Before the birth of Wolfmother in 2000, frontman Andrew Stockdale had never owned, let alone played, an electric guitar.
That’s almost hard to believe, considering that an electric guitar is now Stockdale’s weapon of choice, one that has led him to hard-rock stardom.
Prior to crafting Wolfmother’s chart-topping self-titled debut in 2005 — and before the band’s single “Woman” beat out Nine Inch Nails, System of a Down and Tool for best hard rock performance at the Grammy Awards two years later — Stockdale had a simple dream.
“My whole plan when I was like 16 was to move to Spain and become a Gypsy ... playing flamenco!” the Australian says between bursts of laughter during a recent phone interview.
The bushy-haired mastermind behind Wolfmother is feeling gleeful these days, and rightfully so.
After the group’s two other original members, bassist and keyboardist Chris Ross and drummer Myles Heskett, quit unexpectedly last fall, Stockdale was left to pick up the pieces. A short hiatus threatened to engulf Wolfmother forever, but the band re-emerged in January with three new players added to the mix. Following the release of a second album, “Cosmic Egg,” in October, the outfit is once again selling out shows worldwide.
“To me (Wolfmother is) as big, if not bigger, than it was already,” says Stockdale, adding that the response to the shows so far has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
Stockdale, 33, has no regrets about the lineup change — instead, he has embraced the transformation, even incorporating an ultra-optimistic metaphor of rebirth into the new album’s title.
Elaborating on the album’s concept, the frontman recalled a certain day he attended a yoga class, during which he was told to assume a fetal pose — after which the instructor said, ‘You are now in the cosmic egg.’ The phrase and position caused Stockdale to think of Stephen Hawking’s studies of black holes, and the conclusion that they occur “when all of the matter ... implodes,” starting a new “beginning in the universe.”
And so ‘cosmic egg’ became both symbolic of the band’s progression and, eventually, the title of its sophomore effort. “It’s relevant to the band, because of all that destruction and the ending of something, and then creating a new thing.”
For Stockdale, the band’s reincarnation presented a chance to refine the band’s sonic approach.
“If anything, I just wanted to get the overall sound of the record to be warmer, to be stripped back to where you could actually hear the band playing,” he explains. “You can hear the drums being hit, you can hear the guitar playing.”
So far, the musical tweaking has paid off. “Cosmic Egg” debuted at No. 16 in the U.S., No. 3 back home — even No. 11 in Germany. In comparison, the band’s much-celebrated first record debuted at No. 22 in the U.S. and No. 50 in Germany. “It’s gone off,” Stockdale enthuses. “It’s incredible.”
Yet many critics maintain, as they did with the band’s debut, that Wolfmother’s music is largely unoriginal, derivative as it is of, above all, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.
“I think that criticism is coming from someone who has possibly never created anything,” says Stockdale in response to the allegations. “What they don’t understand is expression ... and they also don’t acknowledge talent, or presence, or energy.”
Clearly, Stockdale isn’t fazed by anyone’s censure. As long as he sees “people going off” at shows, the guitarist will remain hopeful about Wolfmother’s future.
“Music continues, music can flow ... no one can control music,” he says. “Creativity knows no bounds — that’s my philosophy.”
// Notes from the Road
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