10 Years Deep
Ahead of its expanded double disc reissue, Andrew Stockdale reflects on his band’s debut album
There was something instantly nostalgic about Wolfmother’s self-titled debut album, even before you popped the disc in or heard any number of its now classic tunes in the air. By name, an Australian band that declared itself the matriarch of a lupine trio howling at the moon, long before the sweaters were en vogue and well before one-man wolf-packs were being instituted to the sounds of “Love Train” or “Apple Tree” in Hangover movie trailers. It was only 2005, but the packaging of Wolfmother’s debut, seductively dressed in images by legendary Heavy Metal magazine / fantasy artist Frank Frazetta suggested it was from a different time and place, namely the 70s. The album cover featured a painting by the late artist called The Sea Witch, which featured a nude goddess commanding the perfect storm, fearlessly exposing the creatures of the deep. The artfully done image was in fact too racy for Wal-Mart shelves, with the corporation requiring the band to replace it with a plain cover featuring only the band’s logo.
“I forgot about that, that is funny,” laughs Andrew Stockdale, the Wolfmother founder who celebrates the ten year anniversary of the album this month. “When we were making the record, the producer, Dave Sardy, suggested Frazetta, so our manager got in touch with him. We went through a lot of his artwork. This one [The Sea Witch] kind of came to the forefront. We used a lot of his artwork for ‘Woman,’ ‘Love Train,’ ‘Mind’s Eye,’ all of those singles.”
Once exposed to the music itself — what some have referred to with buzzwords like “neo-psychadelica” or “stoner rock” — we were instantly transported back in time, as Wolfmother drew influence from a lifetime of classic rock. Many journalists have drawn comparisons directly to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, while songs like “Dimension” and “The Joker & The Thief” lyrically reference Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan.
“I look at that record as like an ode to my twenties. I was like 29 when I made it. It was like ‘Here’s all the bands that I love and all the music that I love,’ and I put it all into my own ode to that time in my life,” Stockdale says of Wolfmother. “That’s just the way of art and music. People get inspired by people that come before them and use it in what they do. Things that you grow up with, inspire you and you kind of morph it into your own thing.”
Stockdale doesn't see this a negative, after comparisons were made when the Wolfmother album first came out.
“It just seems like people treat influence as a criticism, like ‘I’ve got you down, you’ve blown it.’ I think people see it as a weakness to have an influence,” he says. “In all honesty, I think that is an insincere, pretentious way to carry yourself as an artist and it’s disrespectful to the past. I think every artist should acknowledge the people that came before them and who has influenced them. If they don’t, it’s like they just want to be labeled as a genius, like they came up with it all themselves, and get as much adulation as possible.”
Stockdale’s honesty with himself and his audience paid off, as Wolfmother earned a Grammy in 2007 for the lead single, “Woman,” with the RIAA certified gold album being called the 16th best album of 2006 by Rolling Stone. It would also win several awards at the 2006 ARIA Australian Music Awards, including Best Breakthrough Album, Best Rock Album, and Best Group. Aside from its long list of hit songs being licensed for numerous films and ads, the album earned high praise from Metallica’s Lars Urich, who once said “Awesome… I would listen to it every day,” following its release.
“It was really exciting to be involved in something like that, pre-Facebook, pre-Myspace, pre-Twitter. In all honesty, we made no effort whatsoever to promote ourselves. Everyone wanted a piece of this, everyone wanted to champion our cause. It was a bizarre thing,” says Stockdale. “When something takes off, everybody loves it. And because everybody loves it, all these bigger things want to get ahold of it. You’re sort of blown away, because you think ‘This media outlet, or this TV station, or this magazine wouldn’t usually be associated with us, but we’ll go along with it anyway.’”
Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, Wolfmother will be treated to an expanded, deluxe edition reissue for release on September 25th, 2015. In addition to 180g heavyweight vinyl, this definitive edition features all of the bonus tracks from the various international versions, the genre-bending remixes, and most mouth-wateringly, a second disc of previously unreleased demos and live performances.
A peek inside the collection gives a glimpse into Wolfmother’s creative process, including demos from the vaulted Velvet Sound Demo, which found the band scurrying to bang out an EP in one day for Interscope execs some years ago.
