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Interview: Wolfmother

9th September 2008

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Wolfmother are a stomping, growling heavy rock band that have been taking Australia by storm with their resonant classic sound, and have been touring their eponymous EP across the UK, through February and March.

Their album hit number 3 in the Australian charts and won the Triple J Album of the Year award, and had an unmatched six entries in the Triple J Top 100 hottest tracks for 2005. Their sound is reminiscent of the foundations of the metal genre - screeching guitars and cyclical stoner riffs recalling Led Zeppelin’s ferocity and energy, whilst the track ‘Woman’ can’t help but bring up the opening lines of Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’. There’s even one song in which the vocals seem to take on Jack White’s balladic twang, despite the fact that in conversation the band members are unmistakably Australian.

Nevertheless, there’s no question that the band has found their own sound in a landscape which is brimming with Zeppelin imitators, whilst being thoroughly distinct from the vagueries of contemporary stoner rock.

Wolfmother don’t hold any strong sentiments for the Sydney scene that they emerged from, their influences leaning towards international acts. Considering their eminent status as the heirs apparent of classic heavy-rock the band are surprisingly down to earth, coming across as three fairly normal guys; before Wolfmother, Myles Heskett worked in graphics, Chris Ross in computers and Andrew Stockdale as a photographer.

Come the show, though, they are monumentally able to fill the stage, the pace and sheer appeal of their music overcoming anything that image alone could generate. Andrew Stockdale, the lead singer, topped by a huge, Mars Volta style, afro, has a kind of eccentric charm that would probably vindicate him from any kind of on-stage mischief that he might care to commit, and meanwhile the bassist and keyboardist, Chris, sways his entire body into the intense beat, whilst Myles goes wild at the back of stage on the drums.

According to the band the name has no links to Steppenwolf (the book or the band, that is - ‘Step-wolf, step-mother, Wolfmother?’ ‘No.’), whilst Myles recommends that you shouldn’t look too deeply into the cosmic artwork that covers the album (unless you want to) other than representing the other-worldliness of the music.

He comments (when coerced) that ‘I’m not a particularly political person, but I’d definitely recommend someone f**king up George Bush.’ When asked which one, he replied ‘Well, whoever’s around.’

At the start of recording the band had hoped to self produce, but on advice took the decision to hire. Their wish list included Nigel Godrich, Dave Sidey, and Ethan Jons, and they eventually hooked up with Dave Sardy, who had worked with Oasis, Jet, the Dandy Warhols and Autolux. He extensively re-tuned their sound - in their first meeting he gave the impression that he was going to ‘kick their arses,’ and across the recording period the band worked together to rebuild the album.

The band booked into the L.A. Cherokee studio for preproduction, where Pink Floyd had recorded the Wall, and then went onto the Sound City studios, where the first run of the album was finished within two weeks, apart from some fine tuning.

The band spent nearly six years jamming and refining their sound before getting around to playing professionally, and were then signed by the Modular label at their fifth gig.

After getting signed, the band quit their jobs and hit a fast track to success with a succession of gigs. The band saw itself as standing out from the crowd in the local Sydney scene, which didn’t contain much that had anything in common with them, and it was out of the frustration at what was there that drove them to innovate. They went through a long period of working up songs, until eventually aiming at a more stripped-back sound (Myles’ amusingly comments that ‘we decided to stick to only one or two instruments each,’ reflecting the genuinely multi-talented nature of the band).

Whilst their sound contains echoes of the prog-rock genre, they very consciously decided not to slip into any self indulgent habits, keeping track lengths well under twenty minutes and emphasizing performance over perfection, making each song taut, rather than letting it slip into a series of overly technical solos.

Despite this it’s clear that the band originated its sound from jamming, working up tracks from compelling riffs. Myles explains that the band interviews individually to avoid the complications of talking over one another, but is quick to explain that this doesn’t cross over onto musical composition, which is clearly a concerted group production.

As for the formation of a devoted fan base following their rapid rise of status, Myles refers to one female fan who seemed to attend every gig on the Australian tour, and who would stand still, staring from the same position at every show, and regularly showed up in the crowd publicity photos. He hopes she’s a nice person.

Wolfmother are a fresh and exciting act beyond what hyperbole can surmise, and that, for once, deserves the accolade of being called a talent. They’ve come from great things back in Australia and there’s little doubt that the world is waiting for the Wolf.

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