Exploding out of The Netherlands with 1982’s self-titled Vandenberg, the Dutch phenomenon notched an international hit in the form of 'Burning Heart'. The band canvased the United States, Europe, and Japan alongside Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss, Rush, Scorpions, Michael Schenker, and many others, however with its leader, guitarist Adrian Vandenberg sought out to join Whitesnake, the band disappeared, seemingly for good. Reactivated in 2020 with a new line-up, the four-piece are back with 'Sin', a driving rock album that reveals exactly why David Coverdale was so keen to snap up the six-stringer. Talking the the new album, why Steve Vai apologised to him for his 1989 behaviour, and how he turned down a gig with Thin Lizzy, we sat down with Adrian for an extended chat. Restless heart; Eamon O'Neill.
Hi Adrian, how are you?
Really good. It's exciting times of course because the new album is coming out, and I'm doing interviews and talking about music with people who love rock music. So what else can you wish for?
Let's rewind just a little bit, and 2020 was the first the first time you had used the Vandenberg name on an album in decades; was it weird to be going back?
Well, on one hand, you started a new band with a new line-up, but with a name that has more of a legacy, which is nice. We love to play some of the earlier songs that still fit in the vibe of the band as now. At the same time because it's basically a totally new line-up with already two new albums, you have the luxury of a lot of choice because we do play a lot of Whitesnake songs as well, because our singer Mats [Levén] sings them perfectly and then does David [Coverdale] honour by singing the songs the way they're supposed to be sung and not like Vince Neil in Mickey Mouse style of singing, so to speak *laughing*.
Mats has got a timbre like David, also that deep, growly thing. It's a lot of fun because I was in Whitesnake for almost thirteen years and I'm still good friends with David, and it's such a big part of my musical career that I love. I still love playing those songs, and when you perform on stage it brings back great memories of all the stuff we've done between 1986 and 1999 which doesn't seem that long ago!
Especially when you can do it in like, albums; saying "it was like, three albums ago", but that could have been three decades ago.
Yeah, it's weird. Einstein already said that time is relative, but it is because it has a lot to do with how you experience things and how big an impression certain events make on your consciousness and your subconscious and the memories you associated with it. It's not just music that brings it back, but also smells and flavours. I vividly remember the first time I had a Yorkshire pudding in England. In Holland you call something a pudding when it's like one of one of those dessert type things, but in Britain it can be many other things as well. So I'm just saying I the first time we had a Yorkshire pudding it was nice, and I didn't expect anything like it and it was totally different than any kind of dish I have ever had. So, I vividly remember those moments, you know; by flavour, my impressions, by the kind of music; all that stuff
It always comes back to Yorkshire doesn't it?! Mr. Coverdale is a famously a Yorkshire man.
Yeah, right. Exactly. That's actually why I had it because I was out for lunch with David, and I remember telling him; "well, we're in your region, so I guess I should have Yorkshire pudding".
We're here to talk about the new album 'Sin', and it's definitely a straight ahead hard rock album.
Yeah, it is. I've listened to a lot of music and I've always been really proud of wearing my influences on my sleeve. When I write songs, there's always echoes of things that I loved bouncing back and forth in my head and I just do what I feel like doing. It's pretty clear where the roots of my musical places are based, and it comes totally naturally. I don't even think about it; it just happens.
As you mentioned, Mats is such a great vocalist, and he really shines on 'Sin'.
Oh, yeah, and it's really a piece of luck because when I decided I couldn't continue with Ronnie [Romero] anymore because our agendas didn't match after Covid and I wanted to tour and Ronnie had commitments with some other projects, I just couldn't really wait. I couldn't sit on my ass and think; "okay, I'll start playing again in five months or whatever", because I was really anxious to get back on stage. And then I found Mats and I was really excited about it because, as a lot of rock fans will know, there's not even a handful of singers who could sing this kind of repertoire. So the first thing you do is look for somebody yourself to avoid putting out messages looking for another singer, and you get ten million CDs and cassettes or whatever that you have to plough through. It's a lot quicker to see if you can find somebody without having to go through that ordeal.
