I would become a politician if there is a serious reason: Interview with Adrian Vandenberg
Some “tall, blond, longhaired guy”. This is how the “Flying Dutchman” Adrian Vandenberg describes himself. The once guitar axe of Whitesnake, Manic Eden, Vandenberg, Teaser and founder of “MoonKings” nowadays is best known for the rock ballads he wrote. When Coverdale disbands “Whitesnake” in 1998, Adrian disappears from the recording business for almost 15 years. In 2014 he was back with a new band – Vandenberg’s “MoonKings”, together with Jan Hoving (Vocals), Mart Nijen-Es (Drums) and Sem Christoffel (Bass). Vandenberg’s MoonKings has already three albums out. For Stargazed Magazine Adrian shared some of his future plans, memories from “the glory 80’s” and his thoughts about the world we live in.
– After almost 15 years being away from the recoding business, do you think the return with “MoonKings” in 2014 was “a right thing, at the right time”?
– I wasn’t thinking about it when I formed MoonKings. I just wanted to make records again. And I didn’t expect the reception being as positive and majestic as it appeared to be. Really thankful for this! There are comparisons between our songs and Led Zeppelin, AC/DC style. That’s not annoying for me. I’ve always been proud of my influences and every great rock band has been a little bit of inspiration for me – talking about bands like Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Free, Bad Company, AC/DC, Van Halen, Cream.
But these comments that our singer Jan Hoving is trying to imitate David Coverdale are really annoying. Coverdale is one of Jan’s favorite singers. They have comparable timber in the voice, but it doesn’t mean Jan is trying to copy David. I was very happy to find Jan in Holland, because those kind of singers – like David Coverdale, Jan, Robert Plant, Paul Rogers, they are really great and they have always been my favorite kind of singers.
photo by Stefan Schiper
– Did you really need 15 years to form a new band after you left Whitesnake?
– Becoming a father in 1999 was the main reason I took that longer break. I was busy raising my daughter, especially as her mama and I split up when she was 3 years old. I wanted to be able to explain to her why I have to be away from home often, when I am touring. By the time when she was 12 years old, I felt she could understand a little bit. I was taking her with me on shows sometimes and she loved it. When she was a kid, there was a tv show for kids “I have a rock daddy” and she thought it is funny. I showed her my stuff on YouTube. She was very proud of me and this was the most important.
Also, I wanted to catch up with my paintings and I did some exhibitions during these 15 years (Vandenberg is a graduate from the Academy of Arts in Arnhem, Holland. He is an author of the album covers and logos of his bands). My style has changed a bit during the years. It ended up in something in between my paintings from the last years and my initial style. My influences have been Van Gogh, Vermeer, Karel Appel, Rembrant. Unfortunately, I do not have so much time for painting now.
– You have 3 albums out already with MoonKings. Do you have favorite songs and songs, dedicated to someone?
– “Lust and lies”, “Close to you”, “Tightrope”, “What doesn’t kill you”, “Out of Reach” are among my favorite songs. “Out of reach” I dedicated to my daughter. After her mama and I split I’ve always missed her when she wasn’t with me. It is a very recognizable emotion for anybody who is separated and can’t see his kids all the time. This song is very important for me.
– You have written some of the most beautiful ballads, like “Burning heart (Vandenberg), “Too many tears” and “Sailing ships” (Whitesnake). Many young musicians believe a great ballad could be created only if they are sad, broken, drunk, using drugs. What will you tell them?
– I don’t really believe good ballad could be created if you are broken only. Speaking for myself, I believe if you are living a complete life – with lots of good friends, family, good food , wine, enough parties, enough love affairs and that stuff, then you’ll have enough rich life and you will go through experience that every human being should go through. So, when I do write a ballad I usually know what kind of emotion goes with it. And I can easily place myself in this situation – without being sad, drunk and broken. I am looking at the positive side of life to get my inspiration from.
Of course, sometimes I write ballads directly connected with my certain emotion. Like the one I mentioned – “Out of reach” that I wrote for me daughter. Or “Burning heart” at the time. The instrumental in “Sailing ships” I wrote for my mom.
– Do you think about new projects?
– Yes, sometimes I think about doing a show with MoonKings and a big orchestra. And then we won’t play only MoonKings songs, but also songs that are important to us, from our favorite bands. I really would love to do this. In the first and second album of MoonKings we have already a couple of songs with orchestra and it would be a lot of fun to go further with it. (right now Adrian Vandenberg is writing songs for a new MoonKIngs’s album, but more info about this is not revealed)
– How do you find the musical business today, compared to the 80’s and 90’s? With the invasion of internet can a man make a living by being a rock musician only?
– I look at the 80’s like the baroque period of the rock music. I still believe if you make great music with a great band and play live, the efforts pay off.
– “Meet and greet” packages became very popular last years. KISS, Ozzy Ozbourne offer VIP packages at a price of about $5000 and last year Rolling Stones promoted their “No Filter face-to-face meeting with the band” for $35 000. Is this a way to survive or it is just greediness?
– “Meet and greet” packages make sense because it is pretty hard to tour nowadays if you are not such a big band like KISS, Ozzy and all that kind. But for those bands it is too greedy to offer those packages. It’s a matter of self respect also. It is ridiculous to ask those kind of prices when you play for 60 000 people. I myself would never do it, but I can understand that temptation in some smaller bands who are spending so much money to tour. A lot of people do not know how expensive it is actually to tour – you pay road crew, hotels, traveling expenses, equipment, etc. Perhaps asking for 10-20 euro could be reasonable for some bands. But asking for $5000 when you are KISS or Ozzy is just greediness!
photo by Lenn Photography
– That big glory came to you with the ballad “Burning heart”. Who was the most surprised when it became a worldwide hit?
– I myself was very surprised. My family also, but they were very proud of me. I wasn’t exactly “just a boy in the neighborhood” that time, because I was playing in bands since I was 14 and was slowly building it up til that success . Though, I wasn’t planning to be a rock star. I formed my band Vandenberg as a hobby band. I was basically expecting to be an art teacher – I even did teaching art for awhile. Or a designer. I was relying on my paintings also. Then “Burning heart” became a hit and I was named “guitar God”.
– Was it hard to be a “guitar god” these days – as it was pretty crowded on the musical Olympus? Your ex colleague in Whitesnake Vivian Campbell said he had to leave the band because you didn’t want him there?
– I never took that serious. Vivian wasn’t honest about it. I was not the one who’s fixing up the band. It was David mainly who fired him, because Vivian’s wife at that time was simply impossible. She harassed the sound guy, the light guy… So, David fired him and I didn’t have anything to do with that. Actually, I was going very well with Vivian. But he seemed to have very different memory of that time. Anyway, I don’t really care. I still respect him, he’s a great player. I was thinking he’s a nice guy.
– Who were your own “guitar gods” and who was the first among your idols who told you: “you’re doing a great job, boy!”
– My idols were guys like Jimi Hendrix, early Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Brian May, Michael Schenker. The first guy who said some nice words about me was Rick Parfitt, the guitar player from Status Quo. I was 18 and I was in the studio, recording my very first solo album. Status Quo were recording in the same studio. I was just warming up one day and I didn’t know Rick is standing at the corner of the room, listening to me. Then he came up to me and said exactly: “You are a great player! Keep doing this. You’re gonna be successful ”. And I was like: “Wow!” because I didn’t expect anything like that.
– In 1983 Metallica was warming up for your band Vandenberg. Did you ever believe these “scruffy looking, nerf-herders” guys, as Princess Leia from Star Wars would describe them, will become one of the most influencial bands just several years later?
– They were like a punkish-speed metal band that time when we met each other. It wasn’t one of my favorite genres then and it still isn’t now. Although, I have big respect about Metallica, they have changed musically a lot. They become so successful with the years.
(In the book “Louder than Hell” Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian recalls these days: “ At one show in L’amour (Brooklyn) Metallica was opening for The Rods and Vandenberg. Vandenberg is sound checking at 4 p.m. and Dave (Mustaine, who’s part of Metallica that time) is just ripped. And he’s screaming at Adrian Vandenberg: “Get the f*ck off the stage. You suck.” And the other dudes in Metallica are trying to run and hide. They didn’t even have a record out yet. Dave was an absolute troublemaker back then.)
– There is another funny story: your band Vandenberg was warming up for KISS, but then KISS were warming up for Whitesnake? What was Paul Stanley’s and co attitude to you when they saw you in Whitesnake?
– KISS didn’t make it easier for Vandenberg at that time. We were getting very popular in the States because of the hit “Burning heart”. And we were keeping our asses working hard to get the audience going in. And the audience was appreciating it. But the second night of our tour with KISS we learnt that we couldn’t use all the sound anymore and the level of the sound was turned down. Next days we heard we couldn’t use all the stage anymore. Then – we couldn’t use all the lights anymore… We were kind of strangled in a way. But we were thinking of our success and still fighting for it.
Then KISS were support of Whitesnake. Apparently, it wasn’t easy for them to be just a support – as they were used to a big success in US. I heard from my tour manager, from our road crew that things were getting rough backstage… But that’s life – the tables turn. And it happens in everyone’s career. I mean – Jesus, Metallica was opening for Vandenberg! And now I would be happy to open for them.
