POZ Interview: Derek Sanders and Lauren Wilhelm

by Zack Zarrillo - Apr 22, 2014

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It’s easy to forget when we’re singing along with our stereos, but there’s a lot more to our favorite musicians than what they show us on stage. PropertyOfZack Senior Writer Jesse Richman spoke with Mayday Parade’s Derek Sanders and his long-time girlfriend Lauren Wilhelm, who performs as Dazy (The Girl), for an in-depth look at the real lives behind rock stardom. In Part I below, we talk about growing up in Tallahassee, the beginning of their relationship, life at home with daughter Grey, and the practical realities of launching a career. Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow!

Related Stories:
POZ Interview: Derek Sanders and Lauren Wilhelm (Part II)

by Jesse Richman

POZ: Let’s start with the story of you two. I want to spend some time just talking about what life is like for the two of you behind the scenes. How did you meet?
DS:  Well, we met over ten years ago. We met when I was sixteen and Lauren was fifteen, actually, at a show that an old band of mine in high school was doing that Lauren was… It’s kind of a long story.
POZ: I’ve got time! Go for the long version.
DS: Yeah, well, it was a friend of a friend’s birthday party kind of thing that we were playing, Lauren was there and we became friends. We dated back then, over ten years ago, and have always kind of just been real close throughout the years. Even when we weren’t dating, we were still really good friends. We’ve just always found our way back to each other.
LW: Aww, yeah.
 
POZ: Did you guys go to the same school? Did you hang out in the same crowds?
DS: We went to a different school but had the same group of friends, once they all met.
POZ: Did you click instantly when you met? Did it take some time?
LW: One of his other bandmates was pursuing me all night! I had just moved to Tallahassee and I didn’t really know that many people. He gave me his screen name, and we started talking. So I started hanging out with him, but I thought Derek was hot, I was into Derek. I was not into the other guy.
DS: Yeah, we just had, you know, mutual friends, and we all became closer throughout the years. We all went to shows together, played in different bands together. We were all connected through the music scene a lot, for sure.

POZ: Derek, you’re from Tallahassee right? Did you grow up there?
DS: Born and raised.
POZ: Ok, that’s what I thought. Lauren, you said you moved there when you were fifteen, is that right?
LW: I moved there when I was thirteen.
POZ: Where were you before that, and what brought your family to Tallahassee?
LW: Clearwater. My parents are from that area, born and raised down in Clearwater. My dad grew up with fishing and going all over on dirt roads there, so once it got really populated he was over it. We started looking at charts and stuff — my dad has always been into boats, he’s a sailor, so he was looking up in the Tallahassee area, so we drove around and eventually found our way up to Tallahassee. And I really like it, I love Tallahassee.
POZ: Did you like it right away? Was it an easy transition for you or was it tough?
LW: I didn’t not like it. I was kind of ready. I wanted to move to Tallahassee, I kind of encouraged my parents, I really wanted to. And then when I got here I didn’t know anybody, but that’s never been a problem for me, I can always keep myself entertained. Actually, the summer when we moved here, I taught myself how to play the piano, that’s when I started messing around with getting good at playing classical and pop, 90’s pop music on the piano.
 
POZ: What were you guys into back then? Were you scene kids? Were you art kids? What was your thing?
LW: Emo. Dashboard Confessional. [Laughs].
DS: Yeah, I’d say we were scene kids, basically. We went to a ton of shows. I, at the time, was playing in local bands and stuff, playing all the shows. That was a big part of who we were for sure, at school and everything. Yeah, we were scene kids, emo kids, whatever you want to…
LW: I was a chorus emo kid!
POZ: You were singing even back then eh?
LW: Oh yeah, in high school.
 