The first track that people have heard from the album is 'House on Fire'.
Yeah, I thought that would be great for a single and as a calling card for what the band has to offer. We have a great rhythm section, including Koen [Herfst, drums], and Randy [van der Elsen, bass], and Mats' powerful vocals, and I just tried to keep up with those guys on my guitar. It's very inspiring. They're a great bunch of guys to play with.
You've also made a video for the title track, which is a beast of a song, with those big chords.
Yeah, you know, I had those parts and put them together and it became this epic thing, and then I got together with Mats to work on the lyrics and the vocal lines and everything and it fell together in a unexpected way. It's almost seven minutes and initially we thought should we cut out something somewhere, but we couldn't find anything that was superfluous. We couldn't find any part that that should be removed without doing damage to the song, so we thought, fuck it, we're just going to keep it the way it is.
The video really suits the song.
It became almost cinematic; it's like you can see this movie, almost. So when I started working with a video guy and bounced back and forth ideas about visuals, it went the same way. It was like this whole story that kind of grabs you by the throat and it doesn't let go until this is over, and then then personally, I want to hear it again. I played it a lot in the car, and go; "man it turned out really nice!" I'm very proud of it.
'Light it Up' is a real driving rocker that picks up the gears a little bit.
Yeah, it's the latest single and its definitely one of the songs that when I stumbled upon the riff, I got memories of playing all these big arenas and stadiums with Whitesnake. It has a driving rhythm that doesn't let go, and I could picture the crowd going [sings] "light it up!" because it's cool. I can't wait to play it live, which is going to happen because in two weeks we're going to do shows. We were going to do a London show, but for logistic reasons, it appears to be a lot better to connect it to more British shows later on which they're working on right now.
Touring is tougher these days, logistically, than it was in even the recent past.
With Brexit it became quite complicated to get your equipment in and out on time. The London show would have been on a Thursday, and on Friday suddenly, we have to show in Holland. So when our management was looking at the logistics of it, it appeared to be quite a risk to try to be on time for the second show the next day in Holland, so we decided not to let anybody down. The last last time when we came back from Stonedead Festival [in 2020, in the U.K.], we had a lot of trouble getting back to Holland because they didn't want to let us in the plane with with my guitar and all the other stuff. Also, it was in the slipstream of Covid at the time, so that made it even more complicated. So this time, we've got to play it safe.
Speaking of guitars, what are you are using on the album?
The [Gibson] Les Paul that I also played on Stonedead. I bought it new in 1980, and it has become my Siamese twin, basically. I always keep it with me on aeroplanes and ships, and whatever, so that's the one I played. I've always played with it the last forty years, actually, with Whitesnake and all across the world, even though on stage I didn't play that much, because I was a little hesitant because there was so much travelling. I decided to leave it home at some point and just use it for recording.
So you've happier to bring it on the road these days?
Yeah, and on the next tour I'm going to combine it with playing my Peavy signature guitar, the Peavy Vandenberg that I designed in the '80s. I really enjoy playing that guitar too, because it's very, very comfortable. So I thought it was a good time to put the two together again and have fun with them.
You were a Peavy endorsee back in the 1980s.
Yeah, in my case, actually I had one with Fernandes too in the very early '80s, but with Peavy, I play the guitar whenever I feel like playing it; I don't want to play solely that guitar. The reason why I play that guitar is because I designed it completely, up to the last little detail to my own pace, so when I play it, it's because I want to play it, and when I don't play it, it's because I prefer at that particular moment to just play my Les Paul. I've never been like an equipment whore, so to speak. I just like to stay with the same stuff; stuff that I love, stuff that I feel connected to.
You must have had a lot of offers though over the years to endorse products?
I got so many endorsement offerings over the years. The weird thing is, when you don't have any money [at the start of your career], that's when you would could use it. It would come in very handy, and suddenly, we get successful and everybody jumps on your back and goes; "oh, you want to play my guitar, it's for free!", or my amp or whatever, and I go; "no", because I've got my stuff. The same goes for effects. I'm not a big effects guy. I've got a couple of stomp boxes from Carl Martin, which is great brand, and I play it because it's top of the line stuff. My preference has always been straight into the amplifier, but live I like a little bit of chorus every once in a while, and a little bit of delay.
You play that iconic solo on Whiteshake's 'Here I co Again', which has some nice reverb on it.
Thank you, man! It was an interesting situation because John Kalodner, the A&R Man for Geffen Records, he invited me over to talk about new contracts for Vandenberg. My manager and I managed to get rid of the Atlantic contract we had at the time, so I flew over to L.A., and he said; "well, I haven't been quite honest, because I have two propositions for you, and one is to get rid of the rest of the line-up of Vandenberg and form a new Vandenberg in Los Angeles with top class musicians around you under that name". I said; "okay, I'll think about that". I didn't want to disappoint those guys, so it was morally complicated for me. And he said; "well, the second proposal is, I would really like you to join Whitesnake". As people know, David already asked me two or three times over the years before that, so I started thinking about it. I thought; "man, never in a lifetime I'm going to find a singer of David's quality, so might as well join David".
So that's how you came to join Whitesnake?
Yes, and for a while that was just the two of us. We were a duo, so to speak, because David stopped working with Neil Murry [bass], and John Sykes [guitar], and Aynsley Dunbar [drums] who played on the album [the eponymous 1987 release], so it was just leaving me for a couple of weeks. Then Rudy [Sarzo, bass], and Tommy [Aldridge, drums] and Vivian [Campbell, guitar] got brought into the thing. So it was an interesting period of time because suddenly I find myself in Los Angeles working with David and nobody knew, nobody could predict that that album was going to be so big.
It was obviously a massive album.
David was a few million dollars in debt to his record company, and he basically didn't have any money. Over the years, I have read in a couple of magazines, and people said; "well, you made it. You stopped Vandenberg for the money", and I said; "no!", because there was no money. David didn't have any money, and he was honest about it. He said; "sorry, man, I can't pay you anything". I said; "I don't care. I want to make great music together and we'll see how it goes. If we make great music, then we're going to do well, and if not, at least we will make great music". That's always been my attitude. I've never done anything for the money, because if I did, I wouldn't be as happy as I am.
Looking back to that Whitesnake period, you had a band put together after the album was made that hadn't played on the album, but then that band never recorded an album together because Vivian was gone by 'Slip of the Tongue'.
For me, that's fine. I mean, later on, David, at some point, decided to stop working with Vivian. I've read some interviews with Vivian later on where he was quite... let's put it carefully, pissed off because he thought that I was instrumental in having Vivian fired. I was not at all because I had a good time playing with Vivian. He's a great player. We got along fine as far as I know. But I get along fine with everybody because for me, music is not a competition. You know, you can compete in sports because, well, this guy reached the finish earlier than the other guy; that is like something measurable. But for me, I worked great with Vivian, and great with Steve Vai or with Warren DeMartini; all those guys, because I love making music, and especially with great musicians, as was the case in Whitesnake. It was just an amazing time.
When Steve Vai joined Whitesnake, he played all the solos, recorded your songs, and even got to play solo material on the 1989 tour; what was that like for you as the other guitar player?
Well for me it didn't matter. Steve and I became really good friends pretty much instantly. Our styles are so different. Steve later on said, "man, I have to say, you know, at the time, my ego was a little inflated", and he kind of apologised for it. He said; "you know, I was just getting carried away by that period of time where everybody was going; "Oh! Steve Vai!" I don't care. You know, I play however I feel, and if somebody wants to step more into the limelight, it's fine with me. I don't care because I'm just happy to play great music and to play in a great band. Later on actually, I think it worked really well between Steve and I, because I thought it sounded so different.
As you quite rightly say, your styles are very different.
I'm a very melodic player. That's always been my passion. I'm a huge fan of people like Brian May, Leslie West, Michael Schenker, of Eddie Van Halen, who is more melodic than people think because he's so flashy as well. I've always been very melodic and Steve, especially in that period, was very flashy, because he felt he had to prove himself more. That's what he told me later, and so yeah, I'm the kind of guy I take a step back, and for me, as frustrating as it was that I wasn't able to play on my own songs because of this wrist injury, at the same time, I thought; "well, in a way, it's kind of cool that a player of Steve's calibre plays on the songs".
We previously discussed the wrist injury that prevented you from playing on 'Slip of the tongue', but you did at least make the tour.
During the tour I was still healing from his wrist thing, so I was very much occupied with that and on the route to occasionally few physical therapists that could take a look at it and see if everything was going well. I was more occupied with that than thinking about; "oh, what I'm going to do on stage, do I have to play faster or whatever". I suppose if I would have been 18 at a time when you want to prove yourself, you want to play play fast and all that stuff, but I wasn't 18, I was in my early thirties or something, and I already made my mark with my Vandenberg albums and with the solo on 'Here I Go Again', so people knew what kind of player I was. So for me, I didn't have the feeling I needed to prove anything.
Your melodic solos are probably my favourite thing on the new album; I'm guessing your work your solos out before recording them?
You know, I don't really work them out. What I usually do is I record a few solos, sometimes two or three, and sometimes five or six or whatever. That's one thing I learned from Jimmy Page basically, because the first two albums of Vandenberg were recorded Jimmy Page's studio, and I saw in the tape room all those tapes for all those legendary songs and I asked the engineer; "how did he record the solos?" And he goes; "well, he records a few and then he uses this part from this, and this part from this here". So that's what I started to do, and what I'm still doing, and sometimes it takes one or two solos, sometimes it takes four or five until I'm happy with him. Then I kind of combine them and then I got a little sorry,
David Gilmore did it that way as well; it's called comping, isn't it?
That's right. The thing is, it's always a little bit weird when I want to learn them later. When I went to see Queen, or when I went to see another band that I really liked with a great guitar player, I've always enjoyed hearing the solo live that they play on the album. There's a lot of people who would like otherwise, but I've always enjoyed hearing the familiarity of the solos I knew from the album, and he would play it live with a different intensity and with a big sound and everything. So it's always a little bit of a weird moment when I start learning my own solos. I go; "what the fuck did I do here?!. Where on the neck did I play this?!" I feel like a crazy scientist, you know, to try to figure out what the hell was I thinking when I did it.
The opening song in the album is called 'Thunder and Lightning', which brings us brilliantly to the revelation that you turned down a chance to join Thin Lizzy.
Yeah, that was a strange thing, especially looking at it afterwards because it was one of my favourite bands. I was in my early twenties and I was two years into my study at the University of Arts. So I got this phone call by one of the managers. I think he heard my album with a band I had before Vandenberg, a band called Teaser, which was very Bad Company oriented because I was a huge fan of Bad Company, who are still one of my all-time favourite bands. And that album came out on Vertigo in England, and that's where Thin Lizzy were, apparently, and that's how somebody heard some of the band.
So it was because you were label mates?
Apparently. The manager called me and he said; "are you interested in me sending you a ticket?", and you know, "to play with the Lizzy and see what you think?" Of course! I'd never been on a plane before and I flew over and played with them. Man, I never heard anything so loud because I was used to playing with one little Vox combo and one Marshall cabinet in clubs, and those guys rehearsed with the two Marshall stacks each and a big monitor system.
What do you remember about the Thin Lizzy audition?
It was a blast because I was well prepared because I didn't know which guy played which part in the double solos, the harmonised solos, so I learned them both in two or three days. So that went very well.
Would that have been for the gig that Snowy White eventually got?
I think it was after Gary More left. I think it was after the 'Black Rose' album  because I really liked that album. That's one of my favourite Lizzy albums for sure., and that's some of Gary's favourite playing, for me personally. I thought it was a great album.
So anyway, what happened was, I learned and all that stuff. I didn't know songs they wanted to play, so it was a lot of fun. And the thing was that Phil [Lynott] invited me for his birthday party, which was like one or two days later, and I went there, and all the people were coming in and I was a little bit shy and a little overwhelmed by all this stuff.
I