Before Van Halen announced the cancellation of several summer 2012 tour dates, Guitar World got the chance to spend several days on the road with the band, especially with Eddie Van Halen.
The great news is he's happier, healthier and playing better than ever. As Eddie tells Guitar World in this exclusive in-depth interview from the current August 2012 issue, he has a lot to be thankful for, including his band’s latest album, A Different Kind of Truth. (Buy it on iTunes.)
GUITAR WORLD: The last time we talked, you said you weren’t sure if you wanted to make a new Van Halen album. What changed your mind?
I think I was pissed off at the time. I didn’t want to do something new because I felt that even if we did, the fans wouldn’t like it anyway. We just snapped back and realized that, hey, we’re doing this for us, too. This is what we do. We make music for a living. Like I’ve always said, if you like what you’re doing, you’re halfway there; if someone else likes it, that’s even better. If they don’t like it, at least you like it. Not to be selfish, but you kind of have to be.
What got the ball rolling on this album?
Wolfgang’s enthusiasm. He was going, “Come on, come on!” We went up to 5150 and started jamming. It felt like a comfortable old pair of shoes. Working with Dave again was like we had never left each other. It was that comfortable. We’ve known each other since high school. When you have old friends, five or six years can go by when you don’t see each other, but you just pick up where you left off.
We started recording at the studio at my house with just Alex, Wolfgang and me. Basically it’s the same way we start any record. We went through our archives of stuff we had already written. Wolfgang picked out a bunch of tunes. “She’s the Woman” was the first one. We started jamming on songs like “She’s the Woman” and “Bullethead” and reworked them.
Dave was onboard from the beginning. I was already recording and engineering demos of “She’s the Woman,” “Bullethead” and “Let’s Get Rockin’,” which is now “Outta Space.” I sent Pro Tools files of recordings over to Dave, who was working over at Henson Studios, where he likes to record, which got him totally excited. He said, “Let’s get going!”
How did you choose John Shanks [Bon Jovi, Fleetwood Mac] to produce the album?
The most difficult part of the process was deciding whether or not we should use a producer and who we should use. We had a big list of producers. Ever since we did that interview together with Tony Iommi [for GW’s Anniversary 2010 issue], I’ve been in contact with Tony a lot. Sabbath is doing their reunion also, and they’re working with Rick Rubin. I don’t think Rick is the right producer for the kind of band that Van Halen is, but his name was in the hat.
So was Pat Leonard [Pink Floyd, Roger Waters, Madonna]. Dave doesn’t have a home studio, so he goes down to Henson to record, write and keep his voice in shape. One day he told me that he ran into this guy named John Shanks. I thought he was an odd choice, but we were open to anything. John asked what we had. I played him our three demos, and he loved them.
It was actually Wolf’s idea for the album to be a collection of our B-sides along with three reworked songs, which would be new to our audience. Instead of the “Best Of” it would be the “B’s Of” — you know, songs like “Drop Dead Legs,” “Girl Gone Bad”… It would be a record of our more hardcore songs and none of the pop stuff. That was the initial plan for this album, but the deeper we dug, the more we found. At the same time I was writing new songs.
Dave got very excited about that. We all did. We ended up recording demos for 35 songs. All of those songs were ready to go, and we were able to play them all. We called John again and asked, “Are you busy? Do you want to come up and take a listen?” He was like, “Whoa! You’ve got a shitload of songs here!” We pretty much left it to John and Wolfgang to pick the songs, and it all went from there.
For the new album, Wolfgang pulled out some songs from the band’s past, which is something the group had done for previous records. For example, on Fair Warning, the band was still drawing on material like “Mean Street”/“Voodoo Queen,” which were from the demos you recorded before the first album came out. We were doing things like that even later.
“Seventh Seal” [from Balance] is a song that I wrote before Van Halen was even a band. “Hang ’Em High” [from Diver Down] was written long before we put it on an album. Same with “House of Pain” [from 1984], which was also on the demos we recorded in 1976 with Gene Simmons.
We approached this record no different than any other. The internet has changed everything. Now everyone knows where things came from. Before the internet nobody would have known that these were songs that we had already written but never released. When the album first came out, some people were saying that we purposely did old songs to get the public to relate to our old sound. But this record wasn’t planned that way. Whenever we make a record the first thing we do is go over what we already have in the bag that we can pick from, and then we focus on writing new material.
When we were digging around, I was amazed how fresh some of the songs sounded. I was going, “Did I really write that way back then?” The biggest trip is that I wrote some of those songs when I was still in high school and even junior high. A good idea is a good idea no matter when you do it.
For the rest of this interview, check out the all-new August 2011 issue of Guitar World, which is available now at the Guitar World Online Store. The issue also includes an up-close-and-personal look at Ed and Wolfgang Van Halen’s stage rigs and an exclusive interview with Wolfgang! The new issue is available now at the Guitar World Online Store.
Photo: Matt Bruck