Wannabe Heroes are here to bring a bit of hope and a lot of “all for one, one for all” energy back to hip-hop. A group of friends from the south suburbs of Chicago, the Wannabes bring together the loose flow of the best Midwest MCs, the jovial nature of the Beasties and the work ethic of a DIY punk band to everything they do. With three mixtapes (the Better Late Than Never series) and one full-length (Summer Never Stops) already under their belts, it’s all upward from here for the crew. In advance of their show at Reggie’s Rock Club this Sunday with Mac Lethal and a host of other Chicago-based talent, Heave sat down with the core trio (which has recently expanded into a larger full-band lineup) to talk about their origin story, marijuana, the song that best represents them and their dream gigs.
HEAVEmedia: What first brought Wannabe Heroes together?
James “M.D.” Medley: …Can we say it? I mean…weed? (laughs) Can we just say that we chilled?
Matthew “Adiz” Adent: Me and Eric were driving, that’s how I remember it. We were driving, and…
JM: Oh yeah! Just passing a blunt around.
MA: We were driving around and listening to Fabolous’ “Throw It In A Bag” on the radio, because we’re poor and we don’t have CD players in our cars, and we just turned it into “Throw It On A Keg,” and he (points to Erik) said “I’ve got a kid who knows how to record stuff,” and he called Medley, and we recorded “Throw It On A Keg,” and that was it.
Erik “E-Legal” Gainer: Previously, I had made a hip-hop record with this producer, and Matt had made a hip-hop record with his old crew as well. Actually, the first time I ever rapped into a microphone in my life was on Matt’s computer microphone, in my garage, with the old crew. We were all kids. And yeah, the car ride, that’s what got me going, it was Matt who went “’Throw It On A Keg,’ we should record that song, we can record it.” So I introduced Adent to Medley, and I didn’t know if you guys even knew each other…
MA: At first I was like “I don’t trust him, I don’t know if I wanna do this.”
JM: Yeah, I remember when we went to go pick you up or something, and I was sitting shotgun, and because I’d never met you before, I got out and I was just like (scared voice) “Y-yeah, take it! Take it, man!” I was just trying to make music with you guys. And you were like “No, fuck that,” and you sat in the back and I felt like a king.
MA: I remember grilling you with questions, like you were dating my daughter. (laughs)
JM: But I remember you had the equipment and stuff, and didn’t want anybody to know about it, and it was all in a hush.
HEAVE: You started out as a trio, but you’ve recently expanded into full-band shows. What went into that decision?
EG: Matt was the sole proprietor of that. That was his idea, and his baby. I was already in another band, the Studs, and we had just started playing shows and doing stuff. I don’t know what happened first, if we [Wannabe Heroes] started making music first, or if the Studs started making music first…
JM: We definitely started making music first. But as far as how or when it amalgammed together, I have no idea.
EG: Matt was really the one who pushed for that, who went “Man, we gotta do live shows.” I was all into that. The best hip-hop I’ve ever seen live was always with a full band. Matt’s a musician, he’s never had lessons in his life, and he plays the piano. I’ve never had lessons in my life, and I play the guitar. It’s kind of in my family. We just put it together.
MA: I remember the big push for doing it live, but I don’t really remember what made us do it. Like, I remember us turning right by the BP and going “Let’s Do ‘Throw It On A Keg,’” but I don’t remember the exact moment.
JM: I don’t remember our first live show.
EG: We played a comic book store, and the comic book store was the first show we played as the Wannabe Heroes. That’s a true fact.
HEAVEmedia: What’s this comic book store you played in?
EG: Oh, man, I don’t remember the name. We played with some punk band, too.
JM: The Mustard Men. They’re awesome. What town was it in? Lemont, maybe? It was one of the west suburbs like that. [Editor’s note: It was The Zone Comics in Homewood, Illinois.]
HEAVEmedia: You mentioned The Studs, and there seems to be this whole clique that you guys play with a lot. How’re you connected to them?
EG: I went to high school with The Studs. I’ve known Zach and Eric and Jon since I was a freshman, and they were my favorite band as a freshman. They were the only local band I gave a shit about, and I really wanted to be in that band. I kinda played guitar, and I found The Studs, those guys, around the time I found punk rock, which turned out to be the most important thing that’s ever happened to me, musically. They’ve been together a long, long time, and our friend Jackie was the original guitar player, she passed away, she introduced me to them. And Medley reconnected Zach and I in February 2010, because weed is wonderful and brings people together. (laughs) We were smoking weed, and I just threw it out there, like “Hey, if you ever need a fuckin’ guitar player,” even though they’d been dormant for like five years at the time.
