So Happy Together
When you can't find the sunshine, then be the sunshine!
This certainly seems to capture the essence of what The Wag is really all about.
If you're not already familiar with these pop-rock gleamers, you may be asking, what exactly is "The Wag"?
The short answer would be that The Wag is a band. A four-piece outfit of gifted musicians that know their craft well. While they hail originally from the New Jersey music scene, they definitely have a very unique sound that is reminiscent of the 1960's British/American pop rock era. A distinct, retro flavor that is always threaded throughout all of their music, transporting you to higher level of happiness.
With four alternating lead vocalists, The Wag's brand of catchy pop rock is easy to listen to, yet they still challenge those music fans who are always looking for something different. Their music bursts through the current music scene with a bright and shiny sound, sparkling melodies and divine harmonies that are only comparable to The Beatles or perhaps even The Eagles. One can't help but be won over by the overwhelming positivity that this group of accomplished musicians exudes. All of that and they're really the nicest bunch of people you could ever want to meet.
On the other side of the spectrum, The Wag is much more than just a talented music group. It's certainly something you have to experience live to fully understand.
One of the things that makes a Wag performance so good is that you can tell that they're really having fun up there. Their happiness is contagious and upbeat. They play and sing with with a confidence and drive that is highly impressive. One song after another, you can clearly see that The Wag gets high on playing live---they seem to light up whatever venue they might find themselves in. Whether a cafe on the Jersey shore, to The Whisky-Go-Go on the Sunset strip, when these guys come together, their musical product still brings good feelings everywhere they go.
The Wag has even strutted their stuff internationally, from Canada and Europe, all the way to Japan, they continue spreading good cheer wherever they go with a genuine sincerity and wit that would make Sir Paul McCartney blush with pride. This band has been warming audience's hearts since 1998 and seems to be going stronger than ever before. The Wag has had the privilege of opening for such talented names as Jefferson Starship, Gavin DeGraw, Rick Springfield, Phillip Phillips, John Cafferty, Peter Tork of The Monkees, and has even caught Bruce Springsteen's eye with one of their fresh, energetic performances. The energy each member of The Wag puts out to the crowd every night is the energy they get right back, and it's well-deserved. Their joyful attitude is infectious and reminds listeners that music is fun. And who can ever have too much of a good thing?
Even Stand By Me actor, Wil Wheaton got his Wag on and was quoted saying “If the Beatles and the Cowsills got it on backstage at Ed Sullivan, The Wag would totally be their love child.”
So you see, The Wag is more than just a band, it is a state of mind.
The Wag features Brian Ostering on bass and vocals, Alicia Van Sant on keyboards, vocals, percussion, flute, and occasional guitar, Don Lee on guitar and vocals, and Joshua Van Ness on drums, percussion, vocals, and guitar.
Cool Magazine had the chance to chat with Brian, Alicia, Don & Joshua about The Wag. Where they came from, and where they see themselves going from here!
Let's start from the beginning. When did each of you first know that you wanted to play music?
Brian Ostering: "My family had always been involved in music. My grandfather played in a big band, my dad & uncles played in a pop/rock band and all of my cousins sang and played musical instruments. Music was the way of life, in my family. I do remember singing songs to records and to my dad playing guitar, when I was about 5 years old. I still have a few recordings from that time. My mom used to sit with me and record all of that stuff."
Alicia Van Sant: "Ever since I can remember. I’ve been singing my whole life, & taught myself how to play my keyboard when I was around 11 years old."
Joshua Van Ness: "I was very aware of music at an early age. Maybe 4 or 5 years old. When I was 12 my family got me a drum set for Christmas. I haven't looked back since."
Don Lee: "Ever since I was a little kid, but seriously since about 5th grade, although I didn't tell anyone until 8th grade."
Where did you come up with an interesting name like The Wag? Is there a personal meaning or story behind it?
Brian Ostering: "When we formed our band, we had trouble agreeing on a name. Our guitarist’s girlfriend suggested The Wag because we were an upbeat and happy band. We decided to go with it and it has been our name now for over 21 years."
Who are your biggest musical influences?
Brian Ostering: "Our band has many influences such as The Beatles, The Moody Blues, Prince, Tom Petty, Squeeze... the list goes on and on."
Joshua Van Ness: "Prince, The Black Crowes, King's X."
Don Lee: "The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Squeeze, Steely Dan, Billy Joel, Chicago, Tears For Fears, many many more - basically classic pop-rock-soul and some jazz too."
For our Cool Magazine readers to get to know you better, what would you say are the best 3 words that describe you?
Brian Ostering: "Silly, thoughtful, and tall."
Don Lee: "Friendly, well-rounded, passionate. I would have put "mumbly" but that really just describes the way I sound sometimes when I speak and really isn't a word anyway."
Joshua Van Ness: "Silly, stubborn and hungry - No seriously, like when can we eat?"
Photo: Joe Cullity
Photo: John Posada
Photo: John Posada
Photo: John Posada
Photo: John Posada
We recently checked out the new Wag album “We Carry On”. It's one of those records that's good from beginning to end. Is there a particular track on the new album that you are most proud of? And why?
Brian Ostering: "It’s hard to single out one tune. Lately, I’ve been listening to “She’s a Devil” a lot. We just released a music video for that song!" (Check it out The Wag's "She's A Devil" video here!)
Alicia Van Sant: "The title track, “We Carry On”. This is our first album featuring Joshua Van Ness as our drummer, & he wrote the song. It could be about any loss & carrying on afterwards, but for me it’s about losing our brother & original drummer Brian Mowery, & carrying on with Joshua picking up where Brian left off."
Joshua Van Ness: "I like them all for different reasons. I look back at the recording of "Believe" very fondly. I recorded the drums playing along with Brian. Neither one of us knew the song completely yet, and we were hesitant to even try tracking it. However, we took a few takes and got a performance that is really exciting. It's also pretty different than anything I've heard The Wag come up with before."
We loved The Wag's latest award winning video "Everybody Said"! This track has got such a contagiously cool, British vibe and the video is very imaginative and artful. What was the inspiration for this video?
Brian Ostering: "When I wrote the song, I had a particular story in mind. The story was about a woman who would dream of a wonderful life but in reality was locked away in a mental institution where everything was grim and lonely. She would escape reality by imagining or believing that she was somewhere else. In order to bring that vision to life in a music video, we had to make a few changes to my initial idea. Instead of filming in an institution, I remembered this cool museum in Atlantic Highlands that I used to live near. It was the perfect place to film our music video. Special thanks to Lynn Fylak and the Atlantic Highlands Historical Society for the use of the museum. I decided to go with a slightly darker theme in the video. This time, it shows a flashback to the lady inviting her friends over to to perform at her party, and what she did to them. It also depicts the reality of how she was taken away and eventually put into an institution. I have to compliment Alicia’s fine acting in this video. She nailed it! Also, Amanda Duncan did an excellent job capturing the story, directing us and editing the flow."
(Check out The Wag's "Everybody Said" video here! )
Your band The Wag has rocked audiences from all over the globe while you've been on tour over the years. What's the craziest thing that ever happened to you at a gig?
Brian Ostering: "I have so many stories that I could tell! The one that comes to mind right now was when we performed at a heavy metal club in Tokyo. After two really heavy bands performed, I thought that the crowd wouldn’t be into our type of music. I couldn’t have been more wrong! It was the best gig that we had in Japan! Earlier that the day, we met a Japanese lady at the Samari museum - she worked as a translator there. I invited her to the show and brought her up on stage to translate what we said before we performed. After she repeated what I said in Japanese, the crowd cheered. It was so cool!"
Alicia Van Sant: "This was right here in New Jersey just a few months ago - we had finished an outdoor gig and were still packing up. Everyone else was gone, and suddenly the timed sprinklers, that no one knew were there, came on, and literally everything got SOAKED. Thankfully, nothing got ruined. We can laugh about it now…"
Don Lee: "Meeting Stevie Wonder. It was actually after a gig, but it was still pretty crazy."
Joshua Van Ness: "After a gig in Hollywood we met Stevie Wonder!"
Photo: Janine Sarah Moore
The Wag's music seems to be influenced a lot by the retro-esque 60s era. Was there a certain moment in your life or a certain band that brought you to this particular sound?
Brian Ostering: "The Beatles. Their sound was so diverse and I loved all of it! I can’t help but to write music in the style that I love. So I feel that the 60’s sound will always follow me."
Alicia Van Sant: "I’m not really a songwriter, but I can say that I love much of the 60s music, & I believe listening to so much of it taught me how to harmonize, which we do a lot of in The Wag."
