Though he has steadfastly denied his roots, Andrew Stockdale, lead guitarist/singer of the Australian trio Wolfmother, finally spills the truth. Here, in an interview with Ultimate-Guitar, the musician cops to his classic rock influences - though belatedly. The band's first major release album titled after the group combines Zeppelinesque riffs, Sabbath-like trumpeting rhythms, and even snatches of golden oldies like the Hollies and even the Beatles. Andrew is opinionated though passionate, headstrong yet still dedicated to the idea that music might take people to a higher plain - if only for a few minutes. He may take himself a bit too seriously, and expound just a little too much on the ways of the world, but for good or bad he is an honest young man and here he shares those ideas.
Ultimate-Guitar: What really intrigued me with the record were the classic influences. You obviously listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin, Sabbath, and Hendrix?
Andrew Stockdale: Hey, what are you talking about? Where did you pull this out?
Come on, Andrew. Fess up. For a band to take those influences and turn that into something modern, that's something really new. What interested you in that era of music?
This is a difficult question. Well, okay. What inspired me? Well, I like riffs. I grew up listening to a lot of indie music, where it was kind of discord and chord progressions. And rock and roll just had riffs, and it seemed solid and it seemed to sound good. And I wanted to try and be a part of that and try and write a riff. I wasn't specifically thinking of any particular band like the ones that you mentioned.
But you did listen to those bands?
Uh, I've heard. You know, I've listened to maybe eight songs by those bands. I haven't got all the albums or anything.
Is that the truth?
Of course! Are you calling me a liar?
Not at all.
No, I just had The Best of Black Sabbath and I heard "War Pigs" and various other things. I've listened to Led Zeppelin. I've listened to?that's it. I've listened to thousands of songs in my short life span. You could listen to the Animals. You can listen to the golden oldies, psychedelic music, Hendrix or whatever. So, yeah, I just wanted to play a riff and that was it. I wanted to break away from that discord and indie, sort of 90's kind of Sonic Youth, Pavement, various other things that I loved. I loved all that kind of stuff, I wanted to do a straightforward riff.
I know that the other guys are into like Kyuss and a lot of stoner sort of stuff. And maybe that also influenced that sort of, a bit more minimalistic, contemporary sort of vibe. But how it all works and how the sound evolved, you can talk about references as you mentioned, but I think what a lot of people overlook is that it's the synergy of the band. A band is three people playing together and playing off people. It's a rare occurrence when you get a band that can actually play together. You can get a band where there's like a drummer who's like a drummer that's like the star drummer and he isn't listening to the song and he's just imposing their own drum solos over the whole thing, or a singer who's over singing or anything.
I think that's the thing about Wolfmother. It's that it's a good band. And we've made the songs number one, and we all try to create good music rather than showcasing our talents or whatever.
Did you specifically want a trio?
Yeah. Yeah, well it's a lot easier for the ideas to follow through their natural progression with three people. If you have more people in the band, you've got to convince five people that it's a good idea to do the song. Whereas with three people, it seems really streamlined.
|"I just wanted to play a riff and that was it."|
Well, yeah. The keyboard comes into it in "Woman." "Dimension" was the first song and there's another keyboard in that. And then "Woman" is a keyboard that's just for a solo. And then the next song was "White Unicorn," and that's the keyboard with the delay pedal, just to put in an abstract sound. Just to create a psychological journey in the middle of the song. After that, Chris started jumping more on the keyboards throughout the song. And you know, playing it in the verse, the chorus, doing more so it has come more to the forefront from there. But originally, it was just to kind of add those little elements to the song.
When he's playing the keyboards live, does it allow you to do more with your guitar playing?
No, it doesn't really affect me. I haven't noticed it. It doesn't change the way I play at all.
So whether he's playing electric bass or keyboard bass, it doesn't change anything?
Not that I'm aware of.
Can you talk a bit about the guitars and amps that you are using on the record?
The guitars, well, I used a 1980s 335 Gibson for most of the album. We used a Laney Clip amp. We used an Orange 1960s amp. We used a Hi Watt. We used Marshall JMPs. But you know, I don't really know much about amplifiers. For the technical specifications of what they do, I just go by sound. I know what sounds good, but I don't know why it sounds good.
Don't you play an SG?
Yeah, I play an SG.
But you didn't play it on the record?
Have you been sort of a hollow-body guitar guy?
I think it just sounded better for the recording. But I haven't used one live. I've got one, though. I would like to use it.
How do you record live? Is it the three of you putting down live tracks or are you guys laying for a drum track?
Yeah. What we do is go into the studio, all three of us, we mike everything up. We've put the amps in another room. We go through the song. The drum kit is all miked up. So we play it live, but what we're doing is we're only recording the drums. We've all got headphones on and we just record the drums. And from thereon, we do the bass keyboard after that. And we do the vocals after that, layering it over that initial drum track.
Guitars go on last?
That's right. Well, it's before the vocals though.
Can you describe what your guitar sound is?
Fuzz. A fuzz tone. A distorted tone. It's loud.
You are playing loud in the studio?
That's right. Extremely loud.
That's important to the stuff you're doing?
Yeah, probably, because the valves sound great if you turn it up to 11.
|"It's a rare occurrence when you get a band that can actually play together."|
I love the sounds of those records. I don't know. I'm very happy with what Dave (Sardy)did and I like the sound that he's done. So I do have a kind of loyalty to Dave.
Was he somebody you specifically wanted to work with?
Yeah. We were impressed by the way that he could do big rock guitar sounds and he could also, he had a sort of feel to the psychedelic era and a softer, acoustic things. He seemed like a very well rounded producer.
You came from flamenco guitar background?
Yeah, when I was a kid I played flamenco. Sat in my bedroom for two weeks playing flamenco. It's all I wanted to do. I wanted to go to Spain and become a fucking gypsy!
So when did rock take over?
Actually at the same time I was playing like Henry Rollins songs and I had an electric guitar. I had a bit of both at the same time. I loved both different worlds, but they are entirely different. The thing I thought with rock and roll was that is was just stupid. I just thought it was undermining my talent. I thought I could do better.
You thought that flamenco required more of a player?
It's an art form. It's more of a pure art form. Rock and roll is just like, a lot of it, is just kind of dumb. And the guitar is just silly. You're not going to learn anything and you're not going to become better. You're not going to have more insight into who you are in your soul and how you feel. A lot of it is just based on very simple emotions: aggression, love lost. I mean there are certain rock bands that do take it a lot further and do take it a bit more seriously. There's content within in it that you can take from it into your life. But I'd say a lot of it is just based on teenage rebellion and is a passing phase. I don't want to dedicate my life to that.
Is that not what you're playing?
No, you're right. You're right. On the other hand, that's what I'm good at. That's what I can do. I can do the no brainer, balls-to-the-wall rock and roll. That's who I am. I realized who I was. I wasn't good enough for the flamenco.
Can you name bands that moved you lyrically?
Bob Dylan. Yeah, that's good stuff. No one can kind of snub you off of getting into that. Nick Drake. I really love Nick Drake. But I found it too melancholy, too restrictive, too inhibitive. It's just one emotion. I don't like things that just tap into one emotion. That's why for me The Beatles, to me, are the number one band. They can go from "Norwegian Wood" to "Tomorrow Never Knows." They are open as people. They're very open people. And I think sometimes people just get too, what's the word for it?
Isolated and absorbed and preoccupied with one little phase in their life, one little emotion they feed off of and exists within the rest of their life. You've got to break out of that. Like angst, or punk angst stuff. To me, after a little while, it becomes a little too prefabricated, angst. I mean, just write a love song! Write a song about a fucking bird! So what if your mom didn't direct debit $30,000 dollars into your trust fund and didn't buy you a second bloody Hummer or whatever. "Mommy and daddy don't love?" It's just like, who gives a shit? I can't relate to it. I don't care. I don't subscribe to their cause. I don't believe their angst. I don't believe their pain. Just be honest and say you're happy. You're middle class. You've got everything you want. You got a great education. Your parents love you. That might not make a great rock song, but that's the truth. The rest of it is just pretentious gesturing that can fool a couple million people with a good advertising campaign and distribution contacts. But do I want to listen to it in my free time? No way! I don't care less about it.
You touched on Dylan earlier. Is your song "Joker & The Thief" taken from his lyric in "All Along the Watchtower"?
Yeah, probably. I've totally ripped it off from Dylan. I have. I have. Every time you see a hip-hop artist go, "Make some noise," does everyone give them shit for doing the same thing? This is like one line from a song 40 years ago. It's a good line.
I'm not giving you shit. I'm just asking you a question because you had mentioned Dylan earlier.
No, not you. I'm just saying that other people do.
Talk about the effect on that riff of "Joker & The Thief."
Yeah, what did I put on that? A Small Stone. I was in a shop one morning walking into where we jam. I saw this AC/DC "Thunderstruck." And I was like, I want to write a stadium rock song. I went into the studio and said, "Doo-duh-lee, doo-duh-lee." What's the best thing to do after that? Just do something cleaner. "Doo, doo, doo.." Because, you know, you've got to have a big intro and then you have to have a balls-to-the-wall riff to knock it on the head in the next stage. But yeah, that's it. That's what I wanted to do and that's how I did it. And people don't know what they want to do. That's the thing in life. There's a lot of lost people. And you can take your path and everyone will either get in your way or encourage you. But the fact is, I took my path and I knew what I wanted to do. That's it. You've got to find out what you want to do.
