A Conversation With Michael Wagener

Introduced by Ric Chetter from RadioLand:

Dirty D does her show Radio Memphis around the world, and she got into a fantastic conversation with Michael Wagener.  Michael Wagener is from Hamburg Germany, and you may not know him, but you know ABOUT him.  For example, in 1981 he produced the first Dokken album.  He went on to produce SKid Row's self-titled debut which sold 5 million copies in the U.S. alone. He mixed Metallica's 1986 classic Master of Puppets. He also engineered the single version of Janet Jackson's Black Cat" which is his only pop-music collaboration.  He's got his fingers in such albums by Motley Crue, Wasp, Overkill, ACCEPT, Great White, Styper, Poison, Keel, Alice Cooper, Exxtreme, Megadeth, Janet Jackson, Ozzy Osborne, Dokken, Metallica, White Lion, and Skid Row among many others.  So you wanna be a rock star?  Pay close attention, because this is how we got to know him.  He's involved now with an artist we play on Radio Memphis; a young lady by the name of Hannah Fairlight.  And she went to Nashville to record a tune over there which you're going to here...right now as we get into this special episode from Radio Land.

*Plays new Hannah Fairlight song "Money and Run" produced by Michael Wagener at Wireworld Studios.

Dirty D: You've kept the door open, working with independent artists... If somebody gives you some music, what are you listening for and think "They got it".  What do you hear?

Michael: Well, number 1, I'd much rather see them perform than listening to their music.  I wanna see what they do...how they handle themselves, what they do with their music and their understanding behind it.  That to me is the most important thing.  Also, obviously there has to be some quality in terms of the songwriting.  I don't care about the sound, I can deal with that.  But the quality of the songwriting and performance has to be good - like Hannah!   I hear Hannah, and I go, this is freaking awesome!  I wanna deal with it, I wanna work with that.  And she delivers every time.


D: You were so awesome when we were talking about Hannah..and she's probably listening.  So hey to Hannah.  Like we said, I adore Hannah...I think she's an amazing talent..


Michael: Absolutely!


D: The funny thing we tell people...you never know who's listening, you never know who's paying attention.  It just so happened that you wandered in to one of your favorite places in the middle of your crazy "I don't take time off" work week...and you happen to walk in on her.


Michael: It was actually Jeremy Asbrock, who is the guitar player in Hannah's band..and in I think about 15 other bands.  Jeremy is a great guy, and I knew him before, we had worked together before on a workshop with another artist.  And he said "Hey, we're doing this thing on Tuesday nights if you wanna come down". So I went down, and looked at it, and there's Hannah gettin' on stage and singing a Zeppelin song, and it blew my head off!  And I go "This was pretty awesome!" and Jeremy said, "Well you should hear her play saxophone and keyboards and guitar." And I go "What?!" So I ended up talking to Hannah, and we stuck our heads together, and I had a workshop coming up and I go, "Hey I need a live band for the workshop, would you be interested?" and she goes "Sure!" And that's how we finally got together, and I got to record with her.  I loved it, I completely loved it.  And what you just heard is what came out of that.


D: I remember that time period..because we had just gotten her in, and we were just doing stuff with her music, and she was one of my former "artists of the month" here on Radio Memphis Around the World.  So we got to know each other during that time period. She was freaking out...saying "Oh my god, oh my god, guess who I'm working with!" And that's also me watching her as far as making the posts and stuff.  And watching her work with you...and listening in on some of the things and watching her through social media.  And that's another thing too...People don't realize..somebody like me, I'll stalk.  This is what I do, maybe it's the same thing you do too Michael, I'm not sure..in that, you try to find out a little bit about somebody, you try to find out how they act and how they are.  So you kind of pay attention.


Michael: And there has to be a certain kind of chemistry.  You know?  And that chemistry was just there...because she's [Hannah's] a great person and she's an amazing musician.  And that came across right away.  You know, never mind singing that Zeppelin song, but that came across right away.  And then I go, "Can you send me some stuff, that I can hear what you're doing?" And she did, and I go..Ok, done.  We're working. 