Joshua Van Ness: "We all have different taste in music, but the 60-70s era music is where we all connect. I've always been fascinated with recordings from the mid 60's right up to around 1978. I think the songwriting was amazing and the technology used to record was at its peak. Everything from Jimi Hendrix to Fleetwood Mac. Of course, we all LOVE The Beatles."
Don Lee: "The love of the music of The Beatles and other 60's artists seem to be the common thread between all the members of the band."
Brian, we can remember a time when you had the privilege of sharing the stage with Bruce Springsteen, “The Boss” himself. How did that come about and what was the experience like?
Brian Ostering: "It was fantastic! He was such a nice down to earth guy. When The Wag performed at the NJ Friends of Clearwater Festival in Asbury Park, Bruce showed up. He was actually a frequent customer at the store Alicia worked at the time, so she had no problem going right up to him, handing him our latest CD (which he put right into his pocket) & asking him to stick around for our set. He said he had to take his son home first, but he’d be back. We thought he was just being nice, but no! He took his son home, & returned to the festival! Obviously, they asked him to perform a few songs and he invited the Clearwater musicians up to join him. It was pretty cool to share the stage with one of my musical heroes. My dad loved Bruce too, so it was cool for him to see that. Then it was our turn to play, & although there were thousands of people in the audience, that day, as we saw him sit on the grass, watching our entire set while tapping his feet & bobbing his head, we were all playing to one person… Bruce Springsteen. It was amazing! He came backstage afterwards, made it a point to shake all of our hands, and complimented us and told us to keep on plugging away! I’ll never forget that!"
What inspires you as a songwriter? Do you write songs based on personal or real life experiences or are they mostly creative stories you have thought up?
Brian Ostering: "Honestly, most of the songs that I write are based on stories or ideas that I make up. “Paper Cup” is probably the only song based on a real life experience."
Joshua Van Ness: "Many of my songs have been the result of personal experiences. However, in the past few years I've really come to enjoy simply telling a story. In the case of the song "We Carry On", I was actually inspired by the story of The Wag prior to me being the in the band as, well as what it has been like for me to join this group."
Don Lee: "Listening to the immense volume of great songs written over the ages always inspires me to want to try to do the same (in my own way, of course). Lyrically, it can be from personal experience, imagining myself experiencing something others do, thoughts I'm feeling at the time, topical issues, or just something random. I do have certain emotions I tend to fall back on occasionally, but I try not to limit myself."
Brian, you mentioned the song "Paper Cup" - which is an obvious 'stand-out' track from The Wag's past. This song is probably one of your most unique that has become a fan favorite. You have to share with us, what inspired you to write such a fun song about a ‘paper cup’?
Brian Ostering: "I am still in shock that “Paper Cup” is a very popular amongst our fans. I made a demo of it for the band, as a joke. Our drummer, Brian Mowery, loved it and insisted that we record it and play it out. I fought him on it and I was so wrong. People love it and clap their hands during the “audience participation” part, etc. The inspiration came to me when I was heading to work and was stopped at a red light. I saw a paper cup blow down the road and I thought to myself how free it was and how lucky it was that it didn’t have any responsibilities at all. Silly, huh?"
Your album Continuum released in 2013 was dedicated to your late drummer and good friend, Brian Mowery. Were these his last recordings with you guys? And what impact did Brian’s legacy leave with the band?
Brian Ostering: "We had started “Continuum” with Brian Mowery right before he passed away. It was so important to us to finish this record for him. The recording process was his favorite part of making music. We asked our original guitarist, Dan Corboy, and our good friend Pete Andrews, to help us complete the album and we dedicated it to Brian Mowery. We had recorded a few of our previous records at Pete’s recording studio, and when he played the drums on Continuum, he not only used Brian Mowery’s drum set, but he also tried to play in the style that Brian played. It warms my heart that he did all of that for us. Brian always encouraged us to keep writing new music. His push for that will always stay with me."
Alicia Van Sant: "Brian M. had recorded the drum tracks to three of the songs, and guitar on one song, before he died. Those are his final recordings. Our good friend Pete Andrews filled in on drums for the remaining songs, and we released Continuum on Brian’s birthday the following year, as a celebration of his life. Brian will always be a member of this band, and he is with us wherever we go."
You once had your own band podcast called The Imaginary Radio Show. We were floored when you guys had Graeme Edge of The Moody Blues on as a special guest! So awesome! Can you share with us how that came about?
