I am sure that everybody was greatly and pleasantly surprised upon the news that Adrian Vandenberg would resurrect the Vandenberg band after 35 whole years! The additional fact that he had with him the superb Rainbow singer, Ronnie Romero, created a wave of well-excused anticipation for the new album appropriately entitled “2020”! As you will read below, Adrian was in great spirits and optimistic for the band’s future while he didn’t fail to express his gratitude towards David Coverdale and Ritchie Blackmore. By the way, he also stated the reasons behind the lack of further collaboration with Whitesnake after “Restless Heart” Interview: Sakis Nikas
Rockpages.gr: Well Adrian…35 years after the last Vandenberg record and the obvious question is: why now? What make you decide that this was the right time for your return?
Adrian Vandenberg: Well, it’s a combination of things…I had Vandenberg’s Moonkings for about 5 years and it became more and more frustrating for me that my good friend Jan (Hoving), the singer of the band, could not tour outside of Holland because he has a big farming company and too many business obligations. In the beginning, I didn’t care that much because I thought that maybe in the future he could find some more time for the band but unfortunately the person who run Jan’s farm started his own company and Jan had to be there almost all the time. So, it was kinda frustrating for me because I love to play everywhere. Another reason for resurrecting Vandenberg was the fact that I started to write heavier material…something that was evident a little bit on the second Moonkings record. For me it was a natural thing to go in a harder direction that was more suitable for Vandenberg. When I explained to my record company and to my manager the plans that I had in mind, they both asked: “why don’t you call the band “Vandenberg””? Obviously, I didn’t want it to be a nostalgic type of thing as I wanted the new material to be fresh, dynamic and “in your face”! So, I thought about it for a day and said that if I could find an incredible singer and put together an incredible line-up then I would resurrect Vandenberg because in my mind Vandenberg (the band) carries a huge heritage. Suddenly, the whole thing was so exciting…you know something…I always felt that I wasn’t done with Vandenberg. Those three albums were great but we couldn’t go further. Then the offer came from Whitesnake….again…for the third or fourth time (laughs) and said to myself: “well, you never gonna find a singer like Coverdale”! So, I joined Whitesnake. To make a long story short, when Ronnie (Romero) agreed to be the singer of Vandenberg I was absolutely excited because I instantly knew that we could get the Vandenberg name even further, to a heavier direction…and put the whole Vandenberg idea into 2020.
Rockpages.gr: And the final result was great! The album is really astonishing, Adrian…
Adrian Vandenberg: Thank you…I think so, too! We worked really hard on the album…the funny thing is that every time you work on new material you tend to listen to the whole thing hundreds of times and after a while you can’t really tell if it’s good or not. But the magical thing with “2020” was that every single time I listened to those songs, I felt excited about them. I wanted to make an album that if I was a fan of the band or a fan of rock music in general I would buy it because there are not many bands that play like Vandenberg nowadays.
Rockpages.gr: So, for the record is this really the comeback of Vandenberg or is it an one-off record?
Adrian Vandenberg: We will definitely make more records with Vandenberg…that’s for sure. As a matter of fact, during the quarantine and the lockdown situation, I’d been writing some more songs for another Vandenberg record. I wanna keep going on like this.
Rockpages.gr: Did you have any other singers in your mind before choosing Ronnie?
Adrian Vandenberg: No, actually Ronnie was the first one. There are not so many great singers like Ronnie. When I heard him for the first time with Rainbow, I said: “wow, where this guy comes from?”! I was really happy when he wanted to be involved.
Rockpages.gr: Did you see him live in concert with Rainbow or on YouTube?
Adrian Vandenberg: I saw some YouTube videos…a few years back when Ritchie Blackmore, who is by the way one of my all-time favorite guitarists, decided to play again some Rainbow shows I remember thinking who is gonna sing those awesome Dio, Bonnet and Joe Lynn Turner songs. But Ronnie Romero was awesome and he delivered the goods. That’s when I had the idea of asking him because I wanted to make an album that would combine Rainbow and Whitesnake in one package. It would be the perfect marriage.
Rockpages.gr: So, with Ronnie in the band, you started writing songs in order to fit his voice or you had some songs written before he was on board?
Adrian Vandenberg: That’s a good question. I always want to write songs for the singer’s voice. That was the same with Ronnie. When he agreed to be in the band, I started writing right away and two months later we were in a studio…in Los Angeles.
Rockpages.gr: Everybody was ecstatic with the new version of “Burning Heart” when it first came out. Mind you, this comes from an old school fan who doesn’t want to hear re-recordings of classic songs.
Adrian Vandenberg: Yeah…me, too! (laughs) The truth is that it wasn’t supposed to be on the album. Mascot Records wanted to put out a press release and my manager said that there are so many press releases every single day that it would be better if there will be some music attached to it…the message would be stronger. Of course, by that time, we didn’t have any new music around but I remembered that I had recorded with the drummer and bassist of Moonkings the music of “Burning Heart” two years ago. That was for a bonus track for the Japanese version of the last Moonkings album. So what happened was…I flew to Madrid and recorded Ronnie’s vocals on top of the music and the new “Burning Heart” version was done. But again…I didn’t mean to have the song on the new album because I didn’t want to be a nostalgic record. Then I realized that it would be a good bridge between Vandenberg’s past and Vandenberg’s 2020…like a symbolic bridge. To my own surprise the song sounded great together with the rest of the new material. It wasn’t out of place, at all!
Rockpages.gr: Also, there’s a younger generation of fans out there that wasn’t aware of the fact that “Burning Heart” was an old Vandenberg song. That was a great introduction to the new fans.
