Wolfmother bassist/keyboardist Chris Ross is wandering around downtown Sydney just after lunchtime when The Stranger calls. Almost instantly after our connection takes hold, a siren begins to wail in the distance. As a believer in the adage of "buy the land, get the Indians," we're generally at ease with such municipal disturbances—after all, they usually originate from our end of the line. But as the Doppler effect performs its scientific function in the background, we immediately call Ross on his shit. "I just broke into a car, but it had an alarm," he laughs. "So I left it."
Grace under fire; we like that in a bass player. Or in a rock band called Wolfmother, for that matter—especially when said band throw themselves tits-deep into airtight stoner anthems about the mind's eye, witchcraft, and pyramids... in outer space... on drugs.
Even better that Ross, guitarist/vocalist Andrew Stockdale, and drummer Myles Heskett have assumed the classic rock-power triad formation. Like Cream. Or the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Or Blue Cheer. But unlike the Spiccoli Army that came before them (the Nebulas, the Fu Manchus, the Atomic Bitchwaxes), Wolfmother avoid many of the pitfalls of what has become an essentially Californian idiom (the overextended jam freak-outs; the calls for gas, grass, or ass; the name "Atomic Bitchwax"), by taking the music back to where it all began: Sabbath and Zeppelin, duh—emphasis on the Sabbath. "As an angsty teenager, I wanted dark riffs and dark lyrics, and that's what Sabbath did for me," Ross explains. "I didn't really understand Led Zeppelin as much. There's a lot of big hair being thrown about."
That's sort of like the pot calling the kettle gay: If the Wolfmother promotional photos currently circulating are current, it appears that Ross, Heskett, and Stockdale all rock burgeoning white-boy afros. "There was a bit of a rumor going around for a while," Ross explains, "people were doubting that we're all naturally curly—they thought maybe one of us got a perm to fit in with the rest of the band. But that's not true—or very exciting, I suppose. God damn it, I guess we'll have to be more interesting."
Or at least stop talking about their hair. For now, Wolfmother are content to let the music dictate the conversation—and they've produced a reasonable amount of it since their 2004 inception in Sydney. A self-titled EP came first, followed by the recently released Dimensions EP (Modular), and a forthcoming full-length, Wolfmother, due on Modular/Interscope in early May. Admittedly, Stockdale occasionally sounds like Jack White (especially on "Apple Tree"), and yeah, the band does kinda-sorta jam a little bit (although not in a Phish/Allman Brothers kind of way), but why the fuck do they have a self-titled EP and a self-titled album? "We're not very good with naming things," Ross laughs. "We can write music but we can't name stuff. I think perhaps it's an Australian trait. I mean, the way we name things over here is like, 'The Great Sandy Desert' or 'The Great Barrier Reef.'"
As such, Wolfmother's songs about other dimensions ("Dimension"), white unicorns ("White Unicorn"), and the earth's rotation around the sun ("The Earth's Rotation Around the Sun") are self-explanatory. When the automated calling-card operator gives us the one-minute warning, I ask Ross to ponder the differences between songs about apple trees and songs about unicorns while I type in the 40 digits it requires to call him back. "I've got it," he says as soon as he picks up. "A unicorn is an unpredictable beast that you can try and catch, but an apple tree is just there. You can check it out and it tells a story. It grows; it brings forth fruit, and... I don't know," he finally concedes. "I didn't write the lyrics."
It's entirely possible that the album's cover art, a pre-existing work by renowned fantasy artist Frank Frazetta (the Heavy Metal dude), says everything you need to know about Wolfmother's aesthetic. "Our producer, Dave Sardy, suggested it," Ross explains. "Then I went into a bookshop with Myles and looked at the images in one of his books and we just went, 'perfect.' I mean, anyone who knows our music and has seen his work can see the correlation."
At the very least, you should know this: Wolfmother also have a song called, "Tales from the Forest of Gnomes."firstname.lastname@example.org