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From the Archive: Billy Corgan Interviews Eddie Van Halen in 1996

From the Archive: Billy Corgan Interviews Eddie Van Halen in 1996

Here's a feature from the April 1996 issue of Guitar World, for which Billy Corgan interviewed Eddie Van Halen. To see the complete cover, and all the GW covers from 1996, click here.

Make no mistake. Eddie Van Halen can still kick your ass. The man who single-handedly changed the face of rock is still mean, lean and sharp as a tack.

And if you dispute the ownership of the crown, try to imagine a world without him. I came to pay my tribute, sneak a peak at that famous Marshall and meet the man I most wanted to be at 17.

BILLY CORGAN: I was very familiar with all the David Lee Roth-era albums through 1984, but when I prepared for this interview, I listened to everything so my questions wouldn't be just about the past. What struck me about the Sammy Hagar-era albums was that there was a slow but distinct movement away from the kinetic approach of the early albums to a more song-oriented focus. But I sensed that on For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge [1991] your playing was in a weird place, that maybe you were getting in a rut. But when I listened to your most recent album, Balance [1995], it struck me that you sounded like you were really enjoying yourself again. There was more focus and you sounded really energized.

EDWARD VAN HALEN: For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge took a year to record; that's why the playing on it might sound somewhat labored. Balance, on the other hand, was written and recorded in only four months, so the whole process was quicker and more immediate. I also think our producer, Bruce Fairbairn, had something to do with the sense of excitement on Balance. Instead of arguing with me, he encouraged me to pursue my own ideas. He was somebody I could relate to. Together we were able to create a vibe.

And creating the right vibe for things to happen is probably the best thing a producer can do. We interviewed so many producers before we started Balance, and he was the only one who said, "Hey, waddaya got? Let's listen to some of your new music." The others seemed more interested in trying to impress us with their credits, rather than finding out what we wanted to accomplish. So I'd have to say that musically nothing really changed between the two albums, but Fairbairn created an environment where something good could happen.

So after 20 years of recording, what makes you still want to rock?

It's because I'm still 16 inside. I still have that passion, and any true musician doesn't do it for any other reason than passion. My motivation has never been financial. Music is what I do. It's the only thing I know how to do.

But don't you ever have to fight yourself to keep your music exciting?

Sure. I have my low points. For example, we recently finished a pretty grueling 11-month tour and I was beat to hell. I was depressed. I had the post-tour blues -- whatever you want to call it.

Usually, I can shake it by just doing some work in my studio. Up until that time I always thought of my studio as my sanctuary -- a place to jam and clear my head. But, for the first time, it didn't seem that way. I just didn't have the desire to play at all. In fact, I was so fried I wondered whether I was ever going to be able to write anything again. So, I just simply let go. Then, boom, one day, all of a sudden the desire came back.

I think I learned something important. There are really three parts to the creative process. First there is inspiration, then there is the execution, and finally there is the release. The last part is more important than I ever realized. And after the last tour, I didn't allow myself to cleanse before I jumped back in, and it really screwed me up for a while.

One of the things that struck me after listening to all your albums is your fearlessness -- you've never been afraid to go where you've wanted to go. You 've played blues, you've played crazy music, you've played synthesizer music…

I think my desire to do my own thing came from my dad. He was a real soulful guy. He played sax and clarinet like a motherfucker. Unfortunately, he was also an alcoholic who died when he was 66. But he lived a full life. My mom, on the other hand, is 80, but she doesn't live. So I'm trying to find a balance between them. I don't want to be like my mom and live to be 80, and not live. And I don't want to die at 66 like my dad.

You created the sound of Van Halen. After all these years, how do you confront your own legacy? Do you ever worry about repeating yourself?

Not really. Change is a natural part of my evolution as a player. It just happens, because everybody changes over a period of time. It 's a very unconscious thing. I think the unreleased acoustic piece I just played you before the interview sounds different from anything I've ever done, yet I didn't sit down and say, "I have to do something different."

I admire your attitude, because I feel like I 'm always fighting not to repeat myself.

I don't know. Every time I walk into the studio it seems like the first time. It's like I 've never written a song before. I am just as scared. In fact, someone asked me the other day, what I thought I had learned about making music after all these years, and I said, "Nothing." I'm scared shitless all the time. I'm really insecure that way.

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