Travis Shinn

Striking a Chord With Mammoth WVH

Otherworldly levels of talent, adoration for his family, a superbly well-rounded career, and an affinity for emotionally-charged head-banging. These are the notes of Wolfgang Van Halen’s riff-tastic life.

There is a profound sense of self on Mammoth II, the sophomore LP from Mammoth WVH, and we are well aware that describing an an album as such might come across unusual when it is widely know to be written and recorded by one (1) man. However, that man, Wolfgang Van Halen, is in agreement. There is a well-rounded nature to this release and this era. No matter how individualistic the creative process is for Mammoth WVH as a modern rock entity, the sights and sounds around it are robust, collaborative, and impassioned. Van Halen is someone who creates with his heart on his sleeve; it just so happens that his heart beats more rhythmically, more harmoniously, and clearly more heavily than most. Who wouldn’t want to tune into that, though?

It has been three months since Mammoth II dropped yet it still oozes with rock and roll charm and drips with homegrown intensity upon every listen. Witnessing these songs live will be a searing experience that we cannot recommend enough for existing fans and music lovers alike. Trust us – we couldn’t wait to tell Van Halen how intoxicating this era of Mammoth has been and how mesmerizing his stage presence has become.

As WVH was preparing to take this acclaimed second album on the road, The Aquarian caught up with him. What we found was that the singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist is friendlier than ever, amped up on life and love, and on a mission to keep putting out what he wants to hear as a fan of music himself above all else.

You know, Wolf, before I jump into things, I have to let you know that we caught you opening up for Metallica at MetLife this summer and it was everything.

Oh, wow! Thank you very much. Yeah, that was a packed trip, and that was the day that our album came out. We had just played The Today Show the morning before that was pretty crazy [Laughs]. It was a crazy few days, but it’s kind to hear you say it went well.

It absolutely went well! There are no doubts about that, but I do want to talk a little bit about how exciting it was to be opening up for Metallica on their 72 Seasons Tour. When you’re curating a setlist for something like that – supporting slots with Metallica or Guns ‘N Roses as compared to a headlining run – how do you decide what songs you’re going to play to sample your catalog for another band’s audience?

That’s a great question. I think when it comes to any opening slot, usually you just kind of want to stick to the released singles that people may have heard on the radio or could request for the radio. Although, when it’s for something like Metallica who has a notorious history of picky fans when it comes to certain opening bands… I think certain bands have had rough times opening for Metallica. Luckily, I think we have a diverse enough catalog that we can kind of pick heavier songs and stuff like that for those fans, but what we have found over the past eight or nine shows we’ve done with Metallica is that the crowd has really responded to tempo. We tend to play not only our singles now, but we’ve begun opening with our song “Another Celebration at the End of the World,” which is a really uptempo song. We found that really works for that kind of crowd and it gets everything going really well.

That makes so much sense. When I saw you at MetLife, though you did “You’re To Blame” and then that bled into “Another Celebration.” Those two back-to-back floored me. It was really exciting.

Yeah, it was.

I think people really resonate with the organization of your songs, both on stage and off, so I’m glad you’re paying attention to that. On this second album of yours, the tracklist is so good – 10 songs that start with “Right?” and you end with “Better Than You.” Everything you do is an obvious labor of love, but how much time did you actually spend piecing the tracklist together?

That’s all my uncle Patrick and I! It’s wonderful to hear that you enjoy that because we spend maybe too much time [Laughs] trying to make the perfect sequence. What I love about this album is that we were able to – and you’ll see this if you get the vinyl record, perfectly split it as ‘part one’ and ‘part two,’ where you have sort of this aggressive song opening the beginning and then closing with this long sort of number with “Take a Bow.” Then, on the second half, you have “Optimist” opening and then it ends with “Better Than You.” It flows really well and that was definitely an intentional thing for us to try.

I know that most listening today happens just on shuffle on Spotify and stuff, but I think for the fans that listen to it in order, it’s great. I’m obviously a fan of music and when I get a new album, I love listening to it front-to-back a bunch of times. For the people who still do that, we always make sure that flow happens for them.

As an album person first and foremost, it makes my heart happy that you are curating your records in that way – for people like us.

[Laughs] Likewise. Thank you so much.

On that same note, “Better Than You” is my personal favorite song on Mammoth II. It has something special to it and it feels like a quintessential album closer, especially lyrically. For you, when that song came to be, did you immediately know that it was going to close out this album?

No, it just kind of ended up being like that! For the longest time I thought “Take a Bow” was gonna close the album. It wasn’t until we started structuring everything that it really ended up seeming like “Better Than You” was gonna be the perfect ending, especially since it fades out on a sort of long, minute-and-a-half round of the vocals. Over the process of sort of going through the sequencing, it just revealed itself. We were like, “Oh? Wait a second… this is the perfect closer for the album.”

It absolutely is with the last line being, “We’ll be better tomorrow.” It is immensely hopeful and, to me and few other people I talked to, it reminds us that you’re still so early in your career; there really another tomorrow for you, musically and personally.

