Van Halen has been through a lot this year. At the top of 2021 he declined the Grammys’ invitation for him to play “Eruption” in honor of his father, the late and incredible Eddie Van Halen. Rather than accepting the offer to get recognition for performing during the biggest music awards ceremony of the year, he felt in his heart that it wasn’t the right thing to do, and said no.
In fact, he called the request “tone-deaf.”
As the months progressed and he announced Mammoth WVH’s eponymous debut album, the rocker faced nonstop scrutiny on social media and found himself constantly having to defend his career. No, he wouldn’t be covering any Van Halen songs on his own tour. No, he doesn’t want to sound like Van Halen. Yes, there is a giant crab on the cover of the album. And no, he doesn’t care what anyone thinks.
Mammoth WVH came out in June and features Van Halen performing all of the instrumentation on it himself in addition to singing. However, he recruited some fellow musicians to join his touring band, and they played their first show in July before heading out on the road with Guns N’ Roses. One of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll bands in the world personally asked Mammoth WVH to join them on their first post-lockdown tour.
In September, Mammoth WVH scored their second No. 1 song with “Don’t Back Down,” which further proved that Van Halen doesn’t need to be sharing the stage with his dad and David Lee Roth to be successful. And, most recently, the group was nominated for a Best Rock Song Grammy with “Distance.”
We hopped on Zoom with Van Halen to chat with him about all of his achievements so far, both as an individual and under the Mammoth WVH moniker. Watch and read the full interview below.
Interview – Mammoth WVH Is Our 2021 Artist of the Year
As you know, Loudwire named Mammoth WVH the Artist of the Year, congratulations.
Thank you, absolutely crazy.
Obviously you grew up around music, but did you always know that you wanted to be a musician?
No, no. I wanted to do stuff with video games when I was little. I was just all about that, I was like, ‘I want to be a video game designer.’ Then I went to, like, a camp where you learned how to do it, and I was like, ‘This is way too hard. I don’t wanna do that.’
But apparently playing a bunch of instruments is easy.
I guess! I mean, I did it on my album. I don’t know, it’s fun for me. It came naturally to me. But it doesn’t mean that I haven’t always been playing, that’s all I do. Growing up, all I ever did was play the drums and try to figure out what Danny Carey was doing. And on the bass, tried to figure out what Les Claypool was doing and all that kind of stuff.
I have to ask — why did you make the decision to perform all of the instrumentation on your album? Going forward, do you think you’ll do that again, or will you have your touring musicians play with you?
I’ll definitely do it again, just because it’s so much fun. At first, it was like a personal challenge, I wanted to see if I could do it, just like Dave Grohl did with the first Foo Fighters album. That’s what I was really inspired by. It was like, ‘I can play it all too, why don’t I try to do this?’ And after having done it, I can say that it was so much fun and so rewarding to put it together, that I’m really excited to do it again.
It’s obviously been a really crazy year, but one thing I do want to bring up that I think deserves a bit of recognition was when the Grammys asked you to play ‘Eruption’ as a tribute for your father. I think it was extremely respectable and badass that you didn’t just say yes to them because they’re the Grammys. You went with your gut and your intuition, and you declined. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Yeah, I just didn’t think it was the right thing to do. I think dad would’ve been like, ‘Why the hell would you do that?’ I’m my own musician, I’m my own person. I’ve done everything I can to find my own sound and to be my own musician, not to just go up there and play Pop for everybody. It just didn’t really jive with what I wanted to do or what I ever want to do.
And now, you were just nominated for a Grammy with ‘Distance’ for Best Rock Song. How do you feel about that achievement and did you ever think that that was possible?
I had no idea that that would be possible, at all. It’s absolutely crazy. In a way, it’s validation for not going up there and being my dad and playing his stuff. It’s validation that what I make is good enough on its own, and I don’t have to go up there and play ‘Panama’ or play ‘Eruption’ to be worth a shit.
It’s also important to acknowledge that not only did ‘Distance’ go No. 1, but ‘Don’t Back Down’ did as well. When you heard that news, how did you feel? Did that change your perspective on anything?
Yeah, when ‘Don’t Back Down’ went No. 1, that was definitely a turning point in my mind. I think it could be argued, just because of the times, and plenty of people did argue that it was a fluke that ‘Distance’ did really well. But it was the fact that ‘Don’t Back Down’ actually went No. 1 proved that, ‘Hey, maybe what I’m doing isn’t so bad.’
Mammoth WVH – ‘Don’t Back Down’
Absolutely. When ‘Distance’ did come out for the first time over a year ago, you said initially that you were a little bit afraid to play it just because of the emotional connection attached to it. How did you feel that first time that you did tackle it onstage, and has it gotten a bit easier overtime?
Nah, it’s hard every time. I think it’s just always going to be like that. And that’s just how music is sometimes.
You’ve been playing in large-scale venues since you were a teenager when you were in Van Halen. How is that dynamic different when you’re headlining in your own band?
It’s way different. With Van Halen, everybody was there to look at Eddie Van Halen and look at David Lee Roth, so I could just kind of do my thing and fly under the radar and be comfortable. But now it’s like, I’m the dude that everybody’s looking at, and that is so unnatural and doesn’t match up with my personality type whatsoever. But I love and care about the music so much that I made, that you just kind of step up for the moment and just go for it, because it’s just a part of the job.
Ethan Miller, Getty Images
Do you like the big venues or do you prefer the smaller, more intimate ones?
