Interview by: Francijn Suermondt
After an absence that lasted for more than three decades, former Whitesnake guitarist Adrian Vandenberg has resurrected his band Vandenberg and they are very much alive again in a young, fresh and all-revised 2020 version. The new line up features Rainbow’s Ronnie Romero on vocals, bassist Randy van der Elsen (of NWOBHM heroes Tank) and drummer Koen Herfst, (Bobby Kimball (Toto), Epica and Doro). The new album 2020 will be released on May 29th via Mascot Records.
I had a chat with Adrian about the new album, Indonesian 50’s rock n roll and one legged ducks.
Fran: Good morning and thank you for chatting to me today. I guess my first question has to be are you in lockdown where you live at the moment?
Adrian: Well the funny thing is for me it doesn’t make that much difference, as I have been doing many interviews by phone and I would have done those any way. And when I am not touring, I am usually at home writing my music or painting, so it is not as drastic for me as it is for a lot of people out there, who are used to working in an office or whatever.
Fran: So, are you based in Netherlands or America?
Adrian: The Netherlands, ever since I came back from the USA after my 13 years with Whitesnake, I moved back to my home town where I have lived since I was fourteen
Fran: I love the Netherlands, I lived there for many years. My father was Dutch he was born in Indonesia.
Adrian: We have a lot of history with Indonesia, I have a bunch of Indonesian friends over here. It is thanks to the Indonesian people who moved here in the 50’s, that we had the start of rock n roll in Holland. The first rock n roll bands in Holland were five Indonesian guys who called themselves the ‘Tielman Brothers’. It is actually worth you looking into them as you have Indonesian blood in your veins, they were like really popular in Germany too. These guys were show masters, you know I thought it was only Jimi Hendrix that played with his guitar around his neck, but these guys did all this already in the 50’s, check them out on YouTube!
Fran: Thanks that sound amazing! Thanks! I will check them out! Now I guess we really should talk about your new album!! More than three decades since the original ‘Vandenberg’ blew us all away in the 80’s, you have resurrected the band with a new line up and a fresh, yet still true to the roots, classic rock n roll album, which is due out at the end of May. I know you have also been busy with your other band, ‘Vandenberg’s Moonkings’ up until the acoustic album ‘Rugged and Unplugged’ in 2018. Have they been put to bed now? Or have you been working on Moonkings material still too?
Adrian: Right now, I have put the Moonkings on ice, as my focus is now on Vandenberg and we were actually going to start touring at the end of May, but of course with the Coronavirus this is impossible for now. But we are planning a European tour in November/ December and as a matter of fact we have had the all clear to headline Planet Rockstock in Wales in the beginning of December. So, we are definitely going to do a lot of UK shows as far as I am concerned.
Fran; That’s brilliant news, I would love to come along and see you guys and do a review pf the gig
Adrian: You are always welcome!
Fran: Your new ‘Vandenberg’ album ‘2020’ was produced by Bob Marlette of Alice Cooper, Marilyn Mason and Black Sabbath, fame. And this was an amazing choice as the album has the perfect mix of old school classic rock with clean and modern approach. What tipped the balance in favour of him as your choice?
Adrian: Well I was discussing with my record company about this and we all thought it would be a good idea to bring along a fresh pair of ears, so to speak, because I produced the Moonkings stuff myself and I never want to run the risk that I will do something on automatic pilot you know? So, the American record company suggested three producers and the first one I spoke to was Bob and we had an immediate rapport. We agreed immediately with what type of approach we should take with this album, which would be fresh, crisp and very modern in its sound, in your face, but at the same time organic. So this album is just like the band sounds, when you close your eyes you see the band in front of you, you know? It’s a very important thing for me, as I am not a very big fan of over produced albums with layers and layers of guitars and keyboards and stuff …so.
Fran: I found the album to be very crisp and clean, but also had that dirty classic rock edge, so it was not too over produced it was just right.
Adrian: That was the plan actually to have the feet firmly in the tradition of this kind of rock but at the same time making it sound 2020, as I have never seen the use of sounding woolly, 70’s or 80’s you know? It is 2020, right now and as an artist you need to keep your finger on the pulse of the times.
Fran: On your press release it states ‘Where Whitesnake meets Rainbow’ and with the full, in your face, rock n roll perfection of the first track ‘Shadows Of The Night’ and the vocals of Ronnie (who has had an impressive stint with Richie Blackmores Rainbow) truer words have never been spoken. It really is a delicious cocktail of Vandenberg, Rainbow and Whitesnake with a fresh twist of contemporary rock. Would I be right in stating that rather than trying to get away from the Rainbow and Whitesnake influences you enjoy embracing them for this album rather than pulling away from them?
Adrian: Exactly, as I have always been open about my influences and I cherish them. When Ronnie and I started talking about this almost a year ago, to see how we could work the album, we both realised right away how special it is that he has this connection with Rainbow and I have my connection with Whitesnake, and we are just proud of that. The reason why we have been involved with these bands is that it is our kind of stuff. When I started writing these songs with Ronnie’s vocal abilities in mind, it was just a natural process to let it all flow out of my fingers in the most natural organic way. Then you end up somehow in the middle of all of these things that you love, it is definitely not a conscious thing, because when I write I always do so out of my gut instinct rather than think in some kind of a formula or specific direction, I basically just let it happen. I’m a little bit superstitious about it, in the sense that I don’t like to over think the process by saying it needs to be this or it needs to be that, because then there is a big risk of it ending up a little contrived.
Fran: I agree and I think a lot of bands do end up doing that, but I think you have been lucky in that you have just done your own things and it comes across. I also think it is a very Dutch thing, I am half Dutch and I have many Dutch friends and I think it Is the Dutch way to do you own thing and just let everything flow…I miss that about living in England sometimes (laughs). I walk my own walk anyway.
Adrian: (laughs) That’s right!
Fran: Nine of the songs on this album are written by you, will this continue with the next albums, or will do you plan to ask the others in the band to offer some of their own also?
Adrian: I don’t really know, the thing is I write all the time anyway, so for me it is a very natural thing to keep writing, especially now that we are on this great track and the reception has been amazing! I suppose you know that the main thing, will of course always be, never change a winning formula. But I don’t exclude anything you know if Ronnie comes up with a great vocal line or lyric or whatever, it is all fine by me. But I am going to keep writing anyway and we will just see what happens!
Fran: And in a weird way has the lockdown given you more time even to write and paint and do the things you love? I am actually very envious of creative people at the moment, as you can just let things flow and make the most of the time it has given you too.
Adrian: That is exactly what I am going to do. Once I am done with the promotional stuff, I want to start writing for the next album actually as you might as well enjoy the time. Make it useful and hopefully come up with the next album in a timely manner, so it is not three years between the album. Because once you start touring it can be more difficult to find the time or motivation. So, all this time in the next couple of months I am definitely going to use it!
Fran: My favourite tracks on the album are ‘Shadows of the Night’, ‘Shout’ and ‘Light Up the Sky’. Which track on the album would you say has been your favourite to write, rehearse and record?
Adrian: It kind of changes every day. ‘Hell and High Water’ is always in there and ‘Shadows of the Night’ is always in there, and so is actually ‘Let it Rain’ … oh man it is difficult as every day I still play the album. Which is very unusual, because I have heard the songs a million times. There is always going to be two or three songs I want to hear over and over again, but then there are others that vary .. for instance, this morning I woke up and listened to ‘Light up the Sky’, you know it kicked me into gear with a hefty cappuccino, you know it is one of those songs!
Fran: And it depends what mood you are in, I have only had time to listen to the album once, so I am sure I will be saying each time I play it, actually I really like this song or actually this is great to wake up with. It changes over time, and that is a sign of a good album when you can hear different things each time, it makes it exciting.
Adrian: Yeah, I totally agree. I always had it when I started getting in to music and whether it was Zeppelin or Purple or whatever, I would be playing the same one or two song for some days and then I thought let’s play some other stuff. Some songs grow on you and some are immediate recognition tunes…like yeah you know ‘Highway To Hell’ I can always play, it always puts you in a great mood! Exuberant … don’t give a shit song!
Fran: It’s just shouts out lust for life doesn’t it! I’ve goose bumps talking about that song, it makes me so happy!
Adrian: (laughs) Yeah!
Fran: You have guest contributions on the latest album from bassist Rudy Sarzo (Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot, Dio, Queensryche) and drummer Brian Tichy (Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Foreigner, Billy Idol). And I remember seeing Brian when he played over here in the UK with the Dead Daisies at Ramblin Man Fair. I interviewed Doug Aldrich and Marco Mendoza, and we discussed how much more relaxed and fun playing in rock bands was now. It seems the older they have got; they enjoy the whole process of playing with different compatriots of the music scene more. Less ego, less pressure …more fun! Would you agree?