– From today’s point of view 80’s might have been a unfair time: was it possible for a talented musician to become a star if he wasn’t handsome?
– I don’t think it was unfair. There were a lot of talented musicians in the 80’s. But there were also lots of untalented musicians who still became popular because they were backed by producers, studios, etc. There were a lot of not so good looking musicians either and they all gained recognition. Ozzy, the guys from Mothorhead are few examples. It was a very baroque period, but it wasn’t only about the visual things.
– Joining Whitesnake was a key point in your career. Your solo in “Here I go again” was named “song in the song”. When working on it, did you have the feeling something great will come out of this?
– No, I didn’t expect anything. And I didn’t know something great will come out of joining Whitesnake, because I didn’t join David for money, success or anything. I was just sure we are going to make some really nice music. I was a big fan of David, he was one of the greatest singers. And after three earlier offers I decided this is the time to join him.
– Whose idea were the two “Jaguars” in “Here I go again”? And how did Tawny Keaten appear? Every single man on this planet fell in love with this video and with Tawny.
– The two “Jaguars” and Tawny were all David’s idea and the video maker. David was very much in love with Tawny. And she told him that she want to be in the videos of “Whitesnake’87” album.
– How did you get the name “The Flying Dutchman”? It was used mainly for the two football legends Marco van Basten and Johan Cruyff til that.
– David start to call me like that because I was flying between Holland and USA, everyone else in the band was living in the States. And also, I was kind of flying and jumping all over the stage, all the time during our shows. So, David decided I am nothing less than a “flying Dutchman”. Never heard van Basten and Cruyff felt offended by this.
– The “Restless Hearts” tour brought you behind the Iron Curtain in Europe. What did you know about this part of the continent during the Cold War days?
– Of course, I knew quite a lot about East Europe during the Cold War time – both from school and during my art university days. I’ve always been interested in history and different cultures and I was pretty aware about what kind of situation it was in these countries.
I remember that the concert in Sofia, Bulgaria was a little big chaotic – just like more concerts behind the Iron Curtain. A lot of record piracy was happening in countries like Bulgaria that time. So, the promoter couldn’t make estimation how many people will come to the concert. Normally promoters do that by judging the record sales. But since most of the sales in Bulgaria at that time were illegal from bootlegs, the promoter booked a venue that was much smaller for all the people who wanted to come to our show. That was really chaotic. But I really loved to play behind the Iron Curtain because people were so spontaneous. And they have been deprived from listening to rock music for so long. Right now it is really better and I hope to come back with MoonKings.
– You are still good friends with David Coverdale who doesn’t seem to be the easiest character. How did you find a way to him?
– I respect David and back in the days I never had a problem with him. I was his “right hand guy” back in the days and we discussed all the stuff we’re doing together. I don’t think he’s an awful character. He just knows very well what he wants. After all, it is his band and he’s entitled to make his decisions. When he was in Deep Purple, he was 22. So he has his own way of doing things all these years. What it comes about me – I am a very easy guy. I go on easy with bands, fans, promoters. I love to play our music and I am thankful that people like it.
– The promoters usually call Coverdale “a big trouble”, being among the stars with the strangest requirements. Are you the same?
– Haha, no. Don’t know about David, but I want just simple things in my dressing room – yoghurts, musli, fruits. A bottle of wine. Really simple stuff. Me, the band, the crew – we just want to eat healthy. Our demands are just basic and people are usually surprised by the little demands I ask for.
– You are one of the most popular guitar players of the 80’s, but your name has never been involved in sex scandals, drugs story, etc. Was it possible to maintain a relationship those days, with all the women chasing rock stars?
– I haven’t been much a partying guy and it wasn’t difficult for me to maintain relationship with the mother of my daughter that time. A friend of mine even called me Adje Fantaberg upon that popular fruity drink, because I didn’t drink alcohol during Vandenberg and Whitesnake time. Of course, I met a lot of girls. In the 80s it was girls, girls, girls everywhere! But Whietsnake wasn’t a party band. All the other guys in the band had those days behind them. And they were all in serious relationships. Yet my singer in Vandenberg band was definitely a party guy (Bert Heerink). As a result some days he was singing very badly, showing up too late for shows and all that kind of annoying stuff.
– The campaign “MeToo” started from an ex “baby groupie” Lorry Maddox, who – at the age of 13-14, had been the “sex doll” of Jimmy Page, David Bowie when they were almost 30 years old. What do you thinking about this, especially as a father of a girl? Would you react if you see 13-14 years kids circulating around your bass player Sem Christoffel, as he gets a lot of girl’s attention?
