Luke Wagner – Orlando, Florida – Americana Rock
Chaos with a bit of hindsight
In between “hearting” Bodega Cats and rad looking guitars on Instagram, I came across a musician on whose musical style captured my attention. Centrally located in Orlando Florida, Luke Wagner has the talent, the style and the sound to go places. My research revealed. He and his band, the 441, play Americana – Rock music that focuses on sharp observations of the American culture. The band “produces a raw, powerful punch of blended storytelling and stage antics which keeps audiences singing along.” Upon searching for his videos, he provides a charismatic, energized show. This is so refreshing to see an artist not taking himself so seriously.
When I was setting up the interview with Luke Wagner, a young guy with his soul settled into a different era, He was having a bad day. “I wasn’t accepted into a festival. They said I was too “country sounding”. He sounded a bit disheartened but he doesn’t let a rejection keep him down. He has a plucky attitude. Luke, centered in Orlando, desires to break into the Americana arena. While listening to his latest release, one can safely say he is not too country and is moving swiftly toward his goal. He plays his Gibson with gusto and crafts lyrics that mix veracity and shots of irony.
He expressed a genuine gratitude that I wanted to get him on the phone to talk to hear the voice of the artists to get a feel for their true persona. He told me “They usually send me the questions via email. It’s like taking a quiz.”
As we spoke, I discerned a jovial yet no nonsense way about him. He seems like a guy with his boots firmly planted in the Florida sand. Growing up, he and his family relocated frequently due to his father being in the Air Force. They wound up living in Alaska for 7 years. The open feel of the 49th state rubbed off on him. Looking out of at the Alaskan sky and the vastness of the country nurtured his curious nature and also taught him to be still. He told me “Alaska was like Twilight all night” The family moved to Coco Beach, FL which was a bit of shock to his system. This still shaped the way he looked at the world.
Very little evidence of a rush and hurry attitude, his lack of Type A-ness lends to his demeanor and to his song writing “I always had rhythm. My parents got me a guitar after my mom got tired of my playing her pots and pans” Gibson guitars are his axe of choice and he rarely plays any other.
We spoke about his writing and recording process. “It’s a lot of chaos with a bit of hindsight that winds up looking really thought out.” While speaking about his favorite lyricists he told me Jackson Brown’s writing style is a powerful influence. “There was a JB zeitgeist but he never really reached promotional success. JB was Shakespearean in his writing abilities. He makes sure the audience pays attention. “Running on Empty” is a song I feels I can relate too. It’s a timeless song.“ He is also moved by the writing of Neil Young and the master storytelling of John Prine. “Prine’s song Illegal Smile off Prine’s debut kicked it for him.” We both agreed that was the way to come out of the box.
The music of the late, greats Glen Frey and Gram Parson, with his stints in the Flying Burrito Brother, made an imprint on him. He got into “Alt Country and Southern California music”. The song “Take It Easy” really “tapped into that sound” for him. (See Who did it better Jackson Brown or The Eagles). “Yea Tom Petty was terrible but Glen’s death really hit me hard. Plus he died on Elvis’ birthday.”
He recently attended one of Paul Simon’s farewell concert. The experience moved him. “He ended with the Sounds of Silence as the lights slipped out and basically he was just a tiny guy alone on stage”.
When I think of Orlando, of course, I go the Disney route but Luke told me, “In Orlando there is a cool vibing art and music scene about 40 mins north of downtown It has a “Asheville (NC) feel” It sort of is like something out of an Andy Griffith show.
The 6 songs on Walking Through Oz prove to be well crafted tracks based on astute observations. His dry wit shines through on these story telling songs.
The title track reveals his subtle angst of growing up becoming an adult. “I am so far from my comfort zone/ underneath a pile student loans/ I’ve made some friends/ One’s got no heart/ The other has no brains” The catchy chorus about laughing at the past “Hey baby ain’t it good to be alive” grants us insight into his thought process about the futility of controlling situations. The past is unfolding around you have to you keep on keeping on. The sharp fiddle and easy picking of the Gibson move this easy going tune about the realities of everyday life.
I was drawn to the lighthearted mood portrayed in “Pretty Hippy Cowgirl”. This song about his girl who is bathed in insouciance and curiosity. An upbeat tempo makes this a toe tapper. “She picks a fight to challenge my mind/She makes me happy just being alive”.
As light an airy as this track is, “Refugee”, proves to be hard hitting, reality based song. A timely song that showcases his guitar playing skills. He clearly conveys confusion, sadness and possibly remorse for the people who are being forced away. I discerned a distinct angst in the musical arrangement.
Romanticizing a break up where he found mementos from a past relationship is the core of “Box of things” that remind him of all the mistakes he made. Going to throw it out ala Bobby Gentry did in the “Ode to Billy Joe’ tossing all the memories right off that bridge. “I will never call you sweetheart/ You will never call me babe.” Wagner is excellent at conveying mood. This one is saturated in regret. The arrangement of the fiddle, guitar and upright bass clearly gives the song a slowed down vibe.
Freak show is a peppy number. “The way I see it we’re all Freaks around here. The faster pace You can play the game but it comes with a price. We’re all freaks round here.”
Again the fiddle is used to maximum effect jiving in harmony with Luke’s expert picking. He winds a tale about the members of the circus claiming “Everybody’s got a story to tell…. It took this lady to my bed but when I woke in the morning I almost croaked/ It was the Bearded lady instead” He follows this lyric with a bit of high jinx that could felt like Dylan playing with sounds in his song “Rainy day woman #12 and #35”.
He ends the collection of songs with “How to Be” a coming of age song reminiscent of early Jackson Brown. The pace is definitely a Brown clone and it works. Luke embodies one of his songwriting idols yet makes it his own. “Somewhere between Heaven nd Hell you will earn ho to be.” Take it Easy young man.
I am always curious what women the musicians I interview follow. Luke mentioned Edie Brickell and he also told me about Melissa Crispo. “If Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow and Stevie Nicks had a love-child, you would get the powerhouse voice of Melissa Crispo!!”
His plans for the future include booking doing small venues, applying for spots in festivals and a Battle of the Bands.
When he isn’t writing and booking gigs he can be found Googling Retro Marketing posters and signs. Wishing this old soul much success in the future.
Sat, Nov 17 Maitland Art Festival Lake Lily Park
Sat, Nov 24 Folk Yeah Festival Will’s Pub
Sat, Dec 15 Luke Wagner & The 441 w … Barley & Vine Beirgarten