Interview By Robert Cavuoto
Adrian Vandenberg released his second solo album with his band Vandenberg’s MoonKings simply called MK II on November 3rd. It’s the perfect combination of blues mixed with 70’s rock designed to deliver a soulful, melodic, and authentic sounding CD. Songs like “Love Runs Out” and “What Doesn’t Kill” showcase the band’s blues bravado and unbridled passion.
Adrian formed Vandenberg’s MoonKings in 2013 with Jan Hoving on vocals, Sem Christoffel – on bass and Mart Nijen Es on drums. Together they form a powerful four-piece band that has the makings to be one of the great rock acts. Adrian shines as a bonafide guitar virtuoso, and his roots in the blues are clearly ingrained in his DNA.
I caught up with Adrian to learn more about his band, his absence from the music scene for over 15 years, and how he forged the perfect mix of vintage 70’s hard rock and blues to create MKII.
Robert Cavuoto: Between your last release with Whitesnake and your first Vandenberg’s MoonKings release in 2014, you have been quiet musically for something like 15 years. What were you up to?
Adrian Vandenberg: There have been some interesting rumors going around about me while I was out of the music business. One was that I had a flock of sheep somewhere on the Dutch Moors [Laughing]. In 1999 when David and I stopped Whitesnake, I thought I catch up on my painting and was planning to lay low two or three years maximum. I was an artist before I was in my first band. I started Vandenberg back in the day as a hobby band as I never had the illusion I was going make a living with my kind of music. Before I realized it, we were a worldwide success. I later joined Whitesnake, and things got way bigger. After Whitesnake, I started missing painting. Also, my girlfriend at the time and I had a daughter, but the relationship didn’t work so we split up after two or three years. I didn’t want to be one of that Dad’s who sticks their head around the corner twice a year. I thought I would stay here until she was older so I could explain to her that being a musician is my line of work. At this time my artwork took off and 14 years went by. I finally decided that I was going to start a band. I put together MoonKings in late 2013, and we recorded a CD without having done any gigs. I wrote the songs and explained it to the guys in the band before recording it. Now, here we are with our second CD; MKII!
Robert Cavuoto: Were you still practicing guitar during that time?
Adrian Vandenberg: Actually no, I hardly played which sounds strange. I played acoustic guitar every once in a while. Looking back, it seems weird because I used to have a guitar in my lap every day prior to that. In a way, life took me by the hair and dragged me in some different directions. It gave me something positive as well because during my whole career I always wanted to avoid going on automatic pilot for certain types of situation. I have never been in a situation like this where I was off the radar for so many years. When I founded MoonKings, it feels like I’m just getting started in music again with the same emotion. I’m just as excited today about the release of MKII as when I was 17 years old writing demos on my cassette recorder trying to get a record deal.
Robert Cavuoto: You’re just as prolific of a guitarist now as you were in the 80’s, did you experience any difficulties returning to playing after such a long break?
Adrian Vandenberg: I played the acoustic guitar but not to the extent that I used to do. In my career, I never really practiced guitar. I doodled on it because I can’t read music. I know about chords but don’t know the notes I use in my runs. If I look really close at the neck while I’m playing, I can spot some of the notes, “this may be a B, and this may be a D, and so on.” I just play by instinct. According to some people, that’s how I formed my own style. I didn’t have formal musical training, so I do what feels good; I never thought it would be good for so many people.
Robert Cavuoto: MKII has a true 70’s vibe between the music and singing. Was that a conscious decision to put together a CD like that?
Adrian Vandenberg: This is the stuff that just comes naturally out of my fingers. It’s always been the case. Growing up I listened to Zeppelin and Free, so it must be in my blueprint. It’s never been a conscious thing. What I try to do is build a bridge with the organic feel of the 70’s without sacrificing any of my ideas. I have both feet rooted in the 70s as it is where I grew up. Sonically I don’t want it to sound sloppy; I want the dynamics of today. I really love the dynamics of bands like the Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age – bands with a lot of guitars. When I’m writing, I regularly think, “What would Zeppelin, Free, Cream, or Hendrix sound like now?” I am more conscious of what I’m trying to do to get across the way the song is written. It’s an intuitive feeling in my heart when I’m writing and how it should sound. I’m so happy with this band as we are all on the same page. I discovered Sem and Mart when they were about 13 or 14 years old at a local talent contest. When I ran into them a couple of years later, they were men. Regarding how I met Jan, I read a review article about this great singer who was in the support act for Whitesnake. I never got to see the opening acts because I’m always in the dressing rooms getting ready for the show. So I figured I had to check this guy out and he was amazing. It turns out he runs a huge acre farm where I live in Holland.
Robert Cavuoto: “Love Runs Out” and “What Doesn’t Kill” showcase your innate sense of melody with the band’s ability to rock, tell me about their creation.
Adrian Vandenberg: I’m always trying to walk the line between having the right amount of melody in a blues-rock song while not sacrificing the instinctive rock feel. I’m a huge Beatles fan since the age of nine, and I like great songs. No matter how you dress up a song either with a lot of guitars to transform it into a rock song or undress it to play acoustically with violins on a folk arrangement, it should work. That definitely comes into play with Vandenberg’s song “Burning Heart.” Whenever I’m recording demos and play the track back the next day, I want to get that same kick out of it as when I wrote it. If it’s too melodic, I feel I should save it for a pop band. I want big fantastic heavy riffs.
With the song “What Doesn’t Kill,” I was in my car, and a couple of lyrics popped into my head. The first line was “One man’s God is another man’s death” which is very true these days. In the early days, Roman Catholics killed everyone in South America who wasn’t Roman Catholic. The Protestants dwindled away the Middle East to kill everyone they thought didn’t have their beliefs. Religious wars have always been there, and it struck me that every religion is the same in the end. Most religions are not that far apart; they all want to live peacefully. That one line made me go further lyrically. The melody is something I had in my head. Sometimes I feel like I’m sticking out an antenna to catch something that is floating out there in space. I’m always surprised and really happy with it. Ill quickly put the idea on my iPhone, so I don’t lose it.
Robert Cavuoto: Are there any plans to come to the US to do a tour?
Adrian Vandenberg: I really hope so! The record company is trying to get something together. We are going to start looking into ways to come over and stir up some interest. I have gotten so many emails about that since I left Whitesnake.
Robert Cavuoto: After Whitesnake did you receive offers to join any other high profile bands?
Adrian Vandenberg: There were calls from record companies and managers. The first thing they would say, “Before I go any further, can you promise not to talk about what I’m going to ask you?” The first time I was like that’s odd, but after a few times I figured it out [laughing]. I’m a little bit like a lone wolf, I really wanted to follow my natural instinct but also wanted to be there for my daughter as well as do a couple more paintings. Music was popping into my head and I just kind of ignored it.
Robert Cavuoto: Can you say what bands you were being asked to join or is that still a secret?
Adrian Vandenberg: Yeah, I can’t say anything as I promised. What I can tell you is they were all American bands.
Robert Cavuoto: Back in the 80’s, your trademark was a bow tie; how did that come about?
Adrian Vandenberg: [Laughing] When I look at those pictures, I have to laugh. All rock bands at the time were in that British wave of metal; wearing jeans and leather bomber jackets. It turned into a uniform, so I tried to go in the opposite direction and wear a bow tie to make a statement “Let’s put a smile on this stuff!” When I was a teenager, I was a big fan of Rod Stewart, The Faces, and The Stones; they were always tongue and cheek wearing some pretty outrageous outfits. I thought the bow tie would be different. When Vandenberg played in Japan, 90% of the people in the hall were wearing bow ties! [Laughing].