Legendary guitarist Eddie Van Halen recently spoke in length to Billboard from his home studio in Studio City, CA about all sorts of things – his past addictions, fighting cancer, the struggles (and bandmates) that stand in the way of a new Van Halen record and the fact that he really doesn’t listen to music at all besides when he’s writing it.
“I couldn’t make a contemporary record if I wanted to, because I don’t know what contemporary music sounds like,” Van Halen explains to journalist Chuck Klosterman after admitting he hasn’t bought an album since 1986 when Peter Gabriel’s So was released. Most of the bands that people group in with Van Halen are bands he isn’t incredibly familiar with, so he says, including Metallica, Guns N’ Roses and Pantera. This may seem wildly impossible for someone who shaped so many of the current guitar stylings we hear in music today and who studied music in college, but he goes on to explain that even in the car he’d rather listen to the sound of the motor than to whatever is on the radio.
Van Halen goes on to remark on the various member changes and lineups that Van Halen has cycled through in all of their years, sharing gems such as how the band decided it was time to terminate their vocalist of three years, Gary Cherone (of Extreme): “We were getting ready to go on tour, and all of a sudden I see this John Travolta outfit — these big lapels and a crazy jacket,” Van Halen explains, “He’s like, ‘This is my stage outfit.’ That’s when I realized it wasn’t going to work.”
A new Van Halen record is something that Eddie is totally on board for – but feels wouldn’t work out for a myriad of reasons. “It’s hard, because there are four people in this band, and three of us like rock’n’roll. And one of us likes dance music,” he shares. That “one of us” he speaks of is David Lee Roth – a bandmate who Eddie has no hesitation in calling out despite their upcoming 40-show tour together.
“He does not want to be my friend,” Van Halen bluntly says of Roth, “How can I put this: Roth’s perception of himself is different than who he is in reality. We’re not in our 20s anymore. We’re in our 60s. Act like you’re 60. I stopped coloring my hair, because I know I’m not going to be young again.”
“I think it’s now built into people’s DNA, that it just won’t be Van Halen if it’s not Roth’s voice,” he says to justify continuing to tour with Roth despite disliking him. The integrity of Van Halen as a band to the fans seems pretty important to Eddie, despite how it may effect him personally. He continues, “You make music for people. Otherwise, just play in your closet. And how do you reach the most people? By giving them the band that they know. To do it any other way would be selfish.”
Also not escaping Eddie’s cross hairs is former bassist Michael Anthony. he claims that he taught Anthony every note he played, and doesn’t even admit that Anthony’s vocals were an integral part of the band.
“Mike’s voice is like a piccolo trumpet. But he’s not a singer. He just has a range from hell,” he says. “Mike was just born with a very high voice. I have more soul as a singer than he does. And you know, people always talk about Mike’s voice on Van Halen songs, but that’s a blend of Mike’s voice and my voice. It’s not just him.”
Despite from both addiction and tongue cancer and being apparently very aware of his age, Eddie Van Halen is remaining active by working out many times a week in preparation for the extensive upcoming tour – which will feature the band performing songs they’ve never premiered live like “Dirty Movies” and “Top Jimmy.”