View Full Version : Man On A Mission - Fall 1998

06.15.20, 05:47 PM
"Man on a Mission"
By: David J. Criblez

The Inside (Fall 1998)

Gary Cherone is in a position that epitomizes the term "double-edged sword." Becomming the lead singer of the legendary Van Halen is something that can surely be defined as a dream come true. Having to win over the hordes of fans who pledge allegiance to either David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar, however, can be a nightmare.

Gary had the odds stacked against him coming into this gig. Van Halen fas had already suffered the heartbreak of losing Diamond Dave. Then it happened all over again with the Red Rocker.

While some swore by Dave, some swore by Sammy, and some loved both, one thing was for sure: no one was all that excited by the prospect of a third singer.

Still, Gary Cherone took on the job and, through it all, has kept his cool. Almost everyone who saw Van Halen's recent tour agrees that he's one hell of a singer and performer. Those who have met him off-stage also agree that he's one of the nicest guys in rock 'n' roll.

In our first one-on-one interview with Gary, the singer shared his thoughts about taking the place of two larger-than-life personalities, and expressed his anticipation about making the next Van Halen album.

The Inside: How are you getting use to your position as the frontman of Van Halen?

GC: It's awesome and very comfortable but...the first three songs every night, I go through the same anxiety. No matter what, I'll always be the new guy 'til the next record. But together we feel like one. After that third or fourth song, the audience jumps on the wagon and we all have a good time.

The Inside: What exactly do you go through during the first three songs?

GC: It's the anxiety of, "Here's another audience to win over." I have the pressure of doing my best and keeping my voice up to par. I don't have a lot of room for error--they're looking to find something! That's my own paranoia. There's always a few out there with the folded arms going, "O.K., I don't care what you do, you ain't Dave and you ain't Sammy."

The Inside: Is it almost like chasing ghosts?

GC: I try to channel it into the performance. It actually gives me adrenaline.

The Inside: To me, Van Halen with David Lee Roth, with Sammy Hagar and with you: they are all three different bands that can't be compared. Do you agree?

GC: You're right on the mark. When you have different guys in the band, it's different chemistry. When Eddie and I started writing, it was different from when he wrote with the other two guys. I remind myself that Sammy went through the same shit 12 years ago. I know old school Van Halen and, when Sammy joined the band, it was nothing like that. It was good in its own right 'cause they were carving out their own niche. Now, 12 years later, Sammy's the staple and I'm the new guy.

The Inside: When Sammy joined VH in 1986, they came out with 5150, one of their biggest selling albums [6 million units]. Your first album with the band, Van Halen III, hasn't sold all that well [500,000 units]. Does this concern you?

GC: It's somewhat frustrating, but I try not to compare eras because the eighties was a different place. But there is a high standard to be in Van Halen and anything less than a double platinum record is considered a failure. For me, I was coming from Extreme, where a gold record was pretty damn successful. So it's all in the perspective. But I think the band was pleased with what we came out with. As far as the public perception, it was an eclectic record.

The Inside: WHat about the suits at Warner Brothers records?

GC: We had some support from them, which was all before the live show, where there were some skeptics and cynics. But they did like the music and where we were going with songs like "Once" and "From Afar," which was a bit different, and they were excited about that.

The Inside: I always thought you guys should have gone with more daring songs for singles this time around. Looking back, would you change things?

GC: To do it all again, I wish we put out "Once" and "From Afar" to establish where the band is going. This is what you deal with with the record company. The path of least resistance is a straight line. When they heard "Fire in the Hole" or "Without You," they were like, "Oh, that sounds like Van Halen." With "From Afar," there's no standard of measure there.

The Inside: Do you think that people are so fixated on you being the frontman for Extreme that they have a difficult time accepting you as the lead singer of Van Halen?

GC: I wonder if that's the case. The majority of the public knows Extreme from "More Than Words," which was one tenth of what Extreme was all about. That was a hurdle in and of itself. There were radio stations playing "More Than Words" and mocking it by saying, "What's this guy doing in Van Halen?"

The Inside: Did you get a lot of flack for not having the typical VH frontman, long blonde hair look?

GC: There's not a day goes by that I don't meet a fan who says, "I liked you better with your long hair." I want to say, "I'd like you better 20 lbs. lighter!" [Laughs] I'm just kidding.

