Interview with Adrian Vandenberg of Vandenberg

Nostalgia. The overwhelming feeling of longing for the past. It certainly works as a marketing tool these days, boosting record sales and turning remakes of classic movies into box office successes. But for an artist looking forward rather than back, it can be a real burden too. That’s exactly why Adrian Vandenberg was a bit reluctant to revive his namesake group we remember from the heart-tugging power ballad “Burning Heart” and three ‘80s albums – and decided to reform it entirely instead… And now that the new Vandenberg album 2020 has already hit the shelves, I was ready an’ willing to chat with the Dutch axeman for Rock Speculo Interviews about it – and a lot more.

Vandenberg 2020: Adrian Vandenberg, Ronnie Romero, Randy van der Elsen, Koen Herfst. Photo used by permission. Photo credits: Karina Wells

Alexandra Mrozowska, Rock Speculo Interviews: I have a feeling that actually I should start every 2020 interview from asking either “where would you be today if it wasn’t for the virus” or “how is the rescheduling process going”…

Adrian Vandenberg: Well, we would’ve been on tour through Europe with the reformed Vandenberg and I was really looking forward to it, but now we’re postponing it to early next year. We’ve planned a pretty extensive European tour for I think March/April next year, including most European countries, and then maybe we’ll play in Japan as we love to do. Who knows, maybe the tour will get stretched out or something, depending on how it goes…?

AM: Let’s hope so! While the rescheduled tour dates give us something to look forward to, still there are some long-term effects the pandemic would have on the music industry…

AV: Yes, it’s really, really sad that there are no concerts. I mean, bands and crew members are in serious withdrawals and of course financial problems, because they can’t play. And for the fans, it’s utterly boring… Me, I always love to go to see a band if I know they’re good and worth seeing (laughs). It’s just weird, it’s very surrealistic and no fun at all, so to speak. But I’m a hardcore optimist and I’m very sure and positive that it’s gonna be sorted out as soon as we have the vaccine or the virus goes back to the stage of a regular flu or something. I sure hope so, like everybody does.

AM: Speaking of good things in life – with your return to the moniker of Vandenberg, your career really came full circle, but the presumed nostalgic vibe to it is largely missing due to the new line-up. Where did the idea for this come from?

AV: The idea to name it Vandenberg came from my record company and my management when I told them I wanted to start something next to [Vandenberg’s] Moonkings. It wasbecause with Moonkings we couldn’t tour internationally as Jan [Hoving], our singer, has a huge farming company and isn’t able to be away from home for more than one or two days. When I told them about it, the record company and my management said, “Well, why don’t you use the name Vandenberg again?” And I said that I didn’t want it to seem like a nostalgic project. But when I thought about it for one or two days, you know, I realized than instead of putting the old band together and making exactly the same music, it would actually be way more fun and way more inspiring to put an amazing line-up together with an amazing singer that fortunately I found in Ronnie [RomeroRainbow, Lords Of Black, The Ferrymen etc.]. Then, it’s a brand new ass-kicking band with a name that has a heritage – so, that was the idea.

AM: What about the Moonkings’ current status?

AV: Moonkings are on hold. I hope to do at least some Dutch shows sometime in the next couple of years because we had a great time onstage, there’s a great chemistry and I love the records that we did. But like I said, we can only tour in Holland and maybe some Belgium and close-to-the-border German gigs because of our singer Jan.

AM: Having announced Vandenberg’s comeback and the new album, did you feel any pressure because of certain expectations people – especially the fans of the band’s early period – might have about both?

AV: No, I didn’t feel any pressure because I got way over that stage in the early days (laughs). I might feel some pressure whenever I put the record out, you know, but I always think this is the best I can do right now – whether people like it or not. I’m basically always making a record that I’m gonna be proud of and that I would buy as a fan of this kind of music. I really appreciate the opinions of fans and stuff, no matter if they’re positive or negative… as long as the negative is like a fair judgment that has got some foundation instead of just slamming everything that a lot of people do on the Internet. Since the Internet is there, everybody considers themselves journalists (laughs). So yeah, I do care about people’s opinions but like I said, I always want and try to make an album that I would love to buy myself.

AM: You’ve already mentioned Ronnie Romero – how did you hook up with him and the rest of the current Vandenberg line-up?

