When I recently profiled Seattle singer Wanz and his surprising success courtesy his song stealing turn on Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ hit “Thrift Shop,” it didn’t seem like things could get any better for the 51-year-old software tester who gave up trying to make music for a living for a secure job and fatherhood. Boy was I wrong.
The song just went quadruple platinum (over 4,000,000 copies sold or downloaded) and after an Australian tour and spotlight performance last weekend on Saturday Night Live, Wanz is now getting the love from all over the world. Not bad for a guy who had given up long ago on his dream of making it in music in exchange for fatherhood.
The reaction has been so strong to his moving story, I had to follow up with him about his latest exploits overseas, and playing the hallowed headline slot on SNL.
Wanz says he’s only been out of the U.S. once before, as a baby, so this was his first real international foray. The first challenge was not getting hit by a car “because I kept walking out in traffic because traffic moves in the opposite direction,” he laughs.
As for the fans down under, the response was overwhelming.
“You know I just walked out on the floor 20 minutes after the show to pass out my little merch cards and I got swarmed by like 60 or 70 kids. They lifted me up on their shoulders and kept saying my name and saying ‘you’re a legend, you’re a legend.’ I couldn’t believe it. It was crazy.”
The reaction was almost as enthusiastic back in New York. Wanz says he had an inkling of how things would go when a bunch of cast members showed up to watch the group rehearse.
“One of the security people told me it’s usually a pretty big deal if the cast is coming in on a Thursday to watch the band rehearse. That usually never happens.”
He admits it was all very surreal, and a bit overwhelming. He was blown away by the first class treatment and clockwork precision of the entire operation.
“They treated us like kings. Even the NBC store stayed open 15 minutes later than it should because my son and I were held up trying to get down there.”
When it was show time, he says he got pretty emotional. After all, it was a dream come true, singing on the same stage as many of his heroes over the decades. A dream he never could have imagined would have become reality even a year ago when Macklemore and Lewis first asked him to sing the hook on “Thrift Shop.”
“All I’m thinking about is this is a show I’ve been watching since high school and I’m actually going to perform on it. And what comes to mind is high school members that I graduated with are now in Steilacoom gathered in a bar waiting to watch me,” he says about the moments before the group was introduced.
“And I get this big grin on my face and I think about my high school mates, my college mates, all the musicians that I’ve performed with in and around Seattle, and right before my first step to go on stage I tell myself what I always tell myself: ‘don’t fall down, don’t forget the words.'”
Once the music started, it was all a wash. Wanz says he just tried to do what he’s always done. But he admits there were plenty of thoughts going through his head.
“The song is only 3:53. For me it’s the only 3:53 I get. Try to sing in tune and look at the crowd and not look at the camera and try to have fun. There’s so much going on all at the same time.”
What went on was a stellar performance, and before he knew it, it was over. But the ride isn’t. Next week, he’ll head to Austin for the annual South By Southwest festival. It’s not just all about “Thrift Shop,” though. He’s trying to “step out a little bit from the Macklemore light and stand out on my own.”
He’s rushing to finish an EP of his own songs called “Wander” around all the Macklemore tour appearances. The first track, “Tell Me One More Time,” just came out on CD Baby.
“It’s daunting, interesting, scary as hell,” he laughs about the prospects of going it alone after the “Thrift Shop” ride comes to an end. But he says Macklemore has given him some important words of advice: “The fear is not what matters. The only thing that matters is you do what’s right.”