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Wolfgang Van Halen describes heavy use of backing tracks during live shows as “lame as hell”

Wolfgang Van Halen
(Image credit: Jim Powers / YouTube)

Wolfgang Van Halen has blasted the use of backing tracks during live performance, suggesting that it's a “copout” to use such recordings.

In a new interview with Ultimate Classic Rock, the Mammoth WVH leader explains his standpoint, saying “the point of live performance” is for it to “ebb and flow” and to not be “perfect all the time”.

“I think it's a copout to use tracks, unless it's like, for a keyboard part that you can't necessarily get. But when I hear about certain bands these days, where it's like, you have lead vocals and lead guitars pumping through the tracks, I think that's lame as hell. I think you should just stay home and listen to shit on Spotify if they're going to play to tracks like that.”

He continues: “In the second pre-chorus [of Stone, from Mammoth WVH's self-titled debut], there's a four-part harmony, and we're doing that live. It feels really badass to be like, we don't have to fucking sit there with tracks. We're just straight-up doing it. I think it's important. It's certainly not perfect all the time, [but] that's the point of live performance. It ebbs and flows.”

Like most technology, the use of backing tracks has its pros and cons. On one hand, it allows artists to guarantee audiences greater consistency in their shows, but on the other, fans could argue it subtracts from the spontaneous nature of live performance.

In a 2019 interview with the New York Post, Adrian Smith stressed that heavy metal titans Iron Maiden do not use backing tracks live, adding that he doesn't “agree with using tapes”.

“I see it with a lot of younger bands, and I don’t think it’s a good thing at all,” he said. “I mean, the music is getting too technical now. You have computerized recording systems, which we use, but I think we use them more for convenience than because we need to. We’ve toured with a couple bands that use tapes – it’s not real. You’re supposed to play live; it should be live. I think it’s a real shame [to use tapes].”

And while conventional belief is that backing tracks are most heavily used in pop music and its related genres, many rock artists are also relying on previously recorded audio.

In March 2020, Shinedown guitarist Zach Myers suggested that the number of rock artists using at least some backing tracks could be as high as “90 percent”. He did, however, defend their use.

“I can't bring a 25-piece orchestra on tour with me, but there's a 25-piece orchestra on Second Chance, which is one of our biggest songs,” he told Rock Feed. “We have songs where we don't even play to a click track – we do it both ways. So there are songs that are just straight-up rock and roll, and there ain't nothing else going on.”

“I think it's all personal preference,” he added. “If you want to do that, do it. If you want to run tracks, run tracks.”

You can catch Wolfgang Van Halen and Mammoth WVH – who definitely won't be using any backing tracks – on tour with Guns N' Roses over the next two months.

Sam Roche

Sam is a Staff Writer at Guitar World, also creating content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar.