The Day Wolfgang Van Halen Learned His Dad Was Famous: Interview
Wolfgang Van Halen says he was "six or seven" years old the day he learned his father Eddie was a famous rock guitarist. "They were doing all the CD remasters" for the six David Lee Roth-era Van Halen albums, he tells UCR.
"I found a box of all of them, and I saw my name on it and a picture of my dad. I said, 'Dad, what's this?' and he said, 'Oh, yeah, uh ... this is what I do.' And he kind of introduced me to everything."
Wolfgang quickly followed in his father's footsteps, getting a drum kit after an unconventional lesson from Eddie; a song from the band's 1991 album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge inspired him to pick up his dad's instrument.
"When I was 12 and graduating sixth grade, I wanted to perform '316,' the song my dad wrote for me at my graduation," he recalls. "So, I just learned that song, and from there I took a shine to guitar and tried to learn everything I could." Within a few years he moved on to the bass.
Listen to Van Halen's '316'
Wolfgang released his debut single, "Distance," earlier this week. The song was released under the band name Mammoth WVH and pays tribute to his dad, who died last month.
Although Eddie Van Halen provided "little lessons here and there," Wolfgang was almost completely self-taught. "He never really tried to push me into any direction," he says. "I think the only thing he really introduced to me was AC/DC, the album Powerage was a big bond for us. 'Down Payment Blues,' that was my dad's and my favorite song. But from there I kind of developed my own taste. I was really into Blink-182. I played Enema of the State nonstop - that's how I learned the drums. It wasn't until maybe I discovered Tool that I started to see an improvement in my skills by trying to play like Danny Carey."
Wolfgang eventually learned Van Halen's catalog well enough to join the band as its bass player in 2007. He was also entrusted with picking the set lists for shows. He maintains a particular affinity for an unexpected album: "I was only alive for [1995's] Balance and For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge growing up as a kid. So, I still have a really close connection with Balance. It's still one of my favorite [Sammy] Hagar albums."
He also backs up his dad's repeated claims that Peter Gabriel's 1986 smash So was the last album the guitarist ever purchased, noting that "not too much" outside music was ever played in the house. "The only thing where my dad ever was like, 'Wolf, you gotta check this out,'" he recalls. "He put a pair of headphones on and played me 'Red Rain.' He loved So so much, and so do I - it's one of my favorite albums of all time. That's his favorite album, and he transferred that to me."
Still, Wolfgang's tastes branched out from his dad's favorite bands like Cream. His desert-island records include Karnivool's Sound Awake, Tool's Aenima, Porcupine Tree's Deadwing and "maybe something classic like Abbey Road, another one I can listen to all the way through and never get tired of."
He doesn't remember getting into any disagreements with Eddie over music growing up. "I was really into System of a Down in middle school, but I don't think he ever knew the band name," Wolfgang says. "He would always call them "La la la la la la la la la,' because of the song 'B.Y.O.B.' He thought that was really funny."