Since co-founding members Chris Ross and Myles Heskett left 1970s-tinged Australian hard-rock band Wolfmother in 2008, it has been less a band in the conventional sense and more the musical outlet of sole remaining original member Andrew Stockdale. The singer and guitarist plays nearly everything on new album Victorious, with session musicians popping in to fill in the blanks. The rest of the guys currently in the group simply have to learn the songs before going on tour.
“This isn’t the Monkees,” Stockdale says. “It’s not like a band of brothers that live in the same house and eat dinner together every night. This is like a show, or a production. You’re going to see the songs that I’ve written over the last ten years, played by whoever is available at any point. This is a new, easy-going approach to touring and recording. The lineup doesn’t really affect the live show, or making a record.”
Stockdale laughs between breaths as he tells us this — we suspect because he knows it sounds mildly megalomaniacal — but in fact he’s simply saying that Wolfmother has evolved in the twelve years of its existence, and that he now has full control. It’s Stockdale’s baby, and he’s happy with that.
“On this record, I played everything,” he says. “Drums, bass, guitar. I banged it out in two weeks. That was different. With the first record, I was bringing the riffs and then ran them through the band. This time, I just played everything myself and finished it.”
Stockdale is certainly hitting a prolific streak right: Victorious follows just two years after the New Crown record, which came just a year after 2013’s solo Keep Moving album. Prior to that, four or five years separated each Wolfmother album.
“I just started up with new management about a year ago,” Stockdale says. “Their opinion was that New Crown did nothing, so I did another record. The reason things were so slow between the first [self-titled] and second [Cosmic Egg] record was that we toured that first record for four years. In 2006, we did 143 shows. The touring put the next record back, then Chris and Miles left the band. Cosmic Egg we toured for two or three years. It seems to take that long to get the record out to people — to the mainstream or the broader audience. You’ve got to get on the road and play all the time to let people know that you’ve made a record.”
One has to wonder: If Wolfmother is Stockdale’s project now, what was the purpose of putting out a solo album in 2013? The frontman says that it’s about the subtle sonic differences.
“On the solo record, I wanted to get away from doing those harder riffs, the ‘Woman’ riffs,” he says. “I wanted to do something like the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart. I like those bands that have a bit more of a casual rock-and-roll style. Still, toward the end of that record, there are some metal-edged songs. I wanted to try to de-metal my approach to playing guitar. Now I’m not trying to do that. I really enjoy playing riffs on the metal side of Wolfmother’s sound. I’m a metalhead, I guess.”
In retrospect, Stockdale acknowledges that Wolfmother fans would have readily accepted that solo album if had been released with the band’s name on the sleeve. They are, he says, an intelligent bunch who have grown with Wolfmother. Some of them will be at the On the Block festival in Denver this weekend, though Stockdale admits that he knows little about the event.
“I don’t know more than it’s a snowboard festival,” he says. “Our last tour took us to Vancouver, and my daughter wanted to see the snow, so we drove to the mountains. I asked the guy at the shop if I could rent a snowboard, and it was hard to convince them that I wouldn’t injure myself. I went up to the beginner’s slope, and it was insane looking off the top of a mountain. Even the beginner’s one was madness. I went down twice, and by the time I got to the bottom I was just drenched in sweat. You’re just standing there, but putting a lot of effort into balancing.”
Stockdale says that he incorporates three or four songs from all four Wolfmother albums into the set, as he will in Denver. And even though he has full creative control, he says that there’s still something special about a Wolfmother gig.
“When you see the band play, it makes sense,” he says. “When you see a band live, there’s something else that happens. In the studio, you listen to a record, and someone’s done fifteen takes of the first verse, fifteen takes of the drums. You don’t get the true performance. Live, you’ve got to commit and play sixteen songs in a row. There’s something about that that I think is more exciting, more human, more dynamic.”
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After this festival, Wolfmother heads to Mexico and then Europe, and then Stockdale will work on finishing another album.
“I have an idea for an album title,” he says. “You know Tolkien — the Lord of the Rings guy? How about What You Tolkien About, Willis?"
Maybe keep working on that title, Andrew.
Wolfmother plays the Block Festival, which takes place Friday, October 14, and Saturday, October 15. Go to block festival.com for more information.