This article is the first in a potential new series called “Whatever Happened to…”, where The Edge takes a popular band or artist from yesteryear and gives you an update of where they are now. If you have any ideas for artists to feature, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Remember Wolfmother? They were that cool Australian band who released such epics as ‘Joker & the Thief’ and ‘Woman’ and were compared to rock legends like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath by lazy critics with nothing original to say. Initially made up of singer and guitarist Andrew Stockdale, bassist and keyboardist Chris Ross and drummer Myles Heskett, the power trio released a self-titled album in 2005 (fans outside of Australia had to wait another year) and received international acclaim as a result. They toured the world, began to write new material, and everything seemed to be going well. The NME described the band as “utterly, utterly thrilling”, and The Guardian described their music as “gloriously infectious”. They were on the way to massive success.
Unfortunately, it turned out that Stockdale was, let’s say, difficult to work with. After much speculation, only four gigs in over a year (all festivals), and no real sign of a new album in sight, Ross and Heskett departed in August 2008, citing “irreconcilable personal and musical differences”, to leave the enigmatic and eccentric frontman standing alone. A similar thing happened to a little band you might know of called Guns N’ Roses, whose core members Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum all but destroyed the group when they left Axl Rose with a rotating crew of musicians in the late 90s, and look where they are now — an album which took 14 years to come out, eight members of whom I’d be impressed if most people could name more than Rose, and a complete change of style and personality. Most people said Rose should have just dropped the GN’R name and continued as a solo musician or with a new band; hell, surely the three members who formed Velvet Revolver were more entitled to use the band name? But anyway, the point is that Guns N’ Roses now is not longer Guns N’ Roses as most people know it.
In much the same way, Stockdale hired new musicians Ian Peres and Dave Atkins to replace Ross and Heskett in “Wolfmother”, and in a move eerily reminiscent of Axl Rose he hired an extra guitarist in Aidan Nemeth. “Wolfmother Phase II” was thus born in January 2009. Now, obviously Stockdale continued with the Wolfmother monicker because it was well-known, it was respected, it was safe. At this point he should maybe have converted the project into a solo career, with an entirely new backing band (that’s essentially what it had become, let’s be honest). Wolfmother lived on though, and the band played a few secret shows and started to re-introduce themselves to a wider audience over the course of a few months, debuting new material in the process. Later in the year the group came out with their second (first, I guess) album, oddly entitled Cosmic Egg (an idea signifying rebirth, clearly in relation to the band). ‘Die-hard’ fans are widely united in believing the album to be inferior to Wolfmother, with over-focused production and recycled lyrics spearheaded by Stockdale alone. Commercially though, the album performed better overall, improving on its predecessor’s chart position in many countries including the US and many regions in Europe. So… they got away with it, it seems.
Wolfmother were lucky. After essentially ending, the group continued and managed to retain international success and popularity. That was their second chance, and they took it. Unfortunately there were further troubles afoot. During the promotional tour for Cosmic Egg, Dave Atkins left the band due to a desire to spend more time with his family. American drummer Will “Rockwell” Scott came into the frame, moving over from his relatively successful garage rock band The Mooney Suzuki. Scott is a brilliant drummer, praised for his live energy and loyal service to the art. Fans learned to accept the quick change, and the band continued to tour relentlessly around the world. Throughout 2011, the group spoke occasionally about their welcome return to the studio, recording the follow-up to Cosmic Egg with almost the same lineup in Australia. In true Stockdale fashion completion was claimed and release dates were hinted at, but there was still no sign of an album by the end of the year. Then… more problems!
Into 2012, very little was revealed by Wolfmother about new material or general goings-on, and again the music world began to lose interest. Unfortunately, earlier in the year the band shed its skin again and was reborn a-new. Second guitarist Aidan Nemeth left the band, with competing stories about a change in career focus and personal differences coming from different parties regarding his departure. Newest member Will Scott also left, again blaming irreconcilable differences with Stockdale as the reason (the frontman himself claimed Scott had medical issues holding him back in the gruelling world of rock and roll). As with the last ‘rebirth’, Wolfmother gained an extra member — Elliott Hammond joined as a second keyboardist, leaving Peres to focus a little more on his bass duties, while Vin Steele replaced Nemeth and Hamish Rosser made a high-profile move from fellow Aussie rockers The Vines to replace Scott. The latest word is that the new band is to re-record their new album (it was all but complete with Nemeth and Scott), and it will be self-released by Stockdale without a label, with competing reports of “they were dropped” and “they left voluntarily” muddying the waters further.
So, it seems that Wolfmother is pretty much on its last chance. With an album set to come out before the end of the year, this will be the final test of whether the band are worth spending any time on. If anyone else leaves, the status of Wolfmother as Andrew Stockdale’s solo backing band has to be beyond doubt. What could have been was thrown away, but the few of us desperate enough to believe they still have some juice left in them will be hanging on until the bitter end.