Over the summer, contemporary rock & roll peers Mammoth WVH, the solo project/band of Wolfgang Van Halen, and L.A.-based outfit Dirty Honey got the chance to return to the road after lengthy pandemic delays, and both found themselves having to jump straight into the deep end.
Van Halen had just two gigs to prepare for an opening slot for Guns N’ Roses, but these were his first-ever shows with Mammoth WVH, his first as a frontman, and the first since the death of his dad, guitar great Eddie Van Halen, last October. As for Dirty Honey, while the group marked their return to the road with a handful of headlining shows, they soon linked up with another veteran rock group, the Black Crowes, and frontman Marc Labelle suddenly found himself out-of-sorts trying to rev up crowds anxious to see the Crowes’ first shows in eight years.
In a recent Zoom interview with Rolling Stone, alongside Labelle, Van Halen admits the deluge of firsts was overwhelming, but after getting over the hump of those first two gigs, not only was he happy to be back, but he found that playing on stage gave him the chance rekindle a connection with his late father. “It’s really the only thing I’ve got anymore, to feel that energy and that closeness with my dad,” Van Halen says. “I’ll always have the memories, but there’s nothing better than just playing music live and playing the music that the two of us listened to together. We would listen to it all the time, and he was so proud and happy with it. It feels like every night I’m doing it for him.”
Labelle, too, was able to swiftly hurdle his own conundrum. He admits he hated the band’s first gig opening for the Crowes in Nashville — “There’s a lot of the, ‘Let’s see what you’ve got’-vibes out in the crowd… I just felt so uncomfortable” — but then Crowes frontman Chris Robinson set him straight for the second night with some solid advice. “Chris was like, ‘We opened up for Metallica in like Amsterdam and nobody gave a shit about us playing. I had bottles and shoes thrown at me. Did that happen to you last night?’ And I was like, ‘No.’ And he was like, ‘Well, just go out there and sing great, look cool, and have a good time with your friends on stage. That’s all you can do.’ And it completely changed the mindset, and I had a blast. On the same stage, in the same city, you know, with probably a lot of the same people, and it was awesome.”
With those landmark summer runs under their respective belts, Mammoth WVH and Dirty Honey are now looking forward to 2022, when they’ll kick off their co-headlining Young Guns tour early next year. The 30-date trek starts Jan. 21 in Chicago and crisscrosses the U.S. (with one stop in Toronto) before wrapping Mar. 5 in Indio, California.
“What a way to start the year off, huh?” Van Halen quips.
While they were primarily busy with their respective tours over the summer, Mammoth WVH and Dirty Honey did cross paths a few times, playing one co-headlining show in South Carolina and meeting again at a festival in Philadelphia.
“I’ve seen Wolf play with Van Halen, I’ve seen him now play with Mammoth now,” Labelle says. “Super talented, love the songwriting, I genuinely enjoy his music, which I think is pretty rare for me, especially in the modern rock era. I’m very happy to be going out with an artist that plays music that I like.”
“That’s definitely a huge bonus,” Van Halen adds, “to be part of this sick bill. Dirty Honey are awesome. It’s really fun to be two of the youngest and hungriest bands in the L.A. rock space, banding up and kicking ass together… We’re both kind of echoing the past, but making it our own and taking it to the future.”
While co-headlining tours can maybe carry an air of competition, both Van Halen and Labelle are hardly concerned about who plays last, or who plays loudest. Rather, there’s a shared hunger to prove, as Labelle puts it, “that rock & roll is very healthy, alive, and well with our generation. And I know both of us really carry that weight on our shoulders.”
Eager as both artists are to help make that argument, they’re also excited by what they see elsewhere. Van Halen notes rock’s subtle return as an influence in pop spaces, citing Lorde’s guitar-heavy new album, Solar Power, as well as the hard rock sounds that have helped make Rina Sawayama one of music’s most exciting new voices. Labelle, who’s Zooming in from Italy, adds that he’s been awestruck by the success of Italian glam rockers and Eurovision winners, Måneskin.
He’s even seen some proof that rock is chugging along just fine: “I literally just went to a guitar store here in Milan, and there was nothing left. I don’t know if it’s a supply chain issue, but they didn’t have any guitars. It’s crazy.”
As for what fans can look forward to on Mammoth WVH and Dirty Honey’s 2022 tour, Labelle puts it simply: “We’re here to prove that rock & roll is definitely still overexciting and chaotic and alive.” Van Halen adds: “That’s what we are, we’re raw and we’re live. If it was perfect all the time, it would be boring as hell. There’s something about a live performance that ebbs and flows where it’s different every night. And I think that’s what we are, both of us. One hundred percent live bands who are there to kick ass.”