Wolfgang Van Halen shared the stories behind the songs from both his upcoming ‘Mammoth WVH’ album and the 2012 Van Halen album ‘A Different Kind Of Truth’ during a new interview with Songfacts.
Here are excerpts from Greg Prato’s interview:
On ‘Mammoth WVH’ Songs
Greg Prato (Songfacts): Let’s discuss the lyrical meaning behind several of your tunes, starting with “Distance.”
Wolfgang: “Distance” is a song that I wrote between 2013 and 2015. My father had struggled with his health a lot throughout the years, and it was a song that came out during one of the darker times, where it was my brain playing a scenario of what it would be like if I didn’t have him in my life, and being able to focus on the idea that while we may not be together at some point, we’re never really that far apart.
Songfacts: Was it difficult for you to watch the footage in the video so soon after your father’s passing?
Wolfgang: I had been watching it anyway. I had never been through such a heavy loss in my life before. But that’s what I had been doing: looking for any kind of footage I may have had. Then we decided to release the song and it just seemed like the right thing to do. So, I watched as much as I could to supply the clips for the video, but now that the video is out, I can’t watch it.
Songfacts: “Don’t Back Down.”
Wolfgang: “Don’t Back Down,” the demo title was “Saltbath,” which was just a joking mess-up of the word “Sabbath.” It has that kind of shuffle-y, Black Sabbath vibe. It’s a fight song when you want your team to decimate the other team.
Wolfgang: “Feel” is lyrically rooted in my anxiety, where I always feel like something’s wrong, or that I’m doing something wrong and that everything is my fault. Just constant anxiety stuff.
But the track itself was really fun, because the bridge was a really fun moment to record. There’s this guitar solo thing while the bass is going nuts underneath into a drum solo. It was a really fun one to record.
Wolfgang: “Mammoth” was one of the first ideas written for the project in mind. The demo title was “Mammoth 1.” So, I cheekily squeezed the word “mammoth” into the bridge so I felt comfortable enough calling the song “Mammoth.” It’s about anxiety and depression.
I guess it’s some sort of mantra to convince myself to keep going and convince anybody else to keep going when they’re doubting themselves. It was really the song that defined the core sound of what the project was moving forward. So, it was an important one in the writing process.
Songfacts: Would you say anxiety and depression is something that you struggle with?
Songfacts: It seems like more people today are being diagnosed with anxiety, perhaps because doctors can diagnose it better than in the past.
Wolfgang: I think back in the day, it was like, “Why are you sad? Cheer up!” And it’s more a chemical thing than a “Why don’t you smile more?” kind of thing. I think it was looked on more as a joke back in the day, and now it’s being taken more seriously, as it should.
Songfacts: Do you think that your father suffered from that, too?
Wolfgang: Anxiety? Absolutely. It’s one of the main reasons why I’m such an anxious person. And it’s why he drank.
Songfacts: “You’re To Blame.”
Wolfgang: When I write my lyrics, while they mostly come from personal experiences, I like to write them from a perspective that anybody can insert themselves into and get their own meaning from it. I tend to write my lyrics as this amalgamation of everyone who has ever done me wrong, and I think that really shows in that song. While it may not be specifically about anyone, it’s about everyone who has ever hurt me.
Songfacts: “Think It Over.”
Wolfgang: “Think It Over” lyrically is about nostalgia, and not being able to move forward. Just the idea of nostalgia controlling your life.
But song-wise, it was a really fun breath of fresh air. It’s kind of a pop song. It was my dad’s favorite song – he loved it so much and it’s one of my favorites as well. But it was really fun to flex that poppier muscle for it.
Songfacts: Did your father get the chance to listen to all the Mammoth material, and if so, which songs did he enjoy most?
Wolfgang: Yes, “Think It Over” was his favorite, but he was so proud and happy with all of it. He was the only other person – other than me – to have all the ideas and everything on his phone. He had what would be the album, and then he had about 10 more other ideas that are pretty fleshed out but hit the cutting room floor during the recording process. Those will probably show up on an album in the future.
On ‘A Different Kind Of Truth’ Songs
Songfacts: On A Different Kind Of Truth, which songs did you have the most hand in writing?
Wolfgang: “Stay Frosty” was an idea Dave brought in that was completely original and not stemming from an older demo, but in terms of structure, I was the one that put it together. It was just this little acoustic ditty, and we were like, “Well, what do we do? We’re not sure.” I was the one who actually structured the entire song on how it would go.
And then there were the more fresher ideas like “China Town” and “The Trouble With Never,” which I was really able to insert my own flair into and do the tapping intro with the capo on “China Town.”
But ideas like that, and “You And Your Blues.” “As Is” was a fresher idea. The ideas that were stemming from older ideas were things like “She’s The Woman,” “Beats Workin’,” “Bullethead,” “Big River,” and stuff like that.
Songfacts: Do you remember if there were any leftover songs from the A Different Kind Of Truth sessions?
Wolfgang: There were not. I don’t know where this rumor came out saying that we recorded like, 60 songs. What’s on the album is everything we recorded. I have no idea where that rumor came from.
There was one song we almost did that we wrote in the studio, but it fell apart before we had the chance to do it. It’s so weird – I see Van Halen fans on Twitter go, “I have the inside track… they recorded like, 60 songs!” And it’s like, “No. No. No.”
There’s more Wolfgang has to say in his interview with Prato, including the story behind the ‘Mammoth WVH’ cover art, why he decided to play all of the instruments himself on the album, along with what he considers to the definitive Van Halen songs from the David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar eras. You can find it at the Songfacts website HERE.
*A big thanks to Carl Wiser and Greg Prato from Songfacts for sharing this article with the Van Halen News Desk!