“The more, the more that I think … the deeper and deeper I sink.”
Ah, self-doubt. We all go through it, and a lot of music has been made over the years to express it. The topic hasn’t been terribly fashionable in the larger-than-life, braggadocio-filled world of hip hop, though, until recent years.
But singer-rapper Jordan Bleyer, aka Michael Wavves, found it to be the perfect vehicle to express his own feelings of insecurity and guilt. That first line is from the Lebanon native’s just-released new song, “Deeper.”
Wavves, 30, also teaches 8th-grade social studies at Lebanon Middle School. A graduate of Millersville University, he’s been teaching for five years. His stage name came partly organically and partly via the need to optimize search engine visibility.
“When I was first starting out, I used to go by my initials, JMB, which I found to be not very Google friendly,” Wavves said in a phone interview. “Once I started to take this much more seriously and treat it as a profession and a career option, I wanted to change my name … to represent the new standard, the better quality music.
“I settled on Michael, my middle name, and I would just search random words [on Google] and I somehow stumbled upon ‘waves.’ I was like, Michael Wavves, that kind of sounds cool, and I added two Vs to make it a little more unique, and it stuck,” he said.
The inner conflict described in the new song arises from his desire to ultimately make a living as a musician.
“I’m well on my way to doing that, but there’s some nights where it gets very tough and you’re doubting yourself and you start really questioning everything,” he said. “That song was a product of some of those thoughts — I still listen back to the song and sometimes I’ll even get emotional because I remember exactly how I felt when I wrote it.”
That was about two years ago, and out of the many songs he’s written (he’s released music commercially since 2015), he calls “Deeper” his favorite.
“It’s so special because it’s so authentically open and representative of what I was when I wrote it and [what] I still dip back into,” he said. “I think a lot of people can relate to that as well, especially during COVID.
Wavves’s new single, “Deeper,” which released on April 23. Note: The song is explicit.
“I had been waiting for the right home for it label-wise and the right rollout plan, and I just thought, the nature of things [now is] so perfect … just the process of overthinking and doubting yourself and not thinking that you’re good enough — the dark side of your mind, the tired, negative side of yourself. You can almost be your own worst enemy sometimes, especially in art and just in life in general,” he said.
The song isn’t whiny or poor-me, though. It might have a hopeless feel, with lines like “Overthinking all the time,” “Make me drown in all my doubts and insecurities,” and “Let that small voice in my head start speaking words to me.” But it feels succinct, like this was a momentary blip, a venting, not a wallowing in self-pity.
“That was totally the goal with it,” he said. “It was hey, quite frankly, I feel like [crap] and it’s going to make me feel better if I talk openly about it. When you talk about things, even if it’s to yourself, you can kind of help sort it out in your mind a little bit and it doesn’t seem as complex, it doesn’t seem as painful. It was kind of like journaling out loud, if that makes sense.”
The first lines of the song are about that part of being a musician, Wavves said, that people often don’t understand — “You gotta love me from a distance cuz I’m not around/I been out here on the road trying to grip the crown,” that is, “why you’re spending so much time and the money and effort doing it … and having to sacrifice a lot of stuff.”
He gave an example of that.
Speaking of girlfriend Christie Taormina, who he’s been with for 10 years, Wavves said, “I’m really close to my fiancée’s family and I had to miss her mom’s 60th birthday party because I was on tour.” He added, “A lot of people don’t understand that a lot of sacrifices need to be made to accomplish something, especially something that you’re passionate about, [that] you believe is what you were put on this earth to do, and that’s what music is to me.
“A lot of sacrifices can create a lot of dark thoughts, when you’re thinking, am I a bad person for doing this, or am I selfish for making this decision. That’s kind of the place I was at [when he wrote the song] and that’s kind of a place I dip back into every now and then. I think that’s the human condition,” he added.
One of those dark thoughts was giving it up entirely, as he says in the song: “Maybe if I quit then that would heal up all my pain quick.”
“My fiance has been my right-hand person — she’s been dealing with all of this since I was just writing stuff in a notebook,” he said. “I’ve said to her, I kind of wish sometimes, when I’m feeling in a really negative place, [that] I didn’t discover music, because this obsession is something that is painful sometimes.
“I feel like I can’t stop, I can’t take a breath, I need to continue to push forward. It’s something that’s always on my mind — I’m not at the summit of the mountain yet, I don’t live off it full time yet, what am I doing wrong or what should I do better. You get in that negative cycle,” he said.
