Interviews

Interview: ADRIAN VANDENBERG

The flying Dutchman first came on my musical radar as part of a twin guitar partnership in my favourite band Whitesnake back in the late 80s. After he departed The Snakes, I followed him through his musical journey which has continued right up to the present with the reemergence of his self-titled Vandenberg project which he has recently reactivated for 2020.

I was lucky enough to have a third conversation with him recently to promote his new forthcoming musical release.


ANTIHERO: Good morning, Adrian. How are you?

Adrian Vandenberg: Really good. How are you? Under these surrealistic circumstances, of course.

ANTIHERO: Yeah, exactly. Just wondering how you were coping with it all.

Adrian Vandenberg: Well, for me, it’s not that much different, funny enough, because when I’m not touring or doing shows or whatever, I’m either in my painting studio working on a painting or I’m working on my music at home. So, it’s not a huge difference. The biggest difference is when I get on my bicycle and go into town. It is a ghost town because it’s only a handful of people stumbling around like zombies.

But, yeah, the thing is basically when… every once in a while, on the news or something, they show pictures of Paris and London and Venice and empty cities. That looks really weird and it kind of puts it in your face what’s going on right now, but I’m a positive person, so I’m pretty sure it’s going to be resolved one way or another. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be over in one shot, but it’s probably going to be like a gradual type of thing. Moving back to a more normal society, hopefully.

ANTIHERO: You’ve got a new album about to be released. Just wonder why it’s called Vandenberg and not actually another MoonKings release?

Adrian Vandenberg: Well, there were two reasons for that. The main reason was… well, yeah, probably the main reason, one of the main reasons was that my good friend, Jan, the MoonKings singer, as you may remember, he has this big farm company and he couldn’t get out of the country for more than one or two days. So, which really blocked us from doing international shows, like for instance two years ago, when we did the London show, that was the only time that he could get out of the country for two days or something.

So, he flew in the afternoon, next morning he flew back to the farm, because there’s always stuff to do. And we knew that from the beginning, but his company… his farm company kept growing and stuff and it became more and more difficult for him to do any touring outside and for me it became pretty frustrating. And Jan and I talked about it a lot, because he felt kind of guilty, but I always told him, let’s solve the problem when it becomes a bigger problem. Which it basically did ever since the second MoonKings album when there were all kinds of propositions to do a European tour and a British tour and all that stuff.

So, yeah, we talked about it again and the thing is, for him the farm is a passion as well, just like the music, but he says, yeah, I’m not ready to leave the farm behind yet. It’s too early for me to leave it all behind and just focus on the music. So, who knows, one day he will, but right now he doesn’t.

And the other reason was that last year I really felt a need to go a lot heavier and faster and deeper with my music. There is a little bit of a transition audible on the second MoonKings album. For instance, on a song like Tightrope and a song like Reputation that were getting a little harder and faster like on the first MoonKings album, which was even more blues rocky. So yeah, those two things…

I didn’t really want to change the singer in MoonKings, because to me, we had such a great vibe within the band and I thought it was a more honourable thing to do to leave MoonKings as it is. And who knows, maybe do a short Dutch tour or something like five, six shows in two years or something just because we enjoy it so much. But, yeah, I really miss touring abroad, so it’s been a little bit of a difficult position at the same time. I got really excited when I got this line-up together and that’s very inspiring as well. So, I’m looking at it as two different entities basically right now.

ANTIHERO: When you decided to reactivate Vandenberg as a band, was there no desire to maybe go back and have the original members, those guys that you played with on those three albums?

Adrian Vandenberg: Well, the problem was first of all, I think Ronnie Romero is as good… Bert Heerink, the original singer, was a good singer, but to me Ronnie Romero is in a different league. I mean, if he’s good enough for Ritchie Blackmore, he’s good enough for me. But the main reason why I would never ever consider it anymore, is that… I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but about six, seven years ago, the original Vandenberg members filed a lawsuit against me that last five years. And six court cases in which they tried to claim my name and to prohibit me from using my family name.

They said we own your family name and… I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. So yeah, that really destroyed the good memory we had about Vandenberg. And we had a great time at a time, so to me it was very strange 30 years later for them to try to claim my name and to claim the band name and stuff. And they lost all the cases, of course. But as you can imagine, animosity… especially when there’s a lot of lying going on in the courtroom and I thought, oh geez, man, this can’t be serious. Initially I thought it was a joke. When the first subpoena landed on my doormat I thought, what the fuck is this? This has got to be a joke, but unfortunately, it wasn’t.

So yeah, that didn’t even… I’d rather add Justin Bieber than to join me with those guys. It’s sad. You see it happen in a lot of bands, but I’ve never seen it like 30 years later, you know? That’s just really strange.

ANTIHERO: What about the album title itself? Is it going to remain as 2020?

Adrian Vandenberg: Yeah, I thought it was great… First of all, like a great two-way type of thing, because it’s a great number, two, zero, two, zero. That’s one thing. And the other thing is that it immediately shows to the people that it’s a brand new one. It’s not a re-issue or a “Best of” type of thing. And originally I was planning to make a cover painting like I used to do on the Vandenberg albums, but then time just changed so much. Most people listen to the music on their phone or on Spotify. And then usually the imagery of the cover is a post app. So I thought it would be a stronger signal for the first new Vandenberg to just reintroduce a logo, but then I made it look a little bit more worn. So in any case, it’s been around for a little bit, but as a logo. But 2020 indicates it’s brand new, so it’s kind of cool, I thought.

ANTIHERO: Okay. When the band line-up came together, did you already have the songs in place or did you wait? Did you get the members first and then move on to write the songs?

Adrian Vandenberg: Well, actually to me, when my manager suggested well if you’re going to put a new band together, why don’t you call it the Vandenberg again? And I thought well, I didn’t want it to be like a nostalgic type of thing, which you see very often, because usually to me that looks a little tired. A couple of old members who are a little bit burned out and stuff and I didn’t want that kind of energy in this band. So I said well, no, no, I’m not too excited about it. And then my manager said well, do you want to come up with yet another name? You know, Manic Eden, Vandenberg, MoonKings, you can keep going until you drop. But, and then I thought about it for one or two days. And I thought well, it only would make sense to me if I would find an incredible singer and then put together an incredible line-up.

And so as soon as I knew Ronnie wanted to be involved I thought, well now it makes sense. Because Ronnie, as you know, is a world class singer. That really gave me a boost as far as with an extra bonus to the bad taste that the court case left in my… the lawsuit left in my mouth. I could flush it away with this incredible line-up and a killer record. So to me it’s really exciting, because it’s a brand new band and it’s heavier than the old Vandenberg has ever been. But at the same time, there’s a lot of connections with the harder stuff on the old Vandenberg songs, like “Waiting For The Night” from the second album and a song like “This Is War” from the second album.

Those were already, for those days, pretty heavy, but here back now, I mean all the hyper bands in those days, whether it was Scorpions or Michael Schenker or whatever, they didn’t sound as heavy as how you can sound today, because experience in studios where you can get more powerful drum sounds and over the years you kind of manage to get a more powerful sound out of your Eagle amplifiers and stuff, so the whole… What I found exciting is to try to make it… to definitely make a sound, of course, with its feet in the traditional hard rock that I’ve always played, but at the same time sonically make it sound like a fresh, crisp, powerful band from today.

Which I think we managed to do, because the sound is really in your face. And whereas in the eighties it sounded a little bit more woolly and everybody used a little bit too much reverb. So it sounded like you were all the way in the back of Wembley stadium with all the echoes and the reverb and stuff. But I really wanted it to sound from today, with in your face and as if you’re right in front of the stage at the band rehearsal or something.

ANTIHERO: Did you create the songs then in your studio, or did you have the idea, the structure… the basic structure of the songs all together before you entered the studio?

Adrian Vandenberg: Yeah, I think so completely because as soon as I knew Ronnie was involved, I started writing with his voice and his pretty much limitless capabilities in mind. And after about two months, one and a half, two months, we were already in the studio. But I had finished the songs completely and worked the demos out very completely, because that’s what Bob Marlette, the producer and I, were talking about that we had a limited amount of time. We only spent two and a half weeks in the studio.

So, I wanted to have all the demos completely worked out. So we could really latch into that and actually it came in very handy, because Ronnie had some obligations… he only could be in LA for six days, even though he works really fast. He does a couple of takes and it sounds amazing, but a couple of the vocals actually, we had to record them to my demos, because before Ronnie came in we didn’t have the time to finish some of the drum and guitar tracks. So that was an interesting way to work.

But then again, I really like to make very extensive and detailed demos, because I don’t want to surprise myself in the studio, which happened to me a couple of times and happens to a lot of bands. When you go into a studio and you think, oh, it’s all going to be great once it sounds great, but you can really fool yourself, because if the song is not good enough, you can get the best sound in the world and it’s still not going to kick your ass like it should be. So that’s why in a very early stage in the Vandenberg days, I made complete demos already first of all, so the guys had something to work on and to get prepared for the studio so you don’t wear the whole excitement out, because you have to play it 30 times in the studio.

Like Koen, our drummer, Koen and Randy, the drummer and the bass player in the new Vandenberg, they played about 90% of the album and they were really well prepared. So Koen the drummer, did about two takes and then that was it, so that’s also one of the reasons I think why it sounds so dynamic. That it doesn’t sound over polished or overproduced or whatever.

ANTIHERO: Of course, a lot of people are going to focus on the new version of “Burning Heart.” I just wondered why go for that revamp of an old song rather than maybe do another new one?

Adrian Vandenberg: I know what you mean because initially, I didn’t mean the song to be on the album because what happened was when the record company wanted to pull out the press release, my manager rightfully said, well, you know, everybody puts out a press release these days. So it would be more of a strong signal if we have music with it, which we didn’t have because we didn’t… we weren’t, we hadn’t been in a studio yet. We didn’t start recording.

So I suddenly remembered that they had the basic tracks, so bass, drums, and guitars, or at least the rhythm guitars. We recorded those when we were in the studio with MoonKings for the second album because in Japan they always want a bonus track. So they have a different version of the album than the import version. So that’s why, just to make sure, I recorded drums, bass, and rhythm guitars for the second MoonKings album, so all we had to do is let Ronnie one or two passes. And it’s what he did. He sings so emotionally and so expressive that it gave me once again, goosebumps on my arm. And I thought, geez man, I’ve heard this song a million times now. And Ronnie sings it and once again it rips through my heart.

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But then when it was done and the album was done, the record company said well, why don’t you put Burning Heart on it, because it turned out so nice. And I said, well, you know, it would be a little bit of a… not really my idea, but then they convinced me with saying well, the thing is that it would really build a nice bridge between Vandenberg 2020 and the very first Vandenberg album. It was pretty good motivation. I thought well, yeah, they’re probably right. They’re not stupid. And now when I heard it, once we finished it with Ronnie, I was very happy with it and thought here’s a nice gesture to everybody. But now once I’ve heard it in context of the rest of the album, it actually sounds pretty natural. So I was pleasantly surprised, actually.

ANTIHERO: And it makes, as you said, that link between the old Vandenberg and new Vandenberg.

Adrian Vandenberg: Yeah. Yeah. So that’s… that turned out to be a nice thing, so yeah. I thought, fuck it, we’re going to put it on just enjoy it.

ANTIHERO: I note there’s a couple of guest musicians on the album as well. You’ve got your old buddy, Rudy Sarzo on there.

Adrian Vandenberg: Yeah. And Brian Tichy. Yeah, they’re both friends of mine and Rudy, especially Rudy and I have been friends even, the very first Vandenberg days, before Quiet Riot. Quiet Riot supported Vandenberg on a couple of shows in California when we started headlining and Rudy and I became instant friends and we’re still very often in touch.

Initially when… I only got the final alignment together for this Vandenberg two weeks before we got into the studio. So just to make sure I asked Rudy and Brian if they were willing to play the album and they said oh yeah, great, fantastic. So when I unexpectedly found Koen and Randy, I got in touch with Brian and Rudy and asked them if it was okay for them just to be special guests and play two tracks. And they said oh great, fantastic. We know what it’s like to be in a band if you can’t play on the album, because that’s how it goes sometimes.

The band changes the line-up when an album is already recorded. And in my 13 years with Whitesnake, I was quite… I know what it feels like. So yeah, it turned out pretty nice and it’s great to hear that Koen and Randy are at the same level as Rudy and Brian because, you can’t really hear the difference. It’s really cool.

ANTIHERO: Is that actually the first music that you’ve created with Rudy since those Manic Eden days?

Adrian Vandenberg: As you correctly state. I formed a band in 1994 with Rudy and Tommy Aldridge and Ron Young of  Little Caesar. We recorded the Manic Eden album.

It was meant as a band, but then the whole thing changed around again when David wanted to start up Whitesnake again, even though he was planning to do a lot of stuff with Jimmy Page at the time. But suddenly   for some reason they stopped, they didn’t do any more shows. And so it was a really tough decision from me, because I really enjoyed working with Tommy and Rudy and Ron Young and the Manic Eden album was one of my favourites I’ve ever done.

But I thought well, you know, if I’m not going to go and play with Whitesnake then I would have been in Whitesnake for a bunch of years and I would never have played on an album. So that was a very important reason for me to start working with David again and to let Manic Eden reluctantly go. But you never know, somewhere in the future, you never know if we decide to record an album and just for fun, because I thought it was a great album. I still play it. It’s a very cool blues-rock album. It was just released in the middle of the grunge period, so it wasn’t that hip, but I sometimes listen to it and think well, it’s still pretty relevant these days, because it’s very honest. It’s just guitar, drums and bass and blues rock type of stuff with Ron Young’s amazing vocals. So yeah, it’s very cool.

ANTIHERO: Obviously touring plans are on hold for the foreseeable future, but I just wonder what sort of touring schedule had you planned for Vandenberg to mark the new album release and the new line-up?

Adrian Vandenberg: Well, originally we were going to do the first release show in the legendary Paradiso, Amsterdam, venue. And that was going to be the end of May and then we were going to embark on a European tour, but now we’re looking at the end of the year, hopefully, because yeah, nobody knows when masses of people can get back together again. Nobody knows. So we’ll have to see. But we can’t wait, because as you can tell, this whole album is tailored for a live performance because there’s no bullshit on it. It’s like a rock band going to Zurich.

ANTIHERO: Obviously as we said, the touring schedule has put Vandenberg’s plans on hold for the moment. I also note that your social media have all been hacked as well recently …It’s been a pretty difficult time for you all round.

Adrian Vandenberg: Yeah, my friends… My very first so-called friends Facebook page is back again, but it was a very professional hack and somebody suggested maybe it’s the old Vandenberg members that are pissed off. I don’t know, but it’s pretty weird because it’s, as everybody knows, Facebook is not the fastest in reacting to problems. And my record company is in touch with Facebook and they’re trying to get it solved. I’m glad I got Instagram back and my first friend’s page, but still the other ones are still being hijacked. So it’s pretty shitty, because especially right now-  I have this brand new album to promote.

And everybody’s on the internet all day, because everybody’s bored shitless at home, so.theres that opportunity to get the word out to as many people as possible.

ANTIHERO: Just a couple then to finish. Obviously, you are known for your work over the years in the hard rock and blues music genres. I just wondered if you would ever consider doing an album, maybe in a different musical style, something that you maybe listen to at home and would surprise people that you actually listened to?

Adrian Vandenberg: Yeah. What I did to my own surprise is, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the acoustic MoonKings album that we did. I wrote a very short little instrumental acoustic. A two minute one, that lasted about two minutes or something or one and a half minutes, and I kind of liked to do it. So I would not be surprised if I would do something like that at one point or maybe do like a blues, like a more purist blues album. You know, I get so many ideas. Sometimes I drive myself crazy with all these ideas that tumble around my head. But I do really enjoy what we’re doing right now with Vandenberg, because it’s a new energy boost to me to be able to play the loud, in your face hard rock that I’ve always played and want to play.

