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Wolfmother interview

Wolfmother
Hair Of The Dog

For once, it was looking like he might escape undetected. Or at least that’s what Andrew Stockdale was thinking as his jet touched down on a San Francisco tarmac not too long ago. Unfortunately, the flight’s captain had other ideas. He’d picked up the Aussie musician on his radar and stopped him, mid-aisle, as he tried to exit the plane. Then, in front of everyone, he presented his passenger with a promotional plastic-wings badge, the kind usually given to children, turning him five shades of crimson in the process.

Appearing: November 25 at Riviera Theatre in Chicago.

wolfm

“The captain actually came out of his cabin and said, ‘I have to give you this award from Alaska Airlines. For Big Hair Of The Day!’” grumbles Stockdale, a Brisbane-bred rocker renowned for his Mod-Squad-funky ‘fro. “And then he had to work hard to squeeze me and my hair out the door.”

While Stockdale’s power trio, Wolfmother, may trade in retro riffs that recall the Hendrix/Blue Cheer ’60s, and his clothes — Converse All-Stars, black stovepipe jeans, and red velvet smoking jacket — might scream modern rock stardom, the first thing anyone notices about the 29-year-old singer is his fuzzy hairdo, roughly the circumference of a small asteroid, perhaps ex-planet Pluto. It gives a whole new meaning to the term “Australian bush.”

It hasn’t been easy, being cursed with curls, Stockdale admits. “My whole life, I did not know what to do with this hair. So up until grade eight, I wore a hat, nonstop, or I had a shaved head. Then I saw someone else with a ‘fro and thought ‘Hey, that looks all right!’ And that was it.” Maintenance requires only the finest organic products from Australia and more than an hour of brushing afterwards. “And there are always things getting stuck in there that people are picking out, like a piece of straw or something that fell off a tree. But the main thing for me now is just avoiding the dreads that naturally form in the back. I do not want dreads.”

For fans, now that kinky coif is inextricably linked to the equally dense sound of Wolfmother, which — on psychedelic tunes from its eponymous Interscope debut like “Dimension,” “Pyramid,” and “White Unicorn” — feels timewarped in from the black-light-poster era. The music, ironically, stems from Stockdale feeling uncomfortable again — this time with his earlier chosen profession of commercial photography. It all started back when he was 17, he explains. “I took a visual arts and also tried to get a few guys together to start a band. But one got a job in graphic design and another guy went off somewhere else — no one really wanted to put their time and energy into being in a band. So I went on to university to do photography, and I got totally hammered by it. I had a lot of trouble fitting into the institution.”

Why? Stockdale shakes his shaggy head. “They tried to encourage lateral thinking and paradigms, but when they were confronted with real lateral thinking and lateral ideas, things that challenged them, they’d oppress it and destroy it. But we had one lecturer who was cool. He put on the Bob Dylan film *Don’t Look Back, and that was the class. And for me, just watching Dylan and those gigs seemed like the most interesting thing.”

Dutifully, Stockdale — who had become well-versed in the art of Cindy Sherman, Joel Sternfeld, Thomas Struth, and Andreas Gursky — tried to apply what he had learned in the real world. Freelance work was sparse. He resigned himself to working at a Sydney art studio, but wound up becoming a glorified gofer. The only time he perked up, he recalls, was when local rock outfits tromped in for photo shoots; it reminded him to keep experimenting with music, alone in his home studio off-hours. The career capper came when a delivery van chipped his boss’ sports car, and he had to deliver the news. “She threw a coat hanger at me!” he says, still stunned. “I mean, she flipped out. So I walked out the very next day and things went pretty well for me after that.

“And because of the creative freedom of just mucking around with music on my computer, with no one telling me what to do, no art director or board of four people to pull it apart and criticize it, all of a sudden, my creative ideas and energy and enthusiasm came back.” Occasionally, to cheer himself up, guitarist Stockdale had been jamming with bassist Chris Ross and drummer Myles Heskett. At the time, he owned only one Black Sabbath disc, one from Led Zeppelin. So the Wolfmother idea, when it hit, felt quite organic. Why not frame his home-taped acoustic ditties in an electric, Sabbath-heavy backdrop? “Because one thing my experiments had taught me was, I had the melodies,” he says. “I could structure songs and create melodies, so when I did get into a loud-music context, I wanted to make sure there was melody and diversity there. I didn’t want some linear mass of noise — I wanted to harness that chaos and streamline it.”

Tom Lanham

To get the rest of Wolfmother’s hairy tale, grab the November 2006 issue of Illinois Entertainer, available throughout Chicagoland.

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