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On New LP, The Joke of Record Royalties & Why Indies Need to Control Their Publishing
Wolfmother is an Australian hard rock band that first made waves in 2005 with their smash single “Woman” off the self-titled LP Wolfmother. This album garnered the band a Grammy in 2006 and since then they’ve released Cosmic Egg and New Crown. Now in 2016, eleven years after their first album dropped, the band is celebrating the release of their new record Victorious. It’s an album about fighting to the bitter end in order to glorify one’s small triumphs and victories. I had the great opportunity to speak to Andrew Stockdale, lead singer, guitarist and overall mastermind behind Wolfmother about the new album and the industry in general.
You guys are from Sydney. Australia and New Zealand have come back into the spotlight again with acts like Tame Impala, Courtney Barnett and Unknown Mortal Orchestra gaining popularity. Do you dig any of the younger bands coming out of the area? If so, which ones?
Any of the good ones (laughs). I just produced this dude called Bob Harrow. I produced four songs for him, he actually co-wrote some songs for Courtney Barnett. He’s an indie/pop rock artist from Melbourne and the tracks turned out really great.
Do you think Modular Recordings has anything to do with the growing popularity of Australian rock bands?
Let me think about that – when we were signed to Modular, the highest royalty we could receive was 7% and we sold 1.6 million records and counting. The success we had was totally unexpected, but I would put more of that success on the band and not the record label. We blazed a path worldwide so that other Australian bands could get up to the next level. ’Cause no other band had done that, we helped build their business infrastructure so they could have the capacity to handle platinum selling artists.
Tame Impala was on Modular for a bit and I recall hearing Kevin Parker say something about not receiving many royalties from early Tame Impala releases. However, he did mention that he was paid a considerable amount whenever his songs were used in TV commercials or ads. Has Wolfmother experienced a similar situation ie receiving greater financial compensation from commercial ad placements as opposed to selling album?
Yeah, haha, selling records…I’ll basically put it down to you like this, you don’t see a cent from selling records. Your primary source of income is publishing and licensing; when you control your publishing and get your songs in movies and video games, that nets you lots more money. After that, it’s touring and merchandise sales, stuff like that are your next big sources of income.
Is it common for international acts to get ripped off by overseas record labels on their royalties?
When you’re Australian, its harder. If you get signed to an Australian label, the royalties system is tougher and then they’re always trying to sign you to an American or UK distributor anyway. If you sign directly to an American label, you bypass a lot of those overseas issues with the money.
But overall, you do the best you can with what you got. So you have to do business with people that present themselves well. To me, it was never about money, I just did it because I love to play music – it sounds very altruistic and dreamy, but its true (laughs). When you’re younger, you’re usually in it for the right reasons, but if you want to make money and that’s your primary goal, that’s fine. But if you’re doing what you love, the money will follow. The money is not primary, it’s secondary. I know people who are so focused on the money…but it all boils down to a balancing act — you have to focus on the creativity and the writing aspect at the end of the day.
Frank Frazetta did the artwork for your first album. He also did the artwork for a few Molly Hatchet LPs, Herman’s Hermits and Nazareth. Are you guys fans of those bands? Is that why you chose to use Frazetta’s artwork?
Frazetta was actually suggested by the producer on that album. He suggested him and then we met with Frazetta and that was it.
Upon arrival in the United States, did you have any grand notions of what the L.A. music scene would be like?
I was in the car and remember riding through downtown L.A. for the first time and seeing it all. The first thing I thought of was Jim Morrison and the Doors, just like picturing Morrison at the bar with some dudes drinking. I loved the trashy side of L.A. mixed in with the glitzy glamorous side; it’s an eccentric place. You gotta be crazy enough to appreciate it, haha! The way I think is the way L.A. is, I feel very comfortable there. We just stayed in Los Angeles to make the record, but I live in Byron Bay, Australia. There are no street lights there — it’s coastal town right on the beach and it’s completely dark and quiet.
Is that what inspired the song “City Lights” on your new album?
When I drive into any big city and see [it] at night time, that’s what inspired the song, not specifically L.A. The night time is a completely different experience and energy. For example, we just played in Bali and that place has a busy, busy city vibe – it’s very stimulating. Asia in general is blowing up and the cities there are mesmerizing. Like, when we went to Mumbai we were on the cover of the Mumbai Times and that has a circulation of 20 million people, so I guess we were the “it band” for about a month (laughs). On the other hand, we played in this place called Heidelberg and it was out in the middle of nowhere on a makeshift stage and when we got offstage we saw the main transportation was donkeys pulling carts.
Let’s talk about your new album Victorious. What inspired the title?
I was gonna call it Gypsy Caravan for a little while, but I thought Victorious sounded a little more inspirational. I see the album title as celebrating any small victory, like if you found a drummer for your band and started booking gigs or if you reach a personal goal – it signifies movement and traction, building up to a good feeling. The word wasn’t meant to be used like a sports thing, like competitive, ya know? But there’s nothing wrong with competition and sports – I played everything when I was a kid, I was obsessed with sports. I played golf, soccer, cricket, squash…sports got me used to getting yelled at.
Any last words about the new album and tour?
I think there are three songs out now and the new record is a lot more proper. I think it will gradually grow on people. I recommend people listen to the whole thing and make a fair judgment, not just listen to a couple tracks, but digest all of it. There’s more than a couple tracks; it’s a whole experience.
Standout Track: “Victorious”
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Mar 2 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club
Mar 3 – New York, NY – Webster Hall
Mar 4 – Philadelphia, PA – Trocadero Theatre
Mar 5 – Raleigh, NC – The Ritz
Mar 7 – Atlanta, GA – Center Stage
Mar 8 – Nashville, TN – Marathon Music Works
Mar 9 – Memphis, TN – Minglewood Hall
Mar 11 – Lawrence, KS – Granada Theater
Mar 12 – Oklahoma City, OK – Diamond Ballroom
Mar 14 – Dallas, TX – Granada Theater
Mar 15 – Houston, TX – House of Blues
Mar 21 – El Paso, TX – Tricky Falls
Mar 22 – Tempe, AZ – The Marquee
Mar 23 – San Diego, CA – House of Blues
Mar 25 – Santa Ana, CA – The Observatory
Mar 26 – Los Angeles, CA – The Fonda Theatre
Mar 28 – San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore
Mar 30 – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom
Mar 31 – Seattle, WA – The Showbox
Apri 1 – Vancouver, BC – Commodore Ballroom
photos by Piper Ferguson