Michael Anthony—who, in recent years, has largely been the only member of Van Halen to foster any goodwill between the band and its fan base, and has essentially been a one-man PR machine who kept alive fans’ hopes that the group would eventually rise from the ashes—recently granted Japan’s Burrn! magazine an interview in which he spoke openly about the unfortunate behind-the-scenes events that have transpired in recent years … to include his dismissal from the group.
The following are highlights from Michael’s interview with Burrn!
MICHAEL ANTHONY COMMENTING ON:
The Van Halen 2004 reunion tour:
Well, in general, the reunion tour was great because it had been since 1998 that we played as Van Halen anywhere, and it doesn’t take very long for me after we finish a tour—it only takes a matter of weeks before I’m ready to get up and play in front of people again. So, in that respect, it was great getting out there and playing again and, you know, it’s like when everybody got back together again, from outward appearances, everything seemed fine, but we had a few bumps because old things came back up again from time to time on the road between Sammy and Eddie, so it was a little bit shaky. Actually, the tour didn’t end with as much fanfare as I would have liked it to or hoped it would, but we got through it.
On the new business arrangements within the band for the 2004 re-union:
I was not going to just sit home and do nothing and that kind of upset the Van Halen brothers for whatever reason—I can’t understand [why,] myself. But, basically, when this whole reunion thing started, Ed really didn’t want me to be part of it. I don’t know how he was going to call it a reunion [laughs[ but I basically had to work out a deal with Irving Azoff’s management company in order to be part of this thing. I kind of sucked it up a bit and I made less money but, the way I looked at it was, if this possibly was the last tour that Van Halen would ever do, then I’d be kicking myself because I wasn’t a part of it and I wanted to be a part of it, even more so than the money … so I sucked it all up and came on and did it. I did it for the fans.
On being nicknamed “Cannonmouth” for his distinct backing vocals:
They use to call me that in the early days. Basically, Eddie’s and my voice were actually, I think, pretty much as signature as Eddie’s playing or anything else as far as the sound we had [VHM.com note: We agree!], and it’s kind of been that way all the way up through the years. Unfortunately, though, when we did the “Van Halen 3” record with Gary Cherone, Ed wanted to sing more, and so he sang a lot more of the backgrounds with Gary and I sang a lot less, and there was a lot of negative feedback about that.
On making the reunion happen and attempts previously with David Lee Roth:
I used to needle Sam a bit and say hey, it’d be great [getting back together]. We tried to make this thing work with Roth three times and each time it was even worse than the time before. We tried to do a new album with him and his ego just wouldn’t let it happen and the third time that we tried to do it with him was more like, “Let’s see if we can just play some dates and just get along with him,” and he still, for some reason, couldn’t humble himself enough to just being one of the guys again here. Sammy was out here at a relative’s wedding, I think, staying down at the beach, and he actually called Al. So Al went down and met with him and they hung out for the whole day and got along great and, at that point, then it was just kind of like, “Well, let’s see what we can do as far as putting Sam and Ed back together.”
I knew that Al wanted to get out and play again, too, because he basically had done nothing, because the only person that he plays with is Ed. He doesn’t get out and jam with anybody else. So one thing led to another and then [laughs] there was my involvement. You know, I’m the guy who kind of helped put this thing together and then Ed didn’t even want me to be a part of it [laughs]. I thought it was kind of funny.
And on the 2004 tour and tensions within the band:
We got along great. Obviously, there was tension between the brothers, basically Ed and Sammy’s tequila thing, because he was never happy about that, the whole Cabo Wabo thing. And a lot of these arenas that we were playing in sold Cabo Wabo … [but] that really had nothing to do with Sammy because he sells to [distributors] and then the buildings, the venues buy the stuff and Sammy doesn’t sell to them [directly]. So I think Ed would get a little put off when he’d see a lot of Cabo Wabo banners up around the arenas and sometimes that would even create some tension onstage and offstage. There were nights where, you know, you have that after the show flight on the jet and things would sometimes be a little tense on that plane and, without getting into any great detail, there came a point to where we actually split it up and we traveled on two different jets; Eddie and Al would fly on one jet and Sammy and I would fly on another. This was only to keep the peace, and that sucks, just like anything else that turns into a big business—you know, sports or anything. A lot of times you almost lose the reason in the first place of why you got into doing it, you know, making music and getting laid [laughs] and it all turns into big business.
It got to the point to where I couldn’t even see this thing going on much longer without either somebody blowing up on somebody or whatever. So Sammy finally said, “I’m not doing any more dates because this is just not working.”
When we first started out, I was fully ready to do it because I thought we were going to go to Japan, Europe, South America, you know, do the thing that we should have done, like, “big band reunites,” but, unfortunately, that wasn’t going to be.