POZ: I assume with chorus you weren’t singing rock and pop, you were probably doing more showtunes-kind of stuff?
LW: I did, actually! We had the first pop a cappella group in our city, or our area, at all. You know how they do Glee, stuff like that? It was pretty much like that. It was called the Main Event, and so yeah, we’d sing a ton of current pop music, and I had several different solos in that. That’s where I really… I loved chorus, but I really loved doing Main Event, pop a cappella is awesome. I still love it. It gives me chills every time, watching people.
POZ: Do you still play around with any of that stuff?
LW: Oh, I definitely, when I write music, write tons of vocal stuff, and I think it’s probably because of that. I would actually mess around with my own arrangements of stuff. I was really nerdy in high school when it came to music. Instead of doing my whatever homework, I was studying sheet music for my chorus class so I could play it if I needed, on piano or whatever. I was really nerdy.
POZ: So you have some of that classical training then.
LW: A little bit, yeah.
 
POZ: Were you just singing at the time? Were you playing as well?
LW: I was playing piano. In high school I would write songs about my friends and, like, joke songs. One of them got huge in my high school at the time. It’s very perverted and provocative. I ended up playing it for, like, a school showcase. It was really funny, everybody knew it.
POZ: Were you playing piano from an early age?
LW: Yeah! I started playing piano at… I did a couple lessons, and I didn’t really… I don’t want to say I didn’t like my teacher, I feel mean saying that, but he just wasn’t very encouraging. I don’t think I wanted to learn it at the time. But when we moved here and I didn’t know anybody, I had learned the basics. My mom played piano. I had a really good ear for piano. So it didn’t take very much for me to pick it up and go from there. That’s all I was really doing.
POZ: Is it still your instrument of choice?
LW: Yeah. Definitely.
 
POZ: So lets talk a little bit about when you guys got together. Is there a story behind your first date, or your first kiss?
DS: Actually, our first date was in Tallahassee on Valentine’s Day of 2003. We went to a show in Tallahassee, it was the All-American Rejects, and I forget…
LW: Was it Rufio?
DS: No, I don’t think it was Rufio. Home Grown maybe? I don’t remember exactly. I just remember it was the All-American Rejects headlining and it was Valentine’s Day. And that was our first date kind of deal.
POZ: That’s so perfect for what you’re doing now. So how long were you guys together that first time around?
LW: Almost a year.
DS: Yeah, we dated for almost a year, and then broke up. We still were able to be close even though we weren’t dating and were still really good friends for a long time. And then, just kind of eventually, things just fell back into swing, and here they are.
POZ: When did you guys officially get back together?
LW: Well, we dated another time before this, in between.
POZ: Oh, so it’s really been on and off!
LW: Yeah. We dated again, actually, right as Mayday formed I feel like.
DS: We dated for about two years that time I think. So it’s been kind of a back-and-forth kind of thing. And then now it’s been over three years that we’ve been back together again. It’s been, what, almost three and a half years. So a grand total of over five years of dating in the over ten years I’ve known you. Sorry, I know it’s kind of confusing!
LW: It’s very confusing!
 
POZ: Life is confusing sometimes! What is it, do you think, that kept bringing you back together?
LW: The sex, definitely! [Laughs]
DS: You know, I don’t know, it’s just …
LW: We just have, I don’t know… Just a thing!
DS: With most people that you date, once you break up you don’t really keep in touch as much, and you don’t really maintain a relationship, but with Lauren and I it was, even whenever we would date and then break up, we would stay really close. She’s been one of my best friends for so long. It’s just kind of always made sense, I guess.
LW: I think the breaks were needed. I don’t think we’d be where we are right now if everything didn’t go the way it did. I feel like we probably would not be together. I don’t know. Who knows.
POZ: What do you think you learned from those times apart, and from the first attempts at dating each other?
LW: We were just different people.
DS: We both have grown up a lot, you know? We were both obviously a lot younger and more immature; we would fight about stupid things.
LW: Things that don’t matter.
DS: Now there’s just none of that. We’ve both grown up a lot. In the time between we dated other people and learned a lot about relationships. It’s kind of hard to say really.
 
