The members of Mammoth WVH and Dirty Honey barely have time to catch their breaths from the whirlwind that was 2021 before they embark on the Young Guns co-headlining tour in January. The six-week trek will visit clubs and theaters across North America, with both bands proving their mettle — and inspiring some healthy competition — by trading off the headlining slot each night.
Mammoth WVH and Dirty Honey both issued self-titled debut full-lengths this year, and they logged plenty of miles opening for Guns N’ Roses and the Black Crowes, respectively. During a rare moment of downtime in November, Mammoth WVH bandleader Wolfgang Van Halen and Dirty Honey frontman Marc LaBelle spoke to UCR’s Matt Wardlaw and Bryan Rolli via Zoom about the Young Guns tour and the lessons they learned on the road with classic rock royalty.
Before we launch in: Marc, is there a good story about any of those guitars behind you?
LaBelle: Well, this one, this is the ’58 Custom Shop reissue. I got it in pristine condition. And we were in a smaller green room on the Crowes tour, and it was perfect, like, there’s not anything wrong with it. And of course, there’s a ceiling fan above me. And I came in, just took the guitar off after I was just messing around at soundcheck, and the ceiling fan just bashed it. So there’s a nice ding in the headstock.
Van Halen: My dad did that same thing to me when I was a toddler. I was on his shoulders and he walked past a ceiling fan and just [imitates ceiling fan noises].
Marc, you guys were opening up for the Black Crowes on the Shake Your Money Maker 30th-anniversary tour. Besides your band being onstage every night, what’s your favorite story from that run?
LaBelle: I told Rich [Robinson] early on, he knows how big of an Aerosmith fan I was, and we bonded over that. And he liked to tell me how Mr. Crowe’s Garden, way before they were the Black Crowes, would play a tune off Toys in the Attic called “No More No More.” And the last night of the tour in Philly, my phone started blowing up, and Rich was hitting me up to come onstage. He was like, “We learned ‘No More No More,’ we want you to come sing for a little bit.” So I got to do that with them, and a bunch of people recorded it on video. It was pretty hilarious. But that was a special moment for me, being such a Crowes fan, too, growing up. To bring those two musical influences together, Aerosmith and the Black Crowes, which are two of my favorites, and to play an Aerosmith song with them was awesome.
Watch Dirty Honey’s ‘California Dreamin” Video
As a big fan, what sort of meaningful hang time did you get with the Crowes?
LaBelle: Just dinners all the time, going out. We had a huge community meal with the crew and everybody after the show at Jones Beach back in New York City. And Chris [Robinson] is full of infinite wisdom that nobody’s parents would like bestowed upon their children, but he’s just full of great anecdotes about life. He’s a full-on rock star and still is, and lives the life, and does not care if he… He would always like to say, “I’ll take this Ferrari that is the Black Crowes, or any of my projects, and I’ll fucking crash it right into the wall and burn it to the ground. I don’t give a shit. All my favorite bands did that.”
Meanwhile, Mammoth WVH shared the stage — for their very first tour, no less — in stadiums with Guns N’ Roses. No pressure. Wolfgang, give us the postgame report on how you look back on the entire summer.
Van Halen: I was way more nervous for the two club shows we did before the first show in Hershey, Penn., with Guns just because it was the very first thing. Ask any one of the Mammoth guys in the band. In Lawrence, Kan., I was just sitting in the dressing room just sort of hyperventilating, trying to figure out how to get through. And at a certain point, you just kind of do it, you know? And having done the first two shows, it kind of warmed [us] up well for the first Guns show.
I don’t know if playing arenas and stadiums ever gets easy, per se, but you certainly had enough experience doing that for half your life. So I imagine that feels at least like a familiar environment for you.
Van Halen: Yeah, it was weird. It almost felt slightly more comfortable. The stadiums were just ridiculous. I’d never played a stadium in my life. But the arenas, honestly, that’s where I’ve played the most shows in my life because Van Halen was pretty much all arenas the entire time I was there. So it was almost like this comfort when we were playing in those rooms that I knew I had actually played in before with Van Halen.
Do you have any cool stories about spending one-on-one time with Axl Rose this summer?
Van Halen: There weren’t many times, but when we did see him, it was always really fun. The very first night, I think it was after MetLife [Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.], we were all just kind of hanging out outside our bus, and it was like the whole bus area. And one by one, Duff [McKagan] walked by, and then Slash walked by, and then Frank [Ferrer] and Richard [Fortus] and Melissa [Reese]. And then at the end of the night, Axl finally walked up. And it was very nerve-racking. It was like, “Okay, I think Axl’s coming up. Everybody be on your best behavior and be nice.” And he was so affable, just so kind. I was like, “Hi, Mr. Rose,” and I put out my hand, and he brought me in for a hug and everything, and he talked about how much he liked the “Don’t Back Down” video, which was crazy just to think that he had even watched it.
Watch Mammoth WVH’s ‘Don’t Back Down’ Video
You played “Paradise City” with Guns on the last night of the tour. That’s a song you’ve heard all your life. What’s it like to be onstage playing through that with the band?
Van Halen: It was crazy because we only did one soundcheck before doing it. So the second I knew they wanted me to, it was the only thing I did on any free time. It was like, “I’m just gonna sit here and play ‘Paradise City’ over and over.” Everybody on the bus was like, “Really, you’re still playing? You got it.” It’s like, “No, dude, I need to do every little nuance that Izzy [Stradlin] plays on the track.” I had every single little nuance and every little fill he did in between perfectly. We did it once, and then they wanted me to sing, and I didn’t realize. So I ended up doing the high harmony that they realized they didn’t have in it. And Duff was like, “Oh, yeah, there’s a harmony there!” So it felt really good because they were really happy, and it went way better than my brain thought it was going to.
What lessons did you guys learn over the summer that you would apply to this upcoming tour?
LaBelle: The number one thing for me — and this is just a motto about life as a musician — is just be great every night, and do your best every night, because people are spending their hard-earned cash to see you not suck, and even more than not suck, be amazing. People don’t have time for mediocre anymore, and if you are mediocre, then they’re going to trash you everywhere. But if you’re great, they’re gonna tell you, and they’re gonna tell all their friends that you’re great. And from touring with guys like Slash and Myles Kennedy and the Black Crowes, they bring it every single night, and it’s really impressive to see that, and it’s something I want to take into my older age. Thirty years from now, hopefully we’re still doing this, and hopefully we’re still great at it. I think that’s important, and that’s the only thing you can really do as a musician, is leave a legacy of great songs, but also great performances.
Van Halen: [You] took the words out of my mouth. I think as a musician, you kind of cynically go, “Oh, we’re playing these songs over and over and over again.” And personally, I’ve listened to this music so much for years before anybody has even heard it, so [I was] sick [of it] before it was even released. But the important thing to keep in perspective is that when you’re playing every night, it’s guaranteed [to be] somebody’s first time seeing that. And even though it’s your 500th time playing it, you have to make it like it’s the first time. So that really just kind of rolls off what Marc said. You really need to give your all. I think something I can improve on is I need to stop doubting myself so much. I’m hard on myself, and I feel like every single performance is awful. But then you see people going like, “Oh, man, that was great!” So it’s like, “Okay, I guess that was good.” So I just need to keep doing what I’m doing.
The longer you play, even your bad nights become better, and it becomes easier to put on a consistently good show for the people.
Van Halen: Yeah, what is it, the 10,000-hour rule? When you put the time in… That’s why I constantly frustrate management, that before tours, I want to at least rehearse for a month. I don’t want to just fly in, rehearse for a couple days and go on tour. I want us to be so bored of the music that it’s ingrained in us, so that we can do better. I guess that’s what was instilled in me with Van Halen. We would literally, even when we weren’t touring, we were playing all the time, every day. And I think that at a certain point, the numbers stack up and they’re always in your favor.
Watch Wolfgang Van Halen Play ‘Paradise City’ With Guns N’ Roses
What are the pros and cons of playing stadiums, amphitheaters and arenas versus clubs and theaters?
LaBelle: [Theaters are] honestly my favorite ones. They’re intimate enough where you can see literally the faces of everybody from the front to the back. And a lot of times, maybe there’s a loge level that’s seated, but for the most part, it’s standing room only, and it’s kind of slanted down towards the stage so everybody can actually see. But because you’re standing and you’re forced to stand, you are really into the atmosphere, and I definitely feed off that energy the most. Clubs are great too, but, you know, we’ve done some arenas that were pretty fun too. I don’t know, they’re all a little different, but I’ve definitely felt the most comfortable in the theater and felt the most amped up. Also, the sound is pretty consistent, and it just feels really good to me. That’s definitely my sweet spot.
Van Halen: Yeah, something I will say is that while stadiums are probably the craziest, like, holy shit kind of places, they sound awful. It’s not good for anybody. I feel like arenas are sort of like the picture-perfect big venue for music. But overall, I feel like it doesn’t matter where you put us. It’s fun to play in every [venue]. It’s fun to play for two people. It’s fun to play for 50,000 people. I think as long as people are there to have fun, that’s all that really matters.
Van Halen: Oh, I couldn’t have imagined it. Like I said in the post, it really marks this huge change of a chapter in my life. You know, figuring out how to operate without Pop in my life anymore. Moving forward with Mammoth for the first time. This will always be a really, I think, emotional or just kind of reflective period of time for me. I think November is kind of always gonna just be like this now.