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Embracing The Hustle: Dallas Musicians Who Enjoy Success Offstage

Sam Lao's art makes a feminist statement and helps pay the bills.EXPAND
Sam Lao's art makes a feminist statement and helps pay the bills.
Jeremy Biggers

Many local artists have talents and interests that stretch beyond their main gigs. They possess skills that have been lovingly nurtured over the years and are given the same care and attention to detail that’s afforded their primary musical vocation.

For Rhett Miller, the idea had always been germinating, but the initiative to write children's books was sparked by evening FaceTime calls to his children from tour stops. Teddy Georgia Waggy learned the trades of the craft from her grandmother and has carried them on to the present day through her fashion designs. Similarly, Sam Lao has taken a lifetime interest in art and turned it into a full-time gig. In John Pedigo’s case, his pilsner is the result of family bonds and local roots.

To be a professional musician is to embrace the hustle. These artists live a frenzied life of travel, with months spent toiling away from home apart from loved ones, and they have to use their creativity to earn a living offstage. After all, the bills still must be paid, and Spotify streams aren’t always paying them. We caught up with four of our area’s most visible musicians and checked in on some of their other varied pursuits.

A Solitary Pursuit of Focus

When she’s not performing with local favorites Midnight Opera, Teddy Georgia Waggy is finding consistent work as a sought-after fashion designer.

“My grandma taught me some DIY sewing techniques when I was a teenager,” Waggy explains. “Over the years, I’ve kept at it and I’ve been slowly working towards making it a financial pursuit of mine in addition to music.”

In addition to making a great deal of her own clothing, the singer-guitarist consistently works with clients from across a diverse spectrum of styles, ages and professions. Her clients come to her through the tight-knit, local community of musicians and artists, but Waggy has also found success through her Instagram page, where she keeps an updated cache of projects, model shots and creative ideas. Whether it’s designing stage costumes for other notable artists or styling daily wear for young professionals, Waggy treats it all with equal attention.

“Right now, I have multiple client commissions, and there’s always at least one major project that I’m working on,” Waggy says. “There are so many rules and structures within sewing and pattern-making. It’s a nice mathematical process that allows me to lock in on autopilot and really focus. Plus, it’s solitary, so no one can get irritated when I’m singing my heart out while working on things.”

And she'll be singing her heart out onstage, too. Waggy is soon jumping back into things with Midnight Opera. In addition, Waggy and collaborator Sudie are set to release some of the recordings they did together from an artists’ retreat in New Mexico, and they’re also looking to step out and play some shows for the first time in a while.

Expect to see — and hear— a lot of Waggy this year.

“2020 is such a phonetically pleasing year," she adds with a laugh. "I told myself that I need to step up and do lots of cool shit this year.”

Teddy Georgia Waggy poses while admiring her handiwork alongside model and frequent design collaborator Colton White.EXPAND
Teddy Georgia Waggy poses while admiring her handiwork alongside model and frequent design collaborator Colton White.
Kalan Briggs

Words Beyond Lyrics

Rhett Miller grew up in Dallas as an avid reader. He spent weekends and summers going to libraries and keeping tabs on Caldecott Medal winners and Bluebonnet List nominees. All these years later, he can now proudly say he has made the Bluebonnet List (the Texas Library Association’s Best Books of the Year) for his children’s book, No More Poems! He can add the honor of the book being listed as one of the best of the year by The New York Public Library Association.

“When I was on tour and my kids were younger, one way to trick them into paying attention to me during FaceTime phone calls was to tell them I had a new poem that I’d written and that I needed their editorial assistance; this was great because they love to tear down anything I’m creating and roast me,” Miller says with a laugh. “When I started, I was just doing it for an audience of those two, but after a while I realized that I’d put together a pretty large pile of these subversive children’s poems.”

With a concise and witty writing style, Miller bangs out poems with the same proclivity as he writes songs. His subjects touch on the perils and pitfalls of childhood as characters wrestle with sneaky siblings, throw bathtub dance parties and beg their parents to let them stay up late or get them a dog. There’s even a close-to-home portrait of a rock star dad seen through the lens of his less-than-impressed 13-year-old son.

Accompanied with fanciful illustrations by award-winning illustrator Dan Santat, No More Poems! sparked a creative fuel in Miller that has led him to write another book of children’s poems and stories that will hit shelves in the next year.

“I’ve always had a secondary interest in writing. It’s what I went to college for, even though that was a very brief experience. ... I decided I wanted to focus on music because I thought that was a young man’s game, which fortunately it’s turned out thankfully to not be the case,” he says. “You know, looking back, I had no idea that I’d ever write kids’ poems. But it’s turned into a pretty amazing thing.”

Miller has also gotten into the podcast game. His biweekly Wheels Off program has the singer conversing with some of his fellow creative types about the art and practice of their chosen professions. In addition to a “fly on the wall” peek into the minds of artists at work, the podcast also showcases just how vast Miller’s network of friends and associates has become.

In addition to chatting with fellow musicians like Rosanne Cash, John Darnielle and Lydia Loveless, Miller has also struck up enlightening conversations with the likes of novelist Michael Chabon, actor Rainn Wilson, and for local flair, The Ticket’s own Gordon Keith and Jesuit grad Wyatt Cenac, who will soon be featured on a live taping from Brooklyn. 

Lead singer Rhett Miller not only can belt out a tune, but he tells a darn good bedtime story.EXPAND
Lead singer Rhett Miller not only can belt out a tune, but he tells a darn good bedtime story.
Jason Quigley

Outlier Art as a Passion

Five-time Dallas Observer Music Award winner Sam Lao has packed a big music career in quite a short amount of time. Since making her first tunes in 2013, she’s gone on to play pretty much everywhere in town from The Granada to Trees to Club Dada to House of Blues. Her soulful raps have commanded stages and earned her opening nods for the likes of Lizzo, Teyana Taylor and Erykah Badu.

Despite this acclaim, Lao is just as accomplished in the field of visual art, where she’s been able to both express her creativity and sell her products professionally.

“I was a visual artist long before I started making music,” Lao says in an email exchange. “Painting, sculpting, graphic design. … I just enjoy making beautiful things with my hands. The process of having an idea and being able to bring it to fruition and share it is amazing to me.”

She’s also homed in on a personal aesthetic with a series of nipple paintings that are prominently featured on her Instagram page, @thesamlao. “The nipple paintings were inspired by a lyric from my song, 'Pineapple,' that says: ‘Don’t police my areola,’” Lao explains, referencing the #freethenipple movement. “And, I’ve recently begun work on a new series of paintings that combine my love of painting with typography and textiles.”

As her stature grows, Lao is becoming a powerhouse figure in the community both for her musical presence and her willingness to take risks with the visual medium. Her merchandise tables at live performances are beginning to looking like a boutique, with design items settled in alongside LPs and CDs.

“Making has no limits for me,” she summarizes. “I make what I want as the desire and idea strikes me, and it’s wonderful when it resonates with others.” 

John Pedigo's empty hand is just missing a Pedigo Magic Pilsner.
John Pedigo's empty hand is just missing a Pedigo Magic Pilsner.
Cal Quinn

Day-drinking, DJ’ing and Music Making

John Pedigo needs little introduction in the Dallas music scene. As a singer-songwriter, in-demand producer and longtime member of The O’s, he’s performed all over town, drank at lots of local bars and won the praises of many fellow musicians.

He’s proved to be pretty hard to miss. For the last eight years, you’ve heard Pedigo hosting Dead Air with The O’s! alongside bandmate Taylor Young on the 4-6 p.m. time slot on 95.3 The Range.

“I don’t see us ever stopping doing the show,” Pedigo says with pride. “We’re riffing the whole time and trying to make people laugh. The preparation varies depending on the week, but it’s so much fun and we’ve been so lucky to do it for so long.”

Previously, the Observer has spotlighted Pedigo’s involvement in two other endeavors: Pedigo’s Magic Pilsner and Desperado Management, a boutique firm founded with Maureen Womack and Robert Jenkins. Pedigo is still as excited for both projects.

Formed as a tribute to his late father to honor his knack for home brewing, Pedigo’s Magic Pilsner was created as both a country-rock band and an album of the same name. Soon, thanks to a local brewery, the name also graced an actual beer.

“Oak Cliff Brewing came to me and said, we want to make this beer, and I was like, ‘Hell yeah,’” Pedigo recalls with a chuckle. “I explained the concept to them and they were all aboard. We’re now about to go to our third batch of brewing, and people have commented on how drinkable the beer is. Craft beers will kind of knock you out, but with this one as a session beer makes it a whole lot easier to drink.”

Though he left the ingredients to the brewing professionals, Pedigo took an active role in the taste-testing, working to create a palatable beer that would serve well in a variety of situations. With a year’s worth of positive reviews in the bag, the future looks bright for the Magic Pilsner.

Not that Pedigo will have time to rest and admire the success he's built, though. He’s keeping a tight schedule filled with production duties for the likes of Joshua Ray Walker, Ottoman Turks and Brave Little Howl, as well as guitar guest spots with the likes of The 40 Acre Mule, and his own bands to keep up with.

“Every day is a little different from the one before. I try to stay really busy, and some days I just need to relax at the end of the day with a Pedigo’s Magic Pilsner, you know what I mean,” he says cheekily.

As for his role in artist management, Pedigo sees himself as more of a mentor and sounding board. His years in the business coupled with his Dallas roots make him a reliable ear to bend.

“There’s not much management here in Dallas for music, really,” he explains. “We just really want to help people because it’s not easy being a musician. Sometimes artists just need someone to listen to or vice versa. I try to offer advice because I’m a little older and have seen a lot. I hope I’m helping and so far no one has called me an asshole yet, so that’s a good thing!”

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