– There have always been groupies in the rock music – just like in the sport. And there will always be girls who are attracted by successful guys, it’s part of the human nature. Just like in the old days in the history of the Earth– the strongest guy, the strongest gorilla has been the most attractive. Success attracts women – it’s like a guarantee for a good life, safe place for children. And yes, we have an attractive bass player and he’s getting a lot of girls’ attention. But he has serious relationship and he’s not a party guy. There aren’t 13-14 years kids around him. Our audience is between 16-17 to 60+.
What it comes about my daughter – she’s 20 years old now and she has her idols too. Fortunately, she’s totally not a groupie type. She’s a very serious girls.
– How was it to be a dad, named “sex symbol”? What was the attitude of other parents and the teachers of your daughter?
– I am not aware of being sex symbol! Haha. I think it is pretty funny, actually. The other parents and the teachers were fine with me because they knew me all these years. They knew I am not one of those guys – always drunk, harassing girls… No one ever called me a “shit face”.
– As you are still attractive for the women, did you have problems with them?
– Women are still, let’s say “charmingly” following me, but I can deal with that. I am not a crazy guy. I do not take drugs. It doesn’t mean that I do not party at all and that I do not enjoy my life. I like a little bit of wine and I don’t have objections about attractive women. I like communicating with women. I have my passions: music, painting, cooking and I take my music and my art very serious. I wanna play my music as long as I can and I don’t want scandals in my life.
– If I ask you to express the most used in the rock ballads word – “Love”, in the best way you can, which way you’ll choose: to write a song, to make a painting or cook a dinner?
– For me painting, cooking, music are very similar. Painting is composing with colors and cooking – with flavors. Writing a song, or painting, or making dinner is easy for me, it comes naturally and I am very happy.
– Being the most popular Dutch rock musician, have you encountered human envy and back stubbing?
– I am not envy at all, but I have experienced quite a lot of human envy. Two of my ex members in Vandenberg band tried to capture my name. They wanted to do shows under my name, using the success and the reputation I earned because of working really hard with the music since I was 14. They wanted to go the easy way. Well, they lost 6 lawsuits. But it is really sad and it was a strange situation that I had to fight for my own name several years. There will always be jealous and greedy people like these two. Grumpy old men… You know, they were always telling other people how happy they are that I got them out of the factories they worked at the time when I formed Vandenberg. Otherwise they would still be working there. And then, 30 years later, they were trying to steal my name. It is a sad and embarrassing story.
– Some of the bloodiest terrorist acts in Europe last years happened during rock concerts, Bataclan in Paris the most awful one. Was there a time you felt scared and thought you won’t perform live?
– I’ve never been that much scared. I realize there is a little bigger chance to be killed in a traffic accident then in a terrorist attack and I don’t want to be afraid of terrorists. I don’t wanna think about terrorism. Otherwise you will spend your life laying on the couch.
– There were lots of rapes during Summer festivals in Sweden and some other Nordic countries several years ago. Imagine you are playing “Burning heart” and you see from the stage how men are harassing girls in the public. How will you react?
– I suppose like everyone else – I will look upon this serious. Don’t know exactly what I will do, it is pretty hard to imagine seeing this from the stage. When on the stage you must think about playing only, you know…
photo by Vanessa Knapen
– Are you keeping your eye on the politics and what’s going in the world today? What would you tell the most important political figures if you meet them – Merkel, Trump, Putin, Macron?
– Yes, I am interested in politics. I would like to sit down and talk with all of them. I am not that pushy guy like Bono and it would be interesting to exchange opinions. I still believe Merkel and Macron are good and pretty honest politicians. Which I can’t say about Trump and Putin. I will probably remind all of them that they also have families and they would like their children to have good future too – in a clean world, without politicians going over dead bodies for money. I would like it if all the politicians pay much attention to the pollution and the climate changes. We can’t prevent all the climate changes. But I do believe we can contribute a lot. That means countries like China, India has to contribute too – just like tiny countries like Holland is doing. The best way would be if all the politicians shake each other hands, leave the differences aside and together fight for a better world.
– Would you accept to become a politician if it been offered?
– To become a politician has never really been my ambition, but I would think about it if it been offered. There would be a reason for such an offer. And it would be a serious one.
– If you have to choose between meeting Mickey Mouse and Chewbacca and the politicians – what would your decision be?
– I would probably choose Mickey Mouse because it is all peace and happiness. But at the same time I realize that we are living in a real world, with real problems that have to be solved. Maybe I could contribute somehow to make it a better world – even by the universal language that music is.