What is the mark of a true band? I mean, what makes people say, “now, THAT’S a BAND” versus someone saying, “they are a band?” Is it their connections? The scope of their roster? Their tour schedules? The size of their fanbase? Their image?
Well, in all honesty, all those elements make up a part of that defining mark of a TRUE band. But the most distinguishing factor is their rapport with each other’s bandmates. Yes, we can see it when we see a band on stage. It is obvious if they truly get along, and it resonate in their music.
When a fan goes to a concert of a band that display that familial affection, the first thing that comes out their mouth (after yelling the lyrics of the hit songs) is “wow, you can tell they love each other,” or “yo, I see why they have been in the industry rocking out for so long, those cats are each other’s family.” Right? And that concert is just MAJOR!
We see it with bands like Queen, Aerosmith, and The Rolling Stones – that casual, cool, real-life family aurora – where they fight, get tired of each other, laugh, cry, breakup, regroup, and talk the talk; where it is all real, and that reality crosses into the music.
In saying the above, I’d like to introduce you to a band that still, to this day, carries that close-knit comradery. They are The Wag.
The Wag are an American Pop Rock band from New Jersey who have been mesmerizing audiences for over twenty years. This rocking band of four have opened for: John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band, Rick Springfield, Jefferson Starship, Gavin Degraw, Phillip Phillips, and Peter Tork of the Monkees.
Their newest release “We Carry On” embraces that love of life, having fun even when it rains, I’ll be your shoulder to cry on – type of music – in other words, music for living as it encompasses practicality and reality.
There are eleven Pop Rock songs that illustrate this theme:
- We Carry On
- She’s a Devil
- Never Let It Bring You Down
- Me and You
- Touch You
- Everybody Said
- I’ve Been Waiting
- Coat of Arms
- Days Go By
- Bright Lights
This is my interpretation of the six songs that highlight “We Carry On.”
The title track opens the album with such fantastic sparkle. “We Carry On” is a song about building lasting strong relationships (friendships and partnerships) in life, even if it is in the form of memories. The lyrics sing: there are days when your memory still haunts me / everything just feels so heavy / then I think about your smile / carry me when my spirit grows too weary / when I think I can’t go on / come and sit with me a while … We carry on / breathing through the song we’re singing / living on the joy it’s bringing / we carry on / everything must change / one thing will remain / just as every night leads to the dawn / we carry on / all the years & all the miles / all the tears & all the smiles / wouldn’t have it any other way / we carry on. Perfect choice of lyrics to build a storyline of associations that keeps us afloat during the harsh tides of life and swim along with us during the tranquil times.
The band’s choice to use minimal effects and minor instrumentation is great for a track that illustrates how the smallest things means the most in relationships that withstand the tests of time – acoustic guitar, drumline, and synths – that’s it, and it works. And, Alicia Van Sant leads “We Carry On” with a vocal prowess that is melodic, forceful, and bright.
“Never Let It Bring You Down” is a mid-tempo Soft Rock track with a mix of drums, synths, bass, and digitally distorted guitar that highlights the band’s formidable playing skills. Lead by Don Lee, the third track is about optimism and his lead is full of energy and raspy appeal. Lee’s vocal timbre indicates a vocalist who has the chops to flex with the song being able to either soar or dive depending on the track being recorded. That guitar laying into the song at the one minute / 39 seconds mark is to die for, and those harmonic “oohs” and “aahs” make for a commercially ready, uncluttered, track that stays with you.
Bringing in funky beat and dance-until-you-fall tempo is “Believe” a song that easily marries 1980s Rock with Modern Pop. Brian Ostering welcomes us with his vocal and it is so commanding that it remains with you after the track concludes. The part of the hook that goes, “you know you gotta believe” where the lead repeats those lyrics going up an octave as it builds, and then he digs down and sings “don’t let them bring you down, down?” yeah, that part? That is so 2019!
One word describes “Me and You,” and that is BEAUTIFUL! This modern love letter is so soft-spoken vocally, yet forceful enough to engrave its emotion onto your heart. The dual female/male vocal makes this track so romantic. Another facet of the song that resonated with me was that it included a bridge – that part of the song that crosses the listener from the intro on to the outro and give them second or two to breathe before going back into the cut. I rarely hear bridges today in music, and if there are bridges, they are so minute that they are unrecognizable. I can see this track being the closing song to a modern version of “Dirty Dancing.” This is the song that makes Valentine’s Day every day.
And I wanted to shine a spotlight on the seventh track “Everybody Said” because it really is the jack-of-all-trades of the bunch as it features lyrics with such depth built around instrumentation that plays like a fairytale with attitude. From the arpeggio guitar chord starting the track, on to the percussions (chimes and cymbals included), woodwinds, and accordion, as well as Van Sant’s contralto, backing vocals, along with the vocal effect sounding like a speaker box (by the way, a great technical metaphor for the he-said/she-said storyline) makes for a very modernly enchanting track. A song about building opinions based off misunderstandings never sounded so good.
And closing the album is a Folk-Rock song about those times in life that stay with us until the end. “Bright Lights” even lyrically mentions those impactful moments, such as weddings, births, proms, etc. that come into our lives and how the people that surround us makes them special. The four-part harmony further emphasizes that “it takes a nation” effect. I have to say, it was a nice change of pace to hear a song like "Bright Lights" during an era in music when songs are so pigeon-holed with storylines about “events” (strip clubs, one-night stands, breakups, and throwing shade) instead of “journeys.” And, this song features “the journey” – moments within time versus just a place in time. In addition, the la-la-la-la backing vocal also emphasizes the “hands of time” clicking away bringing on the least expected.
The Wag consists of Alicia Van Sant (vocals/keys/flute/percussion), Brian Ostering (vocals/bass), Don Lee (vocals/guitar), and Joshua Van Ness (vocals/drums/percussion). And let’s raise a glass to Brian Mowery (drummer/percussionist)! All true artists.
The Wag has given the listening audience songs that are filled with so many reminders of what makes life so worth living and not just existing, you know? For example: the ability to love even when it is hard to do so or knowing that gossip exists but not giving it too much care, or better yet, living your best life OUT LOUD, and not to forget, loving hard! To put it plainly, The Wag has reminded us of how to be HUMAN. This type of songwriting comes from artists who have experiences that they choose to share, and skilled musicians who can pull out the right sentiments to target the audience through the song.
And as stated above, The Wag have been in some good company over the years by opening the show for major artists. But again, that is not what makes them have that envied staying power that many artists crave. No! There are three things that makes this quartet of Pop Rock resonate so well with the masses: one, the songwriting and musicianship – these guys’ mastery over the lyric, melody, and instrument is mature, fun, interesting, and truly contagious. Two, that “everyday-people” vibe that they carry. That persona that lets fans know that it’s okay – everything’s chill – the same musical demeanor that Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and Bruce Springsteen carry along on their musical journey. And three, that close-knit family affection. When you look and listen to The Wag, you do not see or hear a studio-made band, no, it is a TEAM. No airs; it’s just music-fam, and we dig it!
In a world where people take things SO serious, social media rules our days, and the very act of just simply living life has become so opiniated, it was good to listen to music that places a PAUSE on the new-normal.
3/29/19 – The band walks the Red Carpet at the Garden State Film Festival 6:00 pm.