Wolfgang Van Halen on his dad, Mammoth gigs
His late father is one of the most revered guitar players of all time, and he joined his dad’s and his uncle’s namesake band on tour at age 16, playing bass. So you’ll probably be surprised to hear which instrument Wolfgang Van Halen believes he plays best.
“I’m still probably most comfortable on drums,” the 32-year-old rock scion confessed. “It was my first instrument that I started playing when I was 9, and it’s still the one I have the most fun with.”
Regardless of his rhythmic chops, you’ll find Van Halen — “Wolfie” to his adoring mom, actress Valerie Bertinelli — playing guitar and singing on tour with his ascendant band Mammoth WVH.
The only child of Eddie Van Halen — a die-hard classical music fan — Wolfgang does play drums and every other instrument on the second Mammoth WVH album in addition to singing and writing all the songs. Even his wizardly dad didn’t do all that.
Talking by phone from Los Angeles two weeks ago, Van Halen still sounded elated over what had occurred at his home there two weeks earlier: his wedding with longtime girlfriend Andraia Allsop. Mom walked the groom down the aisle.
“Best wedding I’ve ever been to!” Van Halen declared. “It really was wonderful. There was a lot of crying and some sadness, too, but mostly happy and wonderful.”
The wedding occurred around the third anniversary of the passing of Wolfgang’s dad, following his long bout with cancer.
Eddie’s death clearly weighed heavily on Wolfgang during the making of the second Mammoth WVH album, which sounds way more influenced by ‘90s grunge than ‘70s-’80s hard rock. As was the case with the band Van Halen’s second LP, it’s simply titled “II.” (The band’s moniker, by the way, includes the “WVH” for legal reasons, but the initials aren’t usually used in verbal references.)
Wolfgang said mourning his father “definitely contributed to the lyrical darkness on ‘Mammoth II.’”
“The first Mammoth album was finished in 2018, so everything that’s happened in my life in the past five years shows up on this album,” he said, “including the pandemic, including losing my father, including the highs and challenges of launching Mammoth.”
In the climactic and anthemic new song “I’m Alright,” Wolfgang sings reassuringly to himself, “A mammoth weight right off our shoulders / When you escape/ Don’t hesitate/ In starting over.” And in the hard-blasting single “Another Celebration at the End of the World,” lyrics include, “We’re on the right track now / You’re every sight and sound / A kiss, a casket, and all our rights and wrongs.”
Here’s more of what Wolfgang had to say before hitting the road again with the live lineup of Mammoth WVH, marking his 16th year as a touring musician going back to when audiences first saw him on Van Halen’s first reunion tour with David Lee Roth in 2007-2008.
Why he didn’t use the road-tested live lineup of Mammoth WVH to record the second album:
“From the beginning, this has been my own creative endeavor. Initially, I wanted to see if I could even do it.
“But after doing it on the first album, I found it just be such a fun thing to make the music myself, especially when it comes to playing the drums. I only ever play drums now when I’m working on a record, and I miss it. So I’m not ready to give up this way of doing it yet. Maybe if I get tired of playing drums.”
On his evolution as a singer and frontman:
“Being a frontman really isn’t my vibe. I’m really kind of a shy, introverted kind of person. It took me a while to figure out who I wanted to be as a frontman, and I kind of arrived at just being myself. It’s just me up there. I’m not trying to be any kind of crazy frontman. I talk to the crowd honestly and just kind of hang out and have fun with it.”
Why he used his dad’s famous Frankenstein guitar and old Marshall amp to record “Take a Bow” on the new LP:
“That solo marked a big evolution in my songwriting and guitar playing, I think. It felt right to try to share that moment with my father eternally on that song. It was really a fun, emotional thing to involve him, and I’m very proud of how it turned out.”
On the upside and downside of seeing his dad still widely mourned:
“It’s always wonderful to see the effect he had on the world. But I think no matter what, love comes through differently.
“I think Zelda Williams put it really beautifully in regards to her dad (Robin Williams). She said, ‘A truck full of roses still weighs a ton.’ That’s a perspective I relate to, that no matter how much outpouring of love there is, it’s still impossible to go anywhere without being reminded of him, and it’s very difficult.”
On his mom’s downright fanatical support of his band, as evidenced by her Instagram account:
“She comes to see us play every chance she gets. She couldn’t be happier to promote the band and champion us. She’s definitely our No. 1 fan, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Looking back on his first tour with Van Halen (the band), and whether or not he felt any trepidation about standing in for original bassist Michael Anthony:
“Nah, I was really just worried about my father’s health. I was there to support him fully.
“In hindsight, it was definitely an abnormal experience to do it then (at 16-17). I had been through so many abnormal experiences in my childhood already, though, it felt normal. Really, more than anything, it was about spending time with my family and supporting my father and being able to travel and make music with him. That’s something I very fondly look back on now.”
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