[Ed] did not want Sammy doing any promoting of his stuff at all using the Van Halen name, but a lot of that you don’t have any control over. I came out with a hot sauce about the same time we were putting the tour together and the local radio station here in Los Angeles, KLOS, they would talk about the tour and then they would talk about my hot sauce. Well, the brothers caught wind of that and they thought that I had my people—as they would say, “my people”—calling the radio station and telling them to pump my hot sauce on Van Halen’s dime here or whatever, and they finally asked me to have my people “cease and desist,” I remember that distinctly. But I didn’t have a damn thing to do with that, and I have no control over what the radio station said. In fact, gee, isn’t this one of the benefits that you’re supposed to reap from all these years of success, that you can be able to go off and do something like that and promote something? The [brothers] went on and they had their lawyers call every radio station that we were going to play at in every city and told them specifically they were not to mention Cabo Tequila or my Mad Anthony’s Hot Sauce in the same sentence with Van Halen!
On Eddie’s son Wolfgang joining the band on tour:
Oh, it was great. I think he has grown up to be a great kid. I think he’s a great player and he jumped up there on the drums a few times during sound check and, shit, the kid can play drums too, you know!
On recording/filming the tour for possible CD/DVD release:
Well, we did video every night for the screens up onstage, but no, there was no actual film crew or anything brought in. We had always talked about doing a thing, and Sammy did his, called “The Long Road To Cabo,” and I was on a pretty major part of that. … But, you know, that would have been great to have something like that happen with Van Halen: have the cameras following us around onstage, backstage, days off, whatever. Just witnessing the way that Sammy did it, it could have been huge if we did it because people love to see that kind of shit. Aerosmith, everybody has done that kind of thing.
On Van Halen’s failure to be nominated for the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame:
“I would have thought that we would have been nominated, voted in and inducted the first year that we were eligible, which would have been like 3 years ago or something like that. But, for whatever reasons they have—maybe a lot of the people that vote you in are looking at the drama that this band has gone through and figured, “Well, they don’t deserve it yet.” I don’t know, but that’s the only thing that I can come up with. Other than that, it’s like, I have no idea. But, I tell you, it would be one damn interesting show when they ask us to get together and play for the induction ceremony. I know Dave; he’ll be there a week ahead of the show just waiting.
On the last time he saw David Lee Roth:
It was when him and Sammy toured together—what is that, four years ago now?
He would kind of pull his hat down and just walk by me because, I tell you, one of the first shows that I did with those guys—I forget where we were at but—I had a few drinks and I went into Dave’s dressing room after the show and I just unloaded on him, on what was his problem that we could not make this reunion work? And all he kept saying was, “You’re right, you’re right.” I told him, “Look at them out there, when you go out there”—and this is the beginning of the tour and he actually impressed me at the beginning of the tour, but as the tour went on, boy, by the last show, they didn’t even do the last show of the tour that I was out there because they couldn’t do it; Dave just started pulling shenanigans left and right.
Most nights, Sammy and I would pound on his door and say, “Come on out,” and numerous times invited him to come out onstage and do an encore, all three of us together, but it never happened.
On recording a new album with Roth:
We were going to do videos for the songs [on the “Best Of Volume 1,”] but Roth was really trying to take control and we finally just said, “Let’s not even do the videos for these songs, because he’s going to kill the whole thing,” and so it fell apart.
But, yeah, before that tour, yeah, we tried to make it work. We went into the studio and it was kind of funny because we first got together in the studio and we were all in the one room together and we did “Hot For Teacher,” “Mean Street” and a few other songs, and it’s the weirdest thing because, once we started playing, it was like, “Son of a bitch, there it is! That’s the magic!” It was like a big deja vu because it was the original band playing again and it sounded pretty fuckin’ good, too!
But then, of course, the longer we spent in the studio, you know, we had two or three different producers in there trying to work with us and Dave would just come in with tapes of the Chemical Brothers, all different kinds of weird stuff, and say, “Hey, let’s do a song like this,” and Ed was having a hard time dealing with him, a real hard time dealing with him, and Al was saying, “Well, let’s do a couple of things that Roth likes to do and then let’s just do our thing.” I don’t know if we had a complete album’s worth of stuff, but we were pretty damn close and, unfortunately, there you go with Dave again and we just couldn’t finish it and all those old reasons why he left the band in the first place, they started surfacing, you know? He went right back to his old ways.
I mean, even if you just wanted to purely look at it from a money standpoint, that guy was hurting for money. And it was like, “Dave ….” I mean, he couldn’t even put his ego aside if he wanted to go out and make $50 million, and you know you’ve got a pretty large ego when you’re going to give that all up even just because you don’t get your way on something. I couldn’t understand it.
On those new tunes:
For the most part, it was actually pretty good. I don’t think Ed would ever let it out, though. I’ve got some demo stuff at home; they didn’t even really want me to take any stuff home but I ended up with some stuff at home anyway. I’d never do anything behind the other guys’ backs with any of it, so it’ll just sit in my box in the archives and maybe one of my grandkids or grandkids’ boyfriends will put something out one day [laughs] or steal it [laughs].
