The following is an excerpt from Guitar World’s recent interview with Wolfgang Van Halen. The full interview can be found in the August issue.
As impressive as Wolfgang’s playing and singing is, what’s even more extraordinary is how his addition to the band has given Van Halen a new vitality. While it seems like a miracle that “A Different Kind Of Truth” was even made, what is more surprising is how hard-hitting and aggressive it sounds. It’s the type of album that a band makes when it still has something to prove and is hungry. Apparently, the excitement of Wolfgang recording his first album rubbed off on everyone else. In this Guitar World exclusive, the young bassist talks about making the new album, taking it on tour and working with his dad to put Van Halen back in action.
Guitar World: You played a major role in making “A Different Kind Of Truth” happen. How did the process begin?
Wolfgang: We took about three months off after the last show we played on the last tour, then we all got together and started jamming again. Just to warm up we played “Drop Dead Legs”, “Outta Love Again” and “Unchained” at the first rehearsal we did, and we recorded it. It almost felt brand new. That got us all thinking that maybe we should record something new, especially since we have been playing all of the old songs for so long. I knew that Van Halen had this incredible catalog of music they’ve recorded and written that nobody has ever heard. Some people have heard a few of the unreleased demos, but there’s so much more that they haven’t. When you walk into the studio there are endless shelves of recordings. I grabbed a bunch of random tapes and picked out a few songs that I had known and liked. We started changing them around and writing new parts for them. We recorded the first demo of “She’s The Woman” in August 2009, and it felt really awesome. It felt like classic van Halen that was written today. It had the right next of old and new. Then everything started falling together and we went to work on more songs.
Considering that this was the band’s first full-length album with David Lee Roth in 28 years it seems like it was a good idea to combine songs from the bands beginning, the later period with Roth like “Ripley”/”Blood and Fire,” and entirely new material.
I wanted to remind my dad of the mindset he was in when he wrote songs like “Running with the Devil” and “Dance the Night Away.” I thought that recording those old songs would make it easier for dad, Dave and Al to put their minds where they were back then and get back to writing how they would have then. At first when the album came out we had a bunch of haters who were mad that we recorded new versions of songs that they already heard, but they don’t understand that is what almost every single musician does. They write music, and some of it gets used and some of it doesn’t. Only the diehard fans have bootlegs of those demos.
And there is a lot of new material on the album as well. It’s like all areas of van Halen slammed into one record. The old songs don’t sound the same as the old versions. The songs sound like where we are now.
You play a lot of cool fills. On “She’s the Woman” you added parts that weren’t there before.
Some of that stems from boredom. We played a lot of that material over and over for year and a half before we recorded it. Every single day it was “She’s the Woman” and “The Trouble with Never.” I would come up with these cool fills out of boredom. Dad and I would go,”That was a cool thing. Let’s keep that.” For the longest time the intro to “China Town” was just my dad doing that tapping part. There was this capo just sitting there in the studio, and I thought it would be funny if I grabbed the capo and did it with him. We recorded it and it sounded really awesome, so we ended up doing that on the record. A lot of things just happened like that. We never planned it.
In the studio you allegedly became a co-producer of the album.
I guess dad likes to think of me as some sort of leader now. He was always going, “Do we have to do that? Are you sure? “I’d be like, “Yes, we should rehearse this, let’s do this, let’s change that, how about this? “I assumed that position. For a while people were going, “Okay, Wolf, shut up. You’re coming up with too much. Chill out. “I was just so excited, but a lot of it was just because I thought something else might sound good and we should try it.
You’re now in charge of doing the set lists for each show on this tour.
Since it’s the second time around I felt we should have more liberty to reach back into the vaults and pull out some older songs like”Women in Love,” “Girl Gone Bad,” “Outta Love Again” and The Full Bug.” We’ve rarely played the same set list from one night to the next. There’s almost always some variation. We’re working on a few other songs to throw in later. That keeps it fun. Everybody gets a different show. We already played a lot of the hits, so I wanted to throw in some songs like “Hang ‘Em High” and “Hear About It Later,”, that the diehards love. It all stems from the fact that those songs are also some of my favorite songs. I was telling the guys that they haven’t played some of these songs since 1982, and I knew that everybody would go crazy over them.
For the rest of this interview, check out the August 2011 issue of Guitar World. The issue also includes an up-close-and-personal look at Ed and Wolfgang Van Halen’s stage rigs and an exclusive interview with Edward! The issue is available now at Van Halen Store.