Vandenberg - Summer 2020
Adrian Vandenberg is one of the most gifted and captivating guitarists to emerge during the 80s hair metal heyday. Whilst perhaps best known for his tenure in Whitesnake, it was with the band that bore his surname that he would grab the world’s attention. Vandenberg released 3 albums in the early 80s: 1982’s self-titled debut, 1983’s Heading For A Storm and 1985’s Alibi before finally agreeing to join David Coverdale’s band. After an 11 year hiatus from the industry, Adrian returned with Vandenberg’s MoonKings in 2014 with whom he has released 2 albums to date: the band’s eponymous debut and 2017’s MKII. However, this year sees Adrian return to Vandenberg, releasing the stunning and appropriately titled album 2020. We catch up with Adrian at his home in East Holland to hear how it all came about. Only 5 kilometres from the German border, this is where Adrian has lived since he was 14 save for the 13 years he was in Whitesnake. It’s a place he cherishes for the strong roots it’s given him in the form of many friends and family – including his 94 year old mum – and it’s wonderful to hear all are safe and well during the Covid 19 pandemic. And he is in fine spirits too! That’s no surprise given the already huge success of Vandenberg 2020. We make ourselves comfortable and our conversation begins…
You’ve returned to Vandenberg after last recording with the band in the mid-80s, though you have of course been incredibly active as an artist with Whitesnake of course and in recent years with Vandenberg’s MoonKings. After so many years why is now the right time to bring back Vandenberg and does it feel like a fresh start?
It certainly feels like a fresh start. What happened was I initially wasn’t too keen on using that name, or at least that was my knee-jerk reaction when my management and record company suggested it, when I explained to them that I wanted to start something else besides MoonKings because with MoonKings we were pretty much limited to Holland. Singer Jan (Hoving) has got a huge farming company here in the middle of Holland and he couldn’t really be away from that for more than 1 or 2 days. We did a one-off show in London of course but I want to go back and I want to keep touring. I came to the conclusion that it would be better to start something else with which I could tour because I love touring. So when I explained that to my record company and my management they said "Well, why don’t you use the name Vandenberg instead of coming up with yet another name?" like I’d done a couple of times before. I explained to them that I didn’t want it to be like a nostalgia kind of thing but they asked me to think about it. I thought about it for a couple of days and thought well, if I can find an amazing singer and put together a kick-ass lineup it would be like a hard-hitting, new band that has a heritage. That was quite an interesting prospect to me especially because I already knew what kind of music I wanted to play. I really wanted to move the turbo switch on my music more than I did in MoonKings. When I started MoonKings I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I thought a lot of people might think, and rightfully so, this is Vandenberg – a guy who is probably going to make another album and disappear for another 10 years or something. That wasn’t the plan. With Moonkings I really wanted to make more understated blues-rock based rock although live we are pretty much as heavy as Vandenberg 2020. There was a bit of a difference between the records and the live shows. When I thought about the prospect after a couple of days I thought it would be nice bridge using Burning Heart to build a bridge between Vandenberg 2020 and Vandenberg 1982. Although initially I didn’t want to put Burning Heart on the record. That was another discussion with management and the record company because Burning Heart was actually meant to accompany the press release that announced Ronnie and I working together in Vandenberg, the new record coming up and other stuff. But management said "Well, everybody and his grandma puts out press releases these days so there will be a stronger message if there’s music with it". Since we hadn’t been in the studio yet we had no music but I suddenly remembered that with the bass player and drummer of MoonKings we recorded the basic tracks for Burning Heart because in Japan they always prefer to have a bonus record on the album so their release would be a little different to the rest of the world. And that’s why we recorded Burning Heart. When I remembered that, I told my manager and said let’s finish that, I can fly to Madrid and record Ronnie’s vocals on it and we will have music to accompany the press release. So we did. When the whole record was finished everyone suggested we put Burning Heart on the record because it sounds great. I thought that for the aforementioned reasons that I didn’t want it to be too nostalgic or whatever but I realised it would be a great bridge between Vandeberg 2020 and Vandenberg 1982. I listened to the track between the other tracks and it didn’t sound dusty or outdated at all. So the combination of those 2 things made it a more logical step than I initially thought.
