing for R&B, not that poppy sound, just good dancing music that you can have a good time listening and dancing to. I'm trying to figure out whether that has a place in today's market.

I believe it can.

Hey, nothing beats a try, but a fail -- that's the kind of thing you'd find in. The Book of Wanz


Courtesy of MAK Media Productions