Taylor Hawkins Tributes Got Wolfgang Van Halen to Shred on New LP
Wolfgang Van Halen dazzled viewers with his guitar chops at last year's Taylor Hawkins tribute concerts, ripping through Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher," "On Fire" and "Panama" with the kind of ease and panache that can only come from sharing Eddie Van Halen's DNA. In a new Rolling Stone interview, the Mammoth WVH bandleader explained how he chose those three songs, and how the performances inspired him to include more guitar heroics on his band's new album, Mammoth II.
"It was just things that I knew, that I could wrap my head around solo-wise," Van Halen explained of the Hawkins tributes, where he performed alongside Dave Grohl on bass, Josh Freese on drums and the Darkness' Justin Hawkins on vocals. "It's funny, looking back on it, one of the reasons I picked 'On Fire' was that it was the very first Van Halen song I ever played with the band in December of 2006 when we rehearsed with [David Lee Roth] at the studio when I was 15."
Van Halen emphasized that he "practiced like crazy, because I, if I didn't nail it, in my mind, it was the end of my life. I was like, 'If I don't play this perfectly, then my life is over.' Those were the stakes for me. Luckily, I think I pulled it off, but, man, I was, like, just suicidal with nerves prior to that. I don't think I'll ever be as nervous for anything ever as I was for that."
Not only did the practice pay off, but the Hawkins tributes inspired Van Halen to up the ante on Mammoth II, which features far more dizzying lead guitar work than its self-titled predecessor. "Playing like that, I now had to play like that on my album," he said. "There were some moments like that on the first album, but I feel like I just had to up it a little bit more, 'cause now people would expect that from me. So I think it's six out of 10 songs that have a solo on this album now, and that's way more than the last album. I'm still a songwriter first, but I definitely threw some fun songs in there this time."
Watch Wolfgang Van Halen Play 'On Fire' at Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert
Despite embracing his guitar-hero genes — he even plays his father's guitar and amp on the solo to "Take a Bow" — Wolfgang is still resolute about "not fuckin' playing 'Panama'" in Mammoth WVH. "I have no reason or desire to play any Van Halen music while I'm building my own career," he said. "Like my dad said when he was growing tired of doing covers with Van Halen. He was like, 'I'd rather bomb with my own music than succeed with somebody else's.' That really hits home with me."