Most music lovers have had this problem: You can't get a song out of your head. But what if the songs happen to be ones you came up with?
Answer: You get some musically gifted people and make it happen.
Essentially, that's what the Lexington band The Wags is. What you hear on record and see when the band performs live Friday at Cosmic Charlie's are some of Lexington's talented and well-known musicians. What you're also hearing are the ideas of someone you won't hear performing or see on stage.
That someone is Michael Grice, longtime theater director and current director of the Singletary Center for the Arts at the University of Kentucky. Grice has more recently made a point to attend shows and get himself acquainted with local bands in Lexington.
He first approached Coralee, lead singer and guitarist for Coralee and the Townies, in May 2013 about tapping her and some other Lexington musicians to write some tunes that would become the film score for a movie he wrote. As more musicians came on board, Grice and Robby Cosenza, frontman for Fanged Robot, found a good rapport and some common musical interests.
"He said, 'I have all these songs in my head that are driving me crazy. I have to get them out,'" Cosenza says.
Grice had written lyrics and had basic melodies to multiple tunes, but he didn't know how to sing or play an instrument. He gave his words and ideas to Cosenza, who took it upon himself to arrange and produce Grice's music. Over the course of a year, Cosenza recorded many of the parts himself at Duane Lundy's Shangri-La Productions and called on other musicians to contribute here and there, among them Coralee for vocals and keyboardist Matt Duncan. By the time The Wags were done recording, nearly a dozen musicians had contributed to the eight tracks on the debut EP I'm So Over.
"It's definitely the most unique project I've gotten to be a part of," Cosenza said. "He gave me a skeleton and basically said, 'Put a body around this. I trust your judgement.'"
The music reflects Grice's sincerity and accessibility as a lyricist and his fondness for pop and rock of the 1950s, '70s and early '80s, including The Beach Boys, Nick Lowe and Marshall Crenshaw. But Cosenza's influence is in the lush arrangements and "headphone candy" of some of his favorites, notably Daniel Lanois.
The Wags recorded, and Grice had his songs. The project was supposed to end there.
"I think we both thought that the songs were so good and they were coming out so well, everybody we played them for really dug them, so I really wanted to hear these songs come to life," Cosenza says.
So The Wags expanded from being a one-time studio project to a live band. Most of the contributing musicians agreed to come back for a live show, while others happily filled in. The lineup includes Cosenza on drums, Coralee and Chris Bennison (of Chico Fellini) on vocals and percussion, bassist Blake Cox (of Recipe for Gamma Rays), guitarists Joe Drury (of Summer Smoke) and Scott Whiddon (of Palisades), Joshua Wright (of Bear Medicine) on acoustic guitar and vocals, Lee Carroll (of Coralee and the Townies) on keyboards and Emily Hagihara (of Ancient Warfare) on keyboards and drums.
Hagihara didn't get to record on The Wags' first album, but she has found that each song has something different to offer because of the songwriting and recording process.
"That was cool, the way they sort of shared the role with Michael, bringing the songs to life but also influencing it with their own sound," she says.
Grice wants to stay out of the spotlight and let his songs get all the glory, but he has made his presence felt in other ways. In addition to sitting in on rehearsals, the theatrical director in him has taken over for the live show, considering the blocking and transitions of the musicians during and between songs, and getting just the right lighting for the band's inaugural performance.
"We're all aware of our space up there and how we need to move through the songs musically, physically; there really is a bit of a theatrical aspect to this," Cosenza said. "We don't just want to put on a gig; we want to put on a show, and we want it to be as stimulating visually as it is musically."
Cosenza said The Wags have a few more gigs lined up and will eventually head back to the studio to record more tracks, with the intent of re-releasing I'm So Over as a full-length album. But he admits that the first live show will be something special for all parties involved, but Grice especially.
"I think he's going to be thrilled," Cosenza says. "It's a very inspiring thing to help somebody's vision kind of come to life. We want to do the best we can for him, and for us."