Arts & Culture

Cedar Rapids native Ted When is making new music with Motown Records

He's released 2 EPs this year and has a full-length album coming soon

It's been a big year for Cedar Rapids native Ted Wendler. Now living in Nashville, he has signed with Motown; released #
It’s been a big year for Cedar Rapids native Ted Wendler. Now living in Nashville, he has signed with Motown; released “Morning” and “Evening” extended play collections under the name Ted When; and wrote and performed “Snow in California” for the EP, “A Motown Holiday.” To top it all off, he and wife Rachel Wendler welcomed their first child on Nov. 5. (Capitol Publicity)

While 2020 has been a time of upheaval around the world, Ted Wendler has seen plenty of change for the better on his homefront.

The Cedar Rapids native has signed with the Motown label, delivered two extended play collections — “Morning” on July 10 and “Evening” on Nov. 6 — wrote and recorded “Snow in California” for another EP, “A Motown Holiday,” and most importantly, he and his wife, Rachel, welcomed daughter Lily on Nov. 5.

Wendler, 36, moved into his music career with the eclectic electro-pop trio Mansions on the Moon in 2010, which lasted seven years. But about three years ago, the band dissolved, and he and Rachel decided to move from Los Angeles to Nashville where he could launch a solo career and she could easily continue working as a music label publicist.

“It was great, and we had so much fun,” he said of his Mansion years. “Those guys are like my brothers, but we had gotten to the point where we all wanted to do something else, whether it was creatively or otherwise. It was sort of a natural progression.

“I wrote a lot of songs for Mansions, and I had a lot of back catalog of ideas that never saw the light of day or maybe weren’t good for Mansions, but I wanted to develop those and finish those, as well as write more music,” he said.

Moving on

“It was the right thing at the time to just start putting things out on my own.”

Just don’t look for his current EPs and forthcoming full-length album under the name “Ted Wendler.” For the past two years or so, he’s been writing and recording as Ted When.

“I wanted to do something creative with my name, and not go by my actual name, to differentiate between the two,” he said. “Also, I love the question of ‘when,’ because I’ve been waiting for so long to release these songs.”

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That also played off the fact that so many people kept asking him “when” he was going to release certain songs and record his own music.

“It’s not an alter-ego, I think it’s more along the lines of Robert Zimmerman being Bob Dylan,” he said, quickly adding, “I am not saying I’m Bob Dylan. It was more in that avenue.

“My family and friends will keep calling me Ted Wendler.”

Life lessons

A self-taught guitarist, the 2003 Cedar Rapids Washington High School graduate fondly recalls parties back home, with people singing around a campfire. Once the pandemic lifts and concerts start back up, he said he’d love to perform in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City venues again.

He describes his music as “left of center but pop approachable with a little bit avant-garde.” Much of his music and lyrics are based on his own experiences. That’s wrapped up in a big, nostalgic nod to Iowa in his new Christmas song, “Snow in California,” as his quiet, breathy vocals embrace the opening line, “I keep getting lost in memories I’ve made.”

“I wrote it in L.A.,” he said. “I wasn’t able to get home that year for Christmas, and I was just sick of sunshine, and I was sick of 72-degree weather every day. I missed freezing cold and I missed fall. It was just like, ‘I know it’s snowing in Iowa right now, and I wish I were there.’”

Like so many others from the Corridor who are working elsewhere in the performing arts, he’s glad for his Iowa upbringing.

“It helps,” he said. “There is such a thing as ‘Iowa nice.’ A lot of people don’t know what Iowa is like. Since there’s so few of us, a lot of people haven’t really met a lot of people from Iowa, so you come at them with a blank slate. Iowa taught me to be myself and be who I am.”

Those were among the many lessons he learned with Mansions on the Moon. The bandmates rose a little too quickly on the L.A. scene, he said. They weren’t really prepared to open for Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller on tour in 2011.

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“Mansions on the Moon was the first band I’d ever been in, and my very first show was playing to an amphitheater — a basketball stadium, opening for Wiz Khalifa,” he said. “I was sitting there with my acoustic guitar, and I really didn’t know anything.

“What was crazy about that is that we got asked to go out with Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa before we had played more than three shows. We weren’t ready for that, and they said, ‘OK, you have a week and a half to prepare.’

“I have no regrets, but if I knew what know now back then, I would have said, ‘No, we’re not ready, we’ve gotta get the show ready.’

“The moral of the story is not to jump over steps. You gotta do each step — you can’t jump over pennies to get to a dollar, because you’re never going to get to that dollar. That’s a terrible analogy,” he said with a laugh. “That 10,000 hours rule is actually real. You’re not going to be successful and good at your craft until you’ve played 10,000 hours.”

The following year, Mansions on the Moon not only played Austin’s venerable South by Southwest festival, but also had Grammy-winning “Happy” singer Pharrell Williams sign on as executive producer for the band’s “Lightyears” EP.

Collaborations have been keys to Wendler’s success, whether working with Williams or working with the friends of friends who brought him to Motown’s attention, making that childhood dream come true.

Attitude of gratitude

“Another thing that I learned, was that you need to be very nice and grateful to the people who are helping you, because it’s a group effort,” he said. “Don’t take the people that help you and that love you and support you for granted, ever.”

Among those supporters are his parents and their spouses, Guy and Terri Wendler of Cedar Rapids and Nancy and Richard Mahany of Indianapolis. And of course, his wife, Rachel, who acts as his sounding board, and agreed to move her life and career to Nashville.

He said they were eager to leave behind the perennial sunshine and high cost of living, to move to a place full of opportunities, changing seasons and more of a small-town feel in which to raise a family.

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After a little more than a month as parents, life is changing once again.

“I don’t think my sleep will ever be the same ever again, but it’s just so amazing,” Wendler said of parenthood. “She’s great and it gives me a purpose for living — and it keep things interesting and always active. I’m never bored anymore.”

He’s singing lullabies and songs he remembers from his childhood, as well as making a bath time playlist — without “Baby Shark.” He finds himself making up silly songs, so being a daddy also may make its way into his songwriting.

“Musically, that’s to be determined, but I’d assume so,” he said. “I think that every single thing that happens to you will influence your creativity.

“I also look at influences as every single song you’ve ever heard in your entire life, whether it’s the jingle from Menards in Cedar Rapids or Beethoven. It’s in there. All the kids’ stuff that she’ll be listening to might earworm its way into my brain.”

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

Ted Wendler, recording as Ted When

• Artist’s website: Tedwhen.com

• On Motown: Motownrecords.com/artists/ted-when

“A Motown Holiday,” featuring Ted When’s “Snow in California”

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