"When Peter Gabriel played Red Rain I started sobbing - it makes me think of my dad": The soundtrack of Wolfgang Van Halen's life

Wolfgang Van Halen press shot
(Image credit: Travis Shinn)

When you talk about ‘dad-rock’ with Wolfgang Van Halen, it has a totally different meaning. The son of the late, legendary guitarist Eddie Van Halen can still recall getting his first paternal music lesson at age of nine. 

“The first song I ever learned how to play on the drums was Highway To Hell,” he says. “That’s how my dad taught me to play drums. He put magazines on a table and was like: ‘Here’s the hi-hat, here’s the snare.…’” 

By age 15, Wolf was touring as bassist/vocalist with Van Halen, and in 2015 he debuted with his own band, Mammoth WVH (Mammoth was the name of Eddie’s pre-VH band). On the heels of 2023’s Mammoth II, Wolf is looking ahead to a headlining world tour and also opening shows for Slash, Foo Fighters and Metallica

“My whole year is planned out for me already, in the best way,” he says.


The first music I remember hearing

I had a little tape machine in my room, and mom would play lullaby versions of Mozart, for babies, I think because I was named after Mozart; my middle name was almost Amadeus [laughs]. But the first song I may have ever heard in my life was 316, the song my dad wrote and played up against my mom’s stomach when I was in there.

The first song that I performed in front of an audience

It was for this charity event for my elementary school. There’s actually footage of it in the Distance video from my band Mammoth. Dad and I both played, and it was the song from the end of Caddyshack, where the gophers are dancing – I’m All Right by Kenny Loggins. I had to do that intro with a little cowbell [laughs].

The singer

Maynard James Keenan from Tool, and also Ian Kenny from Karnivool, the Australian band.

The songwriter

Dave Grohl. I think as a musician and a songwriter, he influences everything that I do in Mammoth. Trent Reznor, too. Those two are very big for me in terms of songwriting and lyricism.

The guitar hero

Well, of course, my dad. It’s not like we didn’t bond before, but when we started playing together, we were bonding on a different level. At the same time, I never wanted to be him or be another version of him. I wanted to try to play as well. I was also a big fan of Paul Gilbert growing up, which is funny because I know he’s a big fan of dad as well. There’s also a guitarist named Aaron Marshall. He has a band called Intervals. I love his playing.

The greatest album of all time

AC/DC comes to mind. If I had to pick one album, it’s probably Powerage. That was my dad’s favourite. I remember seeing that album cover of Angus with the cables coming out of his sleeves and kind of being creeped out by it, but also really liking it.

The best record I made

With the first album, it was very important for me to find what my sound was. I think once I arrived at the song Epiphany, that’s the moment when I found what the core of what Mammoth was. When my dad heard it, he was like: “Oh, man, this is the shit!”

My guilty pleasure

The synth-wave band The Midnight is probably my closest thing to a ‘guilty pleasure’. But I don’t feel guilty. I think they’re great. Growing up, I would have felt like: “Oh, not cool,” because it’s not rock. But the more you grow up, you get over yourself, and you stop being so cynical.

The best live album

Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads is the bellwether for live albums. But also If You Want Blood You’ve Got It by AC/DC. The energy and the fullness of that. They’re one of those bands whose greatness can only be captured to a small amount on a studio record.

The most underrated band ever

Jimmy Eat World. I think they’re viewed as a one-hit wonder, with The Middle. But there’s so much more than that. They have such intricate, beautiful songwriting. Jim is a great singer. The whole band is so wonderfully capable.

My Saturday night song

A good Saturday night would just be sitting on the couch with my wife, listening to Peter Gabriel’s Big Time.

My ‘in the mood for love’ song

In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel. That was our first dance, my wife and I. You can’t go wrong with Peter Gabriel. Don’t Give Up and In Your Eyes are two incredibly beautiful love songs.

The song that makes me cry

Peter Gabriel again – Red Rain. I remember my dad was sitting on the floor of his closet. He was like: “Wolf, come here.” And he put these big headphones on my head and cranked it to eleven. And then I remember two days before my wife and I got married, we saw Peter Gabriel at The Forum. When they played Red Rain I started sobbing, because it’s one of my favourite songs, and it makes me think of my dad.

The song I want played at my funeral

It will need to be a really pretty song. So maybe Red Rain. Yeah, that would be the perfect one.

The second leg of the Mammoth II tour kicks off at the Wind Creek Event Center in Bethlehem, PA, on May 4. Tickets for all shows from Ticketmaster.

Bill DeMain

Bill DeMain is a correspondent for BBC Glasgow, a regular contributor to MOJO, Classic Rock and Mental Floss, and the author of six books, including the best-selling Sgt. Pepper At 50. He is also an acclaimed musician and songwriter who's written for artists including Marshall Crenshaw, Teddy Thompson and Kim Richey. His songs have appeared in TV shows such as Private Practice and Sons of Anarchy. In 2013, he started Walkin' Nashville, a music history tour that's been the #1 rated activity on Trip Advisor. An avid bird-watcher, he also makes bird cards and prints.