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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

It's close to how you do it. I'm definitely responsible for coming in with some basic chord changes, or ideas. Everybody in the band looks to me to come up with the basic seed, so it's not very productive to come in with nothing.

It 's the same with us! You know, it's like, "Well, watcha got, Ed?"

Yeah! And if you don't have anything, everybody will stand around and look at their watches and say things like, "This is boring. Uh, can I go? I got a date tonight." On the other hand, you can't do it yourself. I'll come in with a string of riffs, and direct the musical ideas. But you still need a band and their input to make the ideas come alive. You can't underestimate band chemistry. You still need that -- it's that weird jelling of people.
One of the cool things about Van Halen is that you've always been able to write great hit singles. Unlike other hard rock bands, you never shied away from writing pop music.

Again, I just go with whatever comes out. I can't help the fact that I've written "Can't Stop Loving You" or "Jump." Don't blame me. [laughs] Actually, if I could deliberately sit down and write a pop hit, all my songs would be pop hits! Let's put it this way. I play what I like to hear. And sometimes I like to hear something poppy, and sometimes I don't.

Van Halen II [1979] is a really good record, but it sounds to me like you really didn't have the time to fully explore all your guitar and song ideas.

It was very hurried. We had just toured for a year, and we only had two weeks to write and record. But I'll never forget the questions we got after the second record was released: "Why does this record sound different from the first album?" Because it's not the first album! It's always a Catch-22 situation. They hate you if you're the same, and they hate you if you're different.

But you agree that it wasn't completely realized?

Yeah, but I don 't think it was because of us. There was a lot of cocaine on the console -- and it wasn't necessarily the band's. That was a problem. And we weren't allowed any input on the mix. But ultimately we were just plain rushed. That's why you hear that little riff fade out at the end of the album -- Al and I didn't want to stop. [laughs] We weren't done, but we had a deadline.

I think two great albums are Women and Children First [1980] and Fair Warning [1981].

I was starting to get more involved.

And it shows.

Especially on Fair Warning. But what I had to do to get involved was very strange. We'd work during the day, and I wasn't very happy with the way things were going or the way people were approaching the whole recording process. I would sneak back into the studio at 4 A.M. with Don Landee, the engineer, and completely re-record all the solos and overdubs the way I wanted them. The fucked- up thing was, no one even noticed. That's how uninvolved they were on a musical level.

Fair Warning is a really mean, dark album. That was unusual for you guys. Up until that time you were more of a party band.

It was kind of a dark period in my life. I was getting married, which flipped Roth out to the bone. I actually overheard him say, "That fucking little prick, not only is he winning all the guitar awards, but he's also the first to marry a movie star." So that's what I was up against. A guy that wanted everything that was going my way. The funny thing was, I really didn't want the attention, and it came to me, anyway. I didn't want the press -- it was like, "Leave me alone."

Let's talk about some of the specifics of Fair Warning. What can you tell me about "Push Comes to Shove"?

That was Roth's idea of trying to cash in on the reggae thing. I said, "Okay, if you want that kind of beat, I'll see what I can do."

That song has an incredible guitar solo!

I'll never forget that one. We were sitting in the studio with our producer, Ted Templeman, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do . I must have played that solo over 20 times, and Ted kept saying, "No, it's not good enough." So I said, "Okay, but I don't understand what you want." So we just called it a day. Later that night I came back and played the same solo that I played 20 times that day and left it. The next day he heard it and said, "That's great."
On the whole album I was angry, frustrated and loose. It's like the solo in "Unchained." I love that song. It's rare that I can listen back to my own playing and get goose bumps, but that's one of them.

My frustration continued to grow when we made our next album, Diver Down [1982]. Half that album was damn cover tunes, and I hated every minute of making it. David Lee Roth had the idea that if you covered a successful song, you were half way home. C'mon -- Van Halen doing "Dancing in the Streets"? It was stupid. I started feeling like I would rather bomb playing my own songs than be successful playing someone else's music.

Ultimately, that's why I built the studio we're now standing in. I built it so I could work on my music without having to battle anybody. So after Diver Down I demanded that we do 1984 [1984] in my own studio, my way. The motivation behind Diver Down -- which was to play it safe and make money -- was completely different from 1984. One had heart where the other was bullshit. Diver Down is my least favorite record -- even though I still tried to put myself into it.

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