Once upon a time, a record label would mean a band’s avenue to success, or prove to be its undoing. The Wondergirls, an ambitious project spearheaded by entertainer Ashley Hamilton, fell victim to the furtive tactics of the industry. Nowadays, with the advent of the internet, the concept of needing a label is obsolete. With that in mind, Hamilton and his partners in the group are planning a comeback.
In concept, the band, the brainchild of actor/songwriter Ashley Hamilton, was a late 90’s/early 2000’s rock and roll dream team: the roster was filled by some of the most popular artists of the time, including Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots, Jay Gordon and Ryan Shuck of Orgy, Troy Van Leeuwen of A Perfect Circle, and Ian Astbury of The Cult. However, after recording a full length album, a string of mishaps led to the destruction of the band. Besides an interview with the Stone Temple Pilots fansite Below Empty last year that first unearthed some details of the group; not much was known about the ill fated band. This was before the band’s sudden and inexplicable return for the Iron Man 3 soundtrack, and I had the chance to talk with Ashley Hamilton himself and shed some more light on both incarnations of the project.
Ashley Hamilton, the son of legendary actor George Hamilton and the stepson of Rod Stewart. Hamilton’s rise to fame was in the early 90’s, acting in several films and appearing on Saturday Night Live with his ex wife Shannon Doherty (a relationship which was the butt of a joke in Kevin Smith’s Mallrats); in more recent years, Hamilton fell off the grid, falling victim to drug and alcohol abuse, making only minor appearances in television and film and performing stand up.
However, as of 2013, he seems to be back in the game, cleaning up and making his first major movie appearance in years, playing a literally explosive performance as the ill-fated Jack Taggart (known to comic book fans as the supervillain Firepower) in Iron Man 3. Seemingly out of the blue, the core lineup of the Wondergirls, minus Scott Weiland, released a rerecorded version of their only hit, a cover of Sly Fox’s “Lets Go All The Way”, for the film soundtrack. I had the chance to chat with Ashley about the circumstances surrounding their comeback. “Its been a long, hard road back,” explained Ashley. “Thank God I’ve been able to overcome it and get back in the game, it takes time… its been a long road back, and I’m grateful for it.”
The origins of the project can be traced to Ashley’s early solo musical career. “I was on Elektra Records, and we were getting ready to release an album, and I wanted to do a cover of Sly Fox’s ‘Lets Go All The Way’. Originally Fred Durst was going to produce it, but something happened, he fell out, and Josh Abraham came in.” Despite initial objections from the label, the project moved forward at a steady pace, and Ashley started to fill out the studio with his friends in the business. He explained, “Jay Gordon [Orgy] got called, Mark from Sugar Ray got called, Ian Astbury got called, Weiland, Troy from Queens of the Stone Age, Doug Ardito from Puddle of Mudd, Shannon Leto of Thirty Seconds to Mars.’ The result was a layered and industrial track, perhaps courtesy of Jay’s involvement, combined with Ashley and Scott’s layered vocals. The tune was featured on MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch soundtrack.
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After realizing the chemistry they displayed on the track, the group of musicians decided to go ahead and record a full length album. Said Wondergirl Chris Lloyd of the project in an interview with Below Empty, “…the creative process went (and could only go in this case) effortlessly and spontaneously. We were just having fun and trying to do something that was not being done at the time. No one involved was injecting anything like they were doing with their better known projects. In retrospect, I think The Wondergirls was a vacation from their bread and butter. If each person’s input sounded like what they were known for doing then it would have been a complete mess and would have sounded forced and confusing. We weren’t writing intricate music by any means. We all had common influences that we were not applying to the projects in our lives: Gary Newman and The Cars are the two that come to mind the most. Troy and I were tuning our guitars down to A sharp which was not only gratuitous but silly….still, the end result worked.”
