Wolfmother is one of those balls out, lay it all on the line, power trios that you just don’t see a lot of these days. I’m sure they are all nice fellows, but you get the sense that Wolfmother could crush any lesser band that got in their way. Their blend of rock and roll comes with a serious classic rock sound that reminds you of the good old 1970s when folks would drive their van out to the lake to smoke a joint and have a threesome.
The Australian band is made up of Myles Heskett on drums, Chris Ross on bass and keyboards and singer Andrew Stockdale on guitar. Since they formed in 2004, the group has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the music industry with their successful self-titled debut album and nearly two years of non-stop, world-wide touring. Wolfmother shows no sign of slowing down.
We caught up with Chris during Wolfmother’s North American leg of their tour, where they’re playing to the biggest crowds they’ve seen in their short history as a band.
So what are you guys up to right now?
We are just in Toronto after playing a show at the Opera House last night, which went splendidly. It was sold out with 800-something people. I had a terrible cold, so I didn’t know whether I was going to make it, but it was a really cool bunch of people in front of me when I was playing so they got me all vibed up. We were just kind of yelling at each other going “Yeah!” I got a lot of energy off of them, which was really cool.
Have you guys been playing a lot of sold-out shows?
Yeah, quite a few I think. That’s the kind of shows you want to be playing. We learned a lot from touring around Australia. It’s very easy to play every show you possibly can, but you might wind up playing three shit shows to crowds that don’t know who you are, and then when you have one good show coming up you don’t have the energy to do it. We were very conscious with the people we were working with over here. We want to make sure we fucking give everyone the best that we can give. We want to make sure we go to the right city on the right night and have the people there who want to see us and want to come and fully let loose. So, it’s all been booked really well, its really cool. We’re enjoying every show.
I read you guys toured for about six months between releasing your EP and recording your album.
Yeah, we’ve pretty much been touring since we began, except for the three months when we did an album.
Well, what did all that touring do for your sound on the album?
It totally developed us. Everything changed. We had always mucked around with different stuff and I had collected all sorts of vintage keyboards and shit. So we were kind of used to playing with heaps of gear. And when it came to Wolfmother, we became very focused on only playing one or two instruments each. Which was really interesting because it got really detailed and really focused, so every show at sound check you would get really into your sound, right into the specifics of it. You could really pinpoint what you needed, effects wise and instrument wise. Yeah, all that playing really helped us technically as musicians and also sonically to find our sound and get exactly what we wanted.
You guys had been playing for a while before you hit it big. You talked about pairing down your instruments, but was there a time when you all sat down and decided you were going to go for it and get serious?
Yeah, yeah there was. The full story is that I met Myles about eight years ago and we realized that we were very much music lovers of all different styles of music and just loved to play music. He had the Rickenbacker that I play now and he had some other kinds of vintage stuff as well and I collected heaps of vintage synths. And then we met Andrew about five years ago.
Andrew had done a little demo of just some indie-folk stuff that he had been doing. He got a show lined up and he rang up me and Myles and said ‘Can you guys come play with me and be my band for this one show?’ and we were like ‘Yeah, whatever, okay. That sounds cool.’ I had never really had any desire to play live. I was totally fulfilled and comfortable in just hanging with friends and jamming, but being put on that spot on stage, I loved it. The pressure of it. You’ve got to do it right now. It’s a do or die situation, which I hadn’t really experienced before because I had always been in my comfort zone, but I dug it. I totally vibed off that pressure.
After that I was like, ‘Man, we should start a band!’ Well, the three of us went away for Christmas to different places and came back together and we all went ‘We should try to write some songs as a band. Let’s focus on playing these instruments and lets see if we can just get a couple of shows and have a good time.’ Which we did. We achieved our goal of getting a couple of shows and it just kept rolling along. As we kept getting more shows we were like, ‘Shit, we’ve got to write some more songs!’ So, every week we would get together and go ‘Alright, we need a new song. We’ve got a show this weekend.’ So, that was kind of how we came about.
How long ago was that?
The first Wolfmother show was April 2004. So we spent January through April loosely getting together and trying to write some songs. Really experimenting with just playing those instruments and how we play them together and stuff.
When I was reading about you guys, you are always compared to a hundred different bands. Everybody always wants to compare you to somebody.
Cool. I love it when it’s a lot of bands. It’s kind of like in a way, even though they aren’t saying it, it’s like you’ve got your own sound. If you can listen to something and subconsciously take in the best elements of that, fuse all the best elements of things that you’ve heard. It’s all an artistic perspective of what you think is good and what’s not. If you personally can project all your favorite sounds that you’ve ever heard, then that’s cool. Rather than just trying to be a cover band or a rip-off band, unless that’s what you intentionally set out to do. Our ethos from the start was to just do what feels right, don’t fight it. Don’t analyze it too much, just go with it.
How would you describe Wolfmother’s sound?
