Pain Waves was born when Singer-Songwriter Michael Steven Wagner was being held in conservatorship and guardianship by his abuser. He was being silenced in and out of court hearings that controlled his freedom.
What first got you into music?
I’d say that my life experiences – growing up in an abusive family of addicts and alcoholics, I’d say that I leaned into bands like Blink-182, Savage Garden, and some classics from the original Now! Compilation and a few others like The All-American Rejects.
A song that I sang in kindergarten got me into music. My uncle also gave me a copy of BNL’s “Stunt”, and my other uncle gave me a mixtape with a bunch of Robbie Williams on it. I loved those tracks a lot, and I guess you could say those were my earliest influences.
I also have memories of riding with my father and jamming Boston and REO Speed-Wagon. By kindergarten, I had really taken a liking to pop and alternative music. I went to see N’Sync and BackStreet Boys when they were popular. And Britney Spears’ Debut was also a staple of mine that was in the mix as well.
Who inspired you to make music?
My old neighbors had a band, my parents had a piano and I took up lessons when I was 8 or 9. I wasn’t inspired until I went through the protective orders, though – at 25. I had too many symptoms I was coping with from disorders and health issues. CPTSD, and a bunch of complications from being brain-washed in conversion therapy. The sex ring bullshit that my mom signed me up for didn’t help. My father’s abduction of me through his employer, and trafficking of me through his employer, Continental Properties – only scarred me, and left a bitter taste in my mouth regarding capitalism.
I used to be a concert photographer, as well, and a lot of the bands I have met have influenced my decision to create. Being around the concert scene in Milwaukee, It was always cool to see a band play their first show and build up momentum. Seeing bands progress in style and showmanship gave me a wealth of knowledge. It also helped that most of the shows I covered were packed. Good music draws a crowd and I definitely was influenced by the alt pop scene in the early 2010s by photographing those bands for outlets like the one I started, and later for Live & Wrecked & Hit It Off.
How would you describe the music that you typically create?
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Pain Waves has been a zero budget project. Early on I paid for mixing and studio time, but along the way, I’ve learned how to do everything I need to do – without paying anyone. DIY music has done a lot for my life.
What do you think is your greatest success in life?
I fought the system of oppression in this country as a disabled person – successfully for many years by using my voice and my music to leverage my way to freedom from several court orders. They were imposed on me because of my dad’s lies to the authorities about his behaviors toward me. Once I was labeled as crazy – my life was ruined for a very long time. It shouldn’t be possible in the 2020s. Fighting infantilization as a disabled person is very difficult to do though.
Can you tell us about a time when you almost gave up, how you felt about that, and what you did instead of giving up?
I was in my old band, the other bandmate was quite an asshole. I felt vulnerable and like I didn’t have a purpose. I didn’t want to live anymore and it was because of the benefits of trafficking that my dad is putting me through. If I didn’t have to get a roommate because of his lies to SSI, I would have been safe in my own house, but I wasn’t. Not with Evan Schmidt living with me, pretending to be my friend. I deleted the band page one night and he beat me up for kicking him out.
He beat me up 5 times. I took a year off of making music and resolved the situation by buying a scooter because of my new brain injuries. I decided to keep making music though. At least for now.
What do you do to gain self-awareness when everyone is out to flatter you?
On the regular, people are mean to me in person. It’s not fun going out in public for me. I have high anxiety and I’m on a mobility scooter now because of the assaults. I’m saving my energy and healing.
People say what they want about me to my face – and I don’t interact, with them because they’ve already told me that they suck – by making fun of me. I just wear my headphones and get from A to B. I ignore it all.
What motivates you?
The fact that I have a brain injury helps. I know I’m not living very long. Maybe I will. But I take every day on a more macro level, and with that, I’m able to get a lot done in my free time. Coffee and the fact that I’m basically broken. A clock that ticks is a powerful motivator.
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