Can a rock band from the
Pacific Northwest land in the heart of Blues country and be a success?-Apparently
so. Wideawake fronted by vocalist singer/songwriter Scott Leger and fused
by the great guitar work of Eddie Willis moved from Seattle to Austin in
2002. In the past three years the band has swept eight Austin Music Awards
handed out in conjunction with the world famous SXSW Music Festival.
Wideawake's music has found
its way to both the big screen and television. The band's song "Hey John"
from their second CD Bigger Than Ourselves was selected for the
movie The Ring. As if to add an exclamation mark to just how good
Wideawake's music is, "Hey John" was chosen over a tune by Smashing Pumpkins.
The producers of Dawson's Creek invited submissions for a new theme song
a few years ago and although they decided to retain the song they had been
using, they were so impressed with Wideawake's music they assured the band
they would find a home for their songs. The in-your-face song "Bigger Than
Ourselves," which contrasts a myopic view of life with self discovery was
featured during the 100th episode of Dawson's Creek. The tune "So Simple"
found a home in a made-for-television movie.
In late June the band released
their single "Maybe Tonight Maybe Tomorrow" through I Tunes. "Back in '04
Scott wrote the song after he found out one of our friends had been diagnosed
with cancer," said Willis. Through a mutual friend, the band members were
introduced to Lance Armstrong and the work of the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
All proceeds from the download
go directly to the Lance Armstrong Foundation. "From the moment of diagnosis
the Lance Armstrong Foundation provides the practical information and tools
people with cancer need to live life on their own terms," said the LAF
The inspiration for the
song came from hearing the stories of numerous cancer survivors. Willis
says, We were just floored by some of these stories and Scott penned this
tune. The band got around it and made it into a song. We took it to the
Lance Armstrong Foundation and they just loved it."
"Everyday Rockstar" from
the Bigger Than Ourselves CD pokes fun at the struggles of a rock
band's career. The words provide insight to the hearts of Wideawake's members
who seem genuinely grateful for the modest success they have enjoyed to
date. In some ways, the tune chronicles the band's own evolution.
The original group came together in Seattle and was known as Threads. In
January 2002 they had their coming out party with a debut CD. Two months
later they headed for Austin.
Willis explained the reasons
behind the band's move, "It was actually a pretty practical choice (coming
to Austin). We do a lot of touring and it just never seemed practical to
tour from Seattle. You would have to drive four to six hours just to get
to another piece of civilization or another major city. It was three hours
to Vancouver (Canada), three or four hours to Portland and a six hour drive
to Spokane. It just wasn't very cost effective. Our (former) manager lived
in Austin. He encouraged us to move here so we could be more centrally
located. Within a two hour radius (of Austin) you can play all month long
without ever leaving this area. Some of the major cities in the US are
right here, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. Not to mention this is just
a music town. There is an overall love for the arts."
Leger's vocals for the song
"Mariposa," "It's hard to say goodbye to the memory of the way it used
to be," seem almost reflective as shortly after the five rockers moved
to Austin the bass player and drummer left the band and returned to Seattle.
The band could easily have folded their tent and dispersed but the remaining
members Leger, Willis and rhythm guitarist Nate Navarro hung in there.
In 2003 they picked up the Incubator Award from the Austin Music Foundation.
The financial and people resources that accompanied the award provided
stability for the group.
The Incubator Award is what
Willis refers to as an eighteen month boot camp for emerging musicians.
Wideawake had entered a battle of the bands competition and were selected
for the award based on their performance. Willis refers to the Music Foundation
as "The mother hen taking you under her wing and helping you grow up."
He went on to explain some of the ways Wideawake benefited from the experience.
"They help you with the marketing side so you can take that creative side
of what you do and get it out to more people."
Willis, still extolling
the merits of the Austin Music Foundation, said, "We were at a weak time
when our bass player and drummer left. We were trying to decide whether
we were going to be a band. We had new songs that we were writing and we
demoed. They helped nurse us along. We had already made two records before
that. They were full length records that we sold thousands of copies of.
We were in a place where we knew how to do that. Now we were in a weak
state. They nurtured us back to health. When we began our term at the Foundation
all we had were a few demo songs but by the end of our term we finally
had a couple of new members that we believed in. The band was healthy again."
Those new members turned
out to be bassist Chris Heerlein and drummer Matt Fletcher. Of the new
additions Willis said, "We picked up a couple of guys that added some muscle
to the band. We feel the band started all over again here in Austin." With
the new birth of the band came a new name, Wideawake.
Earlier this year the Austin
Chronicle Music Awards named Willis as Austin's top electric guitarist.
"It was a very select group of people. You are talking about Eric Johnson,
Monty Montgomery and some other major players here in town. Great guitar
players are everywhere here. I was very overwhelmed to be honored with
that award amongst such great, great talent. It really was an honor," said
Willis. With smoking tunes such as "Misunderstood" which discusses life's
journey it was inevitable that sooner or later Leger's songwriting abilities
would be acknowledged. Leger picked up two awards as Austin's top songwriter
and top male vocalist.
Despite the accolades heaped
upon Wideawake and upon Willis he remains modest. He also continues to
strive to bend better licks from his Fender Telecaster. "I am still a music
lover. When I listen to music I listen to guitars and how guitars make
a song better. What they do and how they are doing it. I still get off
on that. I still love listening to that. All that helps you grow."
"You always (need to) grow
as musicians if you want to keep doing what you are doing. You always evolve.
You listen to different things throughout the years and that changes the
way you think about music, the way you write music. I know that when we
first started as a band we could barely play our instruments. So there
was an evolution," he said laughing.
When contacted Nikki Rowling
the Co-founder and Executive Director of the Austin Music Foundation of
the Austin Music Foundation had these glowing remarks to make concerning
the members of the band, "Wideawake is one of the hardest working bands
I've come across. After moving here to Austin to hone and develop their
craft, they quickly emerged as a band committed to hard work and dedication.
This commitment has been evident in everything they do and create."
"I picked up the instrument
late in life. This is an instrument that anybody can learn. In a month's
time you can learn a few chords and play half the pop songs that were ever
written if you practice thirty five or forty-five minutes a day. The thing
that is cool about a guitar is you can take it anywhere. You can't slap
a piano on your back and go out to a campfire. It's funny I always wanted
to play the piano while I was growing up but we were so poor we never had
a piano. There was never that opportunity. I was always in love with music
and when the time came to pursue an instrument the guitar was handy."
On July 19th Wideawake embarked
on a tour in which they crisscrossed the United States.
By Joe Montague, exclusive
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory
of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18.
All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.