For This Mahler, Composing a Career Might Go Beyond Music
By Thomas Bingham
For Reporting Texas
Wolf Mahler has always been a fast learner.
He learned to walk at eight months, four months ahead of the average baby. That’s when his mother recognized that her son was ahead of the curve.
From that point, he traveled from one accomplishment to the next. The first sign that he would become a musician came between the ages of 3 and 4, when he developed a musician’s ear. He learned to play TV melodies, such as the “SpongeBob SquarePants” theme song, and Christmas carols on the family’s piano.
Then he taught himself how to sing, write songs and play the guitar. His father came home one day when Wolf was 7 to find him playing Mozart on the piano. By 10, he was playing AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” on the guitar. Mahler’s rendition of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” made an impression on his mom. John Ramey, Wolf’s childhood baseball and football coach and a Nashville music producer, recalled that it took a 12-year-old Mahler only three months to learn “Sweet Home Alabama” in the style of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Angela Mahler remembers asking herself, “What is he going to do when he grows up?”
Today, Mahler is both an aspiring musician and one of the nation’s top track and field athletes. Both talents played a role in his decision to attend the University of Texas at Austin.
As a decathlete, he recognized the school’s history of excellence in that area. He found the right coach in Mario Sategna, and couldn’t turn down the facilities and resources available at UT. He also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make music contacts, one of the benefits of living in the Live Music Capital of the World.
The sophomore faces an unusual career choice after graduation.
One route is music, the path his parents chose. Michael and Angela Mahler were bandmates in Wild Horses, a group that had a major record deal with Sony. Wolf was born in Franklin, Tenn., but traveled with his parents on tour in the first half of his childhood. He had visited 30 states by the time he was 9.
When he was in the sixth grade, his family settled in Belton, near Temple. That’s where Mahler got his first on-stage experience. He was nervous heading into his acoustic guitar performance at the Belton Middle School talent show, but he won over the squealing crowd.
In 2013, his band, ONE Vs. All, entered a multi-week competition, My Band Rocks Fox, sponsored by Fox affiliate KTBC in Austin. The boys from Belton won a recording session with CJ Eiriksson, a Grammy-nominated producer from Austin.
The other path is chasing an Olympic dream.
Mahler said he would have to be ranked among the nation’s top three to five track and field athletes and score 8,200 points in the heptathlon to earn a spot on the U.S. National Team.
He is well on his way to achieving those goals. Track & Field News ranked him as the nation’s top high school decathlete in 2011 and 2012. During the summer of 2013, he won the USA Track and Field National decathlon title and represented Team USA at the Pan American Junior Championships in Colombia. He added an outdoor national championship appearance during his freshman year at UT. He topped those efforts in March. He won the heptathlon at the Big 12 Championship and finished sixth at the NCAA Indoor National Championship.
Mahler wonders whether he is an athlete first, or a musician.
“I don’t know how to answer because both are a big part of who I am,” he said. “I wouldn’t be the athlete I am without the musician, and I wouldn’t be the musician I am without the athlete.”
He recalled being asked in high school what he wanted to be when he grew up. He concluded that music comes first, because it “has more of my soul.”
Many of his track and field teammates got a first look at his musical talents on YouTube and are waiting for his first album. He keeps a small guitar, a Washburn Rover, in his athletic locker for the down time after practice. He prefers playing in the bathroom stall or shower because they have the best acoustics and reverberation.
Ramey and Mahler’s mother have compared his musical ability to that of seven-time Grammy award winner John Mayer. Logan Brittain, his roommate and teammate of two years, also compares Mahler to Ed Sheeran, the British musician and songwriter.
“I’ve heard four or five tracks, and I haven’t heard anything that I would point to as a weakness,” Ramey said “Wolf is one of those guys that’s talented in everything he does. His work ethic will go a long way in this business.”