That '70s Sound 

Wolfmother's got fans thinking it's the next Zep -- and that's like killer, dude.

Wolfmother: They'll blow your house down -- but what's with the metrosexual hairdos?
  • Wolfmother: They'll blow your house down -- but what's with the metrosexual hairdos?
"Just standing in front of an amp, as though you're being bathed in fuzzy volume, is quite a nice feeling," says bassist and organist Chris Ross of Australia's latest gift to heaviosity, the stoner-rock trio Wolfmother.

It makes him laugh to hear such seeming nonsense leave his mouth, but he's not kidding -- unlike, say, the Darkness, who appear to be approaching "old" and "heavy" from a safe, ironic distance.

"We're like, 'This is not ironic. This is fucking cool,'" Ross says. "When we first started jamming, the three of us would be set up, and Myles would be in one corner with his drums, and Andrew would be in one corner with his amp, and I'd be in the other -- and I used to love to go and stand right in the middle of the room."

The three members of Wolfmother -- frontman Andrew Stockdale bringing the thundering riffs and squealing feedback on guitar, Myles Heskett pounding out the beat, and Ross -- spent nearly four years jamming in their practice space before they got it in their heads to face a paying audience.

"We'd just hang out and jam for ages," Ross (pictured right) says. "And eventually, we decided to do a show, which meant we had to write some songs first. I was kind of digging jamming, but I just really enjoyed being put on the spot and the pressure of having to perform right there and then. So once we did one show, all three of us were like, 'Yeah, let's do more.'"

By then, the band had gravitated toward a brand of bluesy, psychedelic heaviness that's frequently compared to such '70s icons as Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. "After our first show, people would say, 'Oh, man, you guys, you've got this huge, like, Sabbath sound,'" Ross says. "And I'd be like, 'No fucking way. You kidding me? That's fucking awesome!'"

After they had hit the streets of Australia with their first album, a certain segment of the rock press started using the comparison to Sabbath to beat up on the band. "Some journalists turned it around," Ross says, "as if it was some kind of a derogatory thing. And I was just like, 'What? Oh, you think it's a bad thing.' It's not like we're trying to be a covers band or trying to plagiarize anyone. At all. When we get together, we totally create stuff honestly and openly -- the three of us. We don't sit down and methodically analyze some song and try to recreate it."

Apparently, people have been waiting for a sound like Wolfmother's. By the time the record hit the streets here in the States on Interscope, Wolfmother had developed enough of a buzz to hit the Billboard charts at No. 22, despite sounding like nothing that's charted that high in the States since, well, the early '70s -- unless you count the White Stripes, who are more a case of something Ross calls "same vibe, different sound."

As to the development of their own sound, Ross says, "We had all this gear set up into a temporary space, where we'd just taken some guitars and drums. And that was when we really started focusing on trying to play one instrument each and just trying to get the most out of that instrument. Then Myles got me to bring the organ in as well, because we were really getting into playing with distortion and keyboards. And that's kind of when the sound started to come about -- lots of fuzzy distortion, big grooves, tripped-out parts, big epic riffs."

What made it all fall into place was when Stockdale found his inner Robert Plant. As Ross recalls, "We'd jammed for ages, and we'd all just sort of muck around and sing different bits. And Andrew always sang more quietly and in a lower register. But when we got the setup in the temporary jam room, they had so much volume in there, he just started fucking belting it out to get over the volume of what we were playing -- and we were all just kind of taken aback."

And what of those '70s comparisons? "I definitely hear that," Ross says, "but I also hear a lot more. I often wonder if it's because, being a musician, you're really in tune with a lot of the subtleties that make up music. To someone who, perhaps, is not that interested in music, maybe it does sound a lot like that. When I listen to it, I can hear a lot of our other influences as well. I mean, the single we've got at the moment -- 'The Joker and the Thief' -- that track, in particular, doesn't sound '70s at all to me. It's kind of like a metal song."

They haven't had much time to think about where their sound will go for album two. They've been too busy bringing album one to the people, playing buzz-affirming sets at fests like South by Southwest and Coachella, as well as the headlining tour that brings them to Cleveland on Sunday.

"We're touring and playing our music to a lot of people who haven't heard it before," Ross says. "And I honestly think a lot of what we do is in the live performance. Not to downplay the record at all -- I love it. But it's live music for us, really. It's great to listen to songs at home, but to come and see a live band, and see what kind of weird dynamics happen during the show and what journeys it can go on -- that's when it's really a fucking experience."

More by Ed Masley


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