Michael Wagener isn't used to working for free. Having produced or mixed records by such rock heavyweights as Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe, and Metallica, the German-born Wagener normally commands fees the size of Lars Ulrich's ego. He's done work on spec -- meaning he doesn't get paid until the band lands a record deal or the album meets with label approval -- only twice in his career. The first time, it was with Boston's Extreme, the radio-friendly hard rock band that went on to sell over five million records worldwide.
Twelve years later, Wagener has stumbled across the only other group that moved him to gamble his paycheck on its success. That band is the Silver Company, four teenagers from Shaker Heights who have just finished laying down tracks in Wagener's Nashville studio.
"I think they could have a very successful career," Wagener says of the band, made up entirely of seniors at Shaker Heights High School. "At that age, you don't find a lot of musicians that are able to play that well, sing that well. So based on that, I'm very, very trusting that this is going to be a good record."
Almost as remarkable as Wagener taking a group of unknowns under his wing is how he stumbled upon the Silver Company in the first place. For their senior project before graduation, the band members decided to record an album. Seeking recording advice, singer/guitarist Dan Goddard made a post on Recording.org, looking for someone to assist in mixing the disc. Expecting a few replies from amateur producers, Goddard was surprised when he got over a dozen responses from a variety of studio professionals, one of whom was Wagener.
"He was real nonchalant about it," Goddard says. "First, he e-mailed me, 'Hey, I really like what you're doing. Can you tell me a little bit more?' I was like 'Yeah, sure,' thinking it was just some amateur guy. 'Do you have any credits?' So he links me to this page on AllMusic.com, and it's like Janet Jackson, Queen, Extreme, Skid Row. I was like 'Whoa.'"
Listen to some of the demo tracks the band has posted at Silvercompanymusic.com, and it's easy to hear why Wagener's curiosity was piqued. An honest, unembellished rock band, the Silver Company recalls the heydays of Neil Young and Dire Straits, when hard-driving, no-frills rock and roll was music's lifeblood. Goddard's singing is passionate yet plaintive, the guitars amount to a tasteful slow burn, and the rhythm section is fleet and nimble.
"Our sound is modernized, but at the same time reminiscent of classic rock," guitarist Andrew Kaplan says. "We want to be a band that's outside of the pop scene, but that's going to make listeners realize that there's another style of music out there that's kind of like the old stuff, but with new flavor."
It may seem ironic for such a young group to be so steeped in the sounds of the past, but despite its youth, the Silver Company (rounded out by bassist Josh Kirschenbaum and drummer John Dingle) is a veteran of the local scene. The band members have been playing together since eighth grade, landing high-profile opening gigs for bands like Great Big Sea at the Odeon when they were sophomores. Moreover, Goddard has been making music since he was in diapers.
"I started playing violin at the age of two," he says. "I played piano for a minute. I played sax, trumpet. I have tapes of me when I was eight, singing the stupidest songs about how much I hate school, or baseball cards. I got my first four-track when I was 13."
He's been recording ever since, and now it's starting to pay off. The Silver Company has talked to almost every major label in recent months, and a deal is imminent. Moreover, now that the music industry is abuzz with talk that 2002 is the year that rock and roll reasserts itself in the mainstream, the timing is right for dyed-in-the-wool rock bands to win converts, which the Silver Company has been doing with regularity.
"It's not so much the sound as the songwriting and the singing," Wagener says of the Silver Company's appeal. "The songwriting is absolutely great, and I think Dan's an amazing singer. He's 18 years old, so he's got a long way to go, a long career in front of him."
Thanks, in no small part, to having an ace producer behind him.