By Bronwyn Bidwell
Brothers Jack and Max Wagner are fresh-faced old souls. Their acoustic-pop group Minor Soul produces music which is brimming with lyrical and melodic maturity – despite the fact its creators are only in their early 20s.
Born in London, raised in Hong Kong and now living in New York, the pair writes songs about urban life. It speaks volumes that their early work attracted the attention of the Eurythmics founder Dave Stewart, who went on to produce their first recordings in Los Angeles.
The boys have also worked with Grammy Award winning Toby Gad, who co-wrote All of Me (with John Legend) and If I Were a Boy (sung by Beyonce). Gad worked with the boys on Streets of New York which was included on Minor Soul’s debut album Home Is Where You Are released in March 2013. Their second album Tiger was issued in October 2014 and contains the singles Charlie Chaplin and Nothing At All.
iSing: What set you off down the path of a musical career?
Max: I think we have to thank our parents for introducing us to music. Neither are musicians but both love music, and they shared that music with us from a young age. So we’ve always had that love for it.
Jack: I got my first guitar when I was about eight, and I began learning all the Beatles songs and began writing songs shortly after. Max started stealing my guitar from my room and playing it, so I decided to buy him a guitar when he was 13 for Christmas and I also taught him a few chords. Eventually we started writing songs together and we recorded some of our songs and put them up on YouTube. And to our surprise we were contacted by Dave Stewart, who is a music legend and the songwriter and producer from Eurythmics. He loved our music and flew us to LA to produce some songs and get us started in the industry. And since then we have been playing shows and writing and recording non-stop! That was probably what set us off, our starting point.
iSing: Did you always intend to work together, how did you discover you worked well together?
M: We started by writing songs individually but it became clear that we would be better off together because we enjoyed harmonising. We discovered that we both have a similar ear in music, we like the same kind of things, progressions, genres, so it felt natural to try and work together.
J: Yeah, I remember when we first listened to each other’s music, songs that we had written individually, and found that they were quite similar in character, and that we could probably write better ones if we worked together. The first song that we wrote together was called Golden, that was ages ago.
iSing: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being brothers in the same band?
M: It’s a lot of fun working with my brother because we know each other so well so there are no hard feelings. We can be very honest with each other, and we know that we won’t take it personally and we both know we love each other. So it’s a very solid partnership.
iSing: How would you describe your style/vibe?
J: Our songs are honest pieces of music that we think people can connect to emotionally. We write our songs from an emotional place inside of us, and most people go through similar emotions. But our most important stylistic weapon is our harmonies, for sure.
M: We write mostly acoustic pop songs, but more recently we are getting into different types of production. There is definitely some folk in there, some pop, and some singer-songwriter.
iSing: Who are your musical/vocal inspirations and influences and why?
M: A lot of people know what or who inspires their songwriting, but for me personally I just write what’s on my mind at the time. Most of it is totally spontaneous. Lots of artists do inspire me though… people like Phil Collins, Max Martin, the Beatles, the Bee Gees, the 1975. The reason would be because I love all of their melodic instincts, especially Phil Collins.
J: And as musicians we were also influenced by our dad, who is a massive Beatles and David Bowie fan. David Bowie is loved by our entire family, as he should be. Definitely inspiring.
iSing: Have you had or do you have instrumental/vocal coaching/lessons?
M: We used to have guitar lessons all the time when we lived in Hong Kong, where we grew up. We also had lots of singing lessons in Hong Kong and New York when we moved there. We don’t do guitar lessons any more, and I taught myself piano.
J: Often before a show we may schedule a lesson with a vocal coach to go over a few things for example. But we don’t regularly go to lessons.
iSing: What is your writing process?
M: It kind of depends on the song actually. Some songs Jack starts by himself, some songs I start by myself, and there are some we write completely together from start to finish. Most of our next album was written individually, which is slightly different to previous albums.
J: For example, Beneath My Skin was a song I had written by myself, and I presented it to Max and he actually changed the end of the song and wrote the whole “Oh Oh Oh” outro part, which is the best part of the song! There’s no exact method, every song has its own journey.
iSing: Tell us how you came to work with Dave Stewart (Eurythmics)?
J: We love Dave. He heard some songs we put up online and invited us out to Los Angeles in July 2011 to work with him; it was great. He produced a lot of tracks, we co-wrote a couple, and he introduced us to so many inspiring musicians and artists like Joss Stone and Orianthi.
