Gathered in the Annex’s immersive theatre, the small crowd spent the next hour sipping the conspicuous beverage and feasting their eyes and ears on the double onslaught of interstellar laser beams and the heavy, 21st century psychedelia of Cosmic Egg (due October 27 via Interscope Records); the second release from a band dedicated to keeping rock vital.
It’s no overstatement to say the past year has changed everyone’s world in one way or another and Andrew Stockdale is no exception. In August of 2008 the Wolfmother frontman saw his rise to rock stardom screech to a halt as both drummer and bassist quit the band. Stockdale remained the sole heir to the mantle of a group that had stepped out of obscurity and into the presence of rock & roll royalty. Following the international release of their self-titled debut in 2006 the Australian trio roped in fans and followers across Europe and North America. Their hit song “Woman” was featured in Guitar Hero II and earned the band a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance. They’ve shared the stage with Pearl Jam and The Who and performed at Led Zeppelin‘s induction to the U.K. Music Hall of Fame (at Zep’s request!). Hell, even Thom Yorke likes them. Though, in true rock & roll fashion, none of it was without turmoil.
The three original bandmates played their final gig in early August 2008 and just days later parted ways. A statement from the band followed, announcing the end of the current lineup and citing the ominous “irreconcilable personal and musical differences” as cause for the breakup. Stockdale was left to answer the tough questions. New band? Solo career? Does Wolfmother have a future? Stockdale recently spoke to JamBase about the new lineup, finding his voice and finishing what he started.
JamBase: Given we’re in August of 2009, I have to ask you to think back to 365 days ago. What was going on? What was your state of affairs after the original lineup split?
JamBase: How long did it take before you decided to continue as Wolfmother?
Andrew Stockdale: I wasn’t sure whether to go forward with Wolfmother until probably December or January. I went through a patch where I was like, “No, I’m not going to toy with Wolfmother. I’m just going to write some songs and do something else,” and then when we got together in January we did a few secret shows as White Feather and all of the reviews were like, “Wolfmother is back!” and “Is this Wolfmother?” People were just so confused and they seemed really angry about me calling myself White Feather. It was irritating the fans.
So, you considered having a new band called White Feather?
Yeah, at one point I was considering that and then people were so demanding. People wanted it to be Wolfmother! This record is a continuation of the first, so I thought [I should] just continue.
Tell me about the new guys, Dave Atkins, Ian Peres and Aidan Nemeth. What made you settle on these three?
Well, I met Dave at a café in 2007 and at that time, I mean the future was uncertain with Wolfmother even back then. I was working some demos and I was doing the drums and stuff and I bumped into Dave and he was like, “Hey if you ever need a drummer give me a call.” So, he started dropping by my house and we were doing the demos and stuff like that and they were just meant to be demos for Wolfmother. Then when Wolfmother broke up, maybe in October, I gave Dave a call and said, “Hey do you want to come over and have a jam?” and we tried out all the songs that I’d written and it felt like there was a really good vibe. So, I thought maybe he should be in Wolfmother. And from there, he had a friend that played keys and bass. [Dave] was like, “This guy is really good you should check him out,” and that turned out to be Ian. So, Ian came by to the studio and we played old songs and new songs and he picked up all the new songs straight away and he could play the old songs perfectly. So I guess from that point it seemed like we had a band and we could play all of the songs and we could bring it all back to life.
What made you add a second guitar player?
Is the new lineup a backing band for you or are the four of you the new Wolfmother?
I don’t think it’s a backing band. I’ve always been a frontman, whether it’s for Wolfmother with the other two guys or with these new guys. That’s part of what happens when you sing and play guitar onstage, you become the spokesman for the band. That’s not to say that they’re a backing band, it’s just that everyone has got their place in the band and that’s what makes it exciting. I think they’re doing really well. They’ve held up, they’ve handled the schedule and the gigs and stuff over the last eight months really well, and there is a lot of motivation to get on the road and play some gigs and record songs and do things. You know, we’ll see how things go and take it day by day, but I can see it going for a fair while.
Has anything changed or surprised you when playing the old songs with the new guys?
Yeah, I think on some of the jams [things have changed], like we jam the end of “White Unicorn” and it kind of goes into this Hendrix Experience sort of vibe and that’s pretty interesting, just hearing the bassline doing that walking Noel Redding sort of style and more psychedelic random drums. So yeah, there’s some elements that are changing with the new guys.
