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:


Interview with Hannes Kett of Shiraz Lane

Back in the past, it took a trip to the nearest newsagent’s and a subsequent purchase of a music magazine to learn that your favourite band is in the recording studio – or, if you were really lucky, you could catch some official announcement on MTV. These days it’s the string of the recording studio selfies, videos and hashtags flooding the particular band’s social media that indicate that someone’s new music is in the works. This was exactly the case with the Finnish group Shiraz Lane recently. That’s why I caught up with their lead singer Hannes Kett to check out what’s going on…

Shiraz Lane. Photo used by permission. Photo credits: Ville Juurikkala.

Alexandra Mrozowska, Rock Speculo Interviews: It’s not the first time we hear from you guys this year, as in January you released a five-song EP Vibration I. So, let’s start from the Shiraz news from the recording studio…

HK: The plan is to combine both EPs and to have a full length album, while perhaps adding some surprises? All will be revealed in time, be patient and know that the time spent waiting won’t be in vain. Now we are at the magical stage of writing new tunes. We recorded our first single from the upcoming EP as to give people a taste of what our sound is at the moment. The progress of writing new tunes always differs. It is all a part of the evolution of an artist. I am very excited to be writing new material and expanding our catalogue. You have a sense of what a particular song might sound like, you hear it in your mind clear as day, and then you take the necessary steps to bringing forth your vision. The question is, where do all these song ideas come from? I think we are connected to something bigger than us and are simply vessels for receiving this music from somewhere. This is a concept shared by many within the art community.

AM: But what exactly is it that sparks this creativity?

HK: Life. This wonderful adventure of a lifetime. You can write a song about anything, all you have to do is keep your eyes and ears open to what’s going on around you, to swim in the ocean of surrounding energies. 

AM: The producer of your new music is Joonas Parkkonen, whose Rock/Metal credentials are said to be complemented by his Pop sensibility as well. Is it what influenced your decision to collaborate with him?

HK: We’ve had the pleasure of trying out different producers and working with Joonas felt like a very natural step forward. The key to a producer is to look at a band and work to their strengths while pushing them to the next level. This is definitely something I find very intriguing and will pursue in the future myself. And well, I’ve always liked to tip my toes into different genres, having said that I enjoy quality Pop as well. I am inspired to write juicy melodies so working with Joonas was and is a blast. Nerding out on tiny details many people might not even think about is what makes something good inredible. Whatever we write and however we write, it will sound like Shiraz Lane. We’ve never been afraid to venture in the waters of different styles. 

AM: Right in the middle of conceptualizing your third full length album, is the infamous “third album syndrome” causing any pressure?

HK: Well, we started out with our EP Be The Slave Or Be The Change and only after that we recorded two albums. It felt natural to write two separate EPs that will become one album. When writing and recording songs, you record the state of your soul and when your time comes to leave this life,  you will remain eternal. I see no reason to feel pressure, all we want is to write and record what we feel like is music worth releasing. This society in which we live in is concentrating on pleasing everyone, a mindset I’ve decided to not take part in. Haters will hate  and lovers will love, guess which one I prefer…? 

AM: Back to your EP released in January, the title Vibration I suggests a sequel to it…

HK: Maybe we’ll release Vibration 3 and 4 one day? The possibilities are endless. 

AM: The EP includes a cover version of “To The Moon & Back”, originally a 1996 hit by the Australian Pop duo Savage Garden. What’s prompted this choice?

HK: We liked the song and thought it could be made even better. Did we succeed? I honestly think so. I like writing songs that force your hips to move, music that makes your body tingle with excitement. 

AM: Have you ever considered releasing a full-length album covering songs of genres different than yours?

HK: It is definitely a thought that has crossed my mind. The world is filled with amazing music, some songs you wish you wrote yourself, so why not see if you can make them even better? The songs could be from mainstream Pop charts to more unknown Neo Blues and Soul tunes. When it comes to which songs we’d cover, I’d rather leave you guessing. Whatever we’d choose, we’d make them sound like us and give it a fresh spin. I’m not particularly fond of making covers that are just a rougher approach, I feel those kind of covers are lacking imagination.

AM: During the quarantine, your fans had a chance to see you live via live online streaming. What kind of experience was it in comparison with regular gigs?