You've got to find out what you want to do, who you are, and how you want to live your life. And that's the never-ending mystery. What's your religion, your political stance? That's what I think is important. How we are going to live as a society going into a world that is decrepit with so much environmental damage and so much corruption. It's a male-dominated society that is basically on a path of destruction. In our own little way, how can we make our existence a positive part of a global consciousness? What can we do? That's what I want to know.
|"That's what I can do. I can do the no brainer, balls-to-the-wall rock and roll."|
Yeah, I mean, I hope with Wolfmother, I can do something positive. Everyone wants to hear, "What about the groupies? What's the craziest thing you've done backstage? Do you take drugs? Do you smoke pot? Do you do this?" I struggled before I was in a band. I never had any money. I've gone into the bank and filled out a withdrawal slip for five dollars because I didn't have enough money in there. It's become a society of the haves and have-nots. From the outside, there's no fucking way in. You look at all these massive corporations and you've got to be a part of it. And people live in so much anxiety and fear of reaction, fear of not being able to have a house and two cars and a wife, and that they can support a family. There's a lot of pressure in modern life. Look at a place like L. A. It's polluted to hell and back. What is anyone doing about it?
They're trying to get the cars more under control. In the long run will it work? I don't know.
I guess what gets me thinking about is that I've had a child recently. I've got a little daughter.
Thanks. And you look at her and you think, she's four months old. What kind of world is she going to live in when she's, you know, 40? That's a scary thought.
I don't really know what I'm doing, but I'm definitely trying to find direction spiritually. I believe in positivity - positive thought, positive action. I don't have any faith, but I'm a believer.
At the end of the day when you look back at the record, is this the record you wanted to make?
It's entertainment. It's 52 minutes in people's lives. It means nothing. It's just a bit of escape. It's rock and roll. It's just fun. Maybe it inspires them to do something, to make music or do whatever they want. Maybe it's a bit of escape from their lives. But at the end of the day, it's just music.
If it hadn't been successful, would you still be playing clubs and fighting the good fight?
Yeah, I don't know what I'd be doing. Maybe I'd be a teacher. I'd like to be an art teacher. I don't know. Do teaching. Do a simple job. I wouldn't want to be fostering any ambition to do anything of any great responsibility or consequence. I romanticize the simple life. What I'd like to do is have a house that is self-sufficient, solar-powered, surge system, environmentally in the hinterland in Queensland, Australia, and be a teacher and teach art. And probably ride my bike down there with a little family, raise kids, play the guitar, and that's it. That would be my life.
You would walk away from all of this?
No, I'm saying if this didn't happen.
And as this gets bigger and bigger, does it get harder to maintain those ideals and not be part of the problem as opposed to the solution?
Oh, yeah. Everyday there's opportunities to do whatever you want to do. I don't know. Now all I've got to do is make music. That's all I've got to do. Music and playing shows is cool. I'm not doing anything wrong. If I sound a bit like some other band, who gives a shit? I'm not killing people. It's not starting a war, I'm not polluting the atmosphere, I'm just making music.
When you see the iPod commercial on TV or people talk about your guitar playing or recognize you as a songwriter, is it a good feeling?
Oh, yeah. Fuck yeah. No other band from Australia has ever?Well, I mean we got pretty high on the U.S. charts (debut album came in in the Top 30). This is a huge opportunity and something that so many other bands that have come before us never had this chance before. And they would love to do it. They'd love to do it. So sometimes I just go, "Wow." You know. We're pioneers.
|"I don't really know what I'm doing, but I'm definitely trying to find direction spiritually."|
From where I come from we're pioneers. I'm over here now, but if I didn't make this music I'd be in Brisbane. My brother is a music teacher. My sister is a P.A. My dad lives in a retirement village. My mom works at Strand Bags selling handbags. I'm from nowhere. This is, this is huge, you know. To them, I'm a fucking star. No one's living like this. No one could ever conceive that I could be a part of something like this. It's fucking huge.
You worked with a band for four years before playing a show - is that accurate?
Yeah. I was in a band for four years jamming. I've been in lots of other bands. I've always asked people to get together and jam. That's just what I do. If someone has long hair, I'll go, "Hey man, do you play an instrument? Cool. Let's meet up on the weekend and jam. Let's do a show." I walk into a room and there's the drum kit set up and amplifiers, and I just get excited. For me, it's the best thing in the world you can do with your time. It represents freedom.
Nothing can match it. It's like a transportation; it takes you to another place. It's free. You don't have to be like sensitive, you can be like a man. Screw all this PC crap. Did I say the right things? Did I say he, she, we, fucking this, that, and the other. You can just pick up a guitar, blast it, and who cares. You can make your own noise and be yourself and whatever you want to do. I love that.
So you are out on the road touring with Pearl Jam?
We're going to do three or four shows in Europe, yeah.
Is that a symbiotic match for you musically?
Well, I don't know. They're from the grunge era. Maybe there's a bit of, yeah, we do explore that kind of aggressive, emotional world that they dabble in as well. We play rock and roll, but we're inherently different as well.
2006 Steven Rosen