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Back in pack

Australia's Grammy-winning Wolfmother awes critics with a riff-heavy resurrection

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Andrew Stockdale should have been floating on cloud nine last year. His sludge-heavy Aussie power trio Wolfmother had sold more than a million copies of its eponymous Modular debut, won several ARIA Awards and even a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Album. But in August of 2008, things literally fell apart for the frizz-froed frontman, as his longtime bandmates — bassist Chris Ross and drummer Myles Heskett — tendered their resignations, citing irreconcilable differences. After 300-plus feral performances, had Wolfmother howled its last?

Stockdale wasn't certain how to proceed, but he had known the split was coming: "There'd been tension for a while, so it wasn't a big surprise. The guys needed six months off to think about what they wanted to do, whether they wanted to continue — so it wasn't a shock. And I'd like to think that I did the best I could to keep it going, but it just ran its course. And people's priorities change."

So how did the singer/guitarist arrive at the new Alan Moulder-produced riff-fest Cosmic Egg, once again billed as Wolfmother? It's been a long, strange trip, Stockdale says in hindsight: "It was a relief by that point, because a decision had been made, for better or worse. And once you know what's gonna happen, then you're allowed to do something. All the waiting and uncertainty was the difficult time."

To clear his head, Stockdale left his native Brisbane last December and flew to Bali, where his brother was getting married.

"I just wanted to get away from it all, so I went there with my family and just hung out on the beach."

It worked. He began penning new Black Sabbath-bludgeoning material like "Pilgrim," "White Feather" and the aptly dubbed "Phoenix," and then recruited new musicians to play them. He knew he'd chosen wisely with axeman Aidan Nemeth, bassist/keyboardist Ian Peres and drummer Dave Atkins when, in his home studio, "we played a few songs, and I was having some building work done on my house, tilers laying down tile. And the workmen all said, 'Yeah! Wolfmother sounds awesome!' And that's when I thought, 'Well, if people are listening to this and saying it still sounds like Wolfmother, and the neighbors are all talking about it, I'll bet that to the average person, we still sound like Wolfmother.'"

Initially, the quartet gigged secretly as White Feather, testing out the new numbers before making Wolfmother Mach II official. They traveled to Byron Bay, Australia, then on to Hollywood with Moulder, known for his knob-twiddling expertise with dark, layered outfits like My Bloody Valentine and Nine Inch Nails.

"And now people are saying Wolfmother sounds even better," says Stockdale, proudly. "It's literally written in reviews — I'm not making that up or anything. And everyone is just playing so well together."

Now, Stockdale sees Wolfmother as a force, a vehicle for his uniquely retro vision, à la E's Eels or Ian Broudie's Lightning Seeds.

"As long as the songs are good and there's a good delivery of the music, I think people will relate to it and connect with it," he reckons. "Just looking at footage of Johnny Cash in the '60s, I think if a singer just sings their song and sings it with conviction, from the heart, then there's something there and folks will relate to it.

"So maybe what I'm doing just speaks to people, I guess."

scene@csindy.com

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