Weathering untrue reports that the band had broken up, multiple personnel changes and the relentless shifting of styles in the music business, Wolfmother have remained a vital rock band 10 years after inception. The Australian band headed by Andrew Stockdale have just released "Victorious," their fourth album, a big production project harkening back to their earlier "Wolfmother" and "Cosmic Egg" records.
"Victorious" was produced by Brendan O'Brien [Pearl Jam, AC/DC] and swings from the big rock sound of the title track to a very acoustic, Neil Young approach on "Pretty Peggy." The new album is a big departure from the more organic textures on the previous album, "New Crown."
"I liked Neil Young's 'Tonight's the Night,'" says Stockdale, "and I was trying to think of other records that were just a bit rough and no production and just showing everything warts and all. I thought, 'Let's do one of them. We've done a few big production records. Let's try doing a no production record.' It's good to have the band in a space for a month and flesh it out and play the songs again and again and again. That was kind of cool. It was good to do that and that sort of led to this next record. I wanted to kind of write it all myself and use a big producer. You know what I mean? Kind of go for that big production record again."
Here, the guitarist/singer talks about "Victorious" and playing a Led Zeppelin song in front of Jimmy Page.
UG: Back in April 2013, you had said Wolfmother had broken up. Is that what happened?
AS: No. I just put out a solo record and one of the journalists I spoke to on the press statement said Wolfmother was over. I was just doing a solo record and he kind of took his own slant on it. It wasn't my intention to end Wolfmother.
I'm sorry for misinterpreting it.
No, it's good to clarify it.
The solo record you were talking about was the "Keep Moving" record. Was it different making a solo album than it had been making Wolfmother records?
I thought "Keep Moving" and some of those songs had more of a classic rock kind of blues thing going on. I don't know. It probably could have been a Wolfmother record. I just thought I'd switch it up and try something different. But who knows? Maybe it would have made a good Wolfmother record.
There certainly was a real organic, acoustic vibe to the "Keep Moving" record and especially on a song like "Suitcase" that had kind of a Ray Davies feel.
Ray Davies? Where's he from?
Oh, yeah. Oh, man. Love the Kinks. Yeah, yeah, totally. That must have been unintentional but somehow comes through.
The big production you talk about was handled by Brendan O'Brien [Pearl Jam, AC/DC]. Why did you choose Brendan?
Actually my manager had another client who was making a record with Brendan O'Brien and they were talking about working with Wolfmother and he was available at the same time we needed to make the record. So, yeah, schedules permitting, it all fell into place. It was kind of through recommendation and management and just availability I think.
Was Brendan's approach different than some of the other producers you'd worked with like Alan Moulder and Dave Sardy?
Similar but different. I like that he likes to work really fast and get in there and every day is very production. You're almost doing a song every couple of days or so. You get a good sense of momentum in the studio. Also he's a multi-instrumentalist so that was cool too. I play a song and he plays along on guitar and you kind of have someone to bounce ideas off so that was great.
You played all the bass and guitars on "Victorious." Why didn't you want to use Wolfmother's bassist Ian Peres?
It started off with the first song. I co-wrote a song with a guy called Kram from a band called Spiderbait in Australia. It was "Gypsy Caravan" and we were in the studio and Kram got on the drums and we did drums and guitars first. Then I was like, "Oh, we should call up Ian and get Ian to do the bass." And he's like, "Why don't you do the bass?"
What did you think?
I'm like, "Uh, alright. Sure." So I got on the bass. I don't know if you can hear the bassline in "Gypsy Caravan" but I did this kind of funky, walking-the-bass kind of thing. Then I thought, "Wow, that kind of works" so I just kept going from there.
Had you played much bass previously on Wolfmother albums?
Yeah. On "Cosmic Egg" on "Sundial," a lot of that stuff was from my basslines on the demo. On "Sundial," I played that intro bassline just to kind of show [Ian what I'm thinking about]. Sometimes I play it just to go, "This is what I'm trying to get. This is the feel I'm trying to get." Yeah, I've played a bit of bass before.
