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Wolfgang Van Halen Is A One Man Band In Debut Album

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Wolfgang Van Halen was born to play music. He's the child of Eddie Van Halen. At the age of 15, he joined the family business, playing bass alongside his rock legend of a father. Wolfgang Van Halen has his debut album out now. It's called "Mammoth."

(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMOTH WVH SONG, "DON'T BACK DOWN")

SIMON: He's a one-man band - singing, playing drums, guitar, bass and the keyboard. And he joins us now from Los Angeles. Thanks so much for being with us.

WOLFGANG VAN HALEN: Thanks so much for having me. It's a pleasure.

SIMON: First, condolences. Your father left us last fall.

VAN HALEN: Thank you.

SIMON: And we have to ask you about the first single that's been released from the album. I realize it might be difficult - but that's how some great songs come into being, too - if you could tell us about the song "Distance."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DISTANCE")

VAN HALEN: (Singing) A life without you, I'm not ready to move on. No matter what the distance is, I will be with you. No matter what the distance is, you'll be OK, oh.

You know, my father had struggled a lot health-wise - up and down for years for a really long time. And a tough thing to deal with emotionally, and I guess this song was just kind of a way of therapeutically dealing with that. It's just kind of imagining how tough life would be without him but also remembering that our relationship is too strong to let any one of us being apart from each other be an issue.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DISTANCE")

VAN HALEN: (Singing) I'm so happy. You've found a place.

SIMON: So what was it like to be on tour at the age of 15?

VAN HALEN: It was fun (laughter). I didn't have to go to 11th grade.

SIMON: (Laughter).

VAN HALEN: Although I did have a tutor. You know, after soundcheck, I'd be doing math. But yeah, it was really fun. It felt more like a family trip. You know, I was just there to support my father. And to be able to be on stage and play music with my uncle and my father every night, it was truly a blessing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMOTH WVH SONG, "FEEL")

SIMON: And let me ask you about the song, "Feel." You're playing your father's guitar?

(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMOTH WVH SONG, "FEEL")

VAN HALEN: Yeah, yeah. For one of the guitar tracks, I played the original Frankenstein guitar. When I brought it out for recording - you know, we keep it in - just, like, locked down, super-safe. Like, if the whole building burnt down, it would be OK.

SIMON: Now, your father built this guitar himself - right? - from rejected parts is the story.

VAN HALEN: Yeah, just to chase his sound, you know? I pulled it out to start recording. You know, we were all kind of gathered around it. It was a crazy moment 'cause it's a very special guitar. It's quite arguably one of the most famous guitars or instruments in music. And dad just kind of picked it up and just kind of played it for a second and then, like, tossed it on the couch. And everybody in the room went, like, (gasping) because it's so - you know, it's priceless. But to him, it's just like this little thing he made.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMOTH WVH SONG, "MAMMOTH")

SIMON: You name your album and one of your tracks "Mammoth." Help us understand that title.

VAN HALEN: When my dad had a band before Van Halen, it was called Mammoth. It was a three-piece band where he sung. So I always loved that name whenever he would tell me that story. So I always told myself that when I grew up, I'd name my own album and my own band.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAMMOTH")

VAN HALEN: (Singing) Hey you, anything is possible. You're not the only one.

SIMON: This is your first solo project. How creatively is it different from the work you did with Van Halen or the other band you were in, Tremonti?

VAN HALEN: It's all just me, so I guess there's nobody to blame if things go wrong.

SIMON: Every damn instrument is you, right?

VAN HALEN: Yeah, yeah. It's 100% all me, playing everything, writing everything. So it's a lot more pressure, but it's also much more creatively freeing.

SIMON: Did you make a point of playing every instrument yourself?

VAN HALEN: Yeah, I just thought it'd be a fun thing to do. You know, I could play everything. I always admired how Dave Grohl did the first Foo Fighters album, where he recorded everything himself. So I guess I wanted to have a go at it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THINK IT OVER")

VAN HALEN: (Singing) One by one, remembering a brighter sun. All you love will fall away, away.

SIMON: It's funny because your father brought such perceptible joy to his performance. Well, you know, that can go either way. There are some fathers or parents who would say, I don't want you - the music business is rotten and nasty, and I don't want you anywhere near that. Sounds like that didn't happen in your household.

VAN HALEN: (Laughter) Yeah. I just kind of - you know, I was just around it that it just kind of sunk into me. And it's all I'm good at, and all I want to do.

SIMON: What do you think music puts in our lives?

VAN HALEN: Yeah. Music is one of the most important things ever. A world without music is a world I don't want to take part in. It's a universal language. You can communicate through it. You can grieve through it. You can celebrate. Music is perfect.

SIMON: Wolfgang Van Halen - his solo debut album is "Mammoth." Thank you so much for being with us.

VAN HALEN: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'RE TO BLAME")

VAN HALEN: (Singing) World still spins around without you, no one but yourself to blame. Fought so hard, but nothing's going to change. You're to blame. You're to blame. World still spins around without you, no one but yourself... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.