You said Cosmic Egg is a continuation of the first album. Is anything being added?
I think it’s slightly more dramatic in some ways.
Especially with a laser light show behind it.
You’ve been testing some of these songs out acoustically at a few secret NYC gigs. Do they start out on the acoustic guitar usually?
“In the Morning” I wrote on the acoustic. “Cosmic Egg” I wrote on the electric and then tried to play it on the acoustic and it seems to work pretty well. I think “In the Castle” I might’ve written the verse acoustically but I sort of jumped off the deep end when I decided to play that [for a session at Rolling Stone] and I realized, “How the hell am I going to play this on an acoustic?” [laughs]. But I loved doing the acoustic gigs. It really brings out the rawness in the songs.
You have a unique and very powerful singing voice. Can you pinpoint a moment when you realized, “Okay, this is my style”?
I remember there were a few times when I realized I could do songs that were pretty vocally challenging when I was a teenager. Like Blind Melon‘s “No Rain.” I remember I was just playing the parts over and I could sing it and I thought, “Wow, that’s pretty high!” So, there were a couple little moments where I would try singing those kinds of songs, but I didn’t really think I was a singer, I thought I was just pretending to sing [laughs]. And then even when we started the band I thought, “Well, I’ll just temporarily be the singer until we find a proper singer.”
You’re soon to be opening for AC/DC. Is that a special thing for you?
Is it a different thing for you to play in Australia than to play in Britain or the States?
Well, I think it depends. In Australia people definitely know who we are and the songs are received really well instantly, and it isn’t like that in Europe and America. I guess it gets interesting when you go to play with bands you would never play with or you go to places where there are still all these different audiences that are in their own bubble. I think when you go to play for those people it gets interesting because you don’t have a parachute. You don’t have songs that can get you out of a tight spot and they’re sizing you up for what you are right there. And sometimes they feel more of a victory because you feel like you’ve earned it.
We did this gig in Berlin, we had two days off and went down to this bar called White Trash and it had a really cool Chinese interior and skulls and skeletons and it was a pretty over the top kind of place. They had this band playing stoner rock and a smoke machine and people were drinking beers, a full German/Berlin set up. And the guy who owned the restaurant was like, “Hey do you guys want to get up and jam?” And we got up there and jammed and there were only twelve people in there when we started and by the end there were 500 people packed into this bar – people standing on tables, strippers stripping in the windows and stuff. It was chaos! We played for three hours and I think when we finished the sun was coming up. And one of the guys there said, “I’ve never heard your band, I don’t even like ’70s music, but that was the best gig we’ve ever had.” So things like that bring back the mystery or bring back the whole feeling of rock & roll – taking the chance, playing someone else’s guitar, someone else’s amp, no pedals, just testing yourself.
Just a few days later Stockdale brought the new Wolfmother to the Jones Beach Band Shell in New York, filling the opening slot for The Killers‘ North American tour. The band rocked out on their lead single (and new Guitar Hero track) “Back Round” with the energy and precision of true professionals, the kind that loves what they do. Standing a bit apart from the three new members, Stockdale certainly leads the group, though he doesn’t outshine them. His voice pierces the night, “Realize it’s all in front of you/ Realize it’s all you ever know/ Realize it’s all you ever do/ Oh, I’m coming back around/ Oh, It won’t be long.” His lyrics couldn’t reveal more of his resolve and his voice puts doubters in their place.
Atkins drives each song forward pushing the beat to the limit while pounding his tubs. Peres and Nemeth prove they can head bang with the best as they rip enthusiastically through fan favorites and new songs. The rapport among the bandmates is lighthearted, and the four share a laugh as Stockdale calls out Peres for telling fans the singer perms his giant afro (a look Peres is no stranger to). Their musical evolution comes out as the more nuanced and spacey late ’60s jam session kicks in during “White Unicorn.” Peres proves to be the all-star of the new lineup, switching effortlessly between melodic bass lines and watery keys that would make Ray Manzarek proud. He is a modern-day John Paul Jones and Stockdale is lucky to have him on board.
As the sun disappears, the four Australians launch into “New Moon Rising,” a Cosmic Egg gem. The moon itself, nearly full, hangs over the band in the night sky. The crowd roars with approval. Where the original Wolfmother had a mythical and earthbound essence to it, this new incarnation is the wolf with eyes skyward, head thrown back, howling at the moon.
Wolfmother is on tour now; dates available here.
JamBase | Down Under
Go See Live Music!