The Inside: Do you think it's hard for people to connect with your physical image, which radically contrasts Roth's and Hagar's?

GC: People go into Van Halen with that college frat California party band image. When they see me at the beginning of the show, I'm sure people are thinking we're an odd couple. People are probably thinking, "This guy doesn't belong here! He doesn't look like Van Halen!" But I look at it as a testament to the band, where everybody can be themselves.

The Inside: The public seems to have a different perception of Van Halen than the band has of itself. Everybody looks at VH as the ultimate party rock band.

GC: That's because their music was the soundtrack to a whole generation of high school kids. There wouldn't be an Extreme or many a bastard son without Van Halen. Nuno [Bettencourt, Extreme's guitarist] would be the first to admit it. He loved Eddie then and he loves him now.

The Inside: You and Nuno grew up together; was the break-up of Extreme sad for you?

GC: It was sad for all of us. It was a down period. Even a couple months into the record with Van Halen, I was still coming down from the fact my band of 10 years was over. As the relationship grew with Van Halen, my heart grew with these guys, "I gotta be here for a reason."

The Inside: Do you keep in contact with the Extreme guys?

GC: Oh, yeah. I'm good friends with all of them. Those guys are my brothers.

The Inside: Did it freak Nuno out that you became the lead singer of the band he idolizes?

GC: Yeah. I remember the day I went to his house and said, "You know, I'm going to LA." He goes, "For what?" I said, "Well, I'm going to jam with Van Halen." He goes, "Really? I heard that, but I wanted to hear it from your mouth. Wow, man. I could see that...you're the guy for it." He encouraged me but, when I got the gig, he told that it kinda put a period on Extreme for him.

The Inside: Were you leery about taking the job?

GC: No, I didn't question it. I didn't go into the audition like, "I need this! I want this!" I was more like, "I want to sing well and have a good day." I did. It just happened. They never officially said, "You are in Van Halen." It was more like, "O.K., let's write another song."

The Inside: Did that leave you in the dark, not knowing where you stood?

GC: I slowly called home saying, "I have a funny feeling this is going to happen." It was a trip. Actually, Eddie kinda asked me to join the band on the second day. I give him credit for his intuition, but from my standpoint that day, I thought it was a bit impulsive. He was feeling a good vibe, and shortly after that, I felt it. It wasn't a point of saying "yes" or "no" because it was obvious.

The Inside: I interviewed Nuno when his record came out and he said he felt VH was making you sound like a young Sammy Hagar?

GC: He actually came up to the studio while were were recording songs like "Fire in the Hole" and "Ballot or the Bullet" and all the heavy stuff. He came up to me and said, "They're pushing your range." I said, "Yeah, it reminds me of you and me ten years ago when you were writing in the keys that you liked rather than the keys the singer could sing in." That's basically what was happening. Eddie was writing and I didn't want to complain. I wanted to be able to do what he wanted.

The Inside: Extreme toured with Roth in 1992. What was that experience like?

GC: He was the only VH member I ever met. That was a great tour. Dave was great to us. He was wild and crazy...sometimes incoherent and other times prolific. That's Roth. He's a great entertainer. We used to watch him from the side of the stage as he busted in "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love." Little did I know that I'd be doing the same thing six years later. Dave actually liked Extreme; in fact, one night backstage, he said that we were the guys that were going to take the flag from Van Halen.

The Inside: Have you ever met Sam?

GC: I never met Sammy. I heard a lot, but I try to stay objective.

The Inside: Because of the political baggage with Van Halen, were you hesitant to get involved in this soap opera?

GC: I didn't really know how much there was to it. I was a bit naive about it. But, even if I did know more, I still would have jumped into it. There was trash talked about me but, unless I hear it from the horse's mouth, I sort of brush it aside. The VH soap opera is amazing, though. But it's a testament to the band. This band has touched a lot of people. I get to meet these fanatics every day that come up to Eddie and say, "You're the reason I picked up the guitar," "Eruption changed my life," "I lost my virginity to your music," etc. It humbles you. It's like I'm hanging out with a bunch of legends.

The Inside: Is it weird working together because they are older and more famous than you?

GC: In the studio, it's a bunch of equal heads. When you're out there in the public, I know my place--out of respect for these guys. It's about them. I'll shake the fans' hands too, and the most common thing they say to me is, "Wecome to the family!" I say, "Thank you." They are more a part of this band than I am.