AV: With Ronnie, it was an interesting situation. A couple of years ago – five or six years ago – I read somewhere that Ritchie Blackmore wanted to do a bunch of Rainbow shows and I thought, “Oh man”. Ronnie James Dio passed away and I knew that Blackmore didn’t wanna work with Joe Lynn Turner again, so I was curious who was gonna sing and do justice to all those amazing songs. So I looked on YouTube and I saw Ronnie blowing my socks off (laughs). He’s fuckin’ amazing singer. It was around the release of the first album with Moonkings I was very successful with. So, very spontaneously, I wrote Ronnie a mail and I said, “Congratulations on your job with Rainbow, you’re a great singer. I wish you all the success.” He immediately wrote back and said that he always liked my work and that he hoped that we could meet somewhere on the road one day. So when I thought about reforming Vandenberg and putting a new line-up together, the first person I thought about was Ronnie, because it only made sense to me if I could find an amazing singer and Ronnie is one. When it comes to Randy [van der Elsen, Tank] and Koen [Herfst, Doro] – Randy was recommended by a very well-known bass player in Holland who teaches bass guitar in one of the Rock Academies here, and Koen had been voted the best Dutch Rock drummer already for seven-eight years in the row. I didn’t know him personally, but when I read that, I checked him out on YouTube and I was blown away. He’s a great guy and a great drummer, and Randy’s a great guy and a great bass player, so I got lucky with the line-up once again.

AM: The album features guest appearances by the two musicians that don’t need any introduction – Rudy Sarzo and Brian Tichy. Was there a consideration of reforming Vandenberg with them on board, at least for a brief moment?

AV: I asked Rudy and Brian if they were willing to play on the album, because I wasn’t sure if I was going to have the line-up together yet. So when I had it together eventually, a couple of weeks before we went into the studio, Rudy and Brian enthusiastically agreed to just play a couple of tracks. So there was never really a plan to bring them into the band because they both have their things to do. They’re both great friends of mine. Rudy and I have been very close friends since Quiet Riot supported Vandenberg, so I always know what Rudy is doing. I knew from the start it wouldn’t be a band situation.

AM: Listening to 2020, I can’t help but notice the album has a Whitesnake-ish vibe to it. What was the songwriting process for the album like?

AV: Basically, the songwriting process was exactly the same as it was in the early ‘80s. I start writing the songs and the lyrics at home and I work very hard on both, because I don’t wanna surprise myself once I’m in the studio. In the very early days, when I was about twenty or twenty-one, with some songs I thought “I’ll wait until it’s recorded in the studio, it’s gonna sound great.” But I found out very soon that song has to be great and then it can only get better sound-wise in the studio. So I do it the same way since then. I make very, very extensive demos – they almost sound like a record (laughs) – and in the studio it’s only gonna get better because you get a better sound than the demos. My demos sound pretty good though (laughs). Anyway, this album does have Whitesnake vibe to it, but so does the very first Vandenberg album – that’s why David [Coverdale] asked me [to join Whitesnake – AM]. You know, songs like “Burning Heart”, “Your Love’s In Vain” or “Wait” could have been Whitesnake songs. So, Whitesnake and especially David has always been an influence on me just like Deep Purple, Rainbow, Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Free, Cream… you name it. Every Rock band that plays from the heart and makes great music with great musicians is an influence on me.

AM: The album was produced by Bob Marlette, known from working with Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath or Rob Zombie. What was the collaboration with him like?

AV: It was a great connection and after five minutes of working together we already agreed that we’re gonna do the next album too (laughs). It was a great collaboration and the first time we’ve talked on the phone, we agreed right away what the idea of the album should be like. And it’s like you walk into the best rehearsal of a band and you stand right in the front of the little rehearsal room stage and everything is loud and crisp, the vocal is loud and so are the guitars, the drums and the bass. You can hear everything and it becomes one powerful ball of sound… It’s all about the performance, you know. We were really happy with it and Bob and I became instant friends. He’s a great guy and a very musical producer, and he’s made a great mix, so I’m very, very happy.

AM: In the past, you used to design Vandenberg’s album covers. However, 2020 is basically just a refreshed version of the band’s 1982 self-titled debut. Weren’t you tempted to offer something more complex, especially given your artistic skills and experience?

AV: I thought about doing a painting again, like I did in the early ‘80s. But then I realized that these days most people are listening to music using stuff like YouTube and Spotify and the record cover is always like a thumbnail there – really small…  I thought it would be a clearer signal if I just restyled the logo and then put it on and put “2020” with it so people would know it’s a new Vandenberg record and not the “best of” type of thing. But I’m pretty convinced that on the next couple of albums I’m gonna paint another picture again, so we’ll see.

AM: Do you feel the new Vandenberg picks up exactly where the previous incarnation of the band left off musically, or is it a whole new chapter in the band’s history?

AV: Well, of course it doesn’t exactly pick up where the last incarnation left off – partly it does, but you can’t erase thirty years in between. I’ve learnt a lot with Whitesnake, I’ve learnt a lot touring around the world and playing the biggest stadiums and the biggest arenas. Also, over the years I became more and more critical of myself. I need to get the same kick listening to my album that I get listening to the favourite bands of mine. I try to raise the bar each and every time I make a record or put together a band.

