Ex-Wolfmother frontman releases impressive solo LP: an interview with Andrew Stockdale
The first time I met Andrew Stockdale was years before he fronted Wolfmother. He came in to the offices of Cream as a budding photographer, eager to show us his book. Indeed, I hadn’t realise this was the same guy since his afro only got bigger with the band – that is until Andrew reminded me mid-way through this interview.
“Back then I was busking, in Central Station and around Glebe,” tells the singer-songwriter. “I was always playing music while doing photography.
“I got a degree in photography and felt that it’s what I should have been doing – thinking music was a distraction from that. But once I switched to music, it just took off.”
Indeed, Wolfmother’s self-titled debut album became one of the best-selling Australian records of the century so far, going on to win a Grammy, several ARIA awards, and having the band spend almost a decade on the road touring the US, Europe and of course, Australia.
Then, in April this year, after one final gig with Aerosmith in Melbourne, the band announced it would ‘break up’.
Indeed, the guys are all still very close, with most of the other band members contributing to Andrew’s new solo LP Keep Moving.
Here, he chats about the bond between them, why the move away from Wolfmother, the music on the new album, and what it was like to receive all those Led Zeppelin references at the start.
Interview by Antonino Tati.
Your new solo album Keep Moving features 17 tracks at an average of four minutes per track. That’s a hell of a lot of work for one guy; for one guy doing most of the work, anyway…
Yeah, but I find it therapeutic and easy to write songs. I don’t know what it is.
I know the guys from Wolfmother helped you out on the album, but was it daunting at times, where you felt, ‘Gee, I wish I had the guys around more often’?
It’s kind of a balancing act. Sometimes you think having the guys in the studio is going to help me do something, and you can use that as a crutch. But then sometimes it’s, like, ‘Why can’t they work out what to do on the second chorus for me?’ So then I just go sit down at home and work it out.
Do you sometimes feel like a patient in a mental ward when you’re on your own, thinking and talking to yourself?
That’s just it! Your inner voice comes out, and you’ve gotta listen to it, for better or for worse.
How long was the songwriting process for you?
There are some songs on this record that were written two years ago, and some songs that were written two weeks before they got recorded. It was a combination of songs that had a spontaneous edge to them, and ones that I’d had a little while to sit on, get used to, and improve.
Are you one of those writers that likes to hold on to every scrap of paper, every lyric, just in case you want to use it for a song in the future?
Yeah, I try to write down and keep as many ideas as I have. The other day I had a listen to about 30 songs that I’d put to the side, and I’m starting to like them! That’s half the challenge, or the discipline, of it – to finish the ideas. If you keep something as just a 15-second idea, that could have been the best song of all time.
Wolfmother was so successful; why the break away from the brand, particularly since some of the other guys are still working with you?
Well the guys who are in the current line-up of Wolfmother aren’t playing in my solo project. But the other guys… they’re all here now. We just had breakfast together!
Precisely, and that’s what everyone’s wondering. Why did you break away from Wolfmother? It was a great band name; it had a great reputation…
I guess because it’s not the original line-up. Wolfmother was the name we gave the band when we started. Chris [Ross, one of the founding members] gave that name to the band. Before that, it was called Stockdale. You know, I had Dimension, Woman, White Unicorn… all those songs on a demo that had Stockdale written on the front of it. And Chris was like, ‘Let’s call it Wolfmother’, so I went along with it. It was a band name that honoured the other guys’ contribution. Sure, it’s a great name and everybody knows it. And, sure, since the band disbanded, I always have to be referenced as ‘Andrew Stockdale from Wolfmother’, otherwise nobody is going to know who it is [laughs a lot].
When the band started out and you kept getting the Led Zeppelin references, was that a huge compliment to you?
At the start it was a massive honour. The first time someone said that we were, like, ‘Wow!’ I mean, they were one of the greatest bands of all time. But creatively, if I try to be like Led Zeppelin, I can’t write a song, because Led Zeppelin is like a jam band, whereas I’ve more of a song-driven guy. I walk in with riffs and ideas and I allow those ideas to evolve.
Are you keeping a look over the artwork and packaging?
Totally. And it’s hard because you can’t blame anyone else since you’re doing it. When other designers are bringing concepts in, you can say that’s good or that’s average. But when you’re doing it yourself it’s, like, ‘I’ve really gotta make this good’. Sometimes you’re spending two weeks to come up with a record cover or promo photos; just something that will totally match the music.
Tell us about the recording of the album; where was it mostly laid down?
I recorded it in a warehouse in Byron Bay [where he currently lives] and also in a studio called Rocking Horse in Byron. I also built a studio in Brisbane where we recorded some of it. To get it mixed, though, I sent it all off to Vance Powell [engineer and mixer of The Great Gatsby and Iron Man 3 soundtracks, and Jack White’s Blunderbuss] in Nashville. He was great. One time he was, like, ‘Man, I was just doing an interview for the Grammys and it was boring as shit and I thought to myself I just wanna go and mix some of your record.’
That’s pretty impressive, considering Vance’s discography.
Yeah, he’s a legend.
Would you ever like to call the US home?
Well I’ve been in Byron for a year and a half and I love it here. I tried to move to LA a couple of times and spent a few weeks there. But I got tired of driving along the highways, and I like to see people walking on the street.
Why did you pick Long Way To Go [current single] as the album opener?
I see that song as an invitation to the record. Like, here’s a bit of something that will draw you in. It’s a feel-good, mid-tempo, riff-driven song with a bit of a shakedown section at the back. So hopefully it’ll act as something to intrigue people to hear more.
Lots of beards in that music video. Why are so many guys walking around with beards these days? Did Wolfmother start something?
[Laughs heaps:] Ummm, I don’t know. A friend of mine Tommy Franklin has a beard. And I’ve had a beard on and off. Why did I grow it? I just thought it’d look cool.
Back to the song, and on a final note, with that grinding guitar from the get-go the listener knows they’re in for a real rock treat. Are you a fan of albums that start off hard, or slower, like, say, U2’s Zooropa, or Radiohead’s Kid A?
I do love those records like Zooropa but they never made me want to make music. They seemed so produced. For me it was more of a John Spencer Blue Explosion or White Stripes kind of scenario that made me go, ‘Yeah, I can have a go at that.’
Keep Moving is out June 7 through Universal Music.
Andrew Stockdale also tours in June, the following dates and venues:
Thursday June 6th – Newcastle University, NSW
Friday June 7th – The Metro Sydney, NSW
Saturday June 8th – Waves Nightclub Wollongong, NSW
Thursday June 13th – The Ferntree Gully Melbourne, VIC
Friday June 14th – The Hi Fi Melbourne, VIC
Saturday June 15th – The Wool Exchange Geelong, VIC
Sunday June 16th – Pier Street Live Frankston, VIC
Wednesday June 19th – The Gov Adelaide, SA
Thursday June 20th – The Bakery Perth, WA
Friday June 21st – Fly By Night Club Fremantle, WA
Saturday June 22nd – Prince Of Wales Bunbury, WA
Thursday June 27th – The Hi Fi Brisbane, QLD
Friday June 28th – Coolangatta Hotel Gold Coast, QLD
Saturday June 29th – The Northern Byron Bay, QLD
Tickets available through Moshtix.