Alicia Van Sant: "Honestly, I just asked him! It was a very pleasant surprise when he agreed to do it. We had a really fun Skype video call with him. I wish I’d thought to video record the call, but we do of course have the audio recording."
There's always that one cover song that never loses its magic to perform on stage. What's your favorite cover song of all time to play?
Brian Ostering: "Right now, it’s “A Day in a Life” by The Beatles. I feel like our band captures the essence of the song really well. Being a 4-piece, it’s hard to pull off a song that has so many parts including an orchestra, but we manage to pay it the respect it deserves."
Alicia Van Sant: "Personally, I love when we do “White Rabbit”, by Jefferson Airplane, because it always gets a big response."
Joshua Van Ness: "'White Rabbit' by Jefferson Airplane. Alicia sings that song like it's nobody's business!"
Don Lee: "Another very tough question which varies from show to show - at the last gig The Wag performed it was "All I Want" by Toad The Wet Sprocket. The gig before it was "Got To Get You Into My Life" by The Beatles."
One of the coolest things we love about The Wag is that two of you (Brian and Alicia) are full on vegans! We know you have done charity events and support gigs all for the love of animals and their rights. Is there a message on this particular subject that you would like to convey to your public? And any tips for someone who might be considering adopting a new vegan lifestyle?
Brian Ostering: "It’s all about compassion. For over 20 years, I haven’t consumed an animal or animal byproduct, and I’ve lived a perfectly happy and healthy life."
Alicia Van Sant: "I’ll just say that it is indeed a lifestyle, of which diet is only part. No tips besides please do it - for the animals, for the environment, & for yourself. There are plenty of resources online for recipes, etc. I will recommend a Facebook page called Vegan Sidekick. It’s an English guy who makes comics, which are very well thought-out rebuttals to the stupid stuff vegans hear all the time: “What if you were on a deserted island…?” “But lions eat meat!” “Plants have feelings too!” etc."
Photo: Joe Cullity
Photo: Jeff Crespi
Finish the saying, I know I've made it when…
Brian Ostering: "Our music brings joy to someone."
Joshua Van Ness: "I'm happy. I am very happy right now!"
Don Lee: "People are singing our songs after our show has ended - at least we made it for the night."
What would you like your fans to take away from a Wag performance experience?
Brian Ostering: "Happiness. I want our fans to have a great time at our show and to leave thinking about it."
Joshua Van Ness: "The Wag's music and overall energy is very uplifting. I think we all just really want to make our audience smile and hopefully connect with the songs."
Don Lee: "A feeling of happiness and goodwill with lots of memorable music and melodies - which can be found on our CDs, which we always have available for sale."
What's next for you? Any projects or ideas in the works?
Brian Ostering: "We have a big Christmas benefit show on November 30th at the Middletown Arts Center to help raise money for the Monmouth County SPCA, we will be performing at the Fest for Beatles Fans and at Abbey Road on the River in 2020, and we will be touring California, Indiana & possibly Kentucky in 2020. Also, we are hoping that our new music video will be screened at some cool film festivals!"
What is your definition of cool?
Brian Ostering: "Helping."
Alicia Van Sant: "A happy heart."
Joshua Van Ness: "Cool is a combination of kindness and the possessing the complete freedom to be exactly who you want to be."
Don Lee: "Being yourself and understanding others being themselves."
Music has the power to improve your mood, no matter where you are. That's why The Wag's music is so important in these times. Who couldn't use some happy and uplifting songs to put you in a good mood wherever you go?
So move over Debbie Downer, The Wag is coming soon to your neck of the woods to brighten your day and spread some of that feel-good sunshine to the world! Making the world a better place one song at a time!
- J & M Owczarski
**Brian would like to give a shout out to everyone who worked on The Wag's "She's A Devil" video:
Special thanks to Amanda Duncan from Please N thank UProductions for filming, directing, & editing the video; to Joanna Burns for assisting Amanda; to Dani Goldberg for makeup, to our Wag Devil, Jamie Marie Hannigan, for her awesome acting and dancing; to our Wag Angels Emily Grove, Anjelia Pelay, & Larissa Jay, and to the Man Upstairs, John Posada, for their fantastic acting skills; and to Justin Gyuricz & Perle Night Club & Lounge for providing a wonderful venue for us to use!
For more info and updates on THE WAG - visit the band's official website: