Eddie Van Halen on drinking, his old amp, the new record and David Lee Roth
Eddie Van Halen on stage at the CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, PA, 2012. © Devin Simmons/ AdMedia./Retna Ltd./Corbis
Since Van Halen released the widely praised A Different Kind Of Truth last February, that group's legendary guitarist, Eddie Van Halen, has been strangely silent, leaving all interviews up to singer David Lee Roth - who has done a small handful.
In the May issue of Esquire magazine, however, Eddie opens up for a piece called Edward Van Halen Is Alive, in which the guitarist talks about his struggles with alcoholism, his relationship with David Lee Roth, what it's like to make music with his son Wolfgang and how he hot-rodded his own amp.
Here are some highlights from the interview:
"The funny thing is, about the whole alcoholism thing: It wasn't really the partying. It was like - I don't mean to blame my dad, but when I started playing in front of people, I'd get so damn nervous. I asked him, Dad, how do you do it?' That's when he handed me the cigarette and the drink. And I go, Oh, this is good! It works! For so long, it really did work. And I certainly didn't do it to party. I would do blow and I would drink, and then I would go to my room and write music."
On feeling better after getting sober:
"There was one day, I think. Because I must have laid on the couch for a year. Just watching Law & Order. What's funny is: When I drank and did drugs, I never watched TV. Wolfie never, never saw me watch TV growing up. I was always in the studio, making music, and now, nothing. All of the sudden I'm on the couch watching TV, going, 'This is a fucking trip.'"
On recording the new album:
"Before we decided to actually make a full record, we said, 'Hey, let's do some old demos.' And we actually recorded three of them already. And I engineered She's The Woman, Out Of Space and Bullethead, and it ended up turning into a whole record. But we figured: Why not give fans the era that they liked, you know?"
On his son, Wolfgang, and his brother, Alex:
"I can't think of anyone more blessed than me. For one, you know all the bullshit I've been through in my life. To have a brother that I've been playing with since day one, and now my son. I don't think anyone else in music can actually say that. I don't know anyone who has a son and brother that they play together."
Van Halen and David Lee Roth performing at the Verizon Center, Washington DC, 2012. © Tina Fultz/ZUMA Press/Corbis
On David Lee Roth:
"We never really hated each other. I think the press blew that out of proportion. He did kind of blindside us by leaving - we certainly weren't ready for that. But we always, if we argued - you know, now it's always about, about the structure of a song. It's never personal. We've never on a personal level not gotten along."
The story of the Variac and his amp:
"Dave and I did an interview promo thing before the first record came out... The guy's going, 'We have Van Halen, a brand-new band from L.A. here in the studio. So Dave, tell me' ...And here's Dave, 'Bop, bop, yabba, dabba, doo,' you know? Then he turns to me and says, I understand you and your brother, Alex, are from Amsterdam, Holland.' And I went, 'Yeah.' Dead air.
"So afterwards, Dave goes, 'Here's what you're gonna do. You're gonna lie. You're gonna make up some shit so they don't remember it.' ...So anyway, I do my first full-blown interview with Guitar Player, and that whole thing is in my head.
"I had my 100-volt Marshall. I bought one through the recycling or the newspaper that was from England, and it was set on 220 volts. I didn't know. So I plugged the thing in, but I'm going, 'Fucking thing doesn't work. I got ripped off.' I just let it sit there. After about an hour, there's sound coming out, but it's really quiet, cause it's running on half voltage. So I go, 'Hey, wait a minute. It sounds exactly like it's supposed to all the way up, but it's really quiet.' So we had a light dimmer in the house, and I hooked up the two leaves from the amp to the light, so I did it backwards, blew out the fuse box.
"Then I went down to DOW Radio and asked, 'Do you guys have any kind of super duper light dimmer?' They go, 'Yeah, it's all Variac, variable transformer, you know.' And on the dial you could crank it up to 140 volts or down to zero. So I figured, if it's on 220 and it's that quiet, if I take the voltage and lower it, I wonder how low I can go and it still work... So, my Variac, my variable transformer was my volume knob. Too loud, [makes knob turning sound] I'd lower it down to 50.
"I told people the complete opposite. I told them I raised it up 140 volts. I felt so bad. I felt so fucking horrible, man. They said, 'Please don't attempt what Eddie Van Halen said in the last interview,' because everyone was blowing their amps.'... I felt so bad. I never lied again after that."
On being tight with Dave:
"The last tour, I'd go over to Dave's room and he was all the way over on the opposite side. He kind of kept to himself. We're a lot tighter. It feels more like a band, and it is more of a band. It's family to me, you know. Always has been. I think - was it the Hanson press gig that we did? - where Dave just came up to me, gave me the biggest hug and he just said, 'Your fuckin' son, man. He's a motherfucker. He's risen to the occasion and beyond.' That made me proud."