INTERVJU: Wolfgang Van Halen

Wolfgang Van Halen är dataspelsnörden som mest sitter hemma. Den 11 juni släpper han sitt debutalbum och på det spelar han alla instrument själv. I vår intervju berättar han bland annat om hur han älskar Meshuggah, vilken låt han gillade att spela live med sin pappa och om hur det är att bära efternamnet namnet Van Halen.

Sure, the name does help open some doors, but I don´t think it helps to keep them open. I think it´s one thing if you get opportunities because of your name, but it´s another thing to actually stay around and last. There´s no staying power. You have to be able to back it up.

It just so happens that today (March24th) is the 35th anniversary of “5150” What are your thoughts on that album?

It´s phenomenal! I think there´s something great to be found on every Van Halen album. I´m not picky. I mean, “Dreams” is on this album and it´s one of the best songs my father ever wrote, I think. That melody is untouchable.

You weren´t born back then, but from watching live videos and interviews, it seemed to be a really happy time for your dad. He was constantly smiling.

I think they were all really stoked, especially after losing Dave and finally finding somebody they could continue on with, I think that´s where the happiness was coming from. Feeling refreshed.

I remember you mentioning early on in an interview that your dad tried to teach you how to play the guitar, but he just went straight into Eddie Van Halen genius mode. Was that frustrating, knowing what a genius he was but he had a hard time teaching you?

Not really. It´s more funny and endearing than anything. It´s the kind of thing where it´s like, you know, Einstein couldn´t tie his shoes. It´s just a funny quirk of it and fun to joke about.

Was there a time when you actually realized that he was a musical genius?

Not really. I don´t think there was ever like an epiphany type situation. It was just kind of being around it and you just kind of experience it and see it first hand.

There´s the story of your dad playing you AC/DC´s “Big balls” It´s so funny. Of all the AC/DC songs to play, he picked that one.

Oh, he also loved… his favorite thing to do was Bon Scott in that song, like “Ooouuuuh!” He loved that and was always doing it. That´s the song it happens in, so…

Are you a fan of AC/DC as well?

Oh yeah, for sure. That was our band.

I talked to Page Hamilton (Helmet) recently and he´s a musician´s musician and he mentioned there´s all these people saying it´s so easy to play AC/DC and it´s just the same old riffs over and over again, but he said it´s absolutely not true. Playing AC/DC songs is really hard.

It´s their aggressiveness. It may not seem like what they write is necessarily complicated, but I don´t think anything needs to be complicated to be enjoyable. I think it´s just the fact that they crank it up to eleven and just level the room. That´s why they´re so amazing.

You´re playing every instrument on your album. Is that you being a bit of a control freak in any way?

It was kind of just a fun thing to see if I could do it. It was almost like a challenge I set for myself to see if it was possible, because I really like how Dave Grohl started Foo Fighters. He just wanted to get into the studio and record some stuff and since he could play everything, why not. I guess that was the same mentality I had.

When you´re laying down the tracks, what do you start with? Is it drums first?

Yeah, drums first. Usually it starts out with I make like a Logic demo and then transfer it to Pro Tools and then we do drums, bass, rhythm guitar and then… well, most of the guitar and the vocals and then like guitar overdubs.

And lyrics were the hardest part apparently?

Yes, that´s what took the longest for sure.

Did you look to certain song writers when it came to writing lyrics?

It was more locking myself in a room and just trying to go for it, instead of trying to be like somebody else. I wanted to really have it come from me instead of trying to be somebody else. That was a really important thing for me to figure out my own way and to write stuff that I could be proud of.

Your dad always said he wasn´t completely happy with “Eruption” and he always said there was a mistake in there. Did he ever tell you what mistake that was?

Not in “Eruption”, but I know at the beginning of “Ain´t talkin´ ´bout love” there´s a little mistake, but other than that… it´s so part of the song that it doesn´t even seem like a mistake at that point.

What is it? Hitting the wrong note or…?

Yeah, I think… let me see… (picks up a guitar). It´s like he hit the B string twice by accident instead of hitting the E or something. If you listen to the beginning of it you can hear it.

Do you think the completely different personalities of your Dad and Dave back in the day, was a part of creating the magic of those songs and albums?

I´m sure to a certain extent. Kind of like an opposite attract type situation, but they have the same end goal in mind of making awesome music. I´m sure.

You coming out with your own album and you also have the name Mammoth… can the name Van Halen sometimes be a burden? You´re you and people have these enormous expectations of what that name means?

Oh, for sure! I think it´s a crazy shadow to be under, because you´re just gonna live behind all the people´s expectations instead of being able to stand on your own. I think that´s why I´m trying so hard to stand on my own as a musician. There are benefits and burdens to the whole thing. Sure, the name does help open some doors, but I don´t think it helps to keep them open. I think it´s one thing if you get opportunities because of your name, but it´s another thing to actually stay around and last. There´s no staying power. You have to be able to back it up.

Last time we spoke we talked a bit about Tool. Are you into bands like Gojira or Mastodon? Is that stuff you listen to?

