A look at one of the best rock bands to ever come out of the land Down Under: Wolfmother.
“Oh my god… Wolfmother.”
These were David Letterman’s words immediately following Wolfmother’s June 9, 2006 performance of ‘Woman’ on CBS’s Late Show. The Sydney trio had risen from playing support slots at half-empty inner city venues to performing live on US network television in just two years, and they were making it count.
Check out Wolfmother live on Letterman in 2006:
‘Woman’, and the self-titled album it was lifted from, showcased the band’s disinterest in the prevailing sounds of indie guitar music. Retro-revivalism characterised early-‘00s rock music to a large extent. Starting with The Strokes’ CBGBs simulation in 2001, hordes of millennial musicians emerged with their eyes fixed firmly on the past.
By 2005, bands of a post-punk persuasion dominated the conversation, including Bloc Party, Interpol, The Killers, The Walkmen and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Within this crowded field – which also included Aussie Beatles-worshippers Jet and The Vines – Wolfmother stood out for being completely immersed in a separate quarter of rock history.
Wolfmother split the difference between the blues rock extroversion of Led Zeppelin and the proto-metal sweep of Black Sabbath. Andrew Stockdale’s voice even aptly channelled Robert Plant’s charismatic effeminacy and Ozzy Osbourne’s wailing countertenor.
As for contemporaneous parallels, Wolfmother were closest in sound to The White Stripes. Like Jack and Meg, part of what made Wolfmother’s first incarnation exhilarating was that it seemed close to falling apart at all times.
The Late Show performance exemplifies this quality – ‘Woman’ revolves around a few pirated Zeppelin riffs, but unlike other Zeppelin acolytes such as Audioslave or Kingdom Come, Wolfmother couldn’t give a damn about studio-perfected enormity. They just wanted to thrash it out and if some equipment got hurt in the process then so be it.
Wolfmother’s Late Show appearance was just one step in a wildly successful three-year period for the band, which began by signing with indie tastemakers Modular Recordings in 2004.
They recorded their debut EP in Detroit with producer Jim Diamond who’d helped out on The White Stripes’ first album. After its release in September 2004, the trio of Stockdale, drummer Myles Heskett and bassist/organist Chris Ross embarked on a massive touring campaign that included dates in the US and the UK.
Wolfmother’s debut full-length arrived in 2005 and picked up triple j’s inaugural J Award for Australian Album Of The Year. The album’s penultimate track ‘Love Train’ featured in an iPod commercial in 2006 and in early 2007 ‘Woman’ scooped up the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance.
A lot’s changed for Wolfmother since 2007:
Heskett and Ross made their exit in the lead-up to 2009’s second album, Cosmic Egg, and the band’s had a revolving door roster ever since. Stockdale even briefly retired the Wolfmother moniker in 2013 to shift focus to his solo debut, Keep Moving.
The gambit was short lived, however, and two new Wolfmother records have since followed – 2014’s independent production New Crown and 2016’s hi-fidelity Victorious.
This might seem an awful lot of looking back for a band that’s still active. But when it comes to Wolfmother, looking back is entirely the point. That’s certainly the impression given by the project’s latest single, ‘Chase the Feeling,’ which features additional vocals from Jet’s Chris Cester.
‘Chase the Feeling’ bristles with the same energy as seen on the Late Show performance, with Stockdale’s preference for stoner blues riffs, ecstatic vocal wailing and garage-grade production still firmly at play.