THE BUZZ FOR WOLFGANG
Van Halen’s solo debut began in 2015 when Eddie Van Halen told Guitar World, “It’s like AC/DC meets Van Halen meets aggressive pop... It’s so powerful that I’m jealous.” The project had to wait, as Wolf fulfilled his commitments as bassist in Van Halen and Tremonti, as well as drummer for Sevendust’s Clint Lowery.
But following the devastating loss of Eddie on October 6, 2020, Wolf released the tribute single “Distance.” A moving video featuring childhood footage of Wolfgang with Eddie quickly racked up 4 million views, and the song debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard Rock chart.
With the album completed, Wolf has told Twitter, “It’s important I forge my own path,” but that doesn’t mean distancing himself from his father. His band name and album title, Mammoth WVH, is a nod to Van Halen’s original moniker, and album opener “Mr. Ed” features a tapping lick to make any EVH fan grin. But on the preview singles, Wolf shows his own identity, whether it’s the bruising slow groove of “You’re to Blame” or the stomping shuffle on “Don’t Back Down.”
Speaking to us from his home in California, Wolf explains how he put the album together and reflects on how his father’s influence has shaped him as a musician.
How do you feel about all the reaction there’s been to Mammoth WVH so far?
We’ve got four songs out and people are really stoked about it. I really didn’t see it winning this many people over so soon, or at all, really. I just made the record for me. For it to resonate with a bunch of people has been really awesome.
It must be so hard performing “Distance” on TV when it’s such an emotional tribute to your Dad.
Yeah, performing it is a whole different thing. That was very difficult. In terms of releasing it, it just seemed like the right thing to do. I’d been working on my music for so long, and with somebody as important as that in my life not being around anymore, it just seemed right. It certainly wasn’t the first song I was planning on releasing. It’s a bit to the left of the core sound of the album, but I think it fits still. It seemed the right thing to get that out there as a tribute for Pop and have it all go to his favorite [music education] charity, Mr. Holland’s Opus. There was no ill intent behind it, that’s for sure. I know there are some people who are like, “He’s just using this,” but I love my dad and I just wanted to show everybody. A bunch of Van Halen fans were like, “This was the closure I needed.” You can relate the song to any type of loss anyone has ever experienced, so the comments on the video are beautiful and heartbreaking, like, “I just lost my dad and I heard the song on the radio and it really touched me.” I didn’t expect it to resonate with so many people.
The album has quite a few Easter eggs for fans. Is the ending to “Don’t Back Down” a quote from Van Halen’s “So This Is Love”?
Yeah, except Dad does the little kink with the pick on the strings, and I do a little phaser pick slide. That’s definitely the vibe I was going for. I’m surprised at how quickly people caught that. It’s the same thing with the back cover of the album, people were like, “Oh my god, it’s arranged like the first Van Halen album!” I didn’t think people would notice that the second they saw it. They’re kind of winks and nods. There’s nothing bigger behind it.
You’re not hiding from the Van Halen connection.
I’m just not milking off the legacy. I’m sure that’s up for debate for some people that hate me, but I’m being myself. I’m not sitting there doing covers of “Panama” and going, ‘If you want Van Halen, come to me!’ If you want Van Halen, go over there.
How do you deal with the haters?
It’s an up and down thing. Sometimes it’s too much, and sometimes you’re ready to take it on the chin and tell them to f*ck off. You kind of go through ups and downs because it’s always a constant thing. Sometimes you just need to take a little break and ignore it for a while, but every now and then and some asshole lobs you a really big softball that you could just f*ckin’ knock out of the park, and it’s really fun.
I was surprised to hear you tapping straight out of the gate on “Mr. Ed.”
That’s actually why I called it “Mr. Ed.” That was the demo title because at the beginning of the riff I do a little harmonic tap. Then I just liked that name so much that I kept it.
The lyrics don’t sound like they’re about him.
That’s the one mistake, I think people are going to be like, “Is this about his dad?” Lyrically, it has nothing to do with that.
There’s another standout solo in “You’re to Blame.”
I think that’s a really good kind of core sound of the album. I never wanted to plaster the whole album with solos. It was only if it feels right for certain songs, and that song just seemed to really fit. I just kind of went for it.
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