Wolfgang Van Halen Shares His Insane Experience With ‘Barbie’
The Mammoth WVH leader found himself on call for some scoring work for the summer blockbuster after he was contacted by producer Mark Ronson. "[He] hit me up earlier this year needing my 'mammoth guitar sound' and I happily obliged," Van Halen wrote on social media. During a recent conversation with UCR, he detailed how he ended up adding "a lot of textural stuff" and guitar solos.
Van Halen also shares memories of honoring late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins at the 2022 tribute concert at Wembley Stadium and opening for Metallica on their summer tour. On top of all that, Mammoth WVH's second album, Mammoth II, comes out on Aug. 4.
What's the experience playing shows with Metallica?
It’s been daunting and crazy. Their stage setup is insane. The big donut in the center of the stadium has taken some getting used to. I think by the sixth time we played it, we really got used to it and we get it and understand it. But it wasn’t easy at first.
Had you played in the round like that before?
Never ever. No. It’s an extravagant way of performing and not something I’m used to in any capacity. [Laughs]
They don't have much gear onstage. Have you had to make any adjustments?
As much as we could. But we’re a baby band and we don’t use [guitar] profilers or anything, we’re using amps and stuff. So we just kind of spread out. The unfortunate thing about stadiums is that sometimes not everybody is going to get a good view of the stage, which is a bummer. It’s something I’ve realized from [playing] a show in the round like that. But overall, it’s been really wonderful. They’ve been very supportive, the audience as well as Metallica themselves. Introducing themselves and coming to hang out every now and then. The crew is so kind. It’s been really, really great.
As a fan, what's been the most fun for you about these Metallica shows?
Just getting to watch Metallica every night is really, really cool. It’s an experience of a show. Watching from the snakepit especially, it’s a really incredible once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. It’s an elevated sort of concert and very, very cool to see.
Can you just go out and watch the show like that?
Yeah, but at the same time, all of the fans who just watched us are in there. It gets a little difficult to watch the show because people are always coming up. People are being very nice and stuff. But there was an opportunity where I got to watch the show from one of the pillar areas, and that was a really cool thing because you could really see the whole stage instead of being like, “Oh, where’s Lars [Ulrich]?” and “There’s another drum kit over there.” You’re kind of searching for everybody and finding them. It’s pretty fun.
You did some scoring for the Barbie movie. What was that like?
I’d never done anything like it before, so I was super nervous. I met Mark at the Taylor Hawkins tribute show at Wembley. We just kind of hit it off and kept in touch. Mark and his writing partner, Andrew Wyatt, were working on the soundtrack. He told me, “I could really use your guitar on this. Your guitar playing would really fit.” We made it happen, luckily. It was last minute. I flew in from our first show with Metallica in Amsterdam. I went to New York instead of going home. I spent two days there and was there for eight hours that first day and an hour the next day and then left that evening. It was a really fun experience. They were just like, “Hey, we have this idea for this. Can you do this?” I did a couple of solos here and there on some stuff. After seeing the movie, they used everything, which was really crazy. You can really hear it. There’s certain clean things I did [and] little strummy stuff that you can hear. Anytime you hear guitar, it’s like, “Whoa, that was me. Wow!” During “I'm Just Ken,” Slash has some solo-y stuff near the end of it, but in the movie, the song is a little longer. There’s this scene where I have a little solo at the beginning of it, which was really cool to see in the theater. But yeah, what an insane opportunity. It was an honor to be a part of it.
Listen to 'I'm Just Ken' From 'Barbie The Album'
What was it like at the Taylor Hawkins tribute? You worked with the Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins.
Justin is a pro. We had only played it the day before the show together. Prior to going over to London, [drummer] Josh Freese, Dave [Grohl] and I had played a bunch at the Foos’ studio. But other than that, Justin came to a rehearsal space at Wembley and we played [our set] two or three times. Then we went to the stage for the dress rehearsal, played it once, and that was it. We came in the next day and did the show. Realistically, we played it together maybe five or six times and then we went right into it. I had practiced a lot at home. Because I knew, at least in my mind, mistakes were so dire that if I were to ruin it or not play it perfectly, my life would be over. [Laughs]
Why did you decide to perform those two Van Halen songs?
It just seemed like the right thing at the time. One, I felt like I could handle them. Two, I just really love those songs. They felt like the right epic sort of [songs]. Going back and looking at it, maybe subconsciously I picked “On Fire” for a reason because that was the very first song I ever played with Van Halen in December of 2006 when I was 15. That was the first song we played when Dave [David Lee Roth] came back. And then “Hot for Teacher.” Everybody knows and loves “Hot for Teacher,” and the ending is just so epic. It’s got a really iconic solo and intro. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I know Taylor would have loved it, and I know Dad would have been really proud.
Watch Wolfgang Van Halen Perform 'Hot for Teacher' in London
What were some of your favorite moments of the overall concert?
I was just suicidal with nerves. I couldn’t really focus on anything else. But after that, I met John Paul Jones really quick. He shook my hand and said, “Good job.” I could not believe it! Watching Them Crooked Vultures play for a little bit was super cool. It was [also] really amazing to watch the revolving drummers for the Foo Fighters set. I knew in my heart the second that I saw Josh on the stage, and just playing with him, if he wasn’t the guy [to replace Taylor Hawkins in Foo Fighters], I was going to be pissed off. Because he’s perfect. I say that to everybody who maybe doesn’t like him: You do like him, you just don’t know it. He’s played on everything! Josh is the perfect guy for the job. There’s no one better. And being that close to Paul McCartney was pretty crazy. Just to watch a Beatle perform a couple of feet in front of you, that was quite an experience. It was definitely a highlight for sure.