1995 Guitar World Interview: Eddie Van Halen Regains His 'Balance'
Here's an interview with Eddie Van Halen from the February 1995 issue of Guitar World. To see the complete Eddie Van Halen cover -- and all the covers from 1995 -- click here.
Edward Van Halen welcomes me to 5150, his legendary 24-track home studio, with a handshake and a slap on the back. For a split second, I am unable to return the warm greeting, as I am dumbstruck: standing in front of me, it seems, is not Edward but his evil twin.
The guitarist’s moppish hair has been lopped off. Leaving in its place an expertly styled flattop. Van Halen’s soft-featured face, once frozen into a perpetually boyish grin, has been hardened by a newly spouted goatee. When I gathered the courage to ask what prompted this drastic makeover, Edward’s response is amiable.
“I lost a golf bet with [Buffalo Bills quarterback] Jim Kelly, and ended up having to shave my head with a fucking Norelco razor,” he explains. “I just decided to leave it short, 'cause I was sick of having long hair."
The fact is, Edward is a changed man in far more significant ways than his choice of 'do. For the most part, the guitarist has abandoned the pyrotechnic guitar antics that rocketed him to prominence 17 years ago, opting instead for a more lyrical, restrained approach to his instrument. More significantly, Edward, who will turn 40 in January, is the father of a three-and-a-half-year-old son, Wolfgang, and he takes his role as a parent extremely seriously.
Unlike many celebrities whose involvement with their children extends only to child-support payments, Edward lovingly subjects himself to the unglamorous but rewarding rigors of everyday parenting. "Wolfie wakes us up at six in the morning, saying, 'Come on, you 're mine, Daddy. I want to do this. I want to do that,"' he says with a doting smile. "I take him to school every morning."
No sooner have I dispensed with the pre-interview pleasantries that Edward whisks me into the studio's control room. As he prepares to crank up the band's soon-to-be-released album Balance (Warner Bros.) on the studio's ear-annihilating monitors, Van Halen pauses, his finger poised on the CD player's "play" button.
"You know," he says with a concerned look, "you should probably listen to this in the car because it sounds much better in there. We mastered this record differently than the last one, and it sounds more ballsy -- except in here."
Tempted as I am by the offer to hang out in one of Edward's many fine automobiles, I politely decline, opting to remain in the more spacious and well-lit environment of the control room. "Well, OK," says Eddie. "Here we go! "
The album opens with an ominous Tibetan monk chant sample which gives way to the lush, heavy layers of "Seventh Seal." Suddenly the music stops. "You have to listen to this in the car," says Edward. "It really sounds better."
Moments later, the two of us are seated in what must be the Van Halens' new family car, a charcoal-gray Mercedes sedan. In spite of the vehicle's austere looks, the stereo system is brutally loud, and Balance's wave of guitar goodness swallows us alive. Edward sits quietly, his eyes closed as he basks in the glory of his own creation. Periodically, he wakes from his deep-listening trance to point out a particularly noteworthy lick or explain the origin of a song. Apparently, Van Halen's success has not lessened the mixture of excitement and apprehension that he, like most musicians, feels when unveiling a just-completed piece of work.
Consistent with Edward's new-found maturity are his most recent efforts to put an end to his well-documented drinking habit. "I think that God gave me one big bottle of alcohol and I drank it real fast," he says. "God gives everyone a bottle when they're born, and they have to make it last a lifetime. Well, I drank mine too quickly, so I just can 't drink anymore."
Surprisingly, Edward, who will consume several non-alcoholic beers during the course of the interview, is more than willing to discuss the topic of his drinking at great length.
Although it may come as a shock to some, hard rock 's perennial whiz kid has become a man.
GUITAR WORLD: Was all of the new album recorded here at 5150?
Almost everything was done here, except for five lead vocal tracks, which were recorded in Vancouver.
Why did you go there?
Because Bruce Fairbairn, our producer, lives up there. He would fly down every Monday morning and we'd work during the week. On the weekends, he'd go home. We had promised him before we began recording that we'd do some vocals up there so that he could be with his family a little more.
It seems awfully adult for Van Halen to be sticking to the kind of rigid recording schedule you're describing.
Bruce is very structured. He wouldn't let us loaf for a minute, so we completed Balance more quickly than any other album we've done in years. We wrote, recorded and mastered the whole fucking thing in five months. We started in June, and by the end of October it was mastered.
What kind of pre-production work of Balance?
We demoed about 20 songs for Bruce. Actually, we over-cut! There are like four songs that aren't even on the record. It just got too long. We had an hour's worth of music in the can, and Bruce said, "Do you want to do a double CD or what?"
How did you decide which songs should go on the record?
Well, out of, say, 20 songs, the ones that got finished first ended up on the record. Sometimes, when I focus on writing, I start blazing: I'll come up with all kinds of shit and it overwhelms Sammy for a bit. The way he works best is when he focuses on one thing and writes lyrics for it. So, since I was writing so much, a lot of lyrics weren't done. For example, for the instrumental track, "Baluchitherium," we were actually working on lyrics and we ended up going, "Fuck it, it sounds pretty good without vocals," so we left it. And Sammy was relieved-"Okay, I got one less to work on." So, yeah, there are actually four more tunes that the music is finished for. We'll finish those for the next record, or whenever.