Only one track from this recording session has been heard by the public, “Drop That Baby”. The tune had a very modern feel to it, once again taking the industrial sensibilities of Jay Gordon’s band and tuning up the playful tone. Ashley sings the verses and Scott the chorus, naturally in a Bowie-esque way. The chorus of the song is actually a modified version of the STP outtake “Heed The Water Whisperer”. Accompanying the tune was a bizarre BDSM themed video directed by Marc Racco.
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Other songs that were completed included “Massive (Heart Attack)”, a haunting Bowie-meets-MyBloody Valentine ballad with Scott on lead vocals. Ashley Hamilton and the other band members describe the song as the best they’ve recorded, and upon first listen, I agree that it really shows the untapped potential of the project. “Circles” is a playful, upbeat and distorted rocker with Hamilton and Weiland sharing vocals. The song’s chorus may sound familiar to STP fans, as it was reused for the bridge sections of “Dumb Love”, the first track on STP’s fifth album Shangri-La Dee Da, released in 2001 after the collapse of the Wondergirls. I also had the chance to listen to an unfinished track with no vocal audio during the verses, but with a complete chorus sung by Jay Gordon. The song has a very modern industrial/post punk vibe and probably would have been a radio hit had it been finished and released. Other songs that were worked on in some capacity included “Go My Way”,”Cookie Monster”, “Every Time”, “Kiss and Tell (The Train Song)” and cover of Iggy Pop’s “Passenger”.
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Said Ashley, “It was one of those groundbreaking things, you knew it was going to be fucking huge. We had so many potential hit songs from that record, and we were so stoked.” Sadly, when the recording process was well underway, legal turmoil tore the band apart. “We started our record… the problem was that we were on so many labels, and [the labels] were fighting over money. We’re more than halfway done with the album, and one day we come in and Josh Abraham says there’s a problem… we should be finished in a couple of days, we’ll be back… that was the last of the project. People disappeared and went back to their own gigs, I didn’t have a gig. The thing was done.”
Any hope of releasing the finished music they had was lost when the master reels were lost in the shuffle. “Its just weird how it can just disappear and nobody can seem to know where it is. It just sounds weird to me.” I (half) joked saying that the band should put a live bounty on the master tapes’ location, to which Ashley replied that the band was considering it. “It was devastating, it was a tough, tough time of my life.”
With both his contract with Elektra and his partnership with the Wondergirls gone, Ashley started writing for artists such as Robbie Williams and Hillary Duff before succumbing to drug and alcohol abuse and mostly falling off the grid. After cleaning up in recent years, the salvation for Hamilton’s career lay with Marvel and Disney. “Iron Man came along, and I sent the demo version [of “Lets Go All the Way”] to them. They fucking went crazy. We decided to go and get back together, which was just me, Doug from Puddle of Mudd, and Jay from Orgy. Robbie Williams came in, which was awesome and amazing. We redid it.” Before Robbie came in, rapper Kev Knish rapped the third verse, an idea which was rejected by Disney.
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The band was confident in their comeback, but the song wasn’t the big hit they had imagined it to be. Said Ashley, “the fact was that the song was such a hit in ’87 meant the new version could’ve also been a huge hit…but unfortunately Hollywood Records didn’t promote anything from Iron Man.” That isn’t stopping the group from being optimistic about its future, for they plan to release an EP or album sometime in the near future combining material both old and new. “It still has a great sound, a relevant sound, and we really want to get that fucking record out.” The Wondergirls are already in talks to collaborate with various modern musicians, including Dominic Howard of Muse.
However, Scott Weiland is currently not among the musicians taking part in the revived Wondergirls. That doesn’t mean he’s out of the picture: Ashley and the others are actively seeking him out to no avail. “It was weird, because him and I were so close, and all of a sudden he’s hard to get a hold of. He was such a great part of the band. He’s one of the most talented people I’ve worked with in studio. I really care about him. I love him like a brother. It kind of hurt me that all of a sudden I couldn’t get a hold of him anymore.”
Click here to listen to clips of “Massive Heart Attack” and “Circles”. And Scott, if you see this, maybe you could give Ashley a call sometime. I think the group needs you just as much as you need them.