I coined a term: ‘psychedelic sexual sonic tsunami’, which I’ve always felt was kind of descriptive of us. (laughs). If you are using the reference points then I know that Myles is heavily influenced by…he listens to all sorts of stuff. Lots of abstract hip-hop, like Prefuse 73 and Aphex Twin. I know that the classic rock drummer Mitch Mitchell is a big influence to him. I totally hear that. And Keith Moon, that real organic style, just flowing around the drums and putting a real vibe and melody into that. I like the keyboard styles of Pink Floyd and Yes and things like that. And bass styles, I love Paul McCartney. He’s so melodic, and trying to accent with the vocals. John Entwistle was a fucking amazing bass player as well. I grew up listening to the Who, and then I would see a Who DVD and go ‘Far out! That’s the bass in that bit!’
I also draw a lot of influence from electronic stuff like Daft Punk and heaps of DFA Records. I like a good, swinging riff kind of thing, regardless if it’s from a synth or a bass or whatever. Something that’s got a good groove and good melody to it. I know that Andrew draws a lot of influence from a lot of folk stuff. He listens to a lot of Devandra [Barnhart] and things like that. Lyrically, he draws a lot of influence from folk stuff. He’s just naturally got that higher register, projection style of singing as well, which is pretty classic rock. Jack White is kind of bringing that stuff as well, which is something that’s not happened in a while. A lot of the vocals over the past few years have been very introspective. We were making a lot of volume and he had a crappy little amp to sing through, and that’s just how he started singing. We were like, ‘that’s excellent.’ And it totally works for what we are doing.
His vocals really do cut through.
He had to, because we were really getting into distortion and making heaps of noise. He had to project above it all, and he did it, God bless him.
So did you grow up listening to a lot of classic rock in Australia?
Yeah, I’ve got five older brothers and my family has always been into music. I grew up with my mum playing piano and organ and my brother playing guitar and my other brother playing blues piano. The first record I got off my brother was The Dark Side of the Moon, then I got into AC/DC but I also got into the 80s like Ultravox and Devo. And my mom also had heaps of lounge stuff like Herb Alpert and Brazilian guitar stuff. I went through high school where lots of people would have their little groups of what sorts of music they were into and I would hang out with everyone because I liked metal and I liked hip-hop and I liked indie stuff. I remember hanging out with one girl in school who liked the Beatles because I liked the Beatles as well and not a lot of other people did at school.
Yeah, I went through a whole period when I was in junior high where if it wasn’t the Beatles it was crap. I would dismiss everyone else out of hand.
Well, it’s hard with the Beatles because to me they sort of surpass everything. They’re not a band, they’re just amazing. Somebody asked me the other day, ‘who would you choose, Lennon or McCartney?’ And I was like, ‘I love the Beatles. I like them as a band. Individually, what they did after is, whatever, it’s not the Beatles.’ (laughs) There was some amazing magic that happened. One of my favorite pieces of music is the second side of Abby Road where all the songs just blend together. I don’t know who wrote what, and I don’t care who wrote what, it’s just amazing.
You all had real jobs before Wolfmother. Andrew was a photographer, you were a digital designer and Myles a graphic artist.
Kind of. Not nine to five jobs, though.
Was it mostly freelance work?
Yeah, totally. That’s what allowed us the flexibility to gradually let the music take over more and more of our lives and drop our usual work when we managed to get enough from doing music. There was a period where we were playing more and more and not earning enough, but we’ve kind of gotten through that. That was kind of a personal goal for me, was to be able to play music and be self sufficient enough to exist and do what I love.
That must have felt good to leave your job.
In a way…it was cool, but I was working with some people and I felt a bit bad when they would say ‘I need some flash animation done on someone’s web site,’ and I was like, ‘Ohhh…man, the band’s just getting more and more busy and I don’t think I can do any more work.’ (laughs) That kind of sucks, because they were good friends. But, on the other hand, you know, (in an excited voice) I get to go and play music! It’s pretty cool.
Since you guys all seem to have graphic design backgrounds, did you get to have much input on your album cover?
Oh, yeah, totally. Initially we started off trying to do everything. I was doing the web site, Andrew was doing the photography and Myles did the artwork for the EP and we just kind of got to a point where we realized it was too hard to try and juggle all these roles. And obviously the music was going real well, so we handed all the other roles over to people that we trusted. We still, every time we get something, we fully scrutinize it. Every time we get a t-shirt design, or a photo, or something we’re all over it and providing heaps of feedback. You know, it could be difficult working with us. (laughs) But generally, we pick people we get a good vibe off of and want to work with, so hopefully they’ll be up to that and want to listen to our opinions.
So, for the up-and-coming rocker out there, what’s the secret to working up a crowd into a full-blown rock and roll frenzy?
