“I think it’s a copout to use tracks, unless it’s like, for a keyboard part that you can’t necessarily get,” the bandleader tells UCR. “But when I hear about certain bands these days, where it’s like, you have lead vocals and lead guitars pumping through the tracks, I think that’s lame as hell. I think you should just stay home and listen to shit on Spotify if they’re going to play to tracks like that.”
Mammoth WVH hit the road in late July and will be out through October, playing a mixture of headlining club dates, festival appearances and opening slots on Guns N’ Roses‘ massive stadium and arena trek. While Van Halen recorded all the instrumentals on Mammoth WVH’s eponymous debut, he’s got an A-list backing band to help him pull the songs off live, including guitarists Frank Sidoris (Slash) and Jon Jourdan, bassist Ronnie Ficarro (Falling in Reverse) and drummer Garrett Whitlock (Tremonti).
Van Halen says he recruited Jourdan after seeing him play with Clint Lowery while opening for Alter Bridge, featuring Tremonti and singer Myles Kennedy, who also fronts Slash’s solo band. “I saw Jon in Clint’s band and I thought he was an amazing singer and an amazing guitar player, and I was like, ‘I want ya! You’re mine!’” the bandleader enthuses. “Before Jon, Frank and I were picking which guitar parts to play. And Ronnie and I were picking which harmonies to sing. With Jon there, we can literally take care of every single thing that’s on the album, and we don’t have to replicate it with a track.”
That includes the towering four-part vocal harmonies in “Stone,” the six-and-a-half-minute, breakdown-laden stomper that’s become the band’s collective favorite to perform. “In the second pre-chorus, there’s a four-part harmony, and we’re doing that live,” Van Halen says with a laugh. “It feels really badass to be like, we don’t have to fuckin’ sit there with tracks. We’re just straight-up doing it. I think it’s important. It’s certainly not perfect all of the time. That’s the point of live performance. It ebbs and flows.”
Watch Mammoth WVH Live at MetLife Stadium, Aug. 5, 2021
Van Halen and the members of Mammoth WVH quickly earned the approval of their headliners. Axl Rose praised the single “Don’t Back Down” during his and Van Halen’s first in-person meeting backstage at their Aug. 5 MetLife Stadium show. Duff McKagan also dropped by the Mammoth WVH dressing room to let them know Rose called the song “straight fuckin’ rock and roll.”
“I thought that was the biggest compliment I could have heard,” Van Halen says. “It still feels like a dream.”
An artist of Van Halen’s stature is inevitably subject to scrutiny from fans, especially on such a massive tour. But the 30-year-old rocker is up to the challenge. After all, he’s been proving himself onstage for half his life, becoming Van Halen‘s full-time bassist in 2006 following Michael Anthony‘s departure.
“When I was in Van Halen, people thought I was using tracks, but I wasn’t,” Van Halen says with a laugh. “So it’s kind of a compliment.”