Oh yeah, I love Gojira! And I´m crazy about Meshuggah. Periphery, I´m friends with those guys and they´re a phenomenal band.

Meshuggah´s “Bleed” is one of those songs where you can watch all these drum cam videos with Tomas Haake. Could you work that song out on drums yourself?

Oh yeah, I can play it! As a drummer, Meshuggah is just like my favorite because it´s like a math problem, as a song. As a drummer it´s really fun to figure out the polyrhythmic stuff going on in each song. It´s a treat and I love it.

Have you seen that video with their lighting guy?

(laughs) Yeah, it´s amazing! They´ve got a wonderful dude.

Your album has been in the can for so long now. In that time since it´s been done, have you been working on new stuff?

Not in the studio, but I´m certainly itching to get back into the studio and I have plenty of ideas. Some run off from the recording of the album that never got used, so it certainly won´t take this long to do the next album.

Have you been hooking up with the band in any way and played together?

Not unless we have something going on for like a Jimmy Kimmel performance or a Today Show performance. Ronnie (Ficcaro), the bass player, is the only one who lives in LA with me. Frank (Sidoris, guitar) is in Las Vegas, Jon (Jourdan, guitar) is in Texas and Garret (Whitlock, drums) is in Florida. When the time comes I´m really excited for us all to huddle together and rehearse for two months.

What´s realistic? Do you think you´ll play any gigs this year?

The way it´s looking, it´s looking like it´s very possible there might be touring this year, but granted we have to be as safe as possible. I guess we´re all just kind of waiting at the starting line and waiting to hear that starting pistol that we´re all able to safely be out there.

Going back to that time when you played your first show with Van Halen. You had been rehearsing like two shows every day. Your dad and your uncle must´ve thought so highly of you and that you would actually pull it off even though you were just 16?

They put a lot of trust in me and I think that shows you the legitimacy of it all. If they were comfortable having me involved they must´ve been very confident and I thank them for that, for giving me that opportunity. That they had the faith in me to pull it off.

You must´ve been nervous as hell at that first gig?

Definitely, but at a certain point there´s just so many people that you just kind of shut the world off and focus on playing.

Is that really it?

Yeah, at that point in my life, absolutely.

Did it take several shows before you felt that you really locked in on it?

I think that´s always what it is with every tour. You´re excited to just get a few in. You always want to see a tour like in the last third or last fourth. It´s second nature.

Was there any song that was more difficult to play than others?

Not really. It was more what was more fun to play. Dad and I had a lot of fun playing “China town” from “A different kind of truth” (2012), a really fast and aggressive song.

I think Bill Burr asked you about when you were rehearsing for the first time and if it was hard and you said it was nothing. Was it really like that?

Yeah, it´s not like it´s too difficult and that´s not a slam on the music. It´s all about the groove. It´s not a complicated… it´s not like it´s Dream Theater or anything. It´s all about the groove and how you play it.

Between those two massive Van Halen tours I always wondered what your dad was up to? Was he playing every day or down working in the studio?

I think at that point in all their lives it was nice to reap the benefits of what they had been working on their whole life and be able to relax. I think that´s just something my dad wanted, but then in the last four or five or six years of his life, there was always some health issues. Whenever he was out of the hole and everything was ok, he just wanted to live life.

He never talked about doing a solo album or something? Something that was completely different from the usual stuff he did?

Not really. He was just happy being with Al.

Do you hook up with Al on a regular basis?

We talk every day. Even just if there´s nothing to say, just to say hi. Family is important.

Are you, like your mother, a great cook as well?

I´m a terrible cook. I´m not a good cook. (laughs)

When you were young, was it ever difficult knowing that your mom and dad were these very famous people?

Not really. It was normal to me and I had nothing to compare it with, so I guess ever now and then when we were at an airport, there would be people asking dad to sign something or taking pictures. I´m sure there´s some paparazzi pictures of me just walking around with a Sonic the hedgehog doll or something like “Who the hell are you people?” (laughs)

Since you´ve been in that world all your life, I read that Corpsegrinder from Cannibal Corpse said that he at one time ended up at Cher´s house for some reason. You must´ve had those moments where you´ve met famous people? Any stories?

Not too much honestly. It´s not like… I have my own friend group at school and we would just hang out with all their parents and families. Often it was at shows that people would show up. I think one of the most amazing things was when Les Paul came to a show in New Jersey in 2007 I believe. It was amazing to meet him, such a legendary human being.

In your spare time, besides playing and stuff like that, what are you up to?

I´m a total dork. I play video games. I´m a gamer. Right now I´m playing “Skyrim” again on the new X-Box because it runs at a better frame rate.

So you´re more of a guy that stays at home?

I´m a total introvert, so it hasn´t been that big of a change in my social life. (laughs)

What would you say was the greatest musical lesson you learned from your dad?

My favorite one and it´s a bit tongue in cheek and it was something his dad taught him: “If you ever make a mistake, do it twice so that everyone thinks you meant to do it.”

Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen

Foto: Patrick Bertinelli (Wolf med Eddies gitarr)