SXSW Breakouts

Mo' 'Fro

Wolfmother frontman Andrew Stockdale tells Raymond Fiore about the origins of the band, his Sabbath/Zeppelin preference, and that strange album art

(From left) Myles Heskett, Andrew Stockdale, and Chris Ross
(From left) Myles Heskett, Andrew Stockdale, and Chris Ross

After riding a storm of buzz out of this year's SXSW festival and delivering a highlight performance at Coachella, Aussie classic rockers Wolfmother auspiciously crashed the Billboard top 30 with their self-titled debut in May. The band's currently on a sold-out U.S. club tour and featured in a heavy-rotation iTunes spot, so we thought it was as good a time as any for curly-topped frontman-guitarist Andrew Stockdale to rank his love for Zeppelin and Sabbath, explain away that Dungeons & Dragons-style album art, and dish about surprising überfan Danny DeVito.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Are you enjoying your stint in America so far?
ANDREW STOCKDALE: America's been great to us. We've been touring on a great bus, so it's a little easier to survive against the elements. The tour in the U.K. was pretty tough with a little van, snow on the ground, and we're all on a little booth facing each other, freezing our asses off. [We're getting an] amazing response. We're selling out every show so far, so it's exciting.

Could you feel the momentum from SXSW?
The momentum has been gradually growing for about two years, from the first time we came and played New York for about 40 people and sometimes less than that. Doing SXSW definitely raised our profile a lot.

I was in the tent when you played at Coachella, and it was pretty intense in there.
Oh, that was fun. Danny DeVito on the side of the stage.

Did he come by and see you afterward?
He did. And the bizarre thing is that I bought Jewel of the Nile two days before that show. We did this in-store and we could get free DVDs. I saw Jewel of the Nile and I grabbed it. Two days later, Danny DeVito [is] on the side of the stage. [Laughs]

Even after that performance, I saw you everywhere around the grounds that weekend. You seemed to be enjoying yourself there.
It's a fun festival, so you want to try to experience the bands. I'm a music fan. I like to be an audience member.

So as an audience member, who impressed you?
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Devendra Banhart... Franz Ferdinand was pretty good.

Were you getting recognized a fair amount?
Oh, I think I shook hands with about 280 people.

You arguably have the most recognizable 'fro in rock right now.
That's right! No haircuts yet.

I read a quote of yours where you said you were a bit of a late bloomer to music — that you were 28, didn't know s--- about music, got dumped, and then wrote a song about it.
Ah, actually, I wrote the songs before I got dumped. [Laughs] But then after that, I had a lot of time on my hands to jam. Relationships take up a bit of time, but yeah, it was a turning point.

So maybe you got dumped because you wrote the songs?
No, I got dumped because I was fooling around. [Laughs] Then we got signed to Modular about two years ago, when I was 27 — same time of the transitional phase of getting dumped by the girlfriend.

And is it true that you guys were all trying out different instrument configurations? You played drums and bass. Did you not always consider yourself a singer?
I knew I wanted to get a band together, but I wasn't aware of what I wanted to do. I'd be the rhythm guitarist, the bass player... I just wanted to be a part of something. I never really had the showmanship or the good looks, [the] indie stare at the shows — ''Isn't he so cute?'', that kind of thing. So I had to do a bit extra to validate being a frontman. I had to work to be a person of interest.

You consider yourself separate from the indie scene, then?
I don't really care so much for [the labels] indie rock, mainstream, the way people categorize music. I just think of it as good or bad. Like or dislike. I don't assign myself to a particular group of people.

It also seems like people either really love the band or feel like you're ripping off old sounds. How do you respond to that kind of divisiveness?
That's just an opinion. As long as you have an opinion or feel passionately about it, there must be something interesting.

Are you getting bored of discussing your influences?
Am I getting bored of it? Yes. [Laughs] No, I'm not bored, there are plenty of things to talk about.

Okay, so I'll ask you a question about two bands people have been associating with Wolfmother. If you had to choose one, Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin, which would it be and why?
And why? Oooh. I think I'd go with Zeppelin, mainly because they've got a more diverse spectrum. They've got the blues influence, folk, abstract jams, straight balls-to-the-wall rock & roll, ballads. And I do like the sound of all of their albums. Whereas I feel like with Sabbath, the first album was great, but it seems like it got a bit glitzy, a bit too metal, and the lyrical content seemed to be milking the whole sorcerer vibe — death and destruction. After two albums, I can't really listen to that much more of it. I still think it's fantastic, though. I still really enjoy Sabbath in small doses.

The White Stripes get brought up a lot along with you guys. Do you like what they're doing?
Yeah, I'm a huge White Stripes fan. Jack White's got great ideas.

Any other contemporary bands that you dig?
Hmm... [Very long pause] I like Devendra Banhart.

Even that has an older vibe though, a bit Marc Bolan.
But then I love T. Rex. Marc Bolan is the king. I saw some footage of him sitting crosslegged on the floor at Wembley Stadium, playing an out-of-tune guitar. Kids going nuts to a guy who's 5-foot-2 with a f---ing ridiculous haircut. That's what I want to do. No one can pull that kind of shit off anymore.

You mentioned the whole Sabbath-sorcerer thing, but your album art has a little of that vibe going on with white unicorns and the like. Were you being a little cheeky with that or totally serious? Tell the truth: Are you a hippie mystic at heart?
I was kind of outvoted with the artwork. It wasn't really my call. But I don't think it's that important for the artist to like the artwork. The music is the most important thing. I don't dislike it, but it's more the other guys and management were more excited about it. I was like, I don't know, it could be a little too fantasy, a bit ridiculous. They all reassured me that it was cool so I went along with it.

What would have been your version of the album art if you were the only one calling the shots?
Probably an overhead photograph of the three of us sitting around a fire, sitting in a pyramid shape. That's it. Two of us at the bottom, one at the top, and just an aerial photo of us sitting in the desert or something.

Originally posted May 30, 2006