You also brought in a couple outside drummers including Josh Freese [Slash, Weezer]. What did Josh bring to the "Victorious" album?
Josh was Brendan's choice but I've worked with Josh on "By the Sword," a song I did on Slash's record ["Slash"]. I met him before and I've seen him in action and yeah, he's a great drummer. He definitely brought a lot of power to the record and a lot of conviction. He put great performance to the record.
Playing your guitar and bass parts of Josh's drum tracks must really inspire you.
Yeah, totally. It's like a solid foundation. Yeah, he raises the bar. He gets that level of excitement going on the record and makes it sound like a big record.
Talking about drummers and grooves, "Victorious" changes from that shuffle feel in the verse to that straight time section. Where did that come from?
Initially in the demo, that middle eight demo goes [sings the lyric] "Don't you ever get tired" and that bit was like a reggae breakdown, hahaha. Then it just went bang and went into that whatever you call it... That 4/4 time kind of balls-to-the-walls section. But yeah, we changed that reggae section to more of a Who kind of thing and Brendan played the grand piano and I just stripped it back to just strumming out those chords on the acoustic.
The thing about English bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and even the Who was they all had that shuffle feel. The music really had a swing to it, which is something you've picked up on, right?
That's interesting isn't it? Different beats. Why is that?
I think a lot of those drummers came from jazz backgrounds so they sort of bring that jazz swing to the rock thing.
It could be a bit of Irish jig thing as well.
Yeah, that traditional music that has that kind of swing jig kind of thing.
"City Lights" had a lot of great textures in it including harmony guitars, right?
Yep, yep, totally. That just happened in the studio. That's one of those things that happens when you're just doing overdubs and you go, "I guess I'll have a go at that." Then you put something down and another thing and another thing.
You've been a Gibson SG player for many years. Was that still the main guitar on "Victorious"?
Yeah. It was like a 1950s or '60s SG Special I think or a Standard. I'm not sure. But it was really nice and it was worn in. It used to be green but it faded into this nice blue sort of color.
Have you experimented with other guitars?
Yeah, yeah. I have a couple of James Trussart's guitars [custom guitar builder for ZZ Top, Eric Clapton and others]. I have a Strat and a Gretsch White Falcon. A 335 and an old Supra guitar but I'm not sure what model it is. It's a very unusual looking Supra. I also have this same guitar Paul Stanley uses. It's an Ibanez and I'm not sure what model it is. That's what I wrote "Victorious" on and it's this really bizarre looking Ibanez.
Is that the guitar you play in the "Victorious" video?
Yeah, it's similar to that.
Do you play those other guitars much?
I have most of those with me on the road at the moment. I have eight guitars. Every time I go into the studio, yeah, I try a different guitar. I pick up a different guitar and just try and write a riff and see what happens.
Talking about riffs, can you describe what your songwriting process is like?
What I do is walk into the studio, press record, pick up a guitar and play for usually about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, there's probably a bunch of different riffs. Then I just kinda listen back to it and I play drums along to all those different riffs and different beats and stuff. Then I lay down some bass and then I pick up the microphone and just start improvising over the top of that. Then I just kind of arrange it into a song, yeah.
That sounds like a very organic process.
Yeah, totally. Just straight off the bat whatever feels good.
Can you tell when it's not feeling good and a song needs to get tweaked?
Yeah. Then you just keep going and keep going and trim it out and try something different.
You talked earlier about the big production on "Victorious" but you've also mentioned you wanted sort of a garage band feel as well. You have to find that right balance, right?
Yeah. You don't want it to sound too garage-y and not really good enough for people's standards these days, hahaha.
It is the 10th anniversary of the release of the "Wolfmother" album. When you put together the new, expanded version and listened to all those songs, what did you think?
To me it sounds as fresh now as it did when we put it out. The energy's great and the production hasn't faded. I think all the tones that Dave Sardy [producer] brought to the table stood the test of time. Yeah, the record has done a lot of good things for myself and the band.
Those songs still get played live?
"Joker and the Thief," "Woman," "White Unicorn," "Apple Tree," "Dimension," "Vagabond" and "Mind's Eye" are all in the set, yeah.
Can you sense any change in your writing from the "Wolfmother" album to the "Victorious" record?
Yeah. I think the vocals on "Victorious" are a bit more melodic. There's a bit more of a melodic quality in some of these songs. Whereas in the early days in some of them as I mentioned, I was just doing an expressive kind of thing. I just sang the lyrics without worrying about any kind of melody and then the melody sort of presented itself. Yeah, I guess I can see a bit of a difference there.
Your vocal on a song like "Pretty Peggy" was really intimate. How did you create that?
For "Pretty Peggy," what we did when I wrote it is I think I just sat down with acoustic on the floor with a microphone and it just kinda wrote itself. The first time I played it was pretty much the way the song is now. Then I got on the kit and I played that different kind of drum pattern and just built it up. "Pretty Peggy" was a very immediate and fast process.
The acoustic guitar was a pretty big part of the new album.
Yeah, "Best of a Bad Situation" and "Pretty Peggy" are the two main acoustic ones.
There were also quite a few acoustics on the "Keep Moving" album.
Yeah. I've got a few more that didn't make it to the record and I've worked on a couple more as well. I've written a couple more since finishing "Victorious" that I'd like to record at some point.
You like that acoustic approach as well as the big electric guitar stuff?
Anything on a guitar.
Organ and piano have also been part of the Wolfmother sound since the first album.
Yeah, definitely. Having organ on there really accentuates all the riffs and all the parts.
You teamed up with Recolor so fans can create their own covers for the "Victorious" album. How did that happen?
I think someone at Universal suggested that. Yeah, that's come along really well. My daughter loves it.
She better not win the contest or they'll call it nepotism.
Ah hahaha, yeah. She keeps twisting my arm about that.
It really does require different marketing and promotion techniques to break a band now.
Yeah, there's all these different audiences. There's the Spotify audience; the iTunes audience; the CD audience; the YouTube audience; and Instagram people. It's all very diversified. Some songs do really well on Spotify and then other songs do really well on YouTube. How can you gauge what's going on?
The idea of trying to craft a song specifically for iTunes or YouTube would be impossible, right?
Ah, it's crazy. You never know. That stuff is sorta out of your control. But it's interesting just to watch it happen.
Back in 2006, Led Zeppelin invited you to be their guests at the UK Music Hall of Fame where you played "Communication Breakdown." That must have been pretty amazing, right?
Aw, yeah. It was awesome. We had David Gilmour, Tony Iommi, George Martin, Jon Bon Jovi, Beyoncé, James Brown and all these legends in the audience. The pressure was on and it was like insane. It was not like your average gig. It was like playing a song to a living music collection staring you in the face. It was an awesome experience.
Did you have a chance to hang out with Jimmy Page?
Yeah, I met Jimmy Page afterwards. Shook his hand and said, "Hi. Thanks for having us." He was happy and he complimented me on how the song went and he seemed pretty happy with it. It was funny whilst I was talking to Jimmy Page, the next prime minister of the UK walked past us. It was a lot of high-profile people there.
It can't get much better than playing a Zeppelin song in front of Jimmy Page, right?
Yeah, days like those you're on a high. You don't know what's goin' on. You just go with it, hahaha.
What are the current plans?
We're touring the States for the next month and then we tour Europe for the month after. Then we come back to America and play Rock on the Range and a few other festivals and radio shows and things like that. From there possibly Australia and possibly Europe again later in the year around August.
Photo courtesy of Matt Johnson
To be around 10 years after Wolfmother formed and to still be such an important band is a major accomplishment.
Ah, thank you. Thank you. I guess I owe it to the fans. I owe it to people who are listening to our music and coming to our shows. I'm just grateful people are still keen to hear what we're doing.
Thank you. Play all the good notes.
Yeah, a pleasure. Thanks for doing the interview. Thanks for having us on Ultimate-Guitar. Cheers.
Interview by Steven RosenUltimate-Guitar.com (C) 2016