Oh… I don’t know. (laughs) Just do what feels right, musically and in performing as well. That seems to be the basis of our whole band, sonically, was to just to play what feels right and you come out of it feeling so refreshed, like you’ve totally just expressed something. You hadn’t fought it and tried to make it anything that it wasn’t. And I guess that we wanted to make our performance the same as the music, so I want to come out on stage and just fucking let myself go with the music. If that involves me rolling around on the ground with the keyboard, then so be it. (laughs)
People kind of like seeing someone loosing it as well, because they want to do that, too. I think that’s why people come out to see bands, I just want to escape and be immersed in something other than real life and fucking watching TV or something. I want to have a real experience. I think that’s what we try to bring to people. We try to put everything into a show and just go with it. I love seeing people do stuff, honestly, regardless of whether it’s someone going nuts and playing big riffs or it’s some band that so focused on their music that they’re hardly moving. As long as they’re totally immersed and they’re taking you with them, then I don’t really care how they do it, you just want to be a part of it. As opposed to some band that’s playing all this big music and they’re just standing still and posing and you’re like ‘Ugh…I’m not a part of it.’
I think a lot of bands over think what they are trying to do on stage.
I think that’s one of the blessings of coming from Australia. After spending more and more time in New York and London and stuff, you have these bands that are so concerned with what each other is doing and what’s cool. Coming from Australia we have very much the attitude of ‘She’ll be alright, mate.’ You know, you can just do whatever you want and people will support you and go, ‘Yeah, yeah, you guys are having fun, I’m having fun.’ It’s all very easygoing.
Even before we did our first show all three of us were going ‘I fucking love this, I wonder if anyone else is going to get it and whether anyone else is going to love it?’ Heaps of my friends were at our first show and they said, ‘Man you guys were like rabbits in the headlights. You would play and go nuts and then you would stop in between songs just sort of stand there wide-eyed, looking at the audience that was going “Yeah!”‘ We were used to finishing a song and discussing it and stuff, but we were just kind of standing there going ‘Wow, they’re digging us.’
After the whole tour winds down, do you think you are going back to Australia, or do you think you might settle down in another country?
I like that you use the term ‘tour winds down’ but I don’t know if and when that’s going to happen. (laughs) I mean, we get to go home in July, but we’re touring there as well. You know, I guess it’s become part of our work that we get to go places and play. We’re really into that at the moment. We’re into just doing what feels right, and it feels right to just play as much as we can to anyone that wants to come and see us. I think that’s what we are going to keep on doing. I’ve seen all the planners and tour books and I can’t see it ending yet.
Well, you are right in the thick of it. You don’t want to stop now.
That’s fine by me, we’re having so much fun. Our playing is really advancing as well. In between shows I’ve been downloading chord charts and stuff, trying to learn the keyboards a bit better. That’s kind of challenging, too. We had a really good jam before sound check yesterday where I was laying some new chords on the keyboard and everyone was like, ‘Wow, that’s cool!’ Myles and Andrew were doing different things around it, we were kind of vibing off each other, doing some new sounds. That’s refreshing and exciting to be doing that.
Do you guys just look at each other and say ‘Holy shit, I can’t believe this is happening to us.’
Sometimes, yeah. If two years ago someone had told me what we would be doing right now, I’m sitting in Toronto after playing a sold out show to nearly 900 people, I’d be like, ‘yeah, whatever.’ But, we never overstepped our boundaries and did anything that we didn’t feel like we should be doing. It’s like a very logical, organic set of steps that got us where we are.
It seems like you guys did all the right things, very efficiently.
We went into it with the attitude of we want to do what we want to do. A lot of times in the music industry you will meet people who say, ‘This is how you do it.’ And we would say ‘But we want to do it this way.’ ‘Well, this is how everyone else is done it and this is how they do it.’ And we would go, ‘Okay, we’re going to go over here now and talk to someone else, because, obviously, you don’t want to support us in doing what we want to do.’ You come up against that a few times, and we always stuck to our guns and said, ‘no, this how we want to do things. If you want to be a part of it, that’s cool. If you want to follow the tried and tested, you do that, but that’s not what we are doing.’ (laughs)
So having a vision and confidence is the way to go in rock and roll?
Yeah. And I guess that maybe because we are a bit older we can sort of stick to that. I kind of feel for a lot of young bands that get thrust into it, it can get really confusing. There’s so much crazy bullshit going on, you could easily get overwhelmed by it all. I think we can kind of take everything in stride and assess it and figure out our direction. That’s something else I really love about playing with Myles and Andrew, is that every time it’s stepped up to the next level we’ve always been there together. You can imagine maybe someone else in some other band who is about to go out on stage on their big day out and play for 50,000 people might have a moment of panic and run off or something. But we’ve always been together every step of the way. I’ve really appreciated that everyone has risen to the occasion.
They say the candle that burns the brightest burns twice as fast. What’s Wolfmother’s plan for rock and roll longevity?
I don’t know. I can’t tell you, we’ve only been together as a band for two years. But as friends, we’ve been hanging out together for a long time. Just do what feels right, and if it feels good, keep doing it. If it doesn’t, don’t do it. That’s all the advice I can offer.
Thanks a lot, Chris.