Thank you.

Regarding the songs that you play and the things that you release, especially with organization on our minds, I think you have a wonderful eye for what to put out and set the tone for in terms of prepping listeners for the two records so far. Is that an easy process for you? Do you finalize a track and know it has to go out and live a life of its own? Or do you have to shop a couple of options around and see the reception from the people you trust?

It varies with each release. The first one was was very much a, “Let’s ask everyone’s opinion on the team and see what everybody thinks,” type of experience. We asked all our friends and people in radio what they thought. When it came to this one, though, immediately everybody all agreed that “Another Celebration” was probably the best song right out of the gate. I think it really kicked the door down for the next album, but then as time goes on, there are certain songs that I write that may not be a core track in the identity of the band. They might be emulating a specific, more exciting sound. On that first album, I think that was “Don’t Back Down.” It is that kind of anthemic rocker, that stomp-clap sort of rock. On this album that song was “I’m Alrght,” which sort of emulates that sleazy, bluesy, eighties style of rock; I think that’s why it ended up being the current single. While it may not necessarily be a core track in terms of the identity of the sound of the band, it just seems to have that kind of captivating appeal.

Anthemic is a great word to describe “Don’t Back Down,” and I agree that it sort of juxtaposes this new single, “I’m Alright” with its slightly more laidback nature that we wouldn’t have expected from you. What it does do, though, is wonderfully set up for the variety of influences that are able to be heard throughout the entire record.

Yeah! Also, I don’t want to confuse people. I don’t tend to lean that way. I wouldn’t throw “Optimist” out as a single, because you want the most amount of people to be able to kind of understand and digest the material. If we put out “Optimist,” which is a song that’s in 7/4, which an unusual time signature, it might not hit the same way [Laughs]. People might not have understood it.

Although I love that song, especially the chorus, you make a valid point. It is still a fun one for the biggest of fans to discover and claim as their ‘deep cut favorite.’

Absolutely. I think that song will have a really great place in our set. I’m stoked to play it.

I’m so excited. What songs you are looking forward to playing this time around with the album wholly out and Mammoth headlining? You’re bringing this tour to Starland again here in New Jersey!

Yeah, and we love it there so much, so now that we finally have this new record out, we can fill a full hour-and-a-half there with our material. We don’t need to cover anything. We can just go full Mammoth. We’re really excited that this is officially the Mammoth II Tour and we are going to pull as much as we can from [the album].

We have so many wonderful fans, too, especially ones that say, “I’m coming to this show and that show!” This time we actually have a Setlist A and a Setlist B where we have maybe three or four songs on each that we swap out depending on the night. Overall, it’s pretty much gonna be an even mix of Mammoth I and Mammoth II songs… and I just hope everybody likes the new album [Laughs].

The reception has been outstanding, Wolf! We’ve talked in our office about how we think this is a really natural progression, and as we are discussing now, it’s pretty diverse in the way that it sounds like Mammoth as a ‘band,’ but also like who you are as a person. You know, I just found that there’s a little bit more Wolfgang in this one than there is just Mammoth [Laughs], if that makes any sense.

Totally! That makes sense. I like that.

Speaking of covers and influences and all the things that make you who you are as a musician, I know that you have worked with – and are a fan of – Dave Grohl. You also get that comparison to him fairly often, and it’s a logical comparison, I’d say. However, I’m wondering if there are any influences or inspirations that you have, whether we know it or not, that might be who or what you look to when going into a project of your own.

I don’t know if it would be too much of a surprise, but just as much as Dave Grohl is an influence is Trent Reznor. I’m a very, very, very big fan of Nine Inch Nails. Coincidentally, one of my favorite albums is With Teeth and Dave Grohl played the drums on that album [Laughs]. That’s one of my favorites. I just love his songwriting and how introspective and emotional and dark he can get. Trent is the best.

Yes! Trent’s own production on With Teeth is definitely really cool.

That is always an album you can listen to front-to-back.

It’s just a really cool hour-long record. The song “Sunspots” on that album is one of my favorites.

Oh, that one is so good.

I can definitely hear that Nine Inch Nails essence in your work now that you mention it!

[Laughs] Thank you.

Now, for my last question, I have to preface that it also comes with congratulations. You got married, Wolf! Congrats!

Thank you so much!

With weddings on the mind, love for your stunning bride in your heart, and just a plethora of talent under your belt, did the idea of writing a song about your marriage, proposal, or wedding in itself ever cross your mind? I can imagine the inspiration in those situations, especially for someone well-rounded like you, is off the charts.

Hmm, I don’t know if it’s a specific – like wanting to write a song about it – but I think just getting married and and bringing my headspace into such a euphoric, positive place because of it did sort of set the stage for my creativity to take over. Yeah, so I think I didn’t specifically want to write a song about the day, but it did just puts me in a place mentally where I’m happy, I have nothing to worry about, and I just want to make music. With her, everything’s great.