JM: They were trying to get me to play the fuckin’ guitar, and I’ve never played guitar in my life! And I was like “Wait a minute, do you guys know Erik Gainer?” They were like “Erik Gainer?” I was like “Yeah! Let him try it out.”
EG: We’ve been a big, happy family ever since.
HEAVEmedia: If you were showing your music to someone who’d never heard you before, and you had to pick just one track that best represents you, what would it be?
JM: Holy shit. (pause) I’ll answer the question. It’s “Dinosaur,” man. It’s Erik on the hook, it’s fuckin’ Adent with every kind of style, it’s me with my bullshit. It’s got everything, man. I love that track.
MA: Why do people love it as much as they do?
JM: Because it’s the perfect…there’s a little bit of everything in it, man.
EG: I would say either “Remote Control” off Summer Never Stops, or…I don’t know, I like “You Are Going To Make It After All” a lot. I don’t know. “Dinosaur”? (laughs)
JM: I’m just trying to think of songs with all of us. I rap a little bit. I’m not the rapper of the group. That’s Erik Gainer, and he’s the greatest rapper I’ve ever met in my life. Greatest of all time. Put that in there. Greatest rapper alive.
HEAVEmedia: Can you talk a little bit about your creative process, both in and out of the lab?
JM: Historically, how it’ll go is that me and Adent will just produce. We’ll just make things. And lots of them. We’ll just make a lot, and then show it to Erik, and he’ll go “Yeah, this is good, let’s do this.” It starts with that, and then Erik will write some stuff, or really any of us will write some stuff, and yeah.
MA: That’s it. We just make music. We make things. We make.
JM: That’s step one. Constantly make. Always make.
EG: For me, it’s a lot of splurge. I’ll kind of let these guys go, and then I’ll get the taste, the hunger, and I’ll be like “It’s time to write.” How it happens to me…they’ve seen me do this, but when I find a beat where I’m like “I need to write to this,” I’ll write one verse, three verses, the hook in like ten minutes. Whatever the beat lets me say. It’s awesome, having two different styles to go with.
HEAVEmedia: What’s your dream lineup or venue to play on/at?
MA: My goal, and I’m totally reaching that goal, is I want to play a show with Atmosphere. Where? Don’t know, don’t care, but that’s where I’m trying to take this, personally and as a group.
JM: The Studs, the Wannabes, Aesop Rock and like one other. Let’s see. Maybe Titus [Andronicus]. At the Metro.
MA: Why not just throw in Incubus at the Tweeter? (all laugh)
JM: And I’d love to do a show with Kendrick Lamar, for real.
EG: Atmosphere would be great. Anyone with a live band playing with us, that’d be good. My favorite rapper, probably ever, is Lupe Fiasco, and that show would have to be at the House of Blues, probably. And then I’d once again get to smoke weed backstage at the House of Blues. (laughs)
JM: You gotta kill those nerves, man.
HEAVEmedia: What can people expect from the Mac Lethal show this Sunday?
EG: Every artist on that bill is from the Midwest. Every one of them except for Mac Lethal is from Chicago. It’s like…
MA: Expect to get fucked in your ear pussy.
EG: Goddammit. It’s gonna be a show full of Chicago rap. I’m curious to see how that show is gonna go, because we’re the only live band, and it’s a really diverse lineup. And most of the people going to see Mac Lethal probably only found him from that video, and they’re like “Oh, it’s the pancake guy.” But he’s a brilliant storyteller, and I think it’s gonna be a great Chicago hip-hop show.
MA: I had a buddy who was trying to describe Mac Lethal to someone else, and he was like “He’s like Weird Al…but rap.”
JM: He’s clearly never listened to him before.
EG: I’m just looking forward to seeing Mac Lethal live. We just happen to be playing right before.
MA: I think people will really like us.
JM: At heart, and we’ll never talk about it or say it onstage or anything, but we’re like the most modest band ever. We never know if anybody’s going to like us or not. It’s weird! It’s weird even to us that we do it.