How the Taylor Hawkins concerts delivered catharsis for Wolfgang Van Halen

Wolfgang Van Halen in a room full of guitars
(Image credit: Bryan Beasley)

Wolfgang Van Halen is the multi-instrumentalist and vocalist behind Mammoth WVH. Contrary to what many believe, it’s not easy to build a career following in the footsteps of an illustrious father, but Edward Van Halen’s son is making a good go of it.

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You appeared at the Californian leg of the Taylor Hawkins tribute show, almost a month after its counterpart at Wembley Stadium. What was it like being a part of such a star-studded event? 

Man, it was an honour to participate in either, let alone both of those shows. Taylor was one of my biggest inspirations when it comes to drumming – the drums are my first instrument. 

How well did you know Taylor? 

The one time I met him he came to a Van Halen show in 2012. My dad and I spoke to Taylor for almost two hours and he was just the sweetest guy. The news of his passing really broke me. Getting a call from Dave [Grohl], another inspiration of mine, to play the shows was a real shock. 

You previously told Classic Rock that Dave Grohl’s multi-instrumentalist talents inspired you to play everything on your debut album. 

Yeah, practically everything I do with Mammoth is inspired by Dave and the Foos. 

How do you think Dave’s doing in the aftermath of Taylor’s passing? 

When you lose anyone that important to you… it’s tough to say. I know from the experience with my pop, I’ll never be okay. The wounds heal around it, but it’s always kind of there. Man [going back even further, to Kurt Cobain], Dave has been through so much. I hope he can figure out a way to be okay, but it’s not easy. 

At the LA tribute show you were part of a band that played Van Halen’s Panama and Hot For Teacher. At the London event On Fire replaced Panama, with The Darkness’s Justin Hawkins on vocals

Justin is a sweetheart. He’s always been one of my favourite singers, and I loved the chance to hang out with him. We’ve really bonded. He’s a great guy. And I’d like to point out that Josh Freese, the drummer, is the drummer. People who might not know his name, but he played on literally everything. He’s one of the best ever. 

Your own performance at both shows was greeted with a lot of praise. You made those famous solos played by your father look relatively easy. Guitar World said you played them with “eerie accuracy”. 

Hearing those things are a huge compliment. Some people took it really far and said that I didn’t actually do it at all.

Yeah, there were some crazy reports that you were miming

[Laughing] The most obvious response is to consider that an insult, but I take it as even more of a compliment. You line up the solos, and there are times when I’m not even playing what’s on the [original Van Halen] record. Preparing for those shows was really tough, because it forced me to go back and look through those songs. I still wasn’t completely comfortable in doing that, emotionally speaking, so it took a lot. 

Presumably the upcoming second Mammoth album will once again be produced by Michael ‘Elvis’ Baskette, who you have described as “my partner in all of this”? 

Elvis is just two rooms away, getting the tape ready. 

Last time you spoke to Classic Rock, when asked about a potential VH reunion you replied: “My father will always be the heart of Van Halen, I just don’t see it happening.” However, machinations along those lines did take place, but the plan was aborted after the news leaked. Is such a show still unlikely? 

I think I already did it with Taylor. I feel closure because my part of the show was a tribute to my father. When it comes to Van Halen and entities surrounding the band, it’s unfortunate, certainly compared to Foo Fighters, who have their shit together with inter-personal relationships. I don’t know what it is with some bands, but certain personalities just can’t get over themselves to work collectively for one purpose. 

That’s been the curse of Van Halen for its entire career. So my playing at the Taylor shows delivered that catharsis without the stresses of dealing with the Van Halen camp and the players involved. Their camp is very dysfunctional – everyone! Hell, it was difficult to make plans even when the band was active. 

Dave Lee Roth might be immovable, but Sammy Hagar told Rolling Stone that he “would love to play those songs again”. 

He said that, but he also said he wouldn’t. Sammy said two different things. No… I feel that I’ve said my piece, and if the Taylor concerts are all that happens then I’m happy with that.

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.