Perfect Sound Forever

Wolfmother


or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Nostalgia
by Phil Mitchell
(March 2011)

With the advent of MySpace, finding new music became even easier. Literally any artist with enough skill to make an MP3 was posting whatever they had to offer. For the average social network user, new music was more or less thrown at you on a constant basis. This is exactly how I discovered the Australian power trio Wolfmother. I accepted the bands friend request, and the journey began. The playlist in the right hand corner of the screen called to me with song titles like "Woman," "Dimension" and "White Unicorn." First on the list was ‘Dimension,' so I started there.

"DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN, DUN NA NA! NA!" was the sound of the past meeting the present. Lead singer/guitarist Andrew Stockdale, mimicking Tony Iommi's signature sludgy riffs, and Ozzy Osbourne's wailing vocals; the nimble plucking of bassist/organist Chris Ross, and the dexterous but thunderous drummer, Myles Heskett. It was all too much for me. Even the clothes were spot on. Stockdale mirrored a mid 1960's Clapton to a tee. Beatle boots, check. Permed-out afro, check. Gibson SG, check. These guys' weren't fucking around. This power trio wore its influences on its paisley-colored sleeve, and was damn proud of it.

It was not until a few months later that I actually held Wolfmother's first, self-titled album in my hands. The cover art was a tacky, Roger Dean style painting featuring a busty, black-haired siren sporting a lizard tale, standing upon a rock formation above a raging sea. Things like this were inconsequential when dealing with the universal mysticism of teenage rock and roll. The album contained 13 tracks, a fairly large debut for any rock act. This was just fine to me, considering I had a lot of free time to soak it all in.

Soon enough, it was not just me and my friends noticing the power of Wolfmother. Ears similar to my own were picking up the distinctive sound of revitalized stoner rock. The band found themselves winning ‘Best New Rock Band' polls, as well as performing at local and international festivals like SXSW, and Lollapalooza. There were frequent promotional videos and songs featured in major motion pictures; songs appeared in the soon to be mega-successful video game franchise Guitar Hero. In 2007, the band won the Grammy Award for ‘Best Hard Rock Performance' for "Woman."

As strong as the hype was, there were still detractors. Allmusic.com's Stephen Thomas Erlewine said this in his review of Wolfmothers first album, "... From all appearances on their eponymous debut, they made their journey into the past via the twin gateway drugs of the White Stripes and Queens of the Stone Age, and once they dug back to the original Zeppelin and Sabbath texts (stopping along the way for some Soundgarden discs and maybe, for lyrical inspiration, Yes and Rush), they indulged so much it screwed with their sense of aesthetics." To me, it was the complete lack of aesthetic that made it so great. Who cares that they weren't sure if they were Blue Cheer or Soundgarden? What mattered was that they were new, and paid fair tribute to the rock and roll gods of the past.

After months of heavy touring and promotional gigs, the band began a nearly year long hiatus. Fans eager for new material were met with the same old songs. Rumors began the band was splitting up. On August 7th, 2008, it was made official by Universal Records that Chris Ross and Myles Heskett were leaving the band over creative differences. ‘Is it all over already?' I asked myself. Maybe the cosmos was merely inept at its duty of balancing both the forces of the universe, and Wolfmother. Despite the desertion of his band mates, Andrew Stockdale soldiered on, carrying the Wolfmother name, soon to find new replacements. Rhythm guitarist Aidan Nemeth, bassist/keyboardist Ian Peres and drummer Dave Atkins found themselves as the new resident rockers of Wolfmother. Soon afterwards, the band began work on their sophomore album, Cosmic Egg (the name inspired by a yoga pose, according to Stockdale).

In August of 2009, Wolfmother issued their first single from Cosmic Egg, ‘New Moon Rising.' This proved several things to me:

1. The band still kicked ass, even with the new lineup.

2. The album was about as consistent as the first (or inconsistent, however you want to look at it).

3. New drummer Dave Atkins sounded like John Bonham. This kicked a lot of ass.

By October, the album was officially released and I was ready for some new material by that time. Technically, that is what I received. However, I had sinking suspicion Wolfmother was incapable of making anything that original. I mean, I did enjoy the album, I really did. "White Feather" was fairly groovy and had some sweet duel action guitar work. But, at same time, it sounded like a lost track from Zeppelin's Houses of The Holy. "Sundial" was hard as hell, even though the bass line was essentially taken from the beginning of Black Sabbaths "N.I B." As a devout fan, these notions of familiarity were pushed aside to be processed at a later date.

With a new album came a new tour. The Cosmic Egg Tour was coming to my hometown of Boston in November of 2009. I was finally going to see them after many years of waiting. Due to the mishap of my friend forgetting to buy tickets, I was unable to see the band in its original trio format. This time I wasn't going to let anything like that happen again. I told my immediate circle of friends and they bought a ticket as fast as possible. It would be an unparalleled night of hard rocking. Opening for the band that night was The Heartless Bastards and thenewno2, featuring Dhani Harrison (son of George). Both bands seemed to adequately provide the intensity necessary for a Wolfmother show. Before we knew it, Wolfmother had taken the stage. Stockdale immerged from the darkness, his enormous afro illuminated by the stage lights above. "Dimension" was first on the set list.

"DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN, DUN NA NA! NA!" It was like hearing it for the first time all over again. The band was rocking right on schedule, song after song a sonic force. With a "BAH NA NA NA NA NA, NA NA NA NA," the band launched into "Woman." The audience let out a momentous roar, bodies jumping back and forth. To my right and left, there seemed to be a few kids that looked my age when I discovered Wolfmother. I also happen to notice a lot of parents coming with said kids, who seemed to be having a pretty good time. It was at this point where I came to the conclusion that Wolfmother is full-on nostalgia. Almost everything about them seems to point immediately to a 1960's or 1970's hard rock act. It was as if all of us were induced to mutual sense of nostalgia.

Sometimes, it's difficult to realize something you thought was fresh was merely a hodgepodge collection of hard rock history. However, I do think it has something to do with tradition. We love seeing a younger generation taking us forward where we once left off. Perhaps (I'm probably overdoing it here, but here goes) Wolfmother is more a belief than a band; a belief that all of us can partake in some rock and roll nostalgia once in awhile and not seem like we are trapped in a time warp of rock cliches. The critical part of our mind can judge, but our hearts and soul can be left to indulge.


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