Interview – Adrian Vandenberg talks about sharks, snakes and SIN

Adrian Vandenberg, the Flying Dutchman himself, is about to release the next Vandenberg album, SIN

Interview by Victoria Llewelyn

Adrian Vandenberg, the Flying Dutchman himself, is about to release the next Vandenberg album along with a launch at the 100 Club in London and a subsequent international tour. With a new line up and sounding punchier than ever, Adrian chats from the peaceful environment of his French retreat, where he spends time enjoying the surroundings, painting, and getting mentally prepared to head back out on tour to bring us ‘Sin’.
Ever the master of his own destiny and refusing to bow to convention, Adrian has always trodden his own path, trusting his heart and his instincts to carve out what has been one of the most successful careers in the history of rock guitarists. From beginning with Dutch band ‘Teaser’ in 1978, inventing and reinventing Vandenberg, his tenure in Whitesnake at the height of their success, Vandenberg’s Moonkings and now preparing to celebrate the new album, there is much to discuss.

MGM: You started the original Vandenberg band in 1981, way before your time in Whitesnake, for which you’re probably best known. The band achieved success with a Top 40 hit ‘Burning Heart’ amongst some heavy competition from the British and American rock giants of the 80s – you were able to hold your own. With three albums released and touring with some of the most high profile rock bands of the era, Vandenberg were arguably one of the most auspicious bands to come out of Europe. Did you imagine that it would prove to be such a successful endeavour?

AV: I didn’t think we would even make it out of Holland! Very few bands did, there was a lot of talent but it’s a tiny country and we didn’t think we could compete. Around that time there was Golden Earring with their big hit ‘Radar Love’, and there was an amazing band called Focus, who were one of the earliest Prog bands; these were the bands I grew up on that actually made it out of Holland. There wasn’t much interest in that kind of music, so when I put the band together, I was not under any illusion!
It was a really pleasant surprise when Phil Carson (London based Senior Vice President of Atlantic Records) flew out to see us. He was involved with bands like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. He wanted to see us, but we had no shows booked, so I rented a local theatre for us to play for him. He was the only person in the hall, and he signed us on the spot. Everything took off from there, and still I thought – it’s probably going to be over next year, and I’ll go back to doing my paintings and graphic design, but it never stopped! And I’m still here, doing the same thing!

MGM: Very soon after this you were approached by David Coverdale and asked to join Whitesnake – before the first Vandenberg album had even been released. Having heard you play David decided he wanted you on board there and then, but you initially turned him down to carry on with Vandenberg and didn’t join Whitesnake until the late 1980s. What were the thoughts behind the decision to choose this path at such a pivotal point in your career?

AV: David heard the Vandenberg demos at the Atlantic Records office in London, and yes, he approached me right before the first album actually came out! He invited me to a Whitesnake show in Utrecht, and then he asked me if I was happy with the way things were going, and if I’d be interested in joining Whitesnake instead. I was really flattered. So was my girlfriend because David went straight after my girlfriend! She didn’t go for it though!
I didn’t want to be just another guy in Whitesnake because they were changing their line ups faster than most people change their underwear! I’ve always been a big fan of David’s, but I thought it would be better for both of us if I would prove something myself first. So, we decided to stay in touch, and at the end of 1986 I thought it was a good time. It was a great time for David too, it was right before the ‘1987’ album got released and I was fortunate to play on ‘Here I Go Again’ which was the big track from that album.

The ’1987’ tour lasted a year and a half, and we were selling out stadiums all over the world. That’s something every musician dreams about, flying across the world playing in those kinds of venues, to people from different cultures, it was a huge adventure! Fantastic to do it all over again with the ‘Slip Of The Tongue’ tour which was another year and a half.

David and I wrote all the music together for the ‘Slip Of The Tongue’ album but shortly after we started recording I began to lose the flexibility in my wrist and I didn’t know what was going on. After keeping everyone waiting in the studio for about a week because I couldn’t play, I decided to fly back to Holland for treatment and fortunately it was healed just in time for me to join the tour.

MGM: Although Whitesnake came to its natural end for releasing new music, you were still to be found on the line up for most of the subsequent reunion shows and festival appearances. Is your relationship with David as strong as ever?

AV: David and I are still in touch, sometimes it’s a few weeks or even months, sometimes it’s a couple of times a week, but we always keep in touch. We’ve always had this unique connection which is unusual in the music business. And we spent so much time together – there have been times when I’ve stayed at David’s house for almost a year when we’ve been writing and recording. That can only work if you get on really well together.

MGM: Whitesnake went on indefinite hiatus in the late 90s and apart from a short spell with Manic Eden (made up of former Whitesnake and Little Caesar band members) it was several years before we saw you in your next band, Moonkings. What made you decide to essentially put your music career on hold at a time when you probably could have joined any band you chose?

AV: The way it happened was that Whitesnake kind of folded in 1999, and David, he’d decided he was done with the whole business – he was going through his divorce from Tawny Kitaen and a load of other stuff, and he’d just had enough. As we know, he picked it up again a few years later, but in 1999 my then-girlfriend and I had a baby girl. When that relationship fell apart a couple of years later, I decided I didn’t want to go on tour again for long periods, I wanted to help raise my daughter. That was worth far more to me than touring and all that stuff. I didn’t want to be one of those Dads that stuck his head around the door two or three times a year and said ‘Hi, I’m your Dad, but I have to leave again now’.

I decided to focus on my painting, and my daughter’s education, and when she was twelve, I thought it was a good time to explain to her what I actually do. I waited until she was old enough to understand. When she was three years old, she saw me on TV and she was waving at me, and her mother told me that she got really angry because I wasn’t waving back! She didn’t understand that I was not inside that TV!

Check out Adrian’s work here: 

http://www.vandenberg-art.com/

In life, I value these things so highly, you’ll very often hear stories about where couples fall apart, and the kids don’t get to see one or the other of them. I wasn’t going to be like that, I thought – ok, I’ll pick music up again when the time is right. When she was older, I was able to explain to her how touring works, and that you sometimes had to be away for a long time, and she was old enough to think it was pretty cool. Now she is a young woman of 24 and she thinks it’s even cooler than when she was twelve because she’s got friends that will say ‘Oh wow, you’re Dad’s a rock guitarist!’ before, she just thought that was normal!

MGM: Moonkings was a much more blues orientated band, producing two studio albums and an acoustic album over their time. Was this a conscious change of direction for you when you decided it was time to go back to playing music?

AV: I’ve always hovered in the grey area between these two approaches, blues and hard rock, and I had done a lot of hard rock. The reason I started Moonkings was because I was really missing music. I thought – by now people will have forgotten about me or won’t have any expectations about whatever I come up with. I started just writing music that got picked up by my mental antenna, so to speak, and that was how it came out. I just love to make music, to translate what I feel and what I hear in my head to my guitar.

We had a great vibe and a wonderful time with the shows we were able to do, but we couldn’t play outside of Holland, and I was missing international touring. The singer has a large farming company, and he really couldn’t be out of the country for more than a day, and I love to play in other countries and get in touch with other cultures. That’s actually why I had to end Moonkings.

MGM: The current version of Vandenberg has a completely new line up – Mats Leven on vocals, Koen Herfst on drums and Randy Van Der Elsen on bass. The previous version read more like a supergroup, with Brain Tichy, Ronnie Romero and Rudy Sarzo. You work with some of the highest esteemed live performance musicians. Have Vandenberg – as they are now – played any of the new album live yet, and how are you feeling about the upcoming tour?

AV: One of the big bonuses of having been in the music business for a while is that you become friends with all these great players that you have a great time with! Subsequently, you enjoy playing and making music with lots of different brilliant musicians! With Vandenberg I decided it was time to kick some ass in the hard rock direction again sine Moonkings was very blues-orientated. The last show we played live was on the Monsters of Rock Cruise where we could play a lot of songs from the ‘2020’ album but we couldn’t play anything from ‘Sin’ as it was a month and a half ago which is too soon to be giving away the surprises! This tour will be the first time the audience will have heard anything from the new album live.

We’re going to add at least three or four new songs and we’re very excited for this. We play the 100 club and I’ve been warned it has very low ceilings and I’m almost two metres tall! But I don’t care if the club is the size of a shoe box, I will play anywhere if it’s in the UK!

MGM: The tour in fact kicks off at the 100 Club over here in the UK, and it’s a great pleasure to have you start off in our country! Are you looking forward to coming back over?

AV: Oh, man, I love the UK. 95% of all my musical influences are from the UK. Free, Bad Company, Deep Purple, Rainbow, Cream – in the early days! Of course, Hendrix as well but the UK bands were great. That’s where it all started from, and then you got bands like Thunder carrying it on, and still great new bands coming through today. My roots lie in British blues-rock and I still play my Free records, my Rainbow albums, and let’s not forget The Beatles of course!
An interesting thing is how this music – these blues artists – seemed to come from the States, over to the UK, and then it was as if the British musicians put their twist on it and then sent it back! Like presenting someone with a cigar out of their own box!

MGM: When you’re not creating or playing music you demonstrate a lot of creative expression in other ways, mostly in your artwork and painting. You painted the cover art for ‘Sin’ and are a bit of a demon with an airbrush! Was this the route you might have taken if you hadn’t decided to do music?

AV: My dad, he always wanted to be a professional jazz musician, and he turned down this opportunity to become a professor in engineering because he thought the music business was too unstable, and he wanted to give his kids the chance to study – he chose not to be a jazz musician because it was too insecure to raise a family. When I was around 16, 17 years old he noticed I was skipping lessons all the time to go play music with my bands or look around for guitars and stuff. So, he advised me, you can either go to music University and study classical guitar or go to art University and study arts. I thought – if it doesn’t work out and I’m going to end up teaching then I’d rather be teaching art than music. This is because I just don’t have the patience! I love to play, not study skills and all that stuff!

I went to art University and studied for about six years, then I taught art at a high school for about a year until I got totally fed up – the whole regimen of getting up early in the morning, making a sandwich, hang out with a bunch of boring teachers in the coffee room, that’s not me! I did enjoy the actual teaching, because there were always two or three talented and interested kids in the class that you could try to take further and inspire them to create cool stuff, so that was a fun time.

After that I worked as a graphic designer for fashion magazines, who ever wanted an illustration for something came to me. I made a good living, and I still never had the illusion that I could do my kind of music, which in Holland was impossible to make a living with. I could rely on making a living through my art.

With the ‘Sin’ cover, in 1983 or 84 I painted those sharks flying over a highway in a desert and I thought it would be cool for the first time since then to make another painting in a surrealistic style like this one. I thought it would take about three days and I underestimated again; it took three days just to paint the sky! The sky is about fifteen layers of really thin green paint to create the depth I wanted. You can’t really see it on the album cover but it’s noticeable on the painting, you can really see the transparency of the sky.

I painted the covers for the second and third Vandenberg albums as well, in the same style, and now I have all three in my living room.

MGM: Do you still go rollerblading?

AV: Not every day like I used to! The last couple of months the weather has been so shitty, and rollerblading when the road is wet is tricky, the wheels slip very easily. I jump on my bicycle instead and kick my own ass until I come back all sweaty – it keeps your body alive!

MGM: What would you say were the particular high points in your music career?

AV: When I finally decided to join David (Coverdale) that was a high point because it changed everything for the good. I had a great time touring the States with Vandenberg before that, but playing a sold out Wembley Stadium in London was an absolute highlight. Another one was getting invited by my vocal hero Paul Rodgers to play a solo on my favourite Free song – ‘Fire And Water’ in the mid 90s.

There was a show in Holland on the ‘Slip Of The Tongue’ tour, a sold out stadium in Utrecht, and all my family were there, all my friends were there. It was a beautiful summer night, and I will never forget it. Another highlight – it just happened! This week I got asked by one of my guitar heroes, one of my most respected and loved guitar players, to play a solo on his upcoming album. I can’t tell you who because I’m not sure they want to let it out yet, but it will be out pretty soon, and when you hear it, you’ll understand!

I consider myself a very privileged person because over my whole life and career there have been so many highlights. And when you think, well, I have some great highlights to look back to, and then another one happens! I’m a lucky bastard!

Vandenberg play the 100 Club on August 24th 2023, prior to the album’s international release on August 25th. Tickets can be purchased here –
THE 100 CLUB | VANDENBERG

 

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