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December 2009. Wolfmother by Powderfinger’s Darren Middleton

Wolfmother - Austral#7453A2Wolfmother first set the music world alight with their retro rockin’ self titled debut album in 2005. The award winning trio travelled the globe gathering a massive fan base and gaining kudos from rock legends such as Thom Yorke and Jimmy Page. Then in 2008, co-founders Chris Ross and Myles Hesketh left the band, leaving main man Andrew Stockdale on his own. A year later, Stockdale has added 3 new members, released the second and fabulous disc Cosmic Egg, and is once again touring the world as Wolfmother. Powderfinger’s Darren Middleton caught up with his good mate Andrew Stockdale over the phone to discuss the mercurial Wolfmother journey.

Darren: Mate, I know you and I chatted quite a bit about this on the golf course as we were both reflecting on our recent pasts and our immediate futures, but can you share some of the conflicts and feelings you had concerning the dissemination of the old Wolfmother, and also has time shed some light on as to why you guys parted ways?
Andrew: Well it’s a long story with many long winding roads and unsolved mysteries.  All’s fair in love and war. I guess it was our destiny. We tried to work it out but by the end there was no love, no harmony so to speak.  I guess if I was to talk about why the band broke up, it might look like someone was to blame, or there was some kind of event that broke the whole thing up. Though really it wasn’t like that, we just grew apart. We had different interests. In all honesty, I think it was for the best. All of us seem a lot more content with the direction we’ve taken.

Do you remember what moment or event made the decision for you to continue under the Wolfmother banner as opposed to going solo?
I think when I sat back and listened to songs under my house around December 2008 and  thought to myself, yes, this sounds like Wolfmother. It made sense to continue, but without the right music it wouldn’t have been right. Many bands have gone through line up changes, AC /DC for one. I guess to me, I was always pretty happy with the direction of Wolfmother. I know how hard it is for bands to find a sound or style, so I was keen to take it further. I felt like there was more to say creatively with Wolfmother. When we started rehearsing with the new line up, neighbours and people were telling friends that Wolfmother was playing, so it felt like the vibe was there. If music sounds good from a distance it’s a pretty good sign that the band is working.

The new lineup now consists of 4 members, so joining you are Dave Atkins, Ian Peres and Aidan Nemeth, guys you knew already?
I kind of new them and didn’t know them.  I met Dave around mid 2007. He helped out recording some of the demos. He’s a pretty good engineer. He also laid down the drums for some of the demos. After a while I thought the demos had a certain charm to them so I decided to bring him into the band for the next Wolfmother record. Ian was a friend of Dave’s, so he dropped by my house around December 2008, went through some of the old and new songs. He picked it up straight off, it was pretty impressive. As for Aiden, well I’d met Aiden way back before Wolfmother started. I was the rhythm guitarist for a band his girlfriend was in. The singer was his girlfriend and the drummer was Simon Day from Ratcat. So when it all went down with WM, Aiden gave me a call and offered his services. The rest is history.

I came along to see the secret show you did a little earlier this year, and must admit, was a little skeptical going in as you inherently associate what you love about a band with the original members … but left very impressed. Dave did an amazing job on the drums (no surprise, he is a beast) and Ian on Bass and keys … none of the intensity or fire was lost in the translation. Now with a couple of months of gigs under your belt, how is the new group feeling onstage?
Well thanks for the complement on the new line up. Yes it’s going really well.  We just played at Neil Young’s benefit show for The Bridge School. The whole set was acoustic so we were definitely put on the spot. Neil loved it. I’m still levitating from the whole experience. So far we’ve toured Australia, the U.K and now we’re starting a headline tour of the States. The shows really have a momentum to them. We’re not just playing notes and chords, there’s a rhythm to the shows now. We’re listening to each other and taking more risks. I guess the most important thing is that we’re playing together. Sounds simple though sometimes it’s really hard to do?

So, ‘Cosmic Egg’… does it by chance refer to that amazing chip shot of mine on the 18th at Vic park? The ball did seem to have a cosmic quality to it as it floated seamlessly into the hole!
Yes, and maybe the 5 beers we had along the way might have enhanced the cosmic powers.

Lyrically, are you exploring any themes in particular on this record? Or is each song fairly unrelated?
I’ve talked about many things on this record, I’m not sure if there’s a theme? It’s instinctive and expressive. It’s real events and completely fictional situations. Though somehow those stories intertwine and mean something when it’s all put together. Maybe a theme is not to put down what you don’t understand. The differences we have are interesting. That’s what I loved about the psychedelic movement in the 60’s, it was a heightened sense of awareness. I’ve never been a fan of youth culture. Even when I was a youth so to speak. I  like to challenge the stereo types.  Marketing has effected everything now we need to segment ourselves to connect with others who fit into the these segments. Or be  similar to everything else with the hope that if sounds and looks like everything else it will be broadly accepted and sell units. But this eventually becomes transparent, for we all really have a need, desire to be free to live our lives.  Think I’ve gone off on a tangent, feel free to delete the unnecessary philosophising. My general point is … is that I think people’s relationship with music is far more open minded than what most people think. So I just try to follow the idea that if somethings done well, people will acknowledge it.

Nice to hear quite a bit of variation on this record, production wise and instrument arrangement wise. There are quite a lot of vocal harmonies, and some seriously screwed up sounds going on. It has plenty of riffs that sound like they were cast down by Zeus himself, and then moments where the songs get to breathe a little more. ‘Californian Queen’, and ‘New Moon Rising’, both convey that sense of urgency and intensity that one would expect, and then ‘White Feather’ displays more overall thought in the production of this record. There seem to be more textures or layers inside the songs. Was this something you had hoped to explore? Or more Alan Moulder’s input perhaps?
We had a long talk about the production of this record over lunch the first time we met.  We could have done an idiosyncratic producer style interpretation of Wolfmother. Though sometimes this can distract or dilute the intensity or raw nature of the song itself. So eventually we came to the conclusion of less is more. A great room, a classic desk, some good mics and then let the band and the music speak for itself. Chords will be chords no matter what filter they’re put though. At least for this record that was the plan.

I like how Alan has treated the vocal in general through effects and the like. He has given it its own place in the scheme of things, still somehow riding above the heaving music underneath it.
The first record was mainly a pretty dry vocal. So on this record I really wanted to let lose with delays and reverb. Alan was cool to let it take that direction.

‘Sundial’,’In The Morning’ and ‘10000 ft’ seem to further explore the value of keyboards as layers in songs, also you are singing in a lower register than usual. ‘10000 ft’ has one of the heaviest bass sounds in the verse. What the hell is making that racket? Is it a bass or keyboard? I almost shat my pants when it came on!
On Sundial I put four micro synths in a chain on the opening riff. The speakers almost tore in half, so we were very happy with the result. On ‘10,000 feet’, on the verse it’s the sub octave on the micro synth giving the whole harmonic bass sound.

‘Cosmic Egg roars past! Nice to hear having a second guitarist is going to come in handy here for the live performances, but I have to say, the next song could be one of my favorites  …’Far Away’… I love it. A really surprising song for some reason. A ballad, but in no way cheesy or overdone. I love the simple but strong vocal melody, the use of the Rhodes Piano (a little crunchier than would be usual for one) and the guitars of course… Those piano flourishes at the end … did Ian play them? Or did you have someone come in? Also was this song kicking round for a while, or relatively new?
The first time I played the Rhodes I played it through a little Fender Blues Junior and it had this amazing tone. In some way, it reminds me of the music from ice cream vans. Maybe this isn’t tonally correc, though through time I developed an affiliation with the sound. So we kept it. I wrote this song on my Rhodes at home.  Ian played it on the record we changed the key of the song so that it would be easier to sing. The chords were a little complex for myself, so Ian played it for the record.

OK, enough song talk … last question … when are you and I hitting some balls round the course next? I feel a little disappointed with our last result, ie, me coming in second. We have unfinished business.
Let me check my iCal,  I’ll hit you back on the Blackberry, then twitter it!

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