D: We're working!  See, how amazing is that?  And you got to see her in a live element, and see how she was, and see how she was interacting..I tell these bands and artists that we promote all the time, Look, If you're not gonna get up there and do your thing, why am I gonna come see you?  Why am I going to pay the cover charge, why am I going to come to a live show?  It's these lives shows, that are important now, in this time, that sell these CDs and records and T-shirts.  You know, when you and I were talking, you said a very poignant thing to me...I asked you, "you're gonna work with these guys, you're gonna work with these artists, and you get to the point where we've made this relationship, we've been in the studio, and we have the finished product in our hand.  And I asked you, what would you tell 'em to do?  And you were funny cus you were like, "Man, I gave you the coolest sounding CD ever, and I might make suggestions, but this is kinda where you pick up, this is where you do your thing."


Michael: Right.  And obviously, you know, being in the business for 40 years, there's a little bit of experience, but also if you look at the business the way it is nowadays, it's completely different than what it was, for instance in the 80s or something like that.  All that doesn't apply anymore.  So my advice now is now completely different than what it would have been in the 80s.  On the other hand, we have opportunities like social media, where we can get to people.  And that's the hardest part of everything..is get your music- if you're gonna have a great record, and nobody knows it's there, then nobody will listen to it, nobody will buy it!  The problem is getting it to the audience, getting it to people that might like it.  And that was the gig of the record label before, and that is now all on the back of the artist.


D: See, and as far as developing relationships...and I agree, things not being like they were in the 80s.  The fantasy thing that pops up in some of these artists minds, is something that came from the 80s.  It was somebody found you, you were an overnight success, and the next thing you know the label showed up the next day and you got a tour bus on your front lawn.  I mean, no...I don't even think it worked like that then!


Michael: It sometimes did...somebody with a lot of money behind them decided this is really good.  And not all those decisions were right but a lot of them were - and the musicians would really fight for it, and really go for it, and live that kind of life.  It could happen that way.  Maybe not the next day that you would have a tour bus...but it would be, yeah, let's work together.


Michael tells story about being called by Atlantic about working with "Saigon Kick"...


D: *laughs* Alright..so you just proved to me that...that's why people have these dreams.

Even now, you've watched industry go from one platform, to another platform...you've watched things change.  But there has to still be something that never changes for you.  There's always gotta be that one formula that something still works..


Michael: Right.  That the band is serious, and that they stand behind it.  And obviously they have to have a certain quality in their music and their songwriting.  And also..personality.  If they're messed up people, it's going to be really hard for them to sell their music to other people. Because people pick up on that.  There's a vibe. If the vibe is good, then already the first light is green.  If the music is good, the second light is green.  And so on and so on, and then when the record is done, there's about 50 lights that have to turn green from then on.  And those are the hardest ones.  You can always make a great record, you know?

*Interview continues...

Dirty D wraps up interview:

D: Oh my god.  What an amazing man.  That right there is a complete legend.  And he is so down home and down to earth, and you heard it here first on Radio Memphis.  I'm so excited.  You heard of course, he's out of Nashville..of course he's all over the planet when it comes to working with musicians and things like that.  And the opportuinities-you never know! That was the other point...you never know who may walk in on you, and who may make things happen and want to work with you.  But the lesson out of that entire conversation that really hit home for me and it even made it personal for me too, is that, look - this is your life, this is your lifestyle, this is what you do.  If you ain't 100% into it, then this ain't for you.

What I need to do now...he [Michael] just also got done actually finishing an EP with miss Hannah Fairlight, and they're supposed to be releasing it in June.  I'm gonna probably be getting with her to see if I can't get some tracks in.  In the meantime, let me at least play another track that she recorded at Wireworld with Mr. Michael Wagener.  This is Don't Wait Up.  You've been listening to Radio Memphis Around The World at radio-memphis.com.

*Plays "Don't Wait Up" by Hannah Fairlight produced by Michael Wagener.