Adrian Vandenberg: That’s great to hear because that means that “Burning Heart” is a timeless song. It’s something that you hope every time you write a new song. I remember writing the song on my parents’ piano and I thought that it was gonna be a nice ballad. All those years later I still love playing this song and seeing the fans’ reaction. It’s always nice.
Rockpages.gr: Let’s not forget that it’s one of Coverdale’s favorite songs.
Adrian Vandenberg: (laughs) I know! We would have re-recorded it for “Slip of the Tongue” but I had my wrist problem and it wouldn’t make sense if Steve (Vai) played this song instead of me.
Rockpages.gr: Which was the first song that you wrote specifically for “2020”?
Adrian Vandenberg: Yeah, it was “Ride Like The Wind”. That was really the starting point…as I told you before an ideal mixture of Whitesnake and Rainbow. You know of course that there was always a great chemistry between myself and David. After all, some 80s Vandenberg songs could have easily fit on a Whitesnake album. It is a very natural style of writing for me.
Rockpages.gr: I love the fact that you are so open mentioning your influences.
Adrian Vandenberg: I know what you mean…I am always relaxed during interviews and I don’t have the slightest problem underlining the musicians that played a major part in shaping my guitar style. Ritchie Blackmore is a huge influence. I remember reading as a teenager an interview of Paul McCartney and he mentioned all the influences of some of the biggest Beatles songs…Little Richard, Bob Dylan, Elvis etc. I was disappointed as a kid when some of my favorite musicians didn’t want to mention their influences. They pretended that they had invented the whole thing, you know…without Bad Company, Deep Purple, Rainbow I wouldn’t be the guitarist that I am…these are some of my influences.
Rockpages.gr: How about any new bands? Have you listened to anything cool nowadays?
Adrian Vandenberg: There are some…Kings of Leon, Foo Fighters, Rival Sons…but I prefer the older bands…I think they are better.
Rockpages.gr: I have to say that not so many new bands really grab my attention.
Adrian Vandenberg: I agree. Actually, I wanted for a long time to listen to a new band playing in the same style as Vandenberg’s “2020”. Good thing we are back (laughs). You know of course that Rudy Sarzo and Brian Tichy are guests on the new Vandenberg record.
Rockpages.gr: Yeah…to add yet another Whitesnake touch in there, right?
Adrian Vandenberg: (Laughs) Yes…exactly!
Rockpages.gr: The new album doesn’t have the AOR/melodic style of the 80s Vandenberg records, although the song “Let It Rain” has many melodic elements in there. Did you think that maybe the old school fans of the band would expect the same style of music?
Adrian Vandenberg: I know what you mean…it may sound a little strange but I always compose songs and record albums first and foremost in order to please myself. It wouldn’t be fair or even good if I would try and capture something that I did a long time ago. It wouldn’t be the same. There is a saying in Dutch that goes like: “standing still is going back”. As an artist whether you are a musician or a painter or a writer…if you try to recapture an emotion that you had 35 years ago then you haven’t learn anything all those years. I am very proud of what I achieved in the past with Vandenberg but it would be strange or a Chinese copy if I tried a similar approach after 35 years.
Rockpages.gr: The new album –and I wrote that in my review- has a few Deep Purple traces in there (especially the MK III period) but also some cool Dio references, like in the song “Shout”. What do you think and what sound did you want to capture with the new Vandenberg record?
Adrian Vandenberg: You are right! Especially this song has a clear 80s reference…those early Dio records are some of my favorite ones. This kind of music gives you an uplifting emotion…that’s why I prefer the 80s because in the early 90s and after the grunge movement the songs became a little bit depressing…not all of them but most of them. On the other hand, when you put on some Van Halen, AC/DC, Rainbow, Purple you immediately get a kick out of it. This music brings you up.
Rockpages.gr: By the way, I’ve seen Ronnie with Rainbow and I was absolutely blown away by his performance although I can’t say the same for the rest of the band…
Adrian Vandenberg: I agree…absolutely! There was Ritchie “fucking” Blackmore who could have anyone playing with him and he ended up with a great singer and some other…zombies on stage (laughs)! I was shocked! Blackmore is a legend and he could have the best musicians in the world and they would have kicked ass! Aside from Ronnie, I was totally disappointed by the rest of the guys in Rainbow. They seem to be in a bar band or something.
Rockpages.gr: It was like an electric version of Blackmore’s Night.
Adrian Vandenberg: (laughs) yeah! But then again, Ritchie has absolutely no problem with that.
Rockpages.gr: Adrian, I gotta ask you this…you know, the obvious question.
Adrian Vandenberg: Alright…bring it on (laughs)!
Rockpages.gr: Given the fact that you have a great chemistry with David, why you haven’t worked with him after the “Restless Heart” record?
Adrian Vandenberg: Well, it’s a combination of things. After “Restless Heart”, David was originally planning to retire and then he decided to make a comeback with Whitesnake. By that time, my life had changed…in 1999 my girlfriend at that time…we are not together anymore…gave birth to our daughter. When we split up three years later, it was difficult and I didn’t want to be one of those dads who go on tour and see their child two or three times per year. So, I decided instead to stay in Holland and catch up with my painting and before I realized thirteen years have gone by! It was time for me to start playing again. But initially when David asked me if I wanted to work with him in 2002-2003, I couldn’t be part of Whitesnake at the time. Then I focused on Moonkings and now I want to focus on Vandenberg. It’s a matter of bad timing…that’s all. Lots of people are asking but…you never know!
Rockpages.gr: Last but certainly not least, from all the songs that you have written and recorded with Vandenberg, which are the two best or most memorable ones?
Adrian Vandenberg: Oh, that’s a tough one. Obviously, the first one has to be “Burning Heart” for all the obvious reasons. The other one I have to say is “Hell and High Water” from the new album. But this might change tomorrow…you know!