POZ: So I want to know what a day in the life is like for you and your family. Obviously there’s not necessarily a typical day because, Derek, you’re on the road so much. But when you’re home, what is a typical day for you guys? What was today like?
DS: Well most days, I try and get up with the two girls that live at the house. We have a daughter together who’s two years old, whose name is Grey, and then Lauren has a daughter, Bailey, who’s five. Lauren’s at home with them by herself whenever I’m gone, so I try and get up with the girls when they wake up and let Lauren sleep in for a little bit, give her a chance to do that, and make them breakfast. Hang out. Go to the park, try and get outside.
LW: They play together a lot.
DS: Yeah, the girls play together a lot. We hang with friends or family. Make dinner — we usually don’t really go out to much.
LW: We order dinner pretty much every night [laughs]. We’re too tired by that time! We’re like, alright, it’s been a whole day of doing this and that.
DS: We’re very spontaneous. A lot of days, her parents live an hour south of here at the coast, sometimes we’ll drive down there to see them.
LW: We’re out of town a lot; even when Derek’s gone, I take the girls on a lot of trips, we go out of town as a family or go see Derek on the road. That’s really fun, being able to get out of Tallahassee.
 
POZ: Derek, obviously you’ve been doing Mayday for a lot longer than you’ve had Grey. How has the transition been for you? I’m sure it’s one thing being a single guy with no responsibilities out on the road, and it’s another having a girlfriend and a daughter back home.
DS: It’s been incredible! I’m very lucky to be able to do both, you know? For most people, it’s kind of one or the other — once you have kids, that’s kind of the end of your party days and your carefree days of being able to do whatever you want. We get to tour and I leap in, hang out and do all that kind of stuff, and I feel very lucky that I’m able to still do that, and then be able to come home and do the family stuff, which is amazing. I kind of have two different lives that I live. It’s a balance. I don’t like being gone for… It used to be, we could stay gone as long as we wanted to, I never really got too homesick or anything. I enjoyed being gone for months and months at a time. I almost felt more at home being on the road than I did at home. But now, obviously, I really enjoy my time at home, and it’s very valuable to be home and spend time with the family and everything. That’s really the only thing that’s different: as we’re gone for months and months at a time, I start to miss family at home. But we have a pretty good balance, and it works. I’m very lucky that we’re able to do it.
POZ: I know that since the last album came out [Monsters In The Closet, released in October 2013], Mayday’s had quite the touring schedule, and it’s not slowing down anytime soon. Is it something you think about when you’re making tour plans, how to find that time at home and how to find that right balance? Or is it something where you’re just like “ok, we’ve got a new album out, I have to commit to being on the road for the next year and a half, we just have to understand that that’s how it’s going to be”?
DS: Well, it’s a little bit of give and take. Luckily, everyone else in the band is kind of on the same page. We’ve been doing this for over eight years and we’ve been going pretty full-throttle with it the whole time we’ve been a band. We’ve all gotten to the point where we’re ready to slow it down, just a little bit. So everyone is on the same page, luckily. I don’t have to really even bring it up too much, as far as taking things a little easier. I think we’re all on the same page with that. We’ll gradually slow things down a little bit. So far it’s been a great balance. I just feel bad for Lauren, for the time that we’re gone. She has a lot more that she has to handle just by herself here, with two kids. But she’s tough. She’s awesome. She never complains.
LW: We have a really strong family- and friend-base here, who help us a lot. I wouldn’t be able to do music or anything if it weren’t for them. We’re very lucky.
 
POZ: Do you guys have any strategies or secret tips for keeping things strong when you’re apart for that long?
LW: You just kind of have to, I don’t know, you just have to do it. You’re either made for it or you’re not. And it’s a different time; I feel like it’s a lot easier than other times.
DS: These days with the technology, being able to Facetime and all of that, it’s amazing. And it’s a lot of patience. If it’s something that you are willing to try and do, you’ve got to do it and not let the little things bother you, and realize that it’s not going to be perfect but if you feel like it’s worth it, then you’ve just got to go for it.
POZ: Do the kids get it at this point? Are they old enough to understand how this all works, in terms of Derek going away for long stretches of time, that it’s your job and all that?
DS: I think they’re starting to, for sure.
LW: He’ll try and tell them the different countries he’s going to, and so they’re learning a little bit about it. And like I said, they get to go to a lot of shows so they definitely see what he’s doing. And they understand that’s how he makes money, and that’s how the world goes around, that people have jobs and that happens to be his job. I think Grey is just now probably going to start understanding it, I don’t know what’s been going through her mind the last two years. “Oh, Dad’s gone, OK now he’s back.” And it sucks because when he comes back I’m chopped liver, she wants nothing to do with me! She wants everything to do with him!
POZ: Is she a daddy’s girl?
LW: Oh, for sure! They’re, like, the same. They have the same temperament. They hang out really well. Me and my older daughter Bailey, we get along really well because she’s hyper like I am. We have our own little [thing], you know. Most of the time, Derek is able to take care of Grey and I can deal with Bailey when the time comes that we need to separate them. We make it work.
 
POZ: So I’m going to get into talking about your career, Lauren, but to start, you’ve been making it work with one family member on the road a lot. Why was now the time for you to jump in and start pursuing things on your end? And how do you think that’s going to affect that dynamic?
LW: The reason I started Dazy (The Girl) is because I was doing bands and it just wasn’t really working with having four or five other people to schedule around. I’ve always been doing music outside — even when I was in bands, I was at home writing my own music, trying to write placements for pop singers and do this and that. So the reason I even started this was just because I wanted to get my music out there. I’d never done solo stuff on my own. I don’t have plans to go off and do a two month tour like Derek, because it’s not realistic for me. I’m going to have my own niche and my own place. I think it would be really cool if I were to start doing festivals, or play a Warped Tour here and there, and when Derek’s home for a little while to be able to do what I can.
POZ: You’re working around his schedule.
LW: Absolutely, because he makes money doing it. Money really has a lot to do with it, you know? If somebody is going to invest a decent chunk of change in my musical project, then the story may change a little bit. But right now I have a very realistic point of view, keeping my family definitely first. And that’s the thing, with what I’m doing, I can stop whenever I want. I don’t have to go “well, I’m on hiatus.” My fans know. Every single person who follows me online or listens to my music, they know who I am. It doesn’t take them long to figure out I’m dating Derek, and Derek does his thing. We’ll have to see how it goes. It’s brand new, I’ve just got one song out. So we’ll see how it goes.
 
POZ: How do you feel about that? The fact that everybody knows you as Derek’s girlfriend has the upside that he has a fanbase that will check you out and spread the word; it gives you an instant group of people to show your stuff off to. At the same time, I’m sure your end goal isn’t to be known as Derek’s girlfriend, it’s to be known as Dazy and for your own thing.
LW: You know, I don’t care. It doesn’t really bother me. I feel like they know me through him, and I will get Mayday Parade’s fans, but I don’t think that’s necessarily what my fanbase is going to be exactly. Maybe, I have no idea yet.
POZ: Well what do you see as your fanbase? Or what do you want it to be?
LW: I like being Derek’s girlfriend, it’s ok!
DS: I think it would be different if we met after, but we’ve known each other way before Mayday Parade or any of that.
LW: And it’s not like I am just Derek’s girlfriend who’s like “I’m gonna make, like, a song, and I’m gonna, like, sell some songs” and I don’t have any talent, and I’m just trying to do it to do it. It will always involve the music, and I’d be doing this with or without him, like I always have been.
POZ: Sure. I guess I just wonder — like you just said, you have talent, you’re not just doing it to do it. But there are people out there who don’t, who just play off the name of whomever they’re with. Do you worry about the perception at all?
LW: I think it’s going to show, you know? I feel like my voice will speak for itself. People can be really mean on the internet, and I haven’t gotten any of that “Lauren’s just doing this because she can.” I’m not even doing things yet, so we’ll see. I may get a little bit of that. It doesn’t bother me. I’m pretty resilient. I’m a resilient girl, I’m not worried.
 
POZ: So lets talk about your musical history. You mentioned you had a band — that was Maradona, right?
LW: Mmhmm, Maradona.
POZ: Tell me a little bit about how long you guys were together and what that was all about.
LW: So we were together for, I want to say, three years. I even tried to keep it going after I had Bailey for a little while but nobody was really into it anymore. The songs weren’t maturing, and we weren’t really having fun. We were playing the same stuff, and it was just getting too hard. But to back up a little bit, Maradona was like pop-rock, kind of pop-punk a little bit. The guys went off to play in other hardcore bands; one of the guys played in Shai Hulud.
POZ: Welcome to Florida, where everybody in Shai Hulud joins a pop-punk band.
LW: Oh man, actually a couple of people from Tallahassee have been in that band. But yeah, I really loved playing with [Maradona], I still see all those guys out. We have stayed really close. If I were ever to take Dazy on the road, they’d be my musicians. We had an EP, it’s on iTunes, and it did really well. We started getting traction. We were on the Ernie Ball stage on Warped Tour one year — we did that when I was actually eight weeks pregnant. Right around that time, we got management, and they were offering it to us for free. I don’t know if you know Will Noon. he was the drummer of Straylight Run. Will’s awesome.
POZ: Will’s got a pretty good gig for himself right now! [Will is currently the touring drummer for Fun.]
LW: Oh yeah. Will and my friend Evan, who hooked me up with Will, started working with us and we were really starting to get the ball rolling. And then I got pregnant, and I know I bummed everybody out. You know, life happens for a reason, and I’m glad everything went the way it did. But it was fun! I still like the songs! I’m glad I did Maradona because it taught me how to be on a stage. I’ve always been able to sing, but it taught me how to interact, and to learn my voice a little bit better. There’s a lot to say for starting out in a rock band. You can’t hear yourself for most of your shows. Everything leading up to Dazy has been trial and error, and you learn stuff — I’m still learning — but I definitely have a far better concept of what I’m doing and how I’m presenting myself and everything involved. My songwriting has gotten way better.
 
POZ: And then after that you did some writing for folks?
LW: Yeah, I tried. I did some stuff up in New York with some different people. I’ve done some co-writes. Nothing that ever really took off. My computer is, like, lined with tracks and demos and just tons of music.
POZ: Is that stuff that might work its way into Dazy now?
LW: Oh absolutely, yeah! It’s kind of a combination of my placement stuff, and I’ve always written pop. I was lucky when I was writing for Maradona, I had Tony who was like a pop-punk genius and an amazing guitarist, he would write a lot of stuff and we would collaborate a lot. It’s just all the best songs I write have always been me writing by myself, I don’t know why. All the songs that were successful in Maradona were ones I completely wrote by myself. I’ve learned from that that maybe I need to do this by myself.
 
POZ: You mentioned that Maradona was more of a pop-rock kind of thing, but the songs you were writing afterwards were more pop. I know, listening to the stuff on your Soundcloud right now and the couple of things you’ve released, that Dazy is definitely more of a pop, songwriter-focused thing. Is that where your heart is? Is that where your tastes are now, musically?
LW: It’s just kind of what I write. I don’t really write where I’m like “I’m going to write a Top 40 song” or “I’m going to write a pop song,” I just write a song and it kind of develops along with whatever production I put into it. The last couple of songs, Zack [Odom] and Kenneth [Mount] helped me with, I had an idea for a sound and the stuff I wanted. But that’s another reason that I like this project: I can do anything. I feel like I have a unique thing, that every time I sing on a song, it’s going to be a Dazy song. Even if I wanted to do a song with a country twist, or a blues…I’ve been really into trying to write jazzy blues, kind of like Adele, Amy Winehouse songs. I don’t know. Whatever I think is a good song. I don’t want any of the bullshit “twelve people helped me write this song.” I just want to write honest whatever, and it can be a country song, [or] if I want to go and get my band from Maradona and help me write a Paramore-type song, I could do that too.
POZ: So you’re not really putting any limits on what Dazy could be right now.
LW: No. No way.
 