Let’s pick up on Burning Heart because as you said, you did record a new version which does have a modern, fresh quality, and I understand the strategy to include the release of new music as part of the press release but why Burning Heart specifically, especially when it was already an incredibly strong track?
Purely practical because I knew we couldn’t go into the studio yet at that time because we weren’t ready and Ronnie was living in Madrid. It was basically a quick decision because as soon as my manager suggested to put music with it I remember that I already did have a bass and drum recording and most of the guitar so all I had to do was fly to Madrid and record Ronnie, and then we would have like a little bit of a calling card: "Guys, this is the new line up for Vandenberg and this is how it sounds", even though it’s a classic track. It was purely a practical decision so that we could move fast because they wanted to put out the press release the week after that. It was just a short period of time to set up the studio session, fly Ronnie in and do all that stuff. Without the intention of putting it on the record, as far as I was concerned, at least.
Well Vandenberg are back and what a massive impact you’ve made with your incredible new album 2020. A record that deliver passion, energy, and hook after hook right from the opening track Shadows of The Night and throughout its 10 tracks. Unsurprisingly it has the classic Vandenberg DNA and it’s a record that sits beautifully next to the band’s first 3 albums. What was your vision for this record?
First of all, like you’ve already noticed, the DNA is connected to the first 3 Vandenberg albums. If I would’ve had the experience at the time to make those records sound like this one does…. I remember back then all the bands that I’ve always loved and been inspired by starting out, trying to copy Deep Purple In Rock and later on Rainbow and Led Zeppelin and all those bands, I still wear my influences proudly on my sleeve so to speak. I just thought how great it would be to pick up the thread of the hottest songs of the early Vandenberg, songs like This Is War and Waiting For The Night kind of stuff, and bring it to 2020 with an amazing singer and a kick-ass bass player and drummer. I still feel like a boy fan of this kind of music and I’m at least as excited to be able to play and have the opportunity to play it because a lot of musicians don’t seem to realise that it’s the audience that allows you to play. It’s not like ‘look at me, I’m going to do this and you’re going to like it’. There is no guarantees and my thoughts about doing this have always been that I want to try and make a record that I would love to buy right now, and in this guise the kind of record that I miss in today’s picture. A lot of rock bands are making or trying to make so-called nu metal and there’s a lot of metal bands around and a lot of them to me sound very similar. Coming from the generation that I am, I love to pay tribute to this kind of music with my own music basically. That’s probably what it’s about. I’ve rarely recorded an album that I’ve played so much for my own entertainment like this one even though by the time the album was mixed I must have heard the songs about 1,000 times! At first you write them, then you demo them and then you record them again with the band and then you mix them… so I’ve heard the songs so many times and it surprises me still up to this day that every day I have a tendency to put on Shadows Of The Night or Hell Or High Water or one those tracks. It’s just something that I’m really, really passionate about and I’m still at least as excited about as when I first started out playing.
The title 2020 very much seems like a statement of intent, perhaps a clear message that this isn’t about nostalgia but a strong sense of a band looking to the future. Would that be a fair thing to say?
Oh yeah! Absolutely! I can’t wait to take this band on the road because normally like a lot of other bands we would have been touring right now. We had a European tour planned including of course the UK and like everyone else we had to postpone it. In the beginning, when this whole pandemic started coming up, your first reflexes are ‘we’re going to have to postpone the record’. When I discussed this with the record company and management we very quickly agreed let’s not do that – let’s go the other way. Everyone else is going to postpone the record so let’s give the fans some music to get through this period. Even though we had no idea about when we could start touring, initially we held onto the dates that were there. But finally we have a bunch of UK gigs because it was so frustrating in the past that since Whitesnake I haven’t been able to play in the UK. That’s where all my musical roots lie, whether it’s Deep Purple, Rainbow, Led Zeppelin, Free, Bad Company – it’s all British stuff for me! And even earlier, stuff like The Kinks and The Small Faces, early Rod Stewart and the Jeff Beck Group – that’s all my musical DNA so to speak. Without all that stuff I’d probably be playing Polish Polka or something! So I’m really excited about the prospect of finally catching up with that although I’m not quite sure whether it’s going to be possible in November or December. I’m just hoping, like everybody else, otherwise I’m going to postpone the whole thing until early next year and connect it to a planned European tour. As you can tell by the record, that’s one thing when I discussed the idea of the record with Bob Marlette – the first time in years that I’ve worked with a producer – we were exactly on the right track. I pictured this record in my head like you’ve walked into like a great rehearsal of the band in a rehearsal room and you stand right in front of the stage and all 4 members are buzzing away, it’s loud and clear and crisp in your face, and I wanted it to sound organic, not over-produced like a lot of 80s records where you have layers and layers of keyboards and backing vocals and all that stuff. When I’m working on songs and have to make decisions, I very often scratch myself behind the ear and go ‘what would Jimmy Page do?’ or ‘what would Ritchie Blackmore do?’ or any of my heroes. How would they approach a certain situation? Whether it’s accepting a show somewhere in a place where you go ‘Hmmm, should I really be playing there?’, sometimes you get pretty weird festivals offered with a very strange line up and you’re the only rock band. Even though the money is interesting I always bow out because I think this kind of music belongs in its natural habitat. So I very often weigh my decisions against what I would’ve thought my heroes would’ve done, and in that respect I’m still a fan boy too.
Let’s talk about the new line up because there is something really special here. You have recruited Ronnie Romero who is an absolutely stunning vocalist. There are few people who come close to matching his incredible versatility, tone and power. He’s also a very gifted songwriter. What does it mean to have Ronnie in the band?
Well I’m really, really excited about it! What happened was about 5 or 6 years ago I read that Ritchie Blackmore announced that he was going to do a bunch of Rainbow shows after having been a mediaeval minstrel for so many years, and of course he is one of my heroes. I thought ‘Oh well, this is going to be great! But who the hell is going to sing?’ because as we know the amazing Ronnie James Dio passed away and if you want to perform that kind of quality rock you’d better come up with an amazing singer. So I was curious and I looked on YouTube and saw Ronnie blowing me away! I thought where the hell has this guy come from! He was amazing. I sent him a very spontaneous email saying congratulations on the job, man, you sound great and I wish you the best of luck in this business. That’s the spontaneous guy that I am. I immediately got an email back saying he was a fan of my work, that he was so happy to hear from me and hopefully we would be able to shake hands somewhere on the road. Well when I was thinking about putting this together and especially when I was considering using the name Vandenberg again, the first guy I thought about was Ronnie. I knew that Ritchie Blackmore only wanted to do a handful of shows a year so I thought that hopefully Ronnie would have some time. So I got in touch with him right away he said yes. I flew to Madrid and we discussed the whole thing although he is quite busy here and there with session work and his work with Michael Schenker. He told me at the first meeting he would love to be part of a band with original material. The funny thing is that we are both members of the Deep Purple family tree, his through the Rainbow connection and mine through my Whitesnake connection so that made it even more special. So I flew back to Holland and I wrote music tailored to his vocals because that’s what I always like to do. It needs to be a great fit and since the kind of music that I’ve always played I still love playing, the kind of songs that I write would fit Ronnie like a glove. It’s just really exciting and as soon as I recorded some demos in Madrid on my iPad with Ronnie singing I was incredibly excited again because it did fit like I was hoping. A couple of months later we were in a studio in Los Angeles recording with Bob Marlette and it fell together in such an organic natural way. We recorded it in 2 1/2 weeks and that was it! Also the same with Randy and Koen, the bass player and the drummer, they are amazing musicians and I didn’t even know them. That was also the reason why I asked Rudy Sarzo and Brian Tichy initially because I wasn’t sure I was going to have the line up together before we went to the studio. When I stumbled on to the amazing drummer Koen and bass player Randy, I got in touch with Rudy and Brian and they totally agreed that it would be fine to play a couple of tracks as guests but Koen and Randy played about 80% of the album.
It was really interesting to hear your approach to the songwriting for 2020 and how you tailored this this to Ronnie’s vocals and also your use of technology. How has your approach to creating music changed since the early 80s? Does technology play a bigger part.
First of all, I realised after my hiatus of 11 years before I started MoonKings, I was really curious how I would approach writing rock songs again which I hadn’t done in quite a long time. I realised it was even more intuitive than before because I had no limitations, I didn’t need to stay to any particular path after the initial success of the first Vandenberg album. You can get some pressure from record companies and management but I never really listen to it that much. I learnt from all that stuff to stay true to yourself. Whitesnake was of course a very famous, successful band worldwide when I joined so once again I had to continue an already paved path. Even though I still wrote the music, David and I, for the Slip Of The Tongue album, I still wrote the music for my intuition and my feelings and stuff. At the same time in the back of your mind there is a voice that goes ‘Well, it has to stay Whitesnake because it is Whitesnake’. In a way it kind of set a territory for the way the music has to fall into. With Vandenberg 2020 I just went berserk with Ronnie‘s voice and I started picking up my guitar jamming with myself, playing pretty loud in the house and getting excited. Talking about the technique, it gives you so much freedom to be able to work on an iPad on a train, in an aeroplane or in an airport or wherever. So I really got accustomed to that. Also because it does have certain limitations you don’t really want to go too berserk so far as adding stuff and adding more stuff. I’m pretty confined to the meat and potatoes so to speak of what the song is supposed to be about. What I really like about being able to make those kind of demos is that I go pretty far in programming drums for instance and playing a bass into it and the guitar and stuff and later on the vocals. I got pretty far because I don’t want to fool myself which I used to do in the early Vandenberg days or even before that by thinking ‘Oh you know, this could be a great song once it’s mixed’ only to find out soon enough it has to be the song. If you listen to classic records, whether it’s the Stones or early Faces, the recording quality wasn’t that fantastic. It was the performance of the band, the intensity and the passion with which they played and that’s what grabs you. That’s why people still love, I think, early Zeppelin records, Stones records, early AC/DC or Van Halen. It wasn’t overly polished. If you closed your eyes you could see the bands play and that for me is a really important thing – that it sounds natural and that the band is the band. There’s no 30 people backing it up with all kinds of stuff and polishing it and polishing it until it shines like a motherfucker. That’s not what rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be about. In that respect I’m really happy with the freedom of being able to work on an iPad, working everywhere which you couldn’t do in the early days. If you’re working on an acoustic guitar somewhere you don’t get the same kind of kick as when you can playing with a distorted guitar sound.
The album was produced by Bob Marlette who’s worked with Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie. How was it working with Bob and tell us a little more about how he shaped the 2020 sound?