So, yeah, I don’t know. Never say never, like James Bond says, but I’m kind of curious where it all leads me, because I’m not very great at making plans for far in the future and stuff. I’m very much a “live today” kind of person. And I just basically am a lucky bastard that I can pretty much make my living with my passions. That’s really, really special to me and I’m enjoying the hell out of it. This new album really kicks my ass. I still play it two times a day, at least, because I enjoy it so much.

ANTIHERO: That’s good.

Adrian Vandenberg: So that’s quite a good sign for me.

ANTIHERO: Just a final one. You’ve worked with many musical greats and legends, but who would have personally taught you the most? Would it be somebody like David Coverdale in a business sense or maybe a fellow player like Steve Vai?

Adrian Vandenberg: Yeah, there’s a whole bunch of them, actually. Rudy and Tommy, I was a fan of them already before we ended up in a band together. And the same goes, of course, with David. When David joined Deep Purple, I became an even more Deep Purple fan than I already was, because I really enjoyed the soulful stuff that he and Glenn Hughes did together. And also, I worked for a short while with John Waite, which is another favourite singer of mine, but my ultimate favourite singer has been ever since I was 14 or something, has always been Paul Rodgers. So one of the highlights in my life is when I got the invitation to play solo on a Fire And Water rerecording that Jason Bonham drummed on. I can’t remember who the bass player was. I think it was the bass player of the band, Bonham, that Jason had at the time.

And Paul Rodgers sent me a letter a couple of weeks later saying how happy he was with my playing. And that really is probably, yeah, it’s definitely one of the highlights in my life, in my career. And the same goes for, yeah, for working with David, for instance. It’s really so realistic when, like the first couple of times when we started to get together and rehearse and work on new songs to hear that voice right next to you, that sounds like his voice does on every record that I already played for years before I joined Whitesnake. So it was definitely like a huge, important thing.

And Steve Vai was of course a big challenge because he’s an amazing player and we are very different. So at one point I felt very stimulated to dig even deeper than I already did. On the other hand, afterward, I realised that sometimes I got a little bit too much challenge to play more fast stuff than I would normally do, because I’m a huge fan of guys like for instance, Brian May, Jeff Beck, you name them. Michael Schenker, like all the melodic players, those are mainly the ones that inspire me always. And so I remember in the tour, I got carried away a little bit by doing more fast stuff than I would normally choose to do, but I always realise that your whole life is basically like a learning process and the things that you liked to do, you remember them and the things where you don’t really feel that you should do, you kind of leave it for what it is?

So Steve and I are still in touch and we are in regular email contact or phone contact or whatever. And we always look back on a great period of doing the world tour with the 1990 line-up. Yeah, I should feel really fortunate that I’ve been, as a little Dutch guy being involved with all those world-class musicians. I feel very privileged, because I don’t consider it normal. It’s not like a “for granted” kind of thing.

ANTIHERO: That’s great. I understand you have another interview at half past, so I’m just a little bit over my time. Thank you very much for chatting.

Adrian Vandenberg: It’s okay. Thanks, Mark. And I hope to see you whenever we hit the UK, which we definitely will, so… Just make sure to let us know you’re there and then we can hopefully have a pint.

ANTIHERO: That’d be great. Thank you very much for chatting to me again. Have a good day.

Adrian Vandenberg: Thanks, Mark. Take care, man.

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Mark Dean

I'm a 40+ music fan. Fond mostly of rock and metal - my staple musical food delights. Originally from Northern Ireland, I am now based in the UK-Manchester. I have a hectic musical existence with regular shows and interviews. Been writing freelance for five years now with several international websites. Passionate about what I do, I have been fortunate already to interview many of my all-time musical heroes. My music passion was first created by seeing Status Quo at the tender age of 15. While I still am passionate about my rock and metal, I have found that with age my taste has diversified so that now I am actually dipping into different musical genres and styles for the first time.

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