AM: There is a nostalgic vibe to one song on the album, however – a re-recorded version of Vandenberg’s biggest hit, “Burning Heart”…

AV: The reason why we re-recorded “Burning Heart” was actually what my manager said when the record company wanted to put out a press release once Ronnie joined. My manager said – and he was right – that everyone and their grandma puts out a press release, so it would be a much stronger signal if there was music with it. But we haven’t been to the studio yet. Then I realized that for the Moonkings’ second studio album we recorded the instrumental tracks – bass, drums and guitars – for “Burning Heart” just in case Japan would like to have a bonus track (which they always do, in order to compete with import records). So I realized we already have basic tracks and all that I have to do is to fly to Madrid where Ronnie lived at the time to record the vocals. Then I went back home and recorded the solo in which I stayed very close to the original – well, I wanted to [do that], but I think I played it with more live experience. That’s the challenge each and every time. And at the same time I didn’t wanna float away from the original version because I don’t think I should mess with it. It turned out to be great the way it is.

AM: Do you intend to revisit Vandenberg’s early catalogue again on your next albums? What about concert setlists – will you revisit the material you wrote together with David for Whitesnake, as it already happened with Moonkings?

AV: I’m not sure. I haven’t really thought about it yet because I always wanna make new stuff, so who knows, maybe…? We’ll definitely do a couple of Vandenberg songs in a live set. We’ll also definitely do a few songs that I wrote with David for Whitesnake, and maybe even one or two Rainbow songs because of Ronnie’s connection with Rainbow. It will be fun and we can make a great set.

AM: Is there a song of your catalogue you’d never revisit in the live setting? Why?

AV: Well, that’s an interesting question! Actually, I haven’t really thought about it. Probably “I’m On Fire” from the first [Vandenberg] album because I didn’t feel it was as strong as the rest of the album – but that’s a personal thing. There’s a couple of songs that I would definitely like to do in the live setting and these are the ones that fit Ronnie’s voice and his way of singing. And it’s gonna be a surprise! (laughs)

AM: What do you think was the proudest or the most important moment of the forty years of your career?

AV: That’s not too difficult [to pick up – AM] actually. Like when the first Vandenberg album broke and we had the hit single right off the bat in the United States and a lot of European countries and Japan. I was really, really proud then because I’ve been doing that for such a long time with so much passion that it’s just really nice when people like what you’re working for and what you love to do. So that was one thing, and the other thing was of course with Whitesnake. Starting in 1987 when the album and “Here I Go Again ‘87” soared to number one in the charts everywhere, especially in America. I’m really proud that I got to play the solo on “Here I Go Again ‘87” because… Man, that’s a lifelong thing to be proud of to have a guitar solo on a number one hit single in the States and other countries! Yet the other thing was in 1990 with the [Whitesnake] line-up including Steve Vai. We played a stadium in Holland. It was a beautiful summer evening and my whole family was there, my mum and my dad – my dad was still alive then… A whole bunch of friends came too, and they set apart the whole VIP section for all those friends and family. It was so memorable, a beautiful day and a great concert, and I’ve been walking around for months with a big smile on my face. Another thing is when I came up the first Moonkings album that I’m still really proud of. I’d stayed away from the music scene, as people know, for more than ten years, to be involved in my daughter’s life as she was growing up. Her mum and I separated when my daughter was three and I didn’t wanna be one of those dads who sticks his head around the corner a couple of times a year and goes, “Hi, I’m your dad! I gotta go, see ya!” That was more important to me than anything else. When I came back with Moonkings, I’m really proud of these albums and of the band and the great shows we’ve had. And now, the next thing I’m really, really proud of is the new Vandenberg album. It’s one of these albums that I’ve always hoped to be able to make and I’m serious about it. And I’m not just being a second-hand car salesman here (laughs). I’m just really, really proud of it and I’m proud of each and every band member and the production and the songs that I wrote. I’m a happy fucker, you know? (laughs) I really am and I feel fortunate because there are so many fantastic talented musicians all over the world. Still, I had the opportunity to be in this business for such a long time and to be able to play and to be able to make the kind of records that I want and love to make without interference from the record company people… Because situations happen when managers push you in directions that you don’t feel comfortable in and in the end, you kinda do a concession or something. But that’s never been the case, so I just feel fortunate because of that. Music, as painting, writing, making movies and stuff, is an art form and art should have freedom of expression. That’s why I feel lucky that we can express ourselves like this, with this band. For me it’s a dream band and it’s really cool.

AM: Is there anything you’d like to add in the end?

AV: Thanks very much for your interest! Let’s hope to see each other on the road somewhere – we’ll be there! Take care and hi to everybody from the little Adrian in faraway Holland! (laughs)

Vandenberg Official Website

Vandenberg on Facebook

Be sure to check out Vandenberg’s single “Skyfall” off their 2020 album below: