Photo courtesy of the artist
Ten years ago, Wolfmother’s frontman/songwriter/guitarist, Andrew Stockdale, was taken for the ride of his life. The Sydney, Australia-based band’s debut album, Wolfmother, sold 1.6 million albums and won a Grammy. Led Zeppelin invited them to perform “Communication Breakdown” during their induction to the UK Music Hall Of Fame. And their runaway hit single “Woman” was aggressively played on radio stations across the world and featured on the second installment of the then wildly popular, pretend-to-be-a-rock-star video game Guitar Hero.
Inserting a band into the video game was an utterly genius marketing tactic at the time: A vast majority of the band’s fan base learned about the group through the game, and personally, the Pavlovian conditioning is burned into my brain so heavily that if I so much as think of the chorus from “Woman,” I’m immediately transported back to my college apartment in San Francisco, drinking 40s and addictively hitting the colored buttons on those SG-shaped plastic guitars with my friends, trying to make the CG crowd on the screen cheer. It’s a similar story to how Portland’s Red Fang rose to fame just shortly thereafter by making a sidesplittingly funny viral music video about LARPing with beer-can armor for “Prehistoric Dog,” a song that was years old and almost completely unheard of prior to its hilarious visual re-creation. It just goes to show you that the times they are a-changin’, and figuring out how to stick in kids’ minds and sell enough records to make a living has evolved.
With mainstream exposure inevitably comes criticism and the difficult task of maintaining success. Wolfmother’s next two albums, Cosmic Egg and New Crown, only saw a fraction of the album sales the debut brought in. After the two other members of the band quit in 2008, many speculated that Stockdale was difficult to work with, and at Lollapalooza in 2007, Faith No More’s frontman Mike Patton famously bashed Wolfmother while he did an interview during their soundcheck, throwing up his hands and asking, “Are you hearing this right now? What year is it?”
A decade and entirely new lineup—save for Stockdale, that is—later, Wolfmother is back with an aptly titled new record, Victorious. The band has settled into what it does best: cranking out catchy tunes. Their songs are neither thought-provoking nor innovative, but their simple lyrics about pretty ladies and winning at life, air-guitar inducing riffs, and arena-sized catchy choruses do exactly what classic-rock inspired pop music is supposed to do: make you want to party and feel good. When the world is complicated enough already, sometimes that’s all you need.
We sat down with Andrew Stockdale—whose current head cold and emphatic responses of “yeah, yeah!” remind of an Australian Austin Powers—to see what the past decade has taught him.
Noisey: When your publicist initially emailed me a copy of the new record, he made sure to throw in the caveat that it “easily could've been the follow-up” to your Grammy award-winning debut back in 2006. Is it just that this record is a return to form? Or is there a subtle sweeping under the rug happening since those records weren’t quite as successful as that one was?
Andrew Stockdale: Just stylistically, I think. Measuring the success—I mean, record sales have dropped off, so nothing is going to match that first one. Everything has dropped off. But yeah, stylistically, this one is possibly the closest to a continuation or evolution of a similar sound.
I can see that. They’re both full of really feel-good, arena rock hits.
It’s been ten years since your debut album came out and sent you on an immediate and crazy ride to fame. You’ve mentioned in the past that nothing could have prepared you for that. What’s the biggest lesson you learned during that time?
I guess if you want that type of success, you have to work for it. It takes a lot of setting off and touring, and writing, and you really have to commit yourself to the project.
It seems like an incredibly lucky break that Guitar Hero was so massively popular in 2006, considering a great deal of your fanbase first heard Wolfmother through playing “Woman” on the game. How do you feel about that being one of the major reasons for your fame?
When we first were told we were a part of [Guitar Hero], I had no idea what it was. But then kids started turning up with those little guitars from the game, and that’s how I could tell that that was how people were hearing our music. So yeah, I think it was really fortunate to have that kind of exposure at that time, yeah.
That must have been really interesting, people turning up to see you with video game controllers. Like, “Man, do I live in the future or what.”
Yeah, I was like, “What is this?” Yeah, yeah!
How did you adjust easily to becoming a famous person so quickly?
[Laughs] Well, becoming well-known, that was a pretty nice time, I think. Nice transition. I had a bit of a ball, I think, around then. Getting to feel that kind of acknowledgement from people for something I was a part of. That’s the ultimate kind of honor to have, I think, in your own lifetime.
What impact did that initial pandemonium have on your personal life?
Right now I’ve got a bit of a cold, so it’s hard to think about anything. [laughs] Some of the nice things, like, going out for a beer, some places would be like, “You’ve got free beer for life.” I ran into that a couple of times. I thought that was pretty amazing. But it’s just sort of like a big celebration in some way. People sort of want to know what’s going on. Like, “How does it feel?”
So overall the adjustment was positive?
Generally positive, yeah. Alternatively, I mean, you start getting everybody’s demos as well, so you’ve got to find a way of not offending people.
What sort of industry wisdom are you armed with that you wish you had ten years ago?
I guess just enjoy the ride. Try and make the most of it while it lasts. Which I think I did back then, but it’s just—I dunno. In some ways, I’m proud of myself ten years ago. I think that dude, like, did a good job and worked his ass off. So if anything, I need to learn something from my former self now.
I think we all need to call upon that sometimes.
Yeah, you’re so motivated when you’re younger. You’ve got that youthful enthusiasm.
One overarching criticism I tend to read about Wolfmother is that the band isn’t doing enough to push modern music forward. Mike Patton famously asked, “What year is it?” when he bashed you in that 2007 interview at Lollapalooza. How did that make you feel to hear that?
Well, I just thought, when you’re at a festival and you’re trying to talk—I just see it as a knee-jerk reaction. But it’s funny because he was talking about re-creating 1950s Italian films. So he kind of contradicted himself, when he said, “What year is it?” It was a complete contradiction.
But yeah, in terms of modern music, or whether an era that you’re referencing in terms of what you want to sound like being a criticism, well, I think just go for whatever you like and the rest will follow. When you look at all of the hip hop stuff, it’s got samples from Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye. There’s definitely a link between a lot of modern music and the past. So I think it’s just the nature of music, I think. It’s just connected through the eras.
Well, one could argue that with hip hop artists, they’re taking the samples from decades ago and inserting political themes, and pushing the envelope with their own stories, the racial tension they discuss openly, and maybe exposing listeners to new ideas they’ve never thought of before. Do you feel like you’re doing any of that with Wolfmother?
[Laughs uncomfortably] Well, I’m not talking about racial tension.
Right, that was just an example of a different type of music pushing new ideas forward, despite taking influence from the past.
But I’m not using anyone else’s music. I’m just coming up with my own music that is stylistically similar to another era. So no, I don’t think I’m doing what hip-hop artists are doing. I guess I’m just defending my point to you that being modern doesn’t necessarily equate to it being good or original or not related to music from the past.
Did you and Mike Patton have any personal beef leading up to that, or was it totally out of the blue?
I’ve never met the guy!
What impression are you trying to leave on rock'n'roll, either in style or values?
I just want people to enjoy it. That’s what I hope for. That’s it. It’s quite simple. It’s not a cultural shift; it’s just there for people to get out of it whatever they like. Purely for enjoyment purposes.
'Victorious 'is out now. Order it here, and catch Wolfmother on tour:
Feb 26 – Detroit, MI – St. Andrews Hall
Feb 27 – Toronto, ON – Danforth Music Hall
Feb 29 – Boston, MA – Paradise Rock Club
Mar 2 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club
Mar 3 – New York, NY – Webster Hall
Mar 4 – Philadelphia, PA – Trocadero Theatre
Mar 5 – Raleigh, NC – The Ritz
Mar 7 – Atlanta, GA – Center Stage
Mar 8 – Nashville, TN – Marathon Music Works
Mar 9 – Memphis, TN – Minglewood Hall
Mar 11 – Lawrence, KS – Granada Theater
Mar 12 – Oklahoma City, OK – Diamond Ballroom
Mar 14 – Dallas, TX – Granada Theater
Mar 15 – Houston, TX – House of Blues
Mar 21 – El Paso, TX – Tricky Falls
Mar 23 – San Diego, CA – House of Blues
Mar 25 – Santa Ana, CA – The Observatory
Mar 26 – Los Angeles, CA – The Fonda Theatre
Mar 28 – San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore
Mar 30 – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom
Mar 31 – Seattle, WA – The Showbox
Apri 1 – Vancouver, BC – Commodore Ballroom
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