His 2019 EP “Purple Heart” had what he called “a very similar vibe” to “Deeper” — “where I’m being painfully open and vulnerable about a lot of things that I probably don’t even talk to my family or talk to close friends about, but that I can talk about on a song that I put out to the public.”
There’s a lot of vulnerability in the song, with lines like, “I’m working on it though, I battle with it every day,” and “I guess I’m kinda embarrassed so I don’t bring it up,” and “So I don’t always feel inside like I’m not enough.”
“It’s the power of being honest and how that can help heal yourself,” he said. “I know that I’m at least in a good-enough spot where I can talk about this stuff and I’m not going to go into this massive spiral. It’s like, I’ve been through this stuff but I’m feeling OK today, so how about I talk about it so it’ll help other people heal as well.”
He makes a big admission in the line, “Do I love myself, yeah I doubt that.”
“There definitely still [have been] times in the recent past where, I don’t want to say I don’t love myself, but I could be easier on myself,” he said. “Self-hatred is something I go through a lot, as opposed to being like, hey, it’s OK to make a mistake or to think something’s right this time and later you find out that it wasn’t the right decision.
“I definitely think I’m closer to letting myself take a breath and relax, but sometimes those dark thoughts creep back in,” he said.
The ultimate optimism in the song comes from music itself, that it is a salvation (“Singing all these songs to deal with my ups and downs”) and a means to get out these feelings (“The words I put into these songs are ones I usually never say”).
“I come from a family where talking about your emotions openly is something that doesn’t happen much,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of people out there [who feel like] that, so I’ll be the one to go out on a limb because I’m lucky enough to have the gift to be able to craft these feelings into a song for somebody else.
“Also, just being a man talking about emotions, being vulnerable, openly saying like hey, I don’t feel great mentally, I’m kind of sad, I’m kind of depressed — those don’t come up in common conversation, even with my closest friends or my family. So behind closed doors by myself, that’s a safe pace to let that stuff out,” he said.
Wavves has been singing and rapping for about eight or nine years, but his music had its roots in another rhyming art form.
“I remember the beginning stages of it in high school in an English class and I had to write a poem,” he said. “Rhyming words just came naturally easy, I didn’t even have to think about it.”
In college, he started to “fall in love with hip hop music,” which he’d listened to in high school, “but just whatever was on the radio or whatever was popular,” he said. Later, he got into more serious artists like Drake, Kid Cudi, and the late Mac Miller.
“I kind of became obsessed with it, and the poetry naturally transformed into trying to write songs,” he said.
He calls singer-songwriter Mike Posner another big influence, for his songwriting in particular.
“I enjoy rapping, but I really enjoy crafting a good song with a good hook and a nice bridge,” he said. “Guys like Mike Posner were early examples for me of people that were perfecting the songwriting art.”
After putting out three mixtapes on the internet while at Millersville, Wavves started releasing his own songs, and videos to accompany them. Along with “Purple Heart,” he released the EP “Nights on Vine” in 2018, as well as a host of singles and about 10 or 15 videos.
He’s garnered a listener base of 130,000 on Spotify and some positive reviews of his work — in a quote on his website, Marissa Medina of One West Magazine said he “pushes the boundaries of hip-hop music forward, creating an exciting new blend that is as emotionally potent as it is commercially appealing.”
Wavves has toured cities in the East Coast and Northeast; in the last tour he did before COVID-19 hit, over the 2019 holidays, he played Ohio for the first time, in Toledo and Cleveland. He says he “take[s] a lot of pride in my live show.”
“I really practice and fine-tune it,” he said. “What I’m trying to achieve is just an experience for the fan. I want to make sure I put on a show where they can just tap out of their daily life for the hour that I’m on stage, and they forget about problems and forget about stress and just have a good time and enjoy themselves.
“People talk about the dark side of touring — hours of driving and eating crappy food, not sleeping — but those types of moments, where you connect with people, connecting to another human being, those are the moments that make it all worth it,” he said.
Making that connection is the ultimate goal of “Deeper,” he said,
“Social media like Instagram is kind of like a highlight reel of your life,” he said. “People might see me online and go, oh, that guy’s got it all, he’s got it all figured out, it must be great. There’s a lot of people out there who feel some of the same feelings I’ve felt and they don’t necessarily have an outlet to go to, they don’t have somebody to rely on, or they don’t love themselves enough to be able to get through it.
“So I hope this song can be something that if somebody’s having a really terrible day or a really terrible time in their life that they put it on and when it’s over, they can feel a little bit better and a little bit more hopeful,” he said.
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