The Inside: You guys had remixed and edited "Once" with female background vocals for a single release and then canned it. What happened?

GC: We had to edit it, which took a bit of the essence away from an 8-minute song. However, the general consensus was that we delivered a rock record. We didn't deliver any pure hit. "Josephina" and "Once" come close. But we decided to go with "One I Want" instead. Ed and I did background vocals on "Once" and were not happy with what we came up with. I had a friend in LA that suggested Donna DeLory, who's a singer with Madonna. It actually sounds good. Maybe it will be a B-side someday.

The Inside: Are you surprised that the "Fire in the Hole" video hardly aired on MTV?

GC: Are we surprised? No. MTV rarely plays a video, let alone a rock video. It's frustrating, but that's life. If I'm not used to that from Extreme, I don't know who is. Extreme made 10 videos that were never shown.

The Inside: How do you like playing the old VH songs in concert?

GC: I love it. To me, there's no substitute for a good song. In rehearsals, I made sure to not redefine the songs too much to where it's unrecognizable. I do them my way, but it's still Van Halen.

The Inside: Is it difficult singing two different guys' lyrics?

GC: Yeah, a little bit, but I'm removed from it. It's like two-thirds of the night is a cover gig for me.

The Inside: What was going on through your head when the whole "Best Of" situation occurred?

GC: I remember MTV playing the "Welcome Back, Kotter" theme with the video of Dave. I called up Pat Badger [Extreme's bassist] in the summer of 1996 and said, "I told you they'd get back together. They're back!" He was like, "No fuckin' way!" I said, "If Tyler and Perry got back together, Roth and VH can do it." Little did I know, a few months later, I'd be in the belly of the whale.

The Inside: How would you compare working with Extreme to working with VH?

GC: With Extreme, we were coming out of Boston and we had nothing to measure our success by. Everything was huge to us! We were all boys in the plastic bubble carving our own niche. With Van Halen, I joined McDonald's of rock'n'roll. Everything you do or say is going to be written about. The similar stuff is: a rock band is a rock band. Extreme was cut from the same cloth as Van Halen. We took VH 101. Now, I'm joining VH. Thank god it was familiar...rock-n-roll old school...go in the studio and record. That was comforting. The guys in VH have different personalities, and they were three guys I never knew in my life. With Extreme, everything slowly evolved. Plus, I'm older and not a kid anymore. These guys have kids.

The Inside: How come you lived in Eddie's guest house?

GC: I actually have an apartment in Boston. But the guest house worked out great because I was the new guy and we were writing--it was just to be accessible while we were working.

The Inside: What will it take to win the public over and get them to swallow the third version of VH?

GC: The missing link is the record. Obviously, this record was a transition. I came in with one hand tied behind my back with the euphoria of Dave coming back. I think one thing that is helping mend and progress this band is the tour. The people that come see us are saying, "O.K., this may be a little bit different, but it's certainly as hot, if not hotter, than it's ever been." The passion is back in the band. But, still, the missing link is the record. There is more pressure for me on the next record. I do think it will be resolved with a song or two. A song that people can identify with, which everybody did with "Why Can't This Be Love?" on 5150, which is brilliant song.

The Inside: There were rumors that Warner Brothers was unhappy with the record from the start. Is this true?

GC: I really didn't hear any of that. Eddie mentioned a few things. The first song we wrote was via a phone call, "That's Why I Love You," which was music he already wrote and sent to me and I put a little pop thing together, not even knowing them. It was very much like old school Van Halen. The record company jumped on that. Eddie and I pulled it off the record because, we felt, how can you hear this song then go to "Once" or "From Afar"? You're ignoring the new element of the band. But when people hear a hook, they hear a hook.

The Inside: Does the rest of the band feel the same pressure you do?

GC: I have to admit, probably unspoken. I don't think they are second guessing each other or me 'cause we know what we have. However, there's the reality of the next record.

The Inside: What's the direction of the next record?

GC: We've been writing since day one and we've got a bunch of stuff. I don't know where we are going with it, but if some people think this record was eclectic then...we're going from "From Afar" and beyond. We have this one song that's got this theatrical Zeppelin-type thing going on called, "Sad Celibate." We're excited about it. We can't wait to release this shit.

Interview 1998 The Inside Magazine