On the “Best of Both Worlds” compilation and those three new songs:
You know, when we did the “Best of Both Worlds,” we had problems with Roth because of what he wanted and didn’t want on the CD, how much he wanted to get paid and so on. So there was a point to where we were just going to say, “Okay Dave, if that’s the way you want it,” … we had some live versions of some of the old Van Halen songs and we were just going to tell Dave, “Okay, if that’s the way you want it, we won’t even put you on this record, you won’t make a dime off it!” I mean, he was being difficult on that thing and what we wanted to do was the one disc with Sammy and the other disc with Dave plus the three new songs, and Dave was even making that difficult, but in the end he folded. I think he was just trying to pull a power play. Bad stuff [laughs].
I knew that we weren’t going to do a whole new album with Sammy on this reunion thing. The time that it was taking in the studio to do these three songs, it would have taken us a couple of years to do an entire album. And, like I said, once it started to get put together, Irving Azoff really pushed it, speeded us along to get us out there and so it just turned out to be, “Well, let’s just do these three songs. And, to tell you the truth–and I’ll say this for the record: I didn’t play bass on any of those three songs on there. I wasn’t even in the band yet when those three songs were done.
I came aboard and I sang backgrounds on them, but the music was already done and I wasn’t even back in the band, as far as the reunion part of it yet, when the music was done. So, that was kind of tough for me but, it’s like, “Hey, it is what it is”—and I don’t think Ed really talked about it much, but if anybody asks me, I’m not embarrassed to say that I didn’t play bass on them because I wasn’t part of the band at that point.
On the difference between Roth and Hagar:
There was magic with both of them. Once Hagar joined the band, he brought a new level of musicianship to the band and, like Eddie always use to say, he could play anything that he wanted now because Sammy could sing anything. [Sammy] definitely had a better range. When Sammy joined the band, that’s when I really had to start working on the backgrounds; the background vocals were a little bit more, uh—not tougher, but with Dave, there was never any problem singing backgrounds because he didn’t have a huge range like Sammy did.
I think there was still magic with Dave, too, because, I mean, a lot that we did back then was really cutting edge, from Ed’s guitar playing to all these little clones that Dave spawned … they were all there because all these guys wanted to be him.
On the new side-band The Other Half:
This stems from the fact that the Van Halen brothers, namely Ed, do not want to go out and play Van Halen right now or anytime soon. Sammy and I, last year on his birthday, decided one night that we were going to play, because normally it’s Sammy’s band that plays and I get up there and jam with him and we do some Van Halen stuff and it’s all fine. But last year, we decided one night that the whole show will be nothing but Van Halen; I’m going to get up there, Sammy and his guitarist Vic Johnson and drummer Dave Lauser and we’re going to do a Van Halen set. And somehow we came up with this thing calling us The Other Half and the show came off. I mean, people loved it!
And it came off so great that we started thinking, “Well, God”—and I go on the Internet everyday and I’m checking out what fans are saying and try to keep in touch with what’s going on as much as I can with our fan base, and people do want to hear the music. There were a lot of great comments that came from us doing that thing down there and we were like, “Hey, you know, we want to go out and we want to play the stuff and the fans want to hear it.” So we’re going to go out this summer, we’re putting together the thing that we’re calling The Other Half and we’re going to play Van Halen and do it right, do a nice production and not me just jamming with his band; you know, we’re going to go and play it, and the only reason is because the brothers aren’t wanting to go out and play it for the fans. Now, if they want to come out and play, they’re invited! If they want to come out and do it and do Van Halen and do it the right way and have fun, let’s go, let’s do it, I’m ready right now. But the interest is really there and Sammy and I want to go out and we want to play these songs.
The Wabos will open the show and we’re going to put together a good production, the lights, sound, everything will all be put together really nice and we will play all Van Halen material. Right now, we’re actually talking about me opening up the set with my solo, and if we do that, then we’ll probably have to go into “Runnin’ With The Devil” or something and I’ll sing that. So we’ll do a little bit more classic Van Halen. I’m digging right now to see if we can pull a couple of more obscure ones out of the hat and I’m going to sing them, so I’ll be doing more lead vocals, which is great.
On the current status of Van Halen:
Well, never say never, but we’re currently in a state of limbo. After the reunion tour ended so abruptly, we all went into our own corners and, truthfully, Ed doesn’t want to tour right now or maybe ever again. I don’t know what he’s thinking at this point. So I would say that we’re on a temporary hiatus that possibly could become permanent; you never know. With that said, I realize that’s not much of an answer, but that’s really where things are right now, and tomorrow it could all change again.
Burnn! magazine is available online at this Japanese website.