RETROROCK – WOLFMOTHER

wolfmother 1

Mind’s Eye (A Stockdale/C Ross/ M Heskett) and Woman (A Stockdale/C Ross/M Heskett) – Wolfmother 2006

Retro-rock was in full swing in Australia in the noughties, Jet were successfully re-inventing the Motown sound of the Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas; the Rogue Traders were artfully appropriating the power chords of Elvis Costello, The Knack, and Tears For Fears, Silverchair and the Vines were plumbing the angsty depths of Nirvana and Pearl Jam’’s grunge, and Wolfmother were tearing up the charts here and overseas  with chords, riffs, psychedelic lyrics, a mystical persona, and hard rock pretensions reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. 

wolfmother10

The trio (left to right above ) Myles Heskett (drums), Andrew Stockdale (guitar/vocals), and Chris Ross (bass and keyboards) all came from design/arts backgrounds and after jamming and practising for several years they formed the band in 2004. Chris Ross suggested the name Wolfmother, and they played their debut gig at the Vic in the Park Hotel (Syd) in April of that year.

Signed locally to Modular Recordings, their debut release was the EP Wolfmother, recorded in the Ghetto Studios with producer Jim Diamond in Detroit, it climbed to #29 on the charts, and attracted the attention of the Universal Music Group, with whom Wolfmother inked an international recording contract in 2005. All four tracks on the debut EP – Dimension, Woman, Apple Tree and White Unicorn would reappear on the group’s debut album in 2005.

wolfmother13

Early Wolfmother songs are credited to all three members of the band but Stockdale was the creative force within the group, he was also the dominant vocalist, his high-pitched howls echoed the pained vocal gymnastics of Robert Plant and Ozzie Osbourne. All the band members sported matching Afros, and their live repertoire of kicks, jumps and Rock God poses came straight from the heavy metal band playbook of the 1970’s, which Wolfmother both emulated and at times parodied.

wolfmother14

In May 2005 the band went into the Sound City recording studios in Los Angeles with producer Dave Sardy who had previously worked with Jet, producing their debut album Get Born and playing guitar on their smash single Are You Gonna Be My Girl, he had also produced albums for Oasis (Don’t Believe the Truth) and the Dandy Warhols (Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia). The eponymous album quickly climbed to #2 on the local charts, it would also chart well overseas making #25 in the UK and #22 in the US, #8 in Norway, top thirty in Holland, Sweden and Finland, and sell over 1.5 million copies, occupying the local album charts for an incredible 78 weeks.

wolfmother12

The album’s cover art, “The Sea Witch” by Frank Frazetta, was inspired by the Tolkienesque, mythical, other-worldly occult genre, populated by nymphs, serpents, and white unicorns in dark and stormy landscapes, much favored by Zep and the Sabs thirty years before, and in more recent times by Meatloaf, who added demonic motorcycle mayhem flourishes to the mix. The band reinforced these themes and lyrically sought to balance the surreal with the sincere, on such exotic album tracks as Where Eagles Have Been, Tales from the Forest of Gnomes, Witchcraft and White Unicorn.

wolfmother7

Mind’s Eye and Woman were lifted off the album to form a double-A side single which climbed to #24 locally, in the 2006 Rolling Stone Magazine Annual Readers and Critics Poll, Wolfmother cleaned up, claiming the top spot in no less than seven categories – Best Album (Wolfmother), Best Single (Mind’s Eye), Best Band, Best Album Cover, Best Rock Artist, Best New Artist, and Best Hard Rock/Metal Band. The album was undoubtedly a throwback to 1970’s hard rock, the galloping riffs, noodling organ, heavy power chords, and fuzz tone guitar were all reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath et al, but they also struck a balance between heavy vintage metal and the crisp, stoner -rock melodies of another era.

Mind’s Eye was generally regarded as an instant classic with a convincing retro ambience, it featured a great keyboard solo by Chris Ross at the bridge and the promo video has been compared to Pink Floyd’s Live at Pompeii concert video.

wolfmother6

Woman was a hard-charging Zep-wallop of a song, a real blues stomper that featured powerful fuzz-tone guitar, thumping percussion, prog rock-inspired keyboards, and echoed warbling vocals by Stockdale. The song has been variously attributed to Stockdale’s former girlfriend who dumped him, or the city of Sydney and its glorious harbor, whose natural beauty inspired Stockdale to pen the song, either way, Stockdale was couch-surfing with friends when Wolfmother picked up a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance at the 49th annual awards.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s