Monday, Dec. 4, 2023 | 2 a.m.
You can’t help but expect musical virtuosity from Wolfgang Van Halen, the 32-year-old rock frontman and son of guitar legend Eddie Van Halen. After gaining initial exposure as a 16-year-old bass player touring with a reunited Van Halen in 2007, Wolfgang eventually created his own band, Mammoth WVH, and has recorded two albums of hard-charging rock that might, at times, remind some listeners of Van Halen classics, but that’s clearly not the intention.
With this summer’s sophomore effort, “Mammoth II,” he’s more clearly demonstrating a commitment to tight songwriting and powerful energy, easy to hear on tracks like “I’m Alright” and “Another Celebration at the End of the World.” There are riffs and solos galore, and the band’s first headlining tour — Mammoth WVH has already opened for the likes of Metallica and Guns N’ Roses — is offering plenty of opportunity to show off the new material.
That tour lands at the House of Blues this week, on December 8 at 7 p.m. at the legendary Mandalay Bay music hall. Tickets start at $25 and are available at concerts.livenation.com. And as if he needed it, Van Halen has a not-so-secret weapon in guitarist and Vegas native Frank Sidoris, who also plays in Slash’s band — yes, that Slash, from Guns N’ Roses. We took some time to chat with Van Halen before a recent show in Colorado.
Is Las Vegas an extra fun place to play and visit because you have the ultimate tour guide in your band in guitarist Frank Sidoris?
Being tight with Frank kind of unlocks Vegas in a way that you wouldn’t be able to do without him, and having him there turns this into a hometown show. We’ve played Vegas a few times and technically, we were the very first rock band to play at Allegiant Stadium. Guns N’ Roses gets the credit but we played before them [when opening the show]. We’ve also played the House of Blues before touring with Dirty Honey, but this is the first time doing a headlining show.
You’ve been doing quite a bit of that on this tour. How different does it feel to be headlining?
It’s really a crazy thing for me, kind of eye opening in a way I wasn’t expecting. In this day and age, it’s tough to tell where you stand without concrete data. But going to these venues and seeing people show up, seeing the ticket numbers and the streaming numbers, just people showing up in ways we’ve never seen before, it’s really crazy. We’re coming back to places as headliners and selling some out on our own, and that’s insane. I never expected that sort of jump to happen in the past two years.
You just released the second Mammoth WVH album and once again, you played all the instruments for this one. Were there other ways the creative process was different from your first album?
This one happened in a bubble. On the first album, I was finding myself and figuring out what the project really was, over the course of three years. This was a few sessions in two and half months, and it was like, you better get it done because we have the tour all scheduled and ready to go. So it was a very quick timeline and a much different experience. But I wouldn’t release it if I was not happy with it and proud of it. Generally I’ve found that if I’m happy with it, if I enjoy making it, then it’s ready to be shared with people.
You’ve been playing multiple instruments for most of your life, but you’ve only been singing as a frontman for a few years. How do you feel about your vocals and your evolution as a singer?
I’ve always been singing, to a certain extent, just not being the lead guy. My time touring with Van Halen was sort of lead singer training in a lot of ways, stretching my voice and developing it, but doing leads and background are very different things. It was one of my biggest qualms when figuring out the first album, if I could sing lead, but I think there’s a big difference between the first and second albums in my quality as a singer. Now I’ve been touring the last two years and singing every night. I am a singer now.
You’ve said you taught yourself to play guitar because that’s how your father learned. At what point did you start talking to him about playing, about technique, or just learning from him?
There really wasn’t any deep conversation about theory. It was just like, hey, how do you do that? It was very much a goofy, hanging out, shooting the sh** type of thing. There was never really any sort of knowledge being shared because he didn’t really know how to do that, it was just what he did and what he was. But he shared things here and there, little questions, and he very much encouraged me to develop my own sort of thing and I’m very happy for that, because there would be nothing worse than if I was just a carbon copy and everything sounded like him. That would be kind of lame. He spawned enough imitators. I can play [Van Halen songs], it’s just not something I want to do. It’s fun to give nods, and I think it will always be part of me no matter what, it will just be through my lens.