HK: It’s like comparing an orange to a grapefruit. They’re both round and succulent yet taste very different. At the end of the day I enjoy both. Playing our tunes is what we want to do and the live stream vibe is closer to the rehearsal room. The energy you share with the audience during a live show can’t be duplicated. That’s the magic of live shows, the band and the audience are One. I enjoyed the Semilive livestream as an experience and am really looking forward to regular gigs, there’s just nothing like the high of performing in front of a screaming crowd who’s there to listen and see you perform. It’s a very spiritual experience. One could state that the spiritual leaders of different religions are the biggest rock stars of all, yes? (laughs) Jokes aside, music is the universal language, something we are born with and something most of us cannot live without. 

AM: That’s absolutely true. However, you were also lucky to have finished your first European headliner tour right before the pandemic hit…

H: We certainly got lucky with that one. We got to take our friends from Temple Balls and Block Buster with us and every night was a dream come true. You can definitely sense the difference in the audience when you are the main act in comparison to being the opening act. Doing shows and tours as the opening act teaches you and hones your skills and I definitely feel like you have to earn the right to be the main act, something I feel we’ve done. Still I am looking forward to warming up the stage for other bigger acts and thus growing our fanbase. There are several bands I’d like to play with and hopefully will get to play with. 

AM: Fingers crossed. Having mentioned Block Buster and Temple Balls, why do you think every other Rock/Metal act comes from Scandinavia?

HK: You can find Rock/Metal acts in almost every country, it’s just a matter of looking for them. When it comes to WHY there are more Metal bands coming from Scandinavia it must have something to do with the gloomy darkness that we have to live with most of the year. It’s bound to make you feel certain things and what better way to express your emotions than through musical adventures? We must remember however that quality always wins over quantity, just because there are more bands like such coming from a certain scene doesn’t automatically mean that the quality is top notch.

AM: What is a typical demographic at a Shiraz Lane gig?

HK: Our audience comes in all ages, all sizes, all colours and all religions. As of right now the majority of our audience is roughly around the same ages as us, with some older generations also appreciating our art. I want to extend our audience even more, and it will happen through writing songs that capture the essence of the soul – that make you feel like you are not alone, songs that are relatable to whoever are and whichever situation you might be in. You know that feeling when you are in some state of mind and listen to a song and feel it vibrate through every cell in your body?

AM: Gosh, I live for this particular feeling.

HK: That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Listeners hear if you really mean what you are singing about or if you are faking it. I give 116% of myself when I sing and perform and I am brutally honest about the way I see and feel things to be. That’s why many people can relate to my words and melodies. That’s why they relate to our music. I’m very grateful for it. 

AM: Are your concert setlists equally representative to all your works?

HK: We tend to play something from all the different eras of Shiraz Lane. Mostly focusing on Carnival Days and naturally now the newer tunes. I think at some point we should play some special shows with more songs from the first album as well. Maybe have two separate sets? It’ll happen one day for sure.

AM: As for your further concerts plans, were you able to postpone all the gigs planned from the mid March onward or were there any unfortunate cancellations along the way?

HK: We postponed a whole lot of shows and unfortunately had to cancel some. I’m extremely happy that some of our bigger festivals abroad got postponed instead of fully cancelled. All we can do is stay positive and productive. I REALLY do miss live shows, and I think it’s the same for everyone feeling passionate about music, musicians and fans alike. This will make it so much more exciting when things take a change for the better.

AM: Absolutely. Is the band up to anything else right now?

HK: Writing and honing our craft. Making plans and visualising all the great things in the future to come.

AM: Is there any kind of message you’d like to wrap up our conversation with?

HK: Hope. Faith. Love. Respect. These are the key elements for us as a human race. We have to be aware of the steps we take forward from now on. The future is unknown, yet we can look back in history and see the mistakes we’ve made and learn from them. To realize that not everything we are told is the absolute truth, to read between the lines and understand that WE have the power, if we stand as ONE race, ONE tribe, ONE family, there is nothing that can stop us. During uncertain times, we must see this as a possibility for personal growth and to break old toxic behavioural patterns. Be open-minded, understand that we are all connected, yet we are all UNIQUE. There is no need to try to fit in. What someone has decided is “normal” is not what we should aim for. The beauty is found within ourselves, so don’t be afraid to be different, don’t be afraid to stand out. Do we want to feed the machine and be fearful about the future? Do we choose to be slaves to our beliefs that we’ve been taught? Do we want to be led or lead? It’s all up to us. We must strive to be present, strive to love unconditionally and heal the earth while we can. To whoever reading this right now, you are WORTHY of love, you are SPECIAL, you have the POWER. When in doubt, look within and shower yourself with positive thoughts. Everything is meant to be. Sending you love and light!

Shiraz Lane on Facebook

Shiraz Lane on Instagram

Check out Shiraz Lane’s “Do Ya” music video off their 2020 EP Vibration I below: