Andrew Stockdale has found his happy place. He’s sitting at his house in Bangalow, just outside Byron Bay, looking out at the rolling hills and feeling an overwhelming sense of contentment.
“Byron Bay is a very inspiring part of the world,” he says of the north coast hippie enclave. “It’s just ridiculously inspiring – you could create so much art and so much music continuously here.” He thrives on the nurturing qualities of the area, and the forgiving landscape. “You feel like people who are living in a shack with next to nothing have as good a quality of life as millionaires living on the beach,” he says. “You could fall asleep under a tree here, and it would be a nice tree with a nice view!”
If Stockdale has found contentment in his personal life, he also seems to have found it in music. His old band, the gnarly blues rock outfit known as Wolfmother, went through various lineup changes over the years, reaching the point where the singer decided to go it alone. His new album, Keep Moving, is a line in the sand – it features members of various past Wolfmother lineups, but is credited to Stockdale himself.
“I’ve seen a lot of bands who’ve continued with only one guy from the previous lineup, and there are a lot of expectations placed on that guy,” he says. “I don’t want to be that guy, and I don’t feel like I am that guy, so I stopped being that guy, you know what I mean?”
The level of expectation attached to a solo album is different, Stockdale insists. “When we started Wolfmother, we were really happy that we had a sound and a style,” he says. “We had fat guitars and cool drum fills and I was singing in a high register and things seemed to gel. That sound became Wolfmother – that was the brand, and that was what people expected.”
In recent times, the idea of writing songs in the trademark Wolfmother style lost some of its lustre. “I’ve moved on,” Stockdale says. “I don’t want to be a slave, creatively speaking. I don’t want to go into a record thinking, well, the songs need to have these certain ingredients in order for them to work. I don’t need to pull out my big red stamp and go ‘BANG, this is a Wolfmother song.’”
Keep Moving is a big, sprawling album, featuring everything from heavier, psychedelic rock tracks to more laid-back acoustic jams. The songs are immediately recognisable as Stockdale compositions, but the atmosphere is a lot more relaxed than either Wolfmother album. Take a song like the acoustic ‘Suitcase’ as indicative of this new approach. “I really love playing that song,” Stockdale says. “It’s got a really relaxing quality to it. I’ve found that I really like writing songs without expectations placed on them,” he says.
This freedom in part came about because Stockdale produced the songs himself. He’s spent a lot of time in big LA studios with big producers, he says, and there’s a certain high-pressure mentality that goes along with that. There’s a right and a wrong way to do things, a feeling that the decisions made in the studio will determine your success or failure.
“That’s how we walked into the first Wolfmother record,” he says, “that’s how I learned to be in a studio.” Since then, it’s fair to say Stockdale has…chilled out. Much of Keep Moving was made in his home studio, and he tells me that the sessions were all about capturing the energy of playing live.
“Going into this, we thought to ourselves, let’s be spontaneous,” he says, “let’s set up some lights and some incense and dress up in some cool clothes, let’s be actors in our own movie and make it up and break the rules.”
This set-up, which conjures up visions of Russell Brand’s Aldous Snow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, made for a far more fun and creative recording experience. “We had a massive producer lined up to do this record, re-record it and do it properly,” he continues, “but I just said to my manager, I’ve got to be completely honest with you, my dream is to self-produce this and put it out as Andrew Stockdale. Luckily they gave it the green light.”
With the imminent release of Keep Moving, Stockdale feels he’s landed on his feet as a solo artist. “With the old Modular thing, where the idea was that you’d make a record for three months, you go on tour, you take a break and then you make another record,” he says, “you’d have to be creative, stop being creative, and then be creative again.”
He was no fan of this approach. “I feel now like I can be creative all the time, continuously,” he says. “All our gear is set up right here. I could start writing the next one right now. I feel like I pretty much already have. I feel like recording music is a continual part of life, and I’m just like…I’m at one with it, y’know? Song writing and recording should be a continuum.”
BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN
Stockdale plays at Newcastle’s Bar on the Hill Thursday, June 6 as well as the Metro Theatre in Sydney Friday, June 7. Keep Moving is out June 7 through Universal.