It was an amazingly smooth and organic way. Both Bob and I talked about it quite a lot and we agreed even 3 days into the recording that we are going to do the next album too. The thing that Bob really enjoyed was this wasn’t like a young band that didn’t really have an idea where to go. Obviously I do so the first time when we talked on the phone Bob asked me how I pictured this album and how I thought it should sound. I explained to him that I wanted it to be really organic and that if you closed your eyes you could see the band play, where you would walk into a rehearsal room, stand right in front of the stage and everything is loud, crisp, clear and tight. And he said that’s exactly what he pictured. There was no real pre-production. I sent the complete demos to Bob and he said it was great and that he wouldn’t change anything. In the studio we basically registered the performances of the band members and kept them on a main path so to speak. Sometimes you think ‘Oh, should we do this here or drop a couple of words in the vocals or add a couple of words’, so that’s usually where he puts in his 2 cents and it just worked fantastically. Also, in the mixing, this was the first time in as long as I can remember that I haven’t been present with the mix because I had to go home and finish a couple of guitar parts in my home studio, and because there was some time pressure Bob started the mixing as soon as I got my ass back to Holland. We sent the mixes back and forth a couple of times but he basically had it right at the very first moment because the sound was already shaping up when we were recording. Bob topped and tailed it to make it sound like it does on the record. He’s got a great drum sound in his little studio and his son is a great drummer. The drum kit was actually set up in Bob’s kitchen with a couple of microphones around it and just gets this really, really cool drum sound. It was a great and very smooth way of working. Actually, Bob suggested that maybe next time we can make a record in Holland because he told me to my surprise that he actually lived in Holland for a couple of years when he was a kid because his dad worked here in a city called Dallas which is one of the most authentic medieval, 1800s style cities in Holland, very well preserved. So Bob lived there for maybe 2 or 3 years and he has great memories of Holland and stuff.
That’s really interesting because you just said ‘next time recording in Holland…’ So you already have plans for new music?
Oh yeah! I’m planning to start writing pretty soon. Normally we would’ve been touring and I can do some writing on the road which I’ve done before but I’ll start writing over here and we’ll be in shape as soon as we need to be in shape.
All being well, you will be touring the UK in December playing 4 headline shows and of course the wonderful Winterstorm and Planet Rockstock Festival. After months in lockdown how much are you looking forward to getting out there and performing, and also what can fans expect of a Vandenberg that show in 2020?
Well, you’ve probably seen images of cows been let out in the meadow in springtime after being inside for the winter. That’s pretty much it - I think we are going to storm out of the barn! I’m just really curious and really excited at how we’re going to do this together because these are such great musicians and so inspiring to play with that for me it’s another fresh thing over again. It’s going to be as exciting for me as when I first joined Whitesnake and playing with the likes of Coverdale, Tommy Aldridge and Rudy Sarzo - that kind of feeling when you’re playing with musicians that you really admire and can’t wait to jam together with. I’m really excited, and the way it looks now it may very well be that the UK will be the first shows that we do. There could be a possibility that we may do 1 or 2 shows in Holland, I’m not sure, but whatever it’s going to be such a blast. I can’t wait because as you can tell all the songs are basically songs that you can hear live. They’re not like studio constructed complicated things. It’s like a rock band in your face firing on all 6 cylinders basically.
So this year hopefully sees the band dipping their toe in the water where live dates are concerned and understandably there have been, and continue to be, massive restrictions in terms of being able to play live. What touring plans are in place for 2021 to ensure that the 2020 album fulfils its massive potential?
Well, yes that’s an interesting question because right now the European tour is planned I think starting February 2021 and I’m pretty sure I’m going to include some shows in the UK again because those 5 or 6 shows are definitely not enough for me. I want to play everywhere and there’s so many great places in the UK where I know there’s a whole bunch of fans of this kind of music stuff so I’m pretty sure that we’re going to be returning to the UK as a part of a particular tour as well. There is one thing with festivals that I’m kind of curious about how it’s going to develop because the cool thing about festivals apart from the vibe - I love playing festivals - is that you’re going to be able to reach a whole lot of people with the show and that’s so much fun because you can follow it up with more shows in the same country. The only thing that I’m a little thoughtful about is that I’ve seen a whole bunch of announcements of festivals that couldn’t happen this year announcing that they’re going to do exactly the same lineup for next year and basically that could indicate that it would be pretty hard for us to get on a good bill somewhere, even though the record is doing incredibly well and is incredibly well received. At the same time, you want to play big festivals too because they’re so much fun. So I’m curious if that’s going to work and otherwise I’ll go ‘fuck it’, make the best of it and play a bunch of smaller festivals because all you want to do is put your music to the people.
Vandenberg 2020 is available now. Find out more at www.vandenbergband.com. In the meantime check out the video below to the album’s opening track Shadows Of The Night.