“It’s 100 percent, unabashedly me”
By Gary Graff
June 7, 2021
Beyond occasional photos with his parents, Eddie Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli, Wolfgang Van Halen met the world as a bass player — with Van Halen, at the age of 16. The younger Van Halen was, in fact, one of the driving forces in putting the group back together for its 2007-2008 reunion tour with David Lee Roth, which led to a subsequent album (A Different Kind of Truth) and one more tour before Eddie’s death last November. Now Wolfgang — who was also part of Creed/Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti’s band and plays on Sevendust guitarist Clint Lowery’s latest solo album — is carrying the mantle with Wolfgang WVH, the name of both his one-man band project and of its debut album. The set finds Van Halen, who handled all the instruments and vocals, playing hard and heavy but also incorporating pop and even occasional prog sensibilities, making his case as more than a famous rock ‘n’ roll progeny. He’s about to take his live band on the road for the first time, opening stadium shows for Guns N’ Roses this summer, and Van Halen promises there’s more where the Mammoth WVH album came from…
FBPO: Was there ever any question you’d be going into the “family business?”
Van Halen: I never thought about doing anything else. Music was just kind of inevitable, but it was never really an intentional decision; It just kind of snowballed that way. I started playing drums when I was 9 years old; My dad gave me a V drum kit that I played Van Halen songs and blink-182 songs on back-to-back, constantly. Then I slowly got into guitar when I was 12. My dad taught me power chords and I took it from there. Same with drumming. My dad just taught me a straightforward AC/DC, “Back in Black” drum beat and I took it from there. Then I picked up bass when I was 15.
FBPO: A jack of all trades, kind of…
Van Halen: I’ve always loved the whole Dave Grohl story of how he started Foo Fighters and just did a whole demo album by himself. I’d love to do that. I feel like I can play drums, bass, guitar, kinda sing, I guess. I can kinda decide whatever I want to do. I feel like it’s just kind of open-ended. There’s no limit, really.
FBPO: What appeals to you most about the bass?
Van Halen: Rather than just the bass, it’s more focusing on the rhythm section. My love for the bass is now half of that section, because it’s really fun to lock the drums and the bass together. That’s my favorite thing, that groovy lock between the two.
FBPO: Who are you bass influences?
Van Halen: The first band that I actually really dug a lot was blink-182, because I think Travis Barker is an awesome drummer, and I love how the two singers harmonize. It really got me into harmonizing and playing drums and stuff. But the big change that got me into heavier music was probably Tool. I liked the weird time signatures and just how heavy it got. Danny Carey’s a huge drum influence on me, and so is Justin Chancellor on bass. And also I think Les Claypool was one of the people where I was like, “Holy shit! That is so awesome to do on the bass!”
FBPO: You weren’t playing bass that long, then, before you were in Van Halen. How did that happen?
Van Halen: It all started out just being fun; Al (Van Halen), Dad and I would play in the studio, just random Van Halen songs, and it became serious. So we called Dave (Lee Roth), and that’s how we did that tour in 2007.
FBPO: You were the guitarist’s son, the drummer’s nephew and you were replacing a popular founding member (Michael Anthony). That’s a lot to take on as a teenager.
Van Halen: Yes, at first it’s definitely intimidating as a 16-year-old to have the world hating on you. But I just kind of did my own thing ’cause I knew I could do it, and when people told me I can’t, when I know I’m doing it, it almost made me feel better. That in their eyes it (sounded) too good for me to actually be doing it, I took that as a compliment. I still do.
FBPO: What was your father’s advice to help power through it?
Van Halen: He definitely has some quirky lines that helped me out. (laughs) In terms if playing music, he told me, “If you ever make a mistake, do it twice so the audience thinks you meant to do it.”
It’s been a long haul to Mammoth WVH. How does it feel to finally have it out?
Van Halen: It’s liberating but also very nerve-wracking ’cause it’s very honest and it’s just 100 percent me. I think one of the very first ideas was “Mammoth,” and that was written around 2013, so it’s been a long time coming. We started recording it in 2015 and finished around July of 2018. It’s just been a whole lot of honing it all together and getting it ready for its eventual release. I’m really putting myself out there in a way I never have before. I’ve never worked this hard on anything, but I’ve never been more proud of anything in my life.
FBPO: Was there a particular kind of goal for the album?
Van Halen: To be myself and kind of prove…Not really prove but just to show I’m my own person instead of what’s come before, attached to my name. This album came straight from the heart, and it’s 100 percent, unabashedly me. It was more of a personal goal to see if I could do an album with just myself, since I play everything. At the risk of sounding selfish, I kind of impressed myself at how well it gels and sounds like a band.
FBPO: It does. How did you make that work?
Van Halen: I don’t know. I think it has to do with my love for the song. Rather than showing off or anything I’m trying to create the best path for the song to show itself. To do everything for the song rather than trying to show off, I think it really helps sell the idea that it’s a whole band.
FBPO: Your dad was around while you were making Mammoth WVH, and even let you use his famous Frankenstein guitar. Those must be special memories.
Van Halen: Oh, yeah, for sure. I used (Frankenstein) on “Mammoth” and “Feel,” and that whole day was really fun. When we took it out of its safe hiding place — ’cause it’s super-protected — dad kind of picked it up and noodled with it a little bit, and then he sort of haphazardly tossed (it) onto the couch. And everybody in the room just gasped because to him it’s just this little piece of crap that he put together, but for us it was one of the most iconic instruments in music. So that was a funny little moment. The rest of the time he would watch like a proud father at a soccer game. He was just happy to watch it happen. It was never like a bossing around kind of thing. He was just happy watching the process. He was just very…dad.
FBPO: What does the future hold for you beyond touring to support Mammoth WVH?
Van Halen: I’ve got a bunch of demo ideas I’m really excited to dive back into, and there’s ideas that were kind of left over from the first album that I’m excited to check out again. In the studio I’m having such a good time doing it myself, I think I’ll continue to do it that way. I want to follow my creative desires and just kind of write music I want to hear. Anything that catches my ear and excites me is what I’ll be doing. I think the second album will come way sooner than this one did.
See Jon’s blog, with key takeaways from this interview here.