Wolfmother’s sixth album is a tribute to Eddie Van Halen. And carefree rock and roll in general, Andrew Stockdale explains. More than a decade after bringing the monolithic ‘Colossal’ and ‘Joker and the Thief’ into the world, Wolfmother’s bandleader has been searching for a lighter feeling.
The result is Rock Out. Stockdale’s full thoughts on his latest album, dealing with the pressure of success and the Tim Ferris podcast below.
MUSIC FEEDS: You will soon be playing your first shows in, I am guessing, a little while. Is that right?
ANDREW STOCKDALE: For a little while, yeah. I am trying to remember what the last one was. Possibly The Beach Hotel in Byron Bay. Actually, no. It was the Burleigh Bazaar, about a month ago.
MF: So you are getting back into the groove of things post lockdown?
AS: Yeah. We did an East Coast tour of Australia in June and July. More recently it has been just little bits here and there. Whenever we can get the chance to book something.
MF: Do you remember your first Wolfmother gig? How long ago would that have been?
AS: The first one was at The Vic On The Park in Sydney. That was the first time they wrote ‘Wolfmother’ up on the chalkboard. The Vic On The Park in 2003 or 2004.
MF: Getting a gig like that when you are just starting out is a big deal, right?
AS: Absolutely. That was massive for us. I mean, we were jamming for years. Maybe four years or so. Seeing bands down at the Hopetoun Hotel and The Metro Theatre, that all just seemed completely unattainable. Like, there was no way they were going to let us in the venue to have free beer and play on stage!
MF: It is interesting to hear you rehearsed for around four years. Because when your first album arrived in 2005 it sounded like it could have been made by a professional rock band for all you knew. Did you have the concept of how Wolfmother would look and sound in your head all that time?
AS: Yeah, I did have high ambitions. From the getgo, people would be like, “Oh, who do you want to support?” And I would say, “AIR and Beck.” And, “Where do you want to play? We’ll get you a gig at the Hopetoun in three months on a Tuesday.” And I was like, “Man, we’re playing at the Hopetoun on Friday night!” So I guess I ruffled a few feathers. Because I was like, “We’re gonna headline the Metro on a Friday night we’re not playing the Annandale! We’re going straight to the top!” I just thought screw it. We may as well just go for it.
As for sounding like a professional band, we were playing those songs for about a year-and-a-half before we actually started recording. We toured Japan, did a few shows in New York and did a few shows all over Australia and the UK. And that is when we got signed to Interscope Records.
They wanted us to re-record ‘Woman’, ‘Dimension’, ‘White Unicorn’ and ‘Apple Tree’. (We deleted our original Wolfmother EP which was going crazy at the time in Australia.) And various big magazines were taking notice of what we were doing. So yeah, we had been playing for about a year-and-a-half. And then we had Dave Sardy produce that record. We put a lot of time and energy and effort into that thing.
MF: Jumping ahead in time, you now have your sixth album coming out. The lead single is called ‘Rock Out’. And is that the title of the album as well?
MF: Tell me a little bit more about it. Where is Rock Out coming from, creatively speaking?
AS: In the hair metal era a lot of music had a lighthearted tongue-in-cheek element. And then grunge brought along more brevity and weight because it was tormented. But I feel as if maybe it has just gotten hard for rock ‘n’ roll to seem like fun. And with Van Halen’s Eddie Van Halen passing away I thought, you know, it took a half-Indonesian, half-Dutch immigrant, from Pasadena to make rock’n’roll fun! And how is that? How do you get that energy into the music?
So I just played around with that idea. Like, “Okay, just write whatever is off the top of your head. And if it’s light and frivolous then so be it.”
Essentially, there are no rules in the creative arts. The Beatles’ ‘I Am The Walrus’ means as just much as Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowing in the Wind’ or ‘Rock Out’. Whatever you’re feeling at the moment, just go with it!
MF: Was Eddie Van Halen a big influence on you growing up?
AS: It’s funny. When I was a kid, I wasn’t really into Van Halen. I was more into The Doors, The Beatles, and Bob Dylan. Then someone was like, “Listen to Van Halen. This is the best thing in the world.”
That music is cheesy! [Laughs.] I wasn’t feeling it when I was 13. But it’s funny that now, later in life, it is more endearing. Now, in hindsight, it has grown on me. And because I have done a thousand shows around the world, I know those cheesy songs are more fun to play. They are the ones that you want to play. It is hard to drag your heavy emotions around with you and play them six nights a week in every town across The States!
It becomes a monotonous task to go there emotionally. So I think now I want something I want to play at soundcheck while the bar staff are loading up the fridge. And the roadie is tapping that foot loading and going, “This is cool!”
MF: What are Wolfmother’s heavy emotional songs? ‘Joker and the Thief’?
AS: That’s got a bit of a thing to it. ‘Pyramid’ sometimes feels a bit heavy. ‘Colossal’ as well. Some of the memories attached to those songs… There was a little while where I didn’t really want to play those songs in the set.
But now I have overcome whatever the songs are associated with. Now I just see it as a good song and I can just play it. Those are the ones that stick out to me. Songs like ‘Woman’ or ‘Dimension’ are a bit more light-hearted.
And it’s like when you’ve done an eight-hour drive and you pull up to some venue, the band wants to play something that’s fun. Something that gets everyone in a good mood. And I just think, what is it about songs like that, that just work? You know? How do you make them?
MF: There is an old saying that it is harder to write a simple happy song than a sad one. Did you have any similar experiences with Rock Out?
AS: Well, I think the key is to not take yourself too seriously. Not worry about it being successful. And not get too far ahead of yourself in terms of anything. Instead ask, “Are you enjoying what you’re doing in the present moment?” Just like, lighten the energy some more and amuse yourself! If you’re enjoying it then hopefully someone else will.
You know, I have had lots of pressure. Like after the first record. There was a lot of pressure to follow that.
It’s great to have a large audience who wants to hear something more from you. But it’s also nice, freeing, when no one is expecting anything from you. [Laughs.] Then you can do something good and catch people by surprise. You have more freedom.
MF: There is a lot of pressure in the music business. How do you deal with that?
AS: I look for tips from other people. I was recently watching this documentary by Tim Ferriss. He’s like this entrepreneurial kind of guy. He interviews people who work in high-pressure environments. One was Shaun White. He’s actually come to one of our gigs. It was at the Wiltern in LA, two years ago.
MF: Shaun White the snowboarder?
AS: Yeah. He’s won lots of gold medals. Tim Ferriss was saying, “What do you think before you take off on the ramp?” And Shaun said, “F**k it.” [Laughs.] I could relate to that. It’s like, yeah, of course, I care about what I’m doing. I put everything I’ve got into it.
And I’ve tried to craft my music as long as I can. But also, like, f**k it! If the whole thing goes to sh*t then so be it. Because it’s one of those things. If you grip onto it too tight, you’ll choke it. You have got to be prepared to let go at the same time.
MF: Is there a message you want to throw out there to the Wolfmother fans? I think some of them might also have experienced some pressure of their own over these last two years…
AS: The message, I think, for me is, “Go local.” That is what I’ve gotten out of this. I currently work with all-local musicians and a local engineer. I didn’t go with a label to put out this record because I didn’t want to work for someone in Germany or somewhere else. I just thought, “Go local.” And you can actually achieve what I think is a pretty good result just from working with people instead of chasing all the big names and getting caught up and all that stuff. Just keep it simple.