Wolfmother sees the light
“WHAT is your intent?”
It was this simple question posed to Wolfmother lead singer Andrew Stockdale during a Byron Bay yoga class earlier this year that catapulted the Grammy award winning band back onto the world stage.
After a tumultuous 12 months that included a rumour-filled public break-up, a failed attempt to reform the original Wolfmother line-up after group therapy sessions, and record company pressure to audition LA musicians to create a ‘professional supergroup’, Stockdale was fed up with the music industry and its hype.
The original philosophy of Wolfmother – when the outfit began making rumblings in the Sydney music scene as an unsigned band back in 2004 – was to let the music lead the way.
Reconnecting with that philosophy has led the newly reformed Wolfmother to perform their first Australian concerts since the release of the band’s second album, Cosmic Egg, which also happens to be the name of the yoga pose Stockdale was striking back in Byron Bay when he began pre-production on the new album.
When Weekender caught up with Stockdale on the sundrenched terrace of Rae’s on Watego’s this week, he talked about the reincarnation of Wolfmother, describing photoshoots with unscrupulous photographers, waxing lyrical on the virtues of Byron Bay and detailing how one yoga class had such a massive impact on the direction of his life.
“We were working on the second album up at Rockinghorse Studios near Federal,” Stockdale says. “We were renting a house on Belongil Beach, and it was the one time I did a yoga class this whole year.”
But that one class had far-reaching effects.
Stockdale was looking for a title for the album at the time. He was also under duress from all angles: “It had become too much paperwork weighing over the music, but somehow that question allowed me to start saying ‘yes’ to everything – if you want us to do this gig, we will do it. If you want us to do this tour, we will do it ... it was a major turning point that made everything easy.”
If there is a band that has made making a triple platinum Grammy award winning debut album look easy, it is Wolfmother.
The group first made a stir in the Sydney music scene back in 2004. Word spread about a band from Erskenville that wrote songs with thumping riffs that blasted their audiences.
“It was an exciting time for the band because no one had any expectations,” Stockdale recalls. “It was exciting because everything that happened was a massive achievement. It all seemed kind of surreal and abstract.”
But by 2008, rumours were rampant that there were tensions in the band. In August, the Splendour in the Grass festival at Byron Bay would be the band’s last performance. After a break of six months, Stockdale called up fellow band members Chris Ross and Myles Heskett.
“I called up Chris and Myles after we’d had six months off and asked them, ‘do you want to make another Wolfmother record?’,” he says. “They said stuff like we’re not sure, we need another six months off. Then I sent them an email saying, ‘thanks but I quit’, but neither of them replied for two months.”
Stockdale then received a phone call from the guys. They wanted to give Wolfmother another go. But on one rather ‘Spinal Tap’ condition.
“They told me they wanted to go and see a psychologist,” Stockdale recalls. “They said they wanted to do group therapy. They sent me a Myers-Briggs personality test. I filled out the test, went down to Sydney and did the therapy. After two weeks, I said to them, now that we’ve talked about our feelings, can we make a record?”
But Chris Ross decided he couldn’t do it anymore, which saw both members quit, leaving Stockdale with the rights to the name Wolfmother.
The latest incarnation of Wolfmother was formed back in Andrew’s hometown of Brisbane where he still lives. The new four-piece line-up features second guitarist Aiden Nemeth, Ian Peres as bassist and keyboardist, and a drummer, Dave Atkins.
But record company bureaucracy almost interceded.
“I met Dave when he was a kitchen hand in a cafe in Brisbane. We were having breakfast there. I had to send a demo to the record company and everyone was getting nervous about the quality. Management set me up to go over to America to put a new band together. I called up my manager and told him I didn’t want to go. He was yelling at me, telling me to get on the plane.”
Stockdale went through the process of auditioning a parade of LA musicians he had never met before. “You can’t start a band in LA when you’ve got people walking into the studio, whispering in your ear saying this guy is too short, this guy hasn’t got the right hair and all that kind of crap.”
So Stockdale baled and returned to Brisbane and started a band, and the rest, as they say, is history, with Cosmic Egg peaking at No. 3 on the Australian charts and No. 16 on the American Billboard.
A recent highlight for Stockdale was playing Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit in San Francisco.
“We got a standing ovation when we played,” he says. “Neil was on the side of the stage and was cheering. That was a trip.”
But with the highs come the lows – like the time a New York photographer made him pose with a stuffed kangaroo.
“Crazy stuff happens in journalism,” Stockdale says. “The weird-est thing that’s happened to me was when I was doing a photo shoot in New York. I’d been up drinking to 4am.
“It was one of those photographers that wants to psychoanalyse you and talk to you for about two hours. I said to him, we’re not going to discover each other.”
The photographer insisted on the kangaroo. Four months later Stockdale was flicking through Australian Rolling Stone when he saw an article with the photos that suggested ‘Someone convinced Andrew Stockdale to leave his dignity at the door’.
At least, says Stockdale, when things get weird: “There’s nothing like landing in Byron Bay ...we are seriously considering buying a house here. This is such a beautiful place. There’s nothing like it. I was surfing the other day with Seasick Steve. He said, ‘man I want to move to Byron this is the place’. This is like California in the ’60s. I think it’s good the locals protect it.”
I said, ‘now we’ve talked about our feelings can we make a record?’