White Unicorn (A Stockdale/C Ross/M Heskett) and Joker and The Thief (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.
The trio (L-R above) of 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.
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 parodied.
The second single lifted off the album was White Unicorn, the opening riffs recall Led Zeppelin’s more restrained and sensitive side evident on the first half of Stairway to Heaven, along with some very attractive chiming guitar melodies, soon followed by the more typical Wolfmother driving percussion and rock riffs, it charted #25 locally.
Joker and the Thief was the sixth and final single released from the debut album, it was a radio-friendly song with a standout funk and groove to it, which ensured that it became the most popular single issued by the band, charting at #14 locally and #27 in the US. The song was inspired by the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, “There must be some kinda way outta here, Said the Joker to the Thief”, a song popularized by Jimi Hendrix.
Stockdale had deliberately set out to write a stadium rock song with a big intro and a riveting riff, a la Thunderstruck by AC/DC, and he succeeded, the distinctive pulsating guitar riff heard throughout the song has been compared to a section of the song The Cry Eugene by the English progressive rock group The Nice, from 1967. Wolfmother’s debut album was a resounding success, #3 Aust and sold 350,000 copies locally, #22 US, #25 UK, top 30 in Canada, Finland, Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway and clocked up sales of 1.6million globally.
A live Wolfmother performance delivered energetic, taut renditions of their explosive hits as well as invoking memories of 70’s hard rock classics, the swagger and heft of Pyramid, the stuttering boogie of Apple Tree, the majestic swells of Where Eagles Have Been, and the hard-charging bluesy stomp of Woman, all resonated with fans, as Andrew Stockdale executed his Rock God strut, and Chris Ross made lightning quick transitions from bass to organ, without missing a beat.
Although sometimes lampooned as an “Aussie” Osborn clone, Stockdale was a cut above the average stoner lead singer, he forsook the standard cave man grunts, and growls, and sang in tune. But there were few guitar solos on the debut album, Stockdale was no Hendrix-like guitar virtuoso and Wolfmother’s songs were not generally infused with the white boy boogie blues of the 70’s genre bands who had been their inspiration.
By now Wolfmother’s music had become a cross- media exploitation phenomena, with their songs featuring in video games (Guitar Hero 2, Motor Storm, Pure, Need For Speed, Project Gotham Racing 4, etc) movies (Jackass 2, Shrek the Third, The Hangover, etc), and commercials (Mitsubishi and Peugeot cars) They played notable gigs at such legendary festivals as Reading, Lollapalooza, Coachella, Big Day Out and Splendor In The Grass in a frenetic touring schedule that was taking its toll on the band. In August 2008 co-founding members Ross and Heskett left the band due to irreconcilable personal and musical differences, in short, they realized that Wolfmother had always been an Andrew Stockdale solo project, and so it would remain. Stockdale appropriated the band name, recruited replacements, – guitarist Aidan Nemeth, drummer Dave Atkins, bass/keyboards Ian Peres- to form a new quartet who initially performed some original material under the pseudonym White Feather.
The re-formed Wolfmother 2 started work on their next album, Cosmic Egg in Brisbane’s Valley Studios, the album title was a reference to a yoga pose of which Stockdale was aware. The album was ultimately recorded at the Sound City studios, Los Angeles, with experienced Brit producer Alan Moulder, it successfully charted in Australia at #4, UK #35 and US #16, and again notched up sales in excess of one million. Two singles lifted off the album failed to impress locally, Back Round at #96 and New Moon Rising #51.
After more lineup changes Stockdale stopped using the name Wolfmother in 2013 and released a solo album called Keep Moving, but by 2014 the band had re-formed and released their third album New Crown which also flopped. They bounced back in 2016 with their fourth album Victorious which did quite well, climbing to #17 Aust, #25 UK, and top ten in Germany, Sweden, and Austria, and notched up sales in excess of half a million. More recent albums Rock and Roll Baby (2019) and Rock Out (2021) failed to chart, and the band has been in hiatus since that time.