Adrian: Yeah, there is one thing I must say is that the only time I really felt a little bit of pressure was with the third Vandenberg album at the time, we had a new A&R manager who tried to push me into a Duran Duran kind of direction, which obviously was not the idea. In that period, I thought it gnawed a little at my creativity because I want to do whatever I felt like doing musically. So, when I started the Moonkings I told myself I would never give in to that kind of stuff anymore. And that was actually the reason I immediately signed with Mascot, after talking to the boss/owner Mr van Zijl. I had list of people who approached me over the years, in the years when I was not overly active in the music scene and I sent the list to a friend of mine in France who is an independent promoter and asked them who they recommended? He said well yeah there is only one guy I really trust and that is the guy from Mascot. He was not on the list, so he said I will give you his email address, before I had a chance to email him, he contacted me and said ‘Do me a favour, before you talk to anyone else, talk to me” He is Dutch, I didn’t even know that ! He said to me “I have been following your career, you have never made a bad album, so as far as I am concerned you record the albums with us that you want to record”. So that was beautiful!
I do agree that the business has changed and you don’t have the big 80’s thing that was going on at the time, more heat on this kind of music. It was on radio and tv all the time, there is a different kind of vibe now. To me I realise that every day, this is one of my main passions, I have never taken it for granted, even in the Whitesnake days I used to think this could be over next week, and I will just be an art teacher again (which I was for about a year). So, I have always looked at it in a very relevant way, I take nothing for granted and when things are going well it’s great and when they are not going so well, I still want to make good music!
Fran: Is your go to guitar still your Les Paul Heritage that you bought in 1980 (if my research is right) on this album? If so, what it is you love about playing it? If not, which guitar are you playing?
Adrian: I am looking at it right now!! Yep, I did by it in 1980, your research is perfect! Yep it has been with me through thick and thin, all over the world. It looks like it has been dragged behind a car through some middle eastern village a few times! The weird thing is that, for non-musicians this could be a little abstract, but you really get a connection with the instrument you play. You know I hardly realise that I am over 40 years old now (laughs) and it has changed colour over the years and sounds more beautiful, because the wood ages and the more often it is played the more resonant it sounds. There is a very special connection and it is all I use on this album, just like the other Vandenberg albums.
Fran: Cos, usually guitarist have loads of different guitars that they change and use, it is nice to know that you have one true love in your guitar collection!
Adrian: Yeah, I do have a lot of guitars, I love them all, but I keep hanging with this one because this one is always by my side. After the last chord at any of my shows, my guitar tech picks up this guitar and puts it in the case and brings it to my dressing room. I always have it with me, I never travel apart from it.
Fran: Awwwww … that’s fab!
Adrian: But it is also scary, because you are so connected to it.
Fran: I do like to discuss the other interests and passions with people I interview and I tried to buy (without success, as it was sold out!) your art book ‘Inspiring Interactions’, and looking at your art website I love the painting “Zie om, maar ga door” or in English “Look around, but keep going”. And also ‘Backstage Birds and Snakes’….is this how you visualise the two faces of those who on one hand adore the bands you play with simply for music sake and on the other hand those who what to grab a piece of you for their own gain?
Adrian: Yep, well spotted, this business is a continual source of inspiration. In the Whitesnake era I didn’t not have too much time to do my painting and my style has drastically evolved and the process became much closer to being on stage and slinging a guitar solo out of your guitar. Before that my style was very realistic, sometimes I worked with brushes that only had three hairs to make really fine details and stuff and spent two or three weeks on a painting sometimes. Right now, it is much more of an Impressionist type of thing. I really enjoy the process of attacking the canvas and seeing what comes. I feel very privileged that I have a bunch of passions that I really enjoy.
Fran: Yes, well I was going to ask you a horrible question next, I was going to say if you had to keep one of these passions which would it be? But I’m not going to…it’s very hard isn’t it, you couldn’t drop either of them your art or your music? They are too intertwined now with each other in a sense?
Adrian: Yeah, they are, when we stopped with Whitesnake in 1999, I initially planned to stay away from the music scene for two to three years, this became thirteen years. In those years, I realised more and more, that not playing left a void in my being so to speak and it also worked the other way when I was touring for so long with Whitesnake, the lack of painting left a void too. I always knew I was going to catch up with it and I am also aware that when I am 125 years old, I will still be able to still behind an easel and make paintings. Running around the stage, dressed up like a Christmas tree, I don’t picture that when I am 125! (Both laugh) But I will always be making music too, just like my dad did right up until he passed away.
Fran: Speaking of your father, my father too passed away when I was only 12 years old. But he painted big, big oil paintings of his childhood in Indonesia. But he also copied many of Vermeer’s paintings too!
Adrian: Ahh yes one of my favourite painters!
Fran: Who are your heroes and if you could invite 5, dead or alive, to a gezellig dinner party you were hosting who would you choose?
Adrian: Jimi Hendrix, he was my first hero and as a musician I think is unequalled. He wrote ground breaking stuff, poetry with load wild rock, but also some subtle too. He was an interesting guy, there are a couple of interviews where he is a really quiet, well spoken guy, a really interesting personality.
Paul Rodgers, ever since I was a kid, he has been my favourite singer. I was so honoured when I got the invitation to play on one of his chronicle albums, I could even pick the song, and I picked the song ‘Fire and Water’, which was the song which turned me into a Free fan initially. So that was definitely one of the high lights of my career. If you sing like that … you must be an interesting personality. He seems very happy with his life to and he appreciates what his heart tells him to do and uses his talents to make other people happy … which is great!
Another person, who I would love to have met would be the Dutch painter Karel Appel. He was one of the Cobra group who really changed classic painting into modern painting in the 40’s and 50’s. A very interesting personality, I have read a lot of biographies about him. I would ask him how he got to this way of working.
Probably someone like Vermeer or Frans Hals, two Dutch masters. What a lot of people don’t realise is that, their paintings look very classic at first glance, but if you look very carefully, there are already freeing themselves from the classic way of painting. They had to do this very carefully, because at the same time they had to make a living from their paintings.
Mozart, my sister, is a classical piano player and I often watch one of my all-time favourite movies ‘Amadeus’ with her. Such a great story!
Fran: And he was the crazy dude of the time, wasn’t he?
Adrian: I think he was, at least in the movie he is portrayed this way. And that is why I would like to meet him and to see if he was like that. But if he was, he was the Jimi Hendrix of those days you know?
Fran: Is there other news you would like to share with our readers? It is May 29th the album gets released isn’t it?
Adrian: Yep, I can’t wait. This sounds like the biggest cliché in the world, but it is so great to read all the positive reviews and talk to all the people I have been over the last 5 weeks on the phone. But the amazing feedback is great as you never know, you work your arse off on all the songs and then you throw it in to the world and you hope that people appreciate it. Because, I am fully aware that there are so many talented musicians out there that make brilliant records and then it does not happen for them. It is always a bit Russian Roulette…
Fran: Yes, but I think when you are established like yourself, people already know who you are so you are introducing younger fans, because they love rock music, and people like me who have known about you for years. You are casting a big net, that maybe very new people cannot cast, as they do not have the background and history that you have.
Adrian: Yes, I am very aware of that, as right now if you start with a new rock band it has to be tough. On the one hand you can promote on the internet, but on the other hand everyone does that. Even with Moonkings, it really took quite a while for people to realise it was my band. As I didn’t want to go down the easy route, but now I thought if ever there was a time to revisit Vandenberg it was now. It is really hard to get gigs as there are so many clubs that have shut and now with Coronavirus there are going to be even more scars you know? I just feel very fortunate and privileged that I can still live my passion and people are interested in what I do. I always have the feeling that I am just getting started and that is the feeling I have right now with this new album.
Fran: And that comes across, because as the first track came on I thought ‘WOW that is brilliant!” You can tell that it still feels fresh to you and very often you don’t hear that in an album from a long-established artist. But with you it is blatantly obvious that you are loving every minute of it which is bound to transfer over to those who listen to it. And tours hopefully in November/ December?
Adrian: Yes, Planet Rockstock hopefully 4th December and I can’t wait. You know British fans are great, I love Britain and it has been such an influence with everything I do musically. Because all my favourite bands are pretty much 99% British. Queen, Free, Bad Company, Deep Purple, Rainbow, Led Zeppelin, Steve Marriott with Humble Pie and Small Faces. Stevie Winwood was one of my first heroes…. oh, wait a minute there goes my one-legged duck. I have a one-legged duck in my garden who keeps coming back each year. He is sunbathing, for the last three years he has come back every summer and always feel sorry for him as he is always by himself, as all the others ducks are in couples. So I will feed him in a bit.
Fran: Any other news?
Adrian: Just to say I can’t wait to come back to Britain, as it has shaped my musical landscape and it is just so exciting to play there and play in cities that I only ever used o read about when I was a teenager. I also have family in Hereford who I use to visit in the holidays when I was kid, my aunt got hitched to a British pilot after the war. So, with Brexit, I hope the island doesn’t float away too far!
Fran: Thanks so much for your time Adrian and hopefully I will see you when you are over here!
Adrian: Yep we will make it happen!
Fran: Tot ziens!
Adrian: Tot ziens!
Francijn’s review of Vandenberg’s 2020 album can be found here: