There’s a brand new David Lee Roth interview in VOGUE. But before you read it, we have a bit of exclusive VH & DLR news.
- Van Halen is still a thing. (They are on their regular hiatus, but not retired)
- Yes, David Lee Roth is still in Van Halen
Now that we got the Van Halen part out of the way, we can tell you that Dave has been keeping very busy while Van Halen has been lying low. He’s super excited and passionate about his new business venture, INK the original, in which he is the founder and sole investor.
We’re told the Vogue interview is the first of four interviews David Lee Roth gave recently. So enjoy it below. More to come.
David 131 Totally Uncensored Minutes with David Lee Roth, From His New Tattoo Skincare Line to the Secret of Van Halen
December 11, 2018
David Lee Roth strolls into the Turret Penthouse of the Beekman Hotel at dusk, nattily dressed in a slim three-piece suit of his own design in plaid wool flannel anchored by sturdy black boots. “Today I’m 1920s Peaky Blinders,” he says, and within seconds he’s very credibly quoting Schopenhauer and Mark Twain, telling me about his weekly visits to his mother, who’s suffering from Alzheimer’s, and seating himself at the head of a large table while an assistant pours him a Scotch on the rocks.
From 1978 to 1985, Roth was more often dressed in zebra-striped leotards, his long locks bleached and teased, as he fronted Van Halen, the era-defining band that sold more than 80 million records. Lately, though, he’s been fronting Inktheoriginal, the just-launched skincare line specifically made to preserve, protect, and highlight tattoos and keep them from fading. How did he get from there to here? It’s a vastly circuitous and wildly entertaining story—but let’s let him tell it.
Who were your heroes when you were growing up?
For starters, they all wore suits to work. They didn’t have much to do with the front man in Led Zeppelin, much as you might expect—they had more to do with Miles Davis, Kurosawa, and P.T. Barnum. Let’s start there—that’s a power trio!
My mom was the critical vote in my family, always was—not dad. All of the tough, the feisty, the scrappy, and the moxie comes from mom. My day started with standing at attention and waiting for her to spin her finger—she wanted to see the back, and she’s gonna look down—you literally had to pull up your pant legs to show her your socks and your boots, and if they didn’t match your shit she was liable to throw her grilled cheese sandwich at you.
This crucial element was an undercurrent to Van Halen. There’s a discipline to it and a seriousness that’s squired away a lot at times, but we came from a fiery, competitive background that has nothing to do with Woodstock or a hippie kind of element. And I love hippie, believe me. But we come from big-band cutting contests: Benny Goodman versus Chick Webb, tonight at Roseland: We’re going to play the same five songs—you white boys are going to play your arrangements of ’em, and then we’re going to kick your white ass right in front of your audience.
Early on, having gone to music school and learned everything from theory to orchestration—the Van Halens [brothers Eddie Van Halen, guitarist, and Alex Van Halen, drummer] did that as well—there was always an undercurrent of doing your homework, even if it was freestyle rock n’ roll that was a colorful combination of many communities. Think of “Jamie’s Cryin’”: [he beat-boxes the song’s opening descending drum riff] I sold a Ricky Ricardo rhumba to the heavy metal nation!
Van Halen’s first record came out in 1978. In 2007, you were inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. How do you consider Van Halen’s legacy?
Our music is timeless and can be played by Filipino bar bands at Hasidic weddings flawlessly. As soon as you hear [he singsongs the opening riff of “Dance The Night Away”], every female wrist grabs every male wrist and goes, “Get up—you’re dancing.” Our music transcends genre. The hard rock guys think we’re pussies for playing pop, and the pop stars say we’re too rough.
Were you born with a five-and-a-half octave voice, or is that something you achieved through relentless training?
I was taught early on from my singing coaches when I was 15 or 16, “Sing with the girls.” To me, that’s Chaka Khan, Aretha. They also taught me to practice foreign accents and to sing in other languages—this works with the 17 or 18 different muscles that affect your armature.
And what’s the through-line that takes you from fronting one of the biggest bands in the history of the world to launching a business in the tattoo-maintenance space?
Simple: The product that we’re dealing with now goes hand in hand with what I think is the true Esperanto: It’s a language—ink—that everybody shares, especially if you don’t speak the same language. With ink, we read each other’s signs and icons. In that way, it’s much like music. I started this project with three of us sitting around an upended plastic bucket for a table at my house in LA. Now there’s 34 of us and we have offices in NY as well as LA. It’s taken three years and close to seven million dollars, and I’m involved in every single element of every part of it. Surprisingly, there’s almost no competition. And what we have built is absolutely specialized to our community. My business partner Ami James is the curator and one of the three owners of Tattoodo, which has more than 500,000 artists curated on their site. They get two billion views a month and have 20 million social media followers.
When did you start becoming interested in tattoos?
I got my first tattoo 40 years ago, a little seahorse on my ankle, at a place called Cliff Raven Studio on Sunset Boulevard in ’77, ’78. That was very outré then—the only people who got tattoos then were bikers, rock n’ rollers to a small degree; the gay community was into it. Eventually, though, I took a much more gentrified approach: I waited until I was 60 and got the whole Japanese tuxedo. It took me 300 hours of sitting over two years. But I planned it for the thirty years prior, and it’s my design: kabuki faces, the original showbiz, rendered Edo style—it looks like a woodblock print.
Here—I brought this for you. [Roth presents to me a gift of Japanese water-based dyestuff ink in an elegant glass bottle.] When you look at a tattoo, that’s a finished dream identified. But when you look at a bottle of ink, you think of all the possibilities. You think of all the things you can do with it. [Roth’s manager hands him a beautiful wooden box, which he opens up to reveal various incarnations of quills and nibs and fountain pens.]
Eddie Van Halen looks at me with the same non-understanding stare that a parrot has for a ringing telephone when I start talking about this, but I paint and draw routinely. Routinely. Most recently, I took lessons in Japan—I moved there to get the liberal arts education that I never had. After music school, we went on the road—ta da!—and I never looked back, but now that I have the time and the wherewithal, I’m always taking lessons of various kinds—I mean, I always loved school; I always got along really well with my teachers. At any given time, I have at least one course of study that I’m involved in. Lately, it’s Go. I have a Go teacher.
You know, Go—the game [the Chinese strategy game which predates the Zhou dynasty]. I started that five, six years ago, and I’ve had three different instructors—professors. Oh, and it’s called Go training—it’s not lessons.
Are you some kind of grandmaster?
No. I’m just working toward my first thousand hours. That’s a lifetime thing. But when I moved to Japan, I rode my bicycle through the snow to lessons two and three nights a week with a sensei to practice sumi-e and shodo painting with ink. I spent the better part of two years with four shades of grey and two shades of black. I thrilled to it. But let me tell you what I got for the first six months: [A long silence fills the room as Roth stands up and paces and stalks around the perimeter of the table.] “No.” After about six months of that: [Ibid.] “Better.” Not long after that—I was the only one in the room—he sat down, didn’t even look at the painting, and said, “Dave-san, I think you are my best student.” And I said, “Am I best painting?” And he said, “No. You are most serious. You enjoy the most. You really mean it the most. I wish to invite you to director’s meeting.” And I was thinking, Whoah—some national society of whatever the fuck? And he pulls out a bottle and two glasses and says, “Welcome to director’s meeting.” And we got drunk.
I’m not sure if everybody knows that you were also a licensed EMT in New York City a dozen or so years ago.
327466 was my badge number. So, yeah: You’re better off if I’m in the room. It’s part of my family: Be of value; have a job. If trouble strikes, what good are you? Things like this kind of inform and give the day shape. At family reunions in the Roth family, we usually go around in a circle, and everybody picks a word. My word is always the same: Contribution. What can you bring to the greater good?
And that all goes into what we’ve created with Laugh To Win—that’s what I named my new company; it works for everybody. It’s about go-anywhere. It’s about communication. My idea for a line of outdoor gear started eight or nine years ago, and at the moment we’re working on some 60 products. I’m not going after just the tattoo world—we’re going after Proctor & Gamble. I took most of what I made off the last couple of Van Halen tours—I didn’t actually touch the check; I just watched it walk by. And that’s how I financed this.
Read the rest at VOGUE.