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The more things change, the more things stay the same. This aphorism can definitely apply to Wolfmother, as the Aussie band gears up to release its fourth studio album, Victorious, in February.
Known for its retro rock sound, the band has seemingly not strayed too far afield on Victorious, employing the galloping beats and screeching guitars that made them famous 10 years ago when they released their highly successful self-titled debut album. The record went gold in the States, propelled by hits “Woman” and “The Joker and the Thief,” but the band has had its share of ups and downs since then, losing members and critical favor along the way.
Truth be told, it’s a bit of a stretch to call Wolfmother a "band” these days, as it’s become largely the solo project of lush-haired frontman Andrew Stockdale. What started out as a three-piece has been whittled down to its essence, with Stockdale writing every song and playing nearly all of the instruments on the new album.
“On this record, I thought I’d do it all from start to finish and try to solve all those mysteries along the way,” Stockdale tells Yahoo Music. “You’ve really got to be present through the whole process. First I lay down guitars and then do bass and vocals.”
Stockdale recorded the album at the famed Henson Studios in Los Angeles, where the likes of Tom Petty, Daft Punk, and Pearl Jam have laid down tracks; perhaps more notably, the studio is Jim Henson’s Muppets’ home base. This fact was not lost on Stockdale, who used to have recurring dreams about the excitable Muppet drummer, Animal. “I used to have nightmares about Animal every night,” Stockdale recalls. “I used to rip up my sheets when I was a kid and fight with Animal. I thought he was coming into my room. There must’ve been a little hole in the sheets! [When Animal came on TV] I would run out of the room, I was so scared. And now I think he’s probably my favorite character!”
Speaking of renowned drummers, Stockdale recruited Josh Freese (Nine Inch Nails, Bruce Springsteen, A Perfect Circle) and Joey Waronker (Beck, Gnarls Barkley, R.E.M.) to share drumming duties on the album.
Although he recorded it in L.A., Stockdale wrote most of Victorious at his studio in Byron Bay, Australia – a beachside vacation destination that inspired his writing.
“I sort of designed my lifestyle to be like a holiday surrounded by nature and beaches and turtles and dolphins,” he says. “Coming back from a tour two or three years ago, I thought, ‘I don’t want to see people going to work. I want to be in a tranquil space surrounded by nature.’”
Stockdale spent about two weeks in his Byron Bay studio outlining the rough sketch of the album. “I deliberately didn’t work on any ideas [beforehand],” he explains. “I’d walk in and say, 'I’ve got nothing.’ In some ways the spontaneity of it can help. I’ve walked into amazing studios with an old demo of mine and thought, 'Let’s make a proper recording.’ But sometimes it doesn’t work.”
Instead, Stockdale chose to see where the moment took him. It apparently led him in some new directions, with songs like “Pretty Peggy,” which eschews electric instruments in favor of an acoustic sound, replete with “Ho Hey”-esque choruses reminiscent of the Lumineers (yes, you read that right). Stockdale also flexed different muscles with “City Lights,” which he says has a “light-hearted '80s vibe, like the Cars or the Strokes.” But fans of Wolfmother’s old-school stoner rock need not worry, as there’s plenty of its signature sound to satisfy everyone.
As for the haters who have frequently criticized Wolfmother’s classic rock revival leanings, Stockdale says, “Well, there’s something for everyone, right? It’s like food. I don’t like going to a restaurant where they’re trying to invent a new menu, like contemporary cuisine. Some things are a part of nature, like the chords, whether they’re '70s or '80s or '50s or '90s. With a great song, you can pull it apart, put it back together, and it still works. It sort of transcends genre. So if the criticism is that it sounds like the '70s, I wouldn’t see that as a criticism, because I like that music.”
In his late twenties when Wolfmother’s debut album came out, Stockdale is now in a very different place in his life, pushing 40 and caring for a young daughter, having seen the ins-and-outs of the music business. “When [Wolfmother] started, I don’t think I’d done anything in my life for 10 years,” he muses. “I started when I was 29, so my perspective of time was a lot different back then. Doing something for three years felt like forever. It’s nice to reflect, and now I feel like with songwriting I’ve really evolved. I’ve been breaking down some barriers with myself and my approach. The more you do it, the better you get at it.”