I like any venue where people are there to have a good time. It could be two people, it could be 200 people, it could be 200,000 people. I’ve never played for that many people before, but as long as people are there to just have a good time and not sit there with their arms folded like you’re doing something to piss them off, I don’t think it can get any better than that.
You guys were brought out on tour with Guns N’ Roses this year, how did that come into play?
That was crazy. We got a call saying that the Big 3 of Axl [Rose], Duff [McKagan] and Slash had agreed that they wanted us to be the opener and asked us. And what were we gonna say, no? We were ecstatic, I couldn’t believe it because we hadn’t even done a show yet, which is why we did two little quick club shows before the first show in Hershey. The tour was absolutely wonderful, they were all so kind and so supportive. They even had me up on the last two shows to play ‘Paradise City’ with them, which was absolutely crazy.
Wolfgang Van Halen + Guns N’ Roses – ‘Paradise City’
I’m a huge Guns N’ Roses fan, and I know you had a couple of encounters with Axl, but I like to wave the flag for him and say that he’s not as much of a jerk as everybody thinks.
No, he was so wonderful to us, and he was really funny. Really funny, really great dude.
Do you have any stories?
Not too many, but I just remember when I first met him and I put out my hand and was like, ‘Hi Mr. Rose.’ I didn’t know how to deal with it. And he just gave me a hug and and was super affable, just a really kind guy. He told me he had watched the ‘Don’t Back Down’ video and he loved it. It’s like, ‘Wow, you didn’t have to do that, thank you.’
Well upon releasing your debut album and, like you said, that was your first big tour — to hear a compliment like that from someone who’s known for being such a perfectionist — how did that feel?
Oh, it was amazing. Just the fact of knowing that he had even checked it out and then enjoyed it was a ridiculous compliment.
Another reason we wanted to give you this title was that we’re very aware of the feuds that you often get into with people on Twitter.
I’m sure the comment section is gonna be stoked about this. They never like when you guys talk about me, it’s so funny.
The internet is full of stupidity, and somehow you always manage to clap back and say something really witty to them. How do you weed out which of the trolls you’re gonna pay attention to versus which you’re going to ignore?
I don’t know, you can kind of tell when somebody’s just kind of bored and doom scrolling and feels like saying something negative, or if it’s somebody who feels like it’s their job to be a troll. Those are the ones you just kind of block and move on, but when people make a really dumb joke or just try to say something mean, those are the ones to just flip around with a joke.
And then all of a sudden, a bunch of other people go and swarm them, and then they kind of get a taste of their own medicine. It’s funny. I’m sure I’m just keeping the cycle of negativity going occasionally, but you know what? Whatever, it’s social media.
One of the ones that stuck out the most was the one person who was complaining about you cursing on Twitter, and you were like, ‘You’re literally coming to see Guns N’ Roses. Do you know how many curse words are in their songs?’
They call themselves Guns N’ Fuckin’ Roses, what the hell do you want from me?
One of next big things you have going on is Mammoth WVH and Dirty Honey are going to be going out on the Young Guns tour starting in the winter of 2022. What are your goals as far as being one of the emerging rock bands in the scene going forward with that?
Just to get out there, and I feel like the tour is very aptly named. Because our plan is just to get out there and and prove that rock has some competition and that it’s still very much a viable genre in this day and age, and that we’re just here to come have a good time and kick some ass.
Mammoth WVH – ‘Distance’ + “Epiphany’ (Live)
How do you feel about the notion of bringing rock back into the mainstream, or do you think that is should always kind of be the underdog genre a bit?
I don’t know if it’ll ever be back to how it was, but I do think it’s kind of seeping into it a little bit. If you look at certain… like Lorde’s album has a bunch of guitar on it, Miley Cyrus did practically a rock album. Guitar-based music is very much becoming more prevalent, which is exciting to see. I think it’s kind of sneaking up on everybody.
Yeah, we all know how much you love backing tracks.
Who else would be on your bucket list to go on tour with?
Foo Fighters. That’s the big dream right there, just because Dave is such a huge inspiration to me. Them or AC/DC, because that would just be ridiculous. They’re one of my favorite bands. But it’s funny to even say that, considering we just toured with Guns N’ Roses and that was just like a ridiculous pie in the sky, impossible, never-gonna-happen dream. So you never know.
Aside from what you’ve already achieved so far, what are your other goals going forward?
I just want to keep making music that makes me happy to make, and hope other people enjoy it as well. This whole album cycle has been an incredibly gratifying experience, to release music that I personally am very proud of and had a great time making. And to see it bringing joy to a lot of people, it’s a really cool feeling.
Is there anything you’re going to approach differently when you go to eventually start working on the sophomore album, if you haven’t started that already?
Haven’t officially started yet, no. But whenever we do, I would just like to have it maybe go by a little quicker. The first time, I was trying to figure out who I was, and it was just compiling a bunch of demos and figuring out exactly what I wanted to do. But I think now that I’ve landed at the sound that I know I want and know how to do, I don’t think it’ll take six years to do anymore.
And given what you’ve accomplished, what do you have to say for musicians who are starting out like yourself going forward?
My dad always had great advice, which was just to keep playing. You can’t expect anything more. If all you want to do is play, the good will come. As long as you enjoy yourself and you have a good time playing, I don’t think there’s anything better that can come from that.
The 45 Best Rock + Metal Albums of 2021
These are the 2021 albums we couldn’t stop listening to.