“And I’m just as motivated as I was when I started to play guitar, you know? For me it’s my life, so my playing moves along with my life and I hope it shows on what I do.”
Guitarist Adrian Vandenberg has one of the most interesting careers in Hard Rock. He made a name for himself in his Native Netherlands in the 80s with his band Vandenberg and then joined vocalist David Coverdale in Whitesnake at the height of their popularity, becoming one of the highest-regarded guitar players of his generation. After a decade or so in Whitesnake, he left the music business to focus on his other passion which is painting, and came back a few years ago with a new band, Vandenberg’s MoonKings, which had two very recommendable albums.
But now Adrian has decided to get the Vandenberg back together and he has gathered a new group of musicians, including Rainbow vocalist Ronnie Romero, to make the group’s first new album in decades, aptly titled 2020. A marked celebration of the man’s influences and career throughout the years, I had the opportunity to interview him and we discussed many different topics, including his writing process, how he understands music and his surprising appreciation of the nation of Austria.
A gentleman of the genre and a funny guy at that. I hope you enjoy it!
Thank you for being here, Adrian. First and foremost, how are things going with you and your loved ones during this pandemic?
Well, everything’s been pretty good, actually. My life is not that much different than what it normally is or was, because usually, when I’m not touring or in the studio, I’m working at home, either on my paintings or in my music or making pizza or something (laughs). So it’s not that big of a difference. I still see my friends and most of them actually live outside of my hometown.
So yeah, I follow the news every morning and every afternoon and stuff, so it is a different world, especially in countries like the United States. I have a lot of friends over there and I’m a little concerned about them. I hope everything is going to be fine, but, you know, with the president that they have right now is not going to be easy.
How much did this affect your efforts to promote the new Vandenberg album, 2020, this year?
Well, initially, when the whole Corona thing came out, my first reflex was like everybody else’s, apparently: to postpone the release of the album. But when my manager, record company and I talked about it, we realized that everybody and their grandma was gonna postpone the release of their album, so we might as well not postpone it and just put it out, you know? Because people are gonna need music, especially now that they are forced to be at home more often, so we thought it was a good idea to put out the album and it gave me a good opportunity to do tons of interviews. Almost one hundred interviews in the past three months, so… quite a lot (laughs). But I like it, you know? I like talking about music and the music we recorded on 2020, so, yeah.
Starting from the beginning: What prompted you to get the Vandenberg band back together, instead of making this album with MoonKings?
With MoonKings, I had a fantastic time. The problem for me was that my good friend, singer Jan Hoving, fantastic singer, has a very big agricultural company. Like a very big modern farm, so to speak. So he could not stay away from the farm for more than two days, so we could not really do international tours and I really missed that. We only did one tour in France two years ago and that was it, so that was a very important reason for me to start something else and put MoonKings on ice, so to speak.
Another thing was, which was not as important but still, that I noticed that with the second MoonKings album I had a tendency to go a little heavier than I did in the first album and you can tell by songs like The Fire or Tightrope that I was slow but surely moving into a heavier direction.
So, those were the factors that prompted me to put a new Vandenberg together.
Did you consider the original Vandenberg guys to work with you in this album?
No, I did not consider working with any of the original Vandenberg guys and the reason for that was that a couple of years ago the former bassist and singer from the early 80s filed a lawsuit against me because they wanted to claim my name and they wanted to stop from not just using the Vandenberg name, but also my private name, Adrian Vandenberg. They did not want me to use it anymore because they thought they were owners of my name and that is totally stupid (laughs). As you can imagine. Because it’s my name and the same goes for the band.
But I was also the one that put the name, I put the band together, wrote all the songs, I did the interviews, announced the songs live because the singer didn’t know what he was talking about, as you can imagine. These were six lawsuits. Six court cases and they obviously lost them all. How surprising! But needless to say, the atmosphere between those guys and me has been sour because of all that, so I didn’t even think for a nanosecond to work with those guys ever again.
How do you think you have changed as a guitar player since the first three Vandenberg albums?
I think I have changed a little bit. I’m sure you can still hear my style but your life goes on and you go through different emotional experiences. And for me, the people that have known me throughout my career know that I play by my heart. I play by feel and I’m not very much a player who is there to impress people. I’m more of a player who tries to touch people’s emotions, as you can tell by my trademark solos. Well, people call them trademark solos (laughs). But the solos in (Vandenberg’s) Burning Heart and (Whitesnake’s) Here I Go Again, my famous ones.
I’m more of a guy who is after a melodic solo with some ups and downs, with the right notes and right moments. So, I think over the years I have condensed more than I used to, or at least I hope so (laughs). And I’m just as motivated as I was when I started to play guitar, you know? For me it’s my life, so my playing moves along with my life and I hope it shows on what I do.
How did this band influenced your songwriting for 2020?
This band definitely influenced my songwriting because when I thought about putting this band under the Vandenberg together, this is a direction that I wanted and I had in mind. When I found out that Ronnie Romero, an incredible singer, was willing to be part of it, that influenced my songwriting too, of course, because as you know, as everybody knows, Ronnie doesn’t really have any limitations, so he was absolutely my first choice and fortunately he wanted to be involved.
Then I started writing and I started writing with his voice in mind because, for me, it’s important to get the best out of the vocals and I don’t put the guitars in the first place–I put the songs and the vocals on the first place and then guitar, the drum and the bass because it needs to fit together.
One thing that I really liked about your new album is the guitar tone. Which equipment did you use to make it sound like that?
Basically, as I have always done, I use my main Les Paul and it’s all I use in this album, apart from one tiny little part in the first chorus of Let It Rain, which is done in one of my Stratocasters, and all the rest is played in my main 1980 Les Paul, that I bought brand new that year. As equipment, I used my trusted Marshalls Flexi in combination with a Wagner, so I’m very happy with the tone. I still think it’s my tone, but like my playing, it developed over the years and I’m very happy because it’s in your face, it’s very direct and there’s nothing in-between. I didn’t use any effect pedals.
You show a lot of your influences in this album. There are guitar parts that remind me to Rainbow, Deep Purple, Van Halen and even your Whitesnake stuff. Was that by design or it was a natural thing?
I’m very proud of all my influences. As you mentioned, like Rainbow, Deep Purple, Van Halen… a big influence in all my life since I started was the band Free with Paul Kossoff and Paul Rodgers. Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Rainbow, Deep Purple, Van Halen, AC/DC… all those stuff.
It wasn’t particularly by design. It just happens that I pick up a guitar and it’s what I do, you know? In the early Vandenberg albums I still had the same influences, but like my playing and my writing it condenses over the years and it kind has a different balance every time I record a new album, I suppose.
Is Vandenberg here to stay? Are you working on new material?
Yes, Vandenberg is here to stay, as far as I’m concerned. And actually, I started writing on new material already. Because we come with the summer, as everybody knows, so that’ll give me some extra time to work on new material and I’m really inspired by this album and how it turned out.
The drummer we have is Koen Herfst (Epica, Doro and Toto) and he’s been dubbed the best Rock drummer in the Netherlands the last seven years. He’s amazing, a great guy. Incredible drummer. The producer, Bob Marlette, is very impressed by him, just like he was impressed by our bass player, Randy (van der Elsen). Randy is the youngest guy, but his favorite bands are Rainbow, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, all this stuff that I love too, so I think that’s why the band sounds like we’ve been together for a long time. We only had been together a few weeks before we recorded this album.
You painted the covers for the first three Vandenberg albums. Why you didn’t paint this one?
Yes, on the first three Vandenberg albums I made the covers. For this one I did it too, but I decided to just use the logo because it’s very recognizable to everybody. I’m expecting to paint a cover for the next album, but for this one I thought it was important to do it like this because times have changed a lot since early Vandenberg and when I painted those very detailed paintings for the early albums, it was albums, cassettes and vinyl. But these days it seems most people listen to their music on their iPhones, on Spotify and desktops and stuff and the cover is always very tiny on those platforms, so I thought it would be a lot more recognizable that Vandenberg is back by using the logo.
But like I said, for the next album I’m gonna try to find the time to make a classic painting again.
What can you tell us about the experience of recording the vocals with Ronnie Romero?
Recording the vocals with Ronnie was really, really great. I mean, I’m so happy to be working with Ronnie and he’s also not only a great singer, but also a great guy and we made an instant connection. We have a similar sense of humor, which I think is very important because you end up spending a lot of time together and I think a sense of humor is very important.
Great guy, fantastic singer and I’m very, very happy.
As a songwriter, how a vocalist impacts the way you write music?
It really does impact. In early Vandenberg I really worked with the original singer, Bert Heerink, on his vocals because he was not very experienced and never original songs before because he was playing in cover bands, you know? So I really pushed him, just like I did with the MoonKings singer, Jan Hoving, because he was also not very experienced with original material and Jan has a fantastic voice and when I started with him I knew there was a lot of potential with his vocals, so I pushed him hard.
With Ronnie, I didn’t really have to push him because he’s just a natural singer, influenced by my favorite singers, so it was very natural. I tried to explain the songs to him, we went over them a couple of times and that’s it. But I really wrote the material to his voice to get the best out of his vocals and his voice because, like I said before, for me, the most important things are the songs and the vocals.
You have played as the only guitar player in bands and with another one. How do you feel more comfortable?
In all my bands, apart from Whitesnake, I played as the sole guitar and I like that because it’s a lot easier to make the music breathe instead of every little hole being filled up with guitars and keyboards and all that stuff.
I like the nakedness of a lineup like this. I suppose because my favorite bands, Free, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Cream and all had just one guitar player. But I also had favorite bands like The Allman Brothers Band and Thin Lizzy with the two guitar players, so it was an interesting thing for me to work with great players like Vivian Campbell, Steve Vai and Warren DeMartini and it was a lot of fun. And I’m still friends with Steve Vai. For instance, we’re regularly in touch and we became good friends when we started touring (with Whitesnake).
What goals do you have in your career right now?
They are the same as ever: I want to play as much as possible, I want to write the music that’s in my head and in my heart and I want to enjoy it and share it with fans of this kind of music, which really motivates me to start touring as soon as we can and we’re setting up a very extensive European tour for the beginning of the next year and I’m really looking forward to that.
It looks like we’re playing where you guys are based in (Austria), which makes me very happy because, if I remember well, we only played there once, with Whitesnake and that was it. And I remember it was those kind of strange festivals because, right before us, The Kelly Family was playing and I thought “What the hell are these little trolls doing in a Rock festival?”, but that’s the way it goes, I suppose.
Thank you for taking the time to do this, Adrian. It was a pleasure. Any last words for our readers? Where can we follow you on social media and buy 2020?
It was my pleasure to talk with you, guys. I really hope to meet you and the people of Austria. I love Austria, I went skiing there a lot of times over the last twenty years and I’m definitely going to come back, hopefully this winter time, although skiing is a little risky when you’re touring and stuff because there are a lot of idiots on the slopes that can’t ski and it can cause accidents and I don’t want to a cancel a tour, you know? (laughs)
And people can follow me on my social media on Facebook, I have two pages there (this one and this one), and I’m on Instagram too and we have a Vandenberg page as well. We also have our website. In my Instagram I like to post a lot of fun stuff, plus the musical stuff, the announcing of touring, etc. Also, I try to keep an eye on it and answer as many questions as I can because I love being in touch with the fans of this kind of music and the fans of Vandenberg.
Thanks for the interview and I hope to see you in Austria in the next tour. Take care!