POZ: Before we get any further — the name Dazy, where does it come from, and why the decision to go with that instead of just going by Lauren Wilhelm?
LW: Well when I started thinking about doing my solo project, it was the first name that stuck out to me. I don’t know why. My parents’ flower is a daisy, and I just kind of liked the twisted spelling of it. My dad played and sang. My mom taught my harmony. My sisters sing. They have instruments lining the staircase of their home; they have more instruments than I’ve ever seen in  a home before. I thought every house was like that growing up. So Dazy kind of just comes from that. I don’t know, I like the name. It’s a playful name.
POZ: Why the decision to use a name at all, rather than just going with your own name?
LW: I don’t know, I don’t think my name’s so catchy. I just wanted it to have its own project name I guess.
POZ: So that said, I assume you envision the project being a solo project — obviously you might have other players or a backing band or whatever.
LW: Just like I don’t want to limit the genre, I don’t want to limit who I’m having play with me either. We have a pretty big community of very talented musicians in Tallahassee, and we network a lot with people in New York. I’ve talked to Will about going out to LA and doing stuff with him. I just want to use everybody I know, and I know Derek talks about this too, he wants to start playing with more people. I think that’s going to be something that really starts happening a lot more. What’s that band that you’ve been listening to a lot? Is it Bad Books? You know, people in different bands playing with each other. That’s why I like doing it with Derek, we can do a little collab. Friend collaborations. We did a StageIt the other night with Stages & Stereos. There is no reason that you should be limited to your band. I feel like you should have whoever you want to come play with you on a song if they want to, have a core band but then bring people in. I want Daniel [Lancaster, of Stages & Stereos] to sing, Daniel and I have been working on a song together.
 
POZ: I had heard you were writing with Daniel. Is that going to be for both of your projects? What’s the plan with that?
LW: We don’t really have a plan. It’s whatever works. If we end up writing a song together that he wants to put on his record, I don’t see any reason why it can’t be on both.
DS: I just was going to say, we just work on music so much in general. Even just a home, there’s kind of a studio room in our house…
LW: It’s a studio. We have a studio.
DS: It’s basically a little studio in the house, and when the girls are asleep every night we go to the studio. And whether it’s working on joke stuff, or…
LW: Yeah, we write a lot of rap.
DS: Yeah, like rap songs, or whatever. We work. And a lot of our friends are that way too. I’d say two or three nights out of the week we have friends over who are working on music with us. So in general, that’s just kind of what we do. Whenever we’re not hanging out with the kids, we’re usually working on music. It opens the door for all kinds of stuff, really. It’s pretty cool.
 
POZ: Where do the two of your tastes intersect, and where do they diverge? What kind of stuff do you guys both like? What kind of stuff does one of you love and the other doesn’t have any time for?
LW: Well Derek’s been really into the new Eminem CD. That’s where I differ! [Laughs]. I like Drake, so right now we’re having a battle in our house, Drake versus Eminem.
DS: That’s a pretty big departure for me, I’m usually not into a lot of that kind of stuff at all. The fact that I bought that album and have been listening to it so much is pretty strange for me. But I don’t know.  We have a lot of similar stuff, a lot of the pop-rock, pop-punk kind of stuff. Taking Back Sunday, Saves The Day, Jimmy Eat World, Brand New.
LW: I feel like I listen to way more pop music than you do. I can rock some Rihanna straight up, some Beyonce, just whatever. If it’s a good song, I don’t care who sings it. Unless it’s a terrible voice. I’m very sensitive to voices.
DS: Lauren’s a lot more into the Top 40, modern pop. Not that I have anything against it, it’s just not what I actively listen to when I put on music. But then, there’s a lot of similarities. I guess the pop stuff is the biggest difference.

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