M: We hadn’t even played our first real gig yet at that time so we were absorbing tonnes of advice and information from Dave. He was really the first person to see something in our music that could be commercial or have potential. The internet is a beautiful thing!
Beneath my Skin: Minor Soul
iSing: Why did you move to New York? And how is that working out for you?
M: We moved to New York because we knew it was the place to be if we wanted to try and make it in music and give it a really good shot. It was really encouraging to see American fans start to follow us basically right from when we started playing our first shows in New York. It’s a great place to live, although I do miss the sunshine sometimes.
J: New York is also where we know a lot of industry contacts, so it made sense that once we both graduated from high school in Hong Kong we would move over to America to try and really start our career. We’ve had a lot of fun and it’s been really encouraging.
iSing: Do you have a mentor? How have they helped?
J: We don’t really have a mentor. So much of the work we do is really done by Max and myself alone, working on it every day. It’s a lot of work from managing social media to writing and recording and mixing music, but we love it.
iSing: Right now you aren’t signed, is this something you aspire to, and why?
M: Absolutely but it would have to be the right label and the right time, because I have heard some stories from friends who have been signed that if the label doesn’t believe in you, you end up just sitting there not able to release music.
J: Yes, we’d definitely consider it, but as Max said, we’ve got to be totally sure that it’s the right move and that it’s with the right person. Although we have a great connection with fans now, and we’re able to release music whenever we want, having a label would help especially with marketing and promotion.
iSing: What are the pros and cons, for you, of being in the music industry at this time?
M: The pros would definitely be that there are so many creative individuals out there at the moment, so that’s really inspiring. I think the music industry is almost reinventing itself and trying to start over. The days of the big studios are gone and now it’s more home studios, and production can be done on a laptop. It’s great.
J: And I guess the cons are that there are still some shady people in the music business that you have to avoid, we’ve encountered a few of those type. There are some people still out there to exploit you and take advantage of you and your music, so you have to be very careful.
iSing: How important is social media for you? Why?
M: Social media is super important if not the most important thing we do on a daily basis. It’s our way of keeping in touch with our fans, and promoting events or albums or music videos.
J: It’s so amazing when you see different fans from all over the world comment on your video and tell you how much they enjoyed it. Great feeling!
iSing: Tell us about (your fans) the Minor Souldiers.
M: They’re the greatest. They motivate us every day and we love them to bits.
J: Wouldn’t be here without them and wouldn’t be able to carry on without them. They’re amazing.
iSing: Describe the typical working day for you?
M: Well at the moment, we are making a new album. So a working day is basically made up of lots and lots and lots of recording, mixing and songwriting. Every day is different but every day consists of some recording and some songwriting. Most of the album is now written but we’re constantly making little changes. Exciting times.
J: We are thinking of new video concepts, which single should be first, those kind of discussions too. So a typical day is full of that kind of stuff!
iSing: Favourite working aid – eg app, software, hardware, gear…
M: Pro Tools. Apple EarPods are life. And I love my Apogee Duet.
J: Any guitar from Martin.
iSing: Do you sustain a living from music yet? If not do you have a set goal for when you want to be earning from music full-time?
J: We don’t really think about it that way, to be honest. We take it one day at a time. We both have degrees from university so we are able to do part time work, summer jobs, that sort of thing if we need to. And I think it’s important to not put all of your eggs in one basket, while at the same time we are 100% committed to music.
M: We don’t have a deadline for anything. We love what we do so it’s all fun to us. We’re just lucky that we have great fans.
iSing: What has been your most memorable musical moment to date?
J: Probably working with Dave Stewart or with Toby Gad (on the single Streets of New York). We can’t decide to be honest. Those guys have influenced us so much, they are both so talented and it was mind-blowing to work with them. We learnt lots from Dave about the whole process of becoming a developed artist; it goes without saying that he has plenty of experience in that field. Toby is simply a magician, and the nicest guy on Earth.
M: The tour we did with AJR in 2014 was amazing too. To see so many amazing fans on the road was mind-blowing and we had the best of times. I would do it again tomorrow.
Streets of New York: Minor Soul
iSing: What’s next for Minor Soul?
M: Album number three, videos, and a whole lot of fun times.
J: It’s gonna be a great year.
Nothing At All: Minor Soul
Charlie Chaplin: Minor Soul
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