“We just needed to play all of the songs that we had been working on for those last six months to a year to send to Dave Sardy and Interscope to have a listen to, to see where we were at,” recalls Stockdale. “There was a guitar shop in Newtown in Sydney that I used to go to, way before Wolfmother even started, before I was signed or anything. They always let me in, even when it was shut, they’d let me come in and play some guitars. They had this studio called Velvet Sound in Sydney. We went in there, it sounded pretty good. Back then I was always very critical of the sound, because we always recorded ourselves. We’d never been to a professional studio. When I saw the invoice for like $700 a day, I was like ‘Oh my god, someone is going to pay seven hundred dollars for us to go into the studio!’ I was just sweating profusely like, ‘How on earth are we ever going to pay that $700 to record it.’ I remember seeing the guy from our record label like ‘This guy is loaded! This guy must be rolling in it!’ Little did I know, later we’d go to America and spend $350,000 on a record and spend three months in there. It’s all a learning process.”
The demos are unpolished, showcasing the band’s raw, early talent. The original version of “Joker & The Thief” has different lyrics, is slightly less catchy and is called “Not Goin’ Home,” while rough versions of “Dimension,” “White Unicorn,” “Colossal,” and “Apple Tree,” show a young band that’s unknowingly ready for the big leagues.
The most interesting however is the “Early Days Demo” of the group’s biggest hit, “Woman,” which trades the power chords of the version we know for some Doobie Brothers-esque, funky guitar licks.
“That was kind of the first version [of “Woman”], something I did in 1999. Chris, who played bass in Wolfmother at the time, had a home studio and I was kind of joining in on whatever they were doing. One day I was like, ‘Hey, I’ve got a song, do you mind if I record it?’ I think it was around the early 2000s that I decided to change the chords entirely and make it a guitar riff driven song. I kept the lyrics and the song structure, but I changed the chords, so I just transposed everything to a different chord structure and tempo and brought in the drums, the bass, the keys, and sang in a different way. It was like taking a song from the funk genre and making it like a Deep Purple song. I did that to my own song, doing a rock version of ‘Woman,’ and the rock version of ‘Woman’ ended up becoming Wolfmother!”
Coming full circle, the masterful MSTRKRFT (pronounced “mastercraft”) remix of “Woman” actually sampled Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin’.” It is also included in the new collection, alongside the electronic remixes of “Joker & The Thief” and “Love Train,” by Loving Hands and Chicken Lips Malfunction.
“It was good, because they just completely ditched all of our music, the vocals, changed the tempo, and put in a different riff,” laughs Stockdale, cheekily praising the MSTRKRFT remix of “Woman.” “It was really clever. When you have a good song, it transcends the genre, it transcends the instrumentation, it transcends everything you put around it. It’s got the spirit to kind of survive and work. I think having this demo version, this MSTRKRFT version, it’s testament to the strength of that song. If anything, another ten years down the line we see that a good song doesn’t date itself. If it can stand the test of time. It’s a pretty good thing to have been a part of.”
Looking forward to 2016, Wolfmother will release an as-of-yet-untitled new album at the top of the year, produced by Brendan O’Brien. While Stockdale’s former bandmates from the debut album — Chris Ross and Myles Heskett — have since moved on, he promises that the forthcoming record is “a high energy record that will stylistically recapture the sound and spirit of the first record, in some ways.”
Reminiscing, Stockdale looks back one last time, telling the tale of the band’s 2004, pre-Interscope EP that would eventually morph into the Wolfmother full-length.
“The original Wolfmother EP was something we did just to get gigs. We recorded that EP on Cool Edit with three microphones, drums, bass and guitar, in a warehouse in the center of Sydney that I was kind of living in. We managed to get some gigs showing those demos around and this guy was like, ‘Do you guys want to put it out as an EP,’ recounts Stockdale. “I remember after a month I was like ‘How’s that EP doing? Is it doing alright?’ He goes, ‘You sold 20,000 copies in Australia.’ I was like, ‘Is that good?’ He goes ‘Put it this way, the other bands on my label sold 2000 copies in one year. You don’t have a manager. You don’t have any film clips. You don’t have any airplay and you sold 20k in one month.’ And I was like ‘Alright, cool!’ And then it just went up, up, up, up, up… Then it got bigger and bigger. I think once you enter the mainstream, you’re just kind of going along with it. You don’t really understand what they like about you. It’s a two way street, you just try to be cool and enjoy the ride as much as you can.”
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