|One of the first things you notice upon entering the maintenance room of Edward Van Halen's 5150 complex is a series of five Poloroid snapshots, arranged vertically along the edge of a doorway. Four of these depict Edward sitting atop a 5150 combo amp, grinning aimlessly, as if the photographer was simply testing the settings on the camera. The fifth picture captures the band--Edward, brother Alex, Michael Anthony, and Sammy Hagar--in cozy, smiling camaraderie, their arms draped around each other's shoulders. Most strking about this print, however, is the fact that someone has plunged a yellow push pin through Hagar's face. The perfect placement of the pin indicates the deed was about as accidental as the assassination of Lincoln. Now this is nothing but bad Van Halen voodoo, mean mojo stuff--an act of venon and doom.|
By now, only the brain dead are unaware of the changes that have rocked the Van Halen camp. Singer Sammy Hagar is gone, his solid gold locks nothing but a memory. David Lee Roth, absent over a decade, returned to appear on a pair of new tracks available on the band's Best of Volume I greatest hits package, the band's first such compilation ever. But despite feverish speculation that the flamboyant singer would rejoin Van Halen, fate and, in all likelyhood, Eddie deemed otherwise: Roth is out, history for a second time. Of course, Van Halen had a powerfully felt reason to reject a reunion that would, if nothing else, have been a diamond-studded cash cow for the group.
"We're from different planets; we don't communicate," says Eddie of Roth. "We just don't see things the same way. I'm not saying that he's a bad person at all--I actually fuckin' love the guy. But I don't need that kind of negative energy around me. I don't know how to explain it, but Dave kinda sucks the life out of me." So instead of David Lee Roth making a dramatic re-entry into the Van Halen fray, a dark horse candidate emerged and was handed one of rock's plum jobs outright--none other than former Extreme frontman, Gary Cherone. Cherone, known for his acrobatic stage antics and extraordinary vocal range, impressed Eddie with his quiet manner: "He's like a brother. He's shy, he's a quiet guy and has no fuckin' attitude." He's just a beautiful human being. Plus the guy sings and sounds like an angel."
Van Halen, who despises the politics of teh music business as much as Roth revels in it, has, these past few uncertain months, endured a romp through hell without sunscreen. In an intimate conversation which initially began at his Hollywood Hills hideaway and threee days later ended with a frantic game of phone tag, he shared with Guitar World his view of Van Halen's massive implosion, the too public upheaval that led to the ousting of one lead singer and the temporary resurrection of another. He also talked about the band's recent greatest hits album, a work which in its depth reveals just how much rock's premier guitarist matured as an artist and as a man, in the course of 20 spectacular, if turbulent, years.
GW: These last few months have been difficult for the band.
EVH: Yeah, the last three months have been a full plate -- and a few desserts I didn't plan on ordering. There have been a variety of conflicts brewing between Sammy and the band since I quit drinking on October 2, 1994. Then things really came to a head when we began work on the soundtrack to the movie Twister. It got so bad that I actually started drinking again.
GW: What were some of the more nagging issues?
EVH: Well, in the last couple of years Sammy went through a lot of changes. He divorced his wife of 23 years and, possibly because of that, he stopped being a team player. He was especially irritated by the fact that I began to get involved with the lyric writing, Sammy would say, "You never complained about the lyrics before!" Well I wasn't sober before, and I wasn't even listening to the lyrics! It's not like I suddenly wanted Sammy to be my puppet or anything, but once in a while I would take issue with a specific lyric or line. For example, I always hated the words to "Wham, Bam Amsterdam," from Balance, because they were all about smoking pot-they were just Stupid. Lyrics should pland some sort of seed for thought, or at least be a little more metamorphical.
GW: So you really began to have problems with Sammy around the time you
EVH: I'd say that we actually had problems on every album exept for 5150. Sammy wouldn't even work with (producer) Andy Johns on For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge; he demanded to work with Ted Templeman, because Ted lets
him get away with everything. Then, like I said, things got really ridiculous when we started working on the music for Twister, Alex had called up the director, Jan De Bont, to
ask him how closely he wanted the lyrics of the song that became "Humans Being" to be related to the movie's context, De Bont said "Oh, please don't write about tornadoes. I don't want this to be a narrative for the movie." So we put him in contact with Sam, who called me and said, "I had agreat conversation with De Bont and everything is cool." Then - maybe two seconds after I got off the phone with Sammy -- De Bont was like, "Uh, Sammy
is a little strange. I kept telling him that he shouldn't write any lyrics about tornadoes, but he still kept insisting that I fax him tornado-related technical jargon. Does Sammy just want to learn about twisters for his own personal reasons?" I said, "Beats the hell out of me." And so what does Sammy come back with? "Sky is turning black, knuckles turning white, headed for the hot zone." It was total tornado stuff! Not only did Alex tell him not to do that, but the director of the fucking movie told him, "Do not write about tornadoes." The situation with Sammy was so bad that I had to warn Bruce not to let him know that I had come up with the title and the melody, because if he found out that he would have completely turned off. When ever I suggested something to sammy, he would just stop talking to me."
GW: There were alot of rumors circulating that Sammy was unhappy with the
band because he felt he was being forced into projects he didn't want any
EVH: Sammy was dead against the Greatest Hits package because he was afraid it would lead to comparisons between him and David Lee Roth. I said "Wait a fuckin' minute, Sammy. This band has been putting out records for 20 years and never put out a greatest hits-but you already have two of them (Best of Sammy Hagar, 1992;Unboxed, 1994). It just goes to show that, in his mind, he was always a solo artist--once a solo artist, always a solo artist. He was only into being in Van Halen for the prestige of it.
GW: What was Sammy;s reaction when you started working with Glen (Ballard, producer)?
EVH: We had several band meetings with Sammy where we told him that if he wanted to continue with Van Halen, he had to stop running around doing all his solo shit and become more of a team player--and that might involve collaborating on a lyrical level. He said "No problem." We had another meeting to reiterate that after the premiere of Twister.
So right after that, we began working on "Between Us Two," because we thought it had amazing potential. Sammy called Mike one Sunday afternoon and said, "I heard that Glen has some great ideas for the song. I'm really excited". Then he called me that evening to give me his fax number so I could fax over Glen's lyrics. And then suddenly, I'm in the middle of giving me the number , and he started yelling and screaming at me: "This is a fucking insult! I ain't gonna sing someone else's bullshit!"
...Next Ed's reaction...
EVH:...I was totally startled like , "Wait a minute, we discussed this on length on two occasions. We didn't spring this on you man." Finally I said, "Okay, forget the new lyrical treatment, but at least come down, take another pass at the performance and change a few lines." He just answered, "Yeah, well, whatever." That's when I finally put my foot down, I said, "Sammy, if you're not here at the studio by six o'clock tomorrow, don't ever bother coming back." The next day, he showed up like nothing had ever happened--like he
hadn't yelled and screamed at me. Did he think I was some idiot who didn't remember what had happened the night before? I'm sober now dude. Glen and I were sitting there, working on the song, and the opening line was something like, "I want to see you/I want to know who you are"--kind of Dark Side of the Moon vibe, the premise being, "I want to touch your
soul, I want to get to know you." Then Sammy decided to change it to some shit like, "I can't see your diamond ring/through your shining star." I was like, "Sam, please, Glen's
got some great lyrics right here, just go with them." His only reply was, "If I thought those lyrics were better I would sing them. Besides, I have an eight o'clock plane to catch." And he just left. Glen and I were dumbfounded. Then Glen asked me, "How long has this been going on?" I said, "Longer than I'd care to mention." So anyway, that was the last straw. I called Sammy a bunch of times, and when he finally returned my call, I said, "Sam, if you want to make another record or do another tour, you've got to be a team player. Van Halen is a band--not the Sammy Hagar show, not the Eddie Van Halen, Alex
Van Halen, or Michael Anthony show. We should be called Piss for all I care, but we are a band." So I went over this shit like 11 times with hime, and he finally said, "Yeah, goddamnit, I'm fuckin' frustrated. I want to go back to being a solo artist." and I said "Thank you for being honest." We ended hanging up like everything was cool because it was all out in the open. He'd admitted that he wanted to do solo stuff. And I said "Well,
you can't be in a band and do that, too, so see ya.." I didn't fire him. He just quit. To put it simply: Dave and Sam both suffer from L.S.D.--lead
singer disease. Except Dave never lied."
GW: Speaking of David Lee Roth, how did he come back into-- and out of the
EVH: Dave happened to call me around the same time Sammy quit, because Warner Bros. notified him that Greatest Hits was going to come out, and he had a few questions about the packaging and other details like that. I told himm, "Dave, I really don't know yet. I'll call you mid-week and let you know." We were on the phone for about 45 minutes, and we apologized for things we had said back in high school--even junior high. It was
probably one of the best conversations I've ever had with him. Especially since, as long as I've known him, we were never really friends. but band-wise, it just seemed to work.
A few days later, instead of us calling David with the information on the CD. I decided to drive over to his house. I told him that the basic idea was to do a single CD that would be half of the stuff we did with him and half the stuff we did with Sammy. That was another big problem we had with Sammy, by the way: he wanted to have more of his songs on the Greatest Hits than Dave's.
GW: What was it like going to Dave's house for the first time?
EVH: We just had a great time bullshitting as friends. We hung out for about three hours and smoked some cigars. It was only about two weeks later when I realized that the only new track that we had for the Greatest Hits was "Humans Being," that I came up with the crazy idea of having Dave sing on a couple of new songs. We thought about it for a
couple of days and said, "Yeah why the fuck not?" So I called up Dave and said, "Would you be interested?" And he said "Sure, I'm not doing anything." I was very clear that he was not in the band--that it was just a project. What I wanted to do was write five new songs and pick two out of those five. We had a bit of difficult time because we wrote a song for him that he didn't particularly care for. It wasn't up his alley. So we got past that and Glen Ballard and I sat down with Dave, and I okayed with him all this new material I had. Eventually we narrowed down to this pop song, "Me Wise Magic," and a shuffle, "Can't Get This Stuff No More," with a "Panama" sort of groove. "Me Wise Magic" has a line in it, "I know what you're thinking," which Dave felt uncomfortable with. He said, "That bit
sounds so angry; it's just not me. People want to hear Dave sing." But I thought it was majestic; it takes you on a roller coaster because there are so many changes. I nicknamed it "The Three Faces of Shamus," because there is that first low part, the high part, and then the chorus. All three have completely different vibes going on. At first he wasn't into that one at all. A week later, I was still playing him songs when finally he said, "What about the first one?" So, finally, he came around and realized that it wasn't as dark and angry as he originally thought. During the process, Dave and I were really becoming good friends. In my heart I really wanted to believe that he had changed a bit. We worked and we worked and he actually thanked me for hanging in there with him. It was
a struggle to find anything that would inspire him and that he could connect to. Finally, we came up with the other song, and Glen suggested the title and it's premise. Dave came up with the lyrics, and it worked. Dave said, "Thanks, because anyone else would have probably thrown up their arms and said fuck it." And I said, "Well, you're a trooper,
however long it takes and whatever. It's all about making it a good song. There's no time frame here; it doesn't have to be done tomorrow. I just wanted to find something you liked, and I'm glad I found one."
GW: So the two of you were able to put all of your past acrimony behind you?
Oh yeah, we were actually becoming friends. Before we went to the MTV Video Music awards, we all sat down--(Van Halen manager) Ray Danniels, Dave, Al, Mike and I--Because we knew we were going to get mobbed by the press. And it was actually Dave who said, "Let's tell the truth." Less to remember. And the truth it is, we did two songs for Greatest Hits, we did two videos and that's it. We could go out there and make a killing on tour with Roth, but we're not a nostalgia band, I would never just take somebody's money for playing old songs to bring back memories. Memories are memories, to be left
memories. If we ever did that with Roth, we'd have to write and record a new record and then play a few of the old ones. I'm sure a lot of fans of the band would love to see it--but some things, like I said, are better left to memory.
GW: So why aren't you making a new record with David? Was there some sort of fracture?
EVH: Everything went to pieces at the MTV Video Awards. After we went out on stage to present the award to Beck, we started doing some interviews there, and I was just telling the truth--the way it is. I said, "If we do a tour we'll have to write and record--a new record." But before any of that can happen, I have hip replacement scheduled for December 16th, and that's going to put me out of commission for at least four to
six months." After doing a couple of these interviews, Dave's attitude changed. I
asked him what was wrong, and he said, "Well, what's with this hip thing? Would you stop mentioning the hip thing?" I said, "Okay, no problem. In the next interview I won't say a word about my hip." He turned to me and said "You motherfucker, don't ever talk to me or anybody like that again. Don't bother calling me anymore." I thought he had changed, but two minutes on stage and a half-assed standing ovation and he turned right back into the Dave I hated.
GW: Who chose the tracks for the Best of Volume 1?
EVH: Ray and Al came up with a list and I just looked at them and said, "Yeah, fuck, I don't care." Because there's a second volume ready to go. There are a ton of other songs that people get pissed about when we don't play them live.
GW: In previos interviews, you've said that you didn't want to do a greatest hits album?
EVH: I changed my mind. What's wrong with that? Valerie [Bertinelli, Edwards' wife] is always on the Internet, and for a lot people out there, their first exposure to the band was Balance. And when they find out we have 10 other albums, they're nog gonna go out and buy 'em all. So why not put a package together so they can at least get a taste and a history of the band? Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the recording of our first album, so I don't see a problem with putting out a greatest hits record--not as long as the next record we make is great.
GW: What gear setup did you use on the most recent tracks?
EVH: The meat and the beef of the sound is the 5150. And I did experiement with some new stuff--I used a talk box on "Can't Get This Stuff No More," but Matt Bruck [Bruck, Van Halen's guitar tech] actually ran it for me. My mouth wasn't big enough or something because when I tried it, it just sounded like a wah-wah. I played and then we added it later with Matt doing it through a re-amp or whatever you call it. On "Me Wise Magic" I'm using the protoype Peavey withe the Steinberger tremolo.
GW: During the period when you were in vocalist hell, did you think about maybe putting together a solo album of some sort?
EVH: No, not at all. A long time ago, when Dave totally took us by surprise and just quit, we didn't audition anybody. It was Sammy and that was it. We were just plain excited to have somebody who was into singing. Actually, my plan at the time--and I wouldn't necesarily have called it a solo record because Mike and Al would have played on it--was to get Mike Rutherford [Genesis], Pete Townshend, Phil Collins, and Joe Cocker, all of whom I had talked to. I had written "Right Now" back then and I wanted Joe Cocker to sing on it. It would have been fucking great. That's what I wanted to do, write a record where I did all the music and had a different singer on each song. Logisitically, it would have been a nightmare--people on tour, contractual agreements, companies pissing and moaning--and we'd probably only be finishing it now. It would have been fun. Hopefully, in the future I'll still be able to do that.
GW: Looking at the Best of Volume I, which provides sort of a capsule view of what Van Halen has done, makes me thing: Did you have any sense 20 years ago of the volume of music you would create?
EVH: Believe it or not, since I've gotten sober I don't think I've done shit. I don't think I've done anything. I feel like I'm just starting.
GW: You say you feel like you've just begun, but the truth is, Van Halen is one of the few guitar-driven rock bands to still exist here in the Nineties. Most of the other bands who were around and thriving in the Eighties are gone.
EVH: Let's just call us a rock and roll band. We just are what we are. I don't how to explain it, we survived punk the first time around, we survived disco and grunge and rap and whatever. We're a rock and roll band and we just do what we do.
GW: Do you have any opinions about the other guitar-driven groups out there--Metallica, maybe, or Soundgarden or any others?
EVH: I don't really listen to people. I like singers. I like Peter Gabriel, I love Chris Cornell, I like Tori Amos, the guy from Bush. I thought Kurt Cobain was fucking incredible. And Billy Corgan I like.
GW: When you did that cover story with Corgan [Guitar World, April 1996], did you feel a connection with him?
EVH: Oh yeah, because he's probably one of the few citizens of the alternative nation, or whatever you want to call it, that admits Van Halen was an influence. Everyone else says Kiss. I mean, give me a fuckin' break. If they play guitar, they must have heard Van Halen somewhere down the line. I just don't see Kiss being a guitar-inspiring type of thing. I mean, I'm not putting Kiss down at all, I love Gene [Simmons], he helped us out in the beginning and without him we probably wouldn't be where we are. But to say Ace Frehley was teh reason you picked up guitar?
GW: Do you worry at all about what your audience will think about the changes in the band, primarily the addition of Gary Cherone?
EVH: No, because you cannot please everyone all the time. No matter who sings, someone is not gonna like it. I'm sick and tired of being controlled, and I don't want to control. I just have so much music and I want to put it out. Gary's very talented, and we work very, very well together. We'll let the Greatest Hits run it's course and then we'll put out the new shit. I don't care. If it touches one person, then it's great. I don't care if it sells millions, I don't care if it sells a tenth of the records we've sold. It's not about sales-- it's for the love of music.
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Interview © 1996 Guitar World Magazine