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Wolfgang Van Halen honors legendary dad with new project Mammoth WVH: ‘He was just very proud’

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Wolfgang Van Halen is the one-man band Mammoth WVH. He released a self-titled debut album June 11.
Wolfgang Van Halen is the one-man band Mammoth WVH. He released a self-titled debut album June 11.

If there was a school of rock, Wolfgang Van Halen would be valedictorian.

The musician, whose dad is late guitar legend Eddie Van Halen, got his professional start at the ripe young age of 15, when he replaced Michael Anthony as bassist for the band Van Halen in 2006. The experience taught him how to navigate the public eye while honing his craft.

"As young as I was, you figure out how to let things roll off your back," Wolfgang says of the trial by fire, which led to him recording and performing with Van Halen until 2015. Plans for a "classic lineup" reunion tour in 2019 were nixed amid Eddie's years-long cancer battle. He died of the disease last October at age 65.

Eddie Van Halen, left, embraces son Wolfgang at a news conference in Los Angeles in 2007.
Eddie Van Halen, left, embraces son Wolfgang at a news conference in Los Angeles in 2007.

Now, Wolfgang is carrying on his father's legacy with one-man band Mammoth WVH, whose self-titled debut album was released Friday. The long-gestating project finds the 30-year-old flexing a variety of different muscles: playing all the instruments on the album, as well as writing and singing. The blistering 14-track effort takes a page from Wolfgang's rock heroes – Foo Fighters, Nine Inch Nails and Alice in Chains, among them – and pays tribute to his father on aching lead single "Distance."

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"'Distance' kind of encapsulates the whole thing," Wolfgang says of the rousing, emotional anthem. ("I'm still crying," he sings. "Don't want this place / A world without you / I don't think I'll ever move on.")

On Friday, Wolfgang began hosting a new classic rock show, "Top of the Pack," on Sirius XM. Mammoth WVH hits the road opening for Guns N' Roses on tour next month.

Wolfgang chatted with USA TODAY about the album, honoring his dad, and more.

Question: Did you ever consider band names other than Mammoth WVH?

Wolfgang Van Halen: No, it's always been (that). Ever since I was a kid. I've always loved that name. It touches nicely at where I come from but it takes it into its own direction.

Q: How did your dad feel about you using it? (Mammoth was one of the original names of Alex and Eddie's band before they landed on Van Halen.)

Van Halen: Oh, he loved it. I was nervous. I was working with the intention of calling it that for like two years before I even asked Dad. I finally asked him, "Is that OK?" And he was like, "(Expletive) yeah, that's awesome!" It was like, "Oh, OK, I've been waiting to ask you this for two years, I was really nervous." And he was like, "Why? That's amazing."

Q: Do you remember the first time he taught you guitar?

Van Halen: Yeah, I started learning guitar around when I was 12 because I wanted to learn how to play "316," the song he penned for me, for my fifth or sixth grade talent show. He taught me how to do that, but from there, I just kind of learned how to do power chords and recreate songs I was into and learn guitar tabs. So I'm mostly self-taught.

Q: What did he think of you doing music? Did he ever encourage you to pursue other careers?

Van Halen: He was just very proud. He never really tried to push me one way or the other – he just let me find out who I wanted to be on my own. Both my parents were very supportive of whatever I wanted to do.

Q: Do you have a favorite memory of performing together?

Van Halen: Gosh, the whole experience was just such a wonderful thing. The last two shows we did at the Hollywood Bowl (in 2015) were really special, being able to play in in such an amazing venue. Looking back and having them unknowingly be the final shows make those really special to me.

Q: If I'm correct, you finished this album three years ago. Did you hold off on releasing to spend time with your dad, or have you also been tinkering with it?

Van Halen: No, it's been done since then, so it was really just a matter of putting everything on hold so I could take care of my pop and everything. There was a lot of material that hit the cutting room floor that I'm excited to return to from the first album. Plus, I wrote a bunch at the beginning of last year, but after the bleakness of the year kind of caught up to me, I was a bit creatively stilted, if you will.

Q: Do you find a lot of Van Halen fans are coming to your music? Or are there young people discovering it independently of that connection?

Van Halen: It's a bit of both, and it's interesting. I'm sure the bulk of people who are watching this (project) right now certainly know me for my last name and being fans of my father, which is wonderful that they're giving me a chance. But I think over time, it'll hopefully develop into a fanbase where some people won't even know what Van Halen is and then find out later because of getting interested in me.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Wolfgang Van Halen on honoring dad Eddie with new music: 'He loved it'