Wolfgang Van Halen doubles down on his backing track stance: “You should be able to play your s**t”

Wolfgang Van Halen
(Image credit: Roberto Ricciuti/Redferns via Getty)

Back in 2021, Wolfgang Van Halen shared his thoughts on the use of backing tracks during live shows, saying rather frankly that he thought the practice was “lame as hell”.

He did make exceptions for some situations – “unless it's like, for a keyboard part that you can't necessarily get,” he said – but for the case of vocals and guitars, he made himself pretty clear: “You should just stay home and listen to shit on Spotify if they're going to play to tracks like that.”

Well, his opinion on the matter hasn’t wavered one bit, with the Mammoth WVH frontman doubling down on his stance during a recent conversation with Ola Englund.

When asked about his Taylor Hawkins tribute show shredding taking people by surprise – even leading to accusations of using backing tracks – Van Halen replied, “You never know... hell, half the people live, it’s tracks nowadays. It’s just a fucking bummer.

“Everybody else draws their own line with what tracks are acceptable or not, but it’s like, if you’re pumping in the main guitar riff and the lead vocals and actual fucking drums – like, pre-recorded drums – that’s a problem. You should be able to play your shit.”

Echoing his earlier comments, Van Halen went on, “I can understand [if] you don’t have a keyboard player so [you] need the pad, that’s fine, you can’t carry around a 60-piece orchestra, so you’ve got the strings – that’s fine. But lead vocal, main guitar, main bass and the drums… you should be playing that.”

The topic turned to the question over whether over-production in modern music has lead to an over-reliance on backing tracks to recreate certain songs, but Van Halen’s approach remained rooted in traditional approaches.

“I never do anything in the studio that I can’t do live,” he asserted. “Sure, there are tricks that you can do to do stuff you wouldn’t normally be able to do, but why would you want to do that? It’s about creating music that you’re capable of doing and you could do live.

“I got to a concert to see bands play the fuck out of their music. That’s what we try to do with Mammoth. First and foremost, we are playing everything and we’re doing it to the best of our ability.”

The use of backing tracks during live shows is a hot topic of conversation in the guitar world, with Dream Theater’s John Petrucci recently taking a far more laissez-faire approach to the practice, while still sharing some of Van Halen’s sentiments.

“It depends on what people are doing,” he mused to Guitar World, “because some people don't tour with their whole bands, so they have sound effects and things going on. If they're up there playing their asses off, and they have some sound effects backing that up while they're doing it, that doesn't really bother me.”

His approach further contrasted with Van Halen’s on the subject of bass tracks, specifically, with Trooch saying a “pre-recorded bass player” would be acceptable “to keep the show going”.

But, he stressed, “Having said that, I think that if anybody's up there faking it or pretending, that's a whole different thing.”

Van Halen is gearing up to release his second Mammoth WVH studio album – Mammoth II – which has so far been previewed with Another Celebration at the End of the World and Like a Pastime.

Once again, he called upon some of his father's most notable guitars – as well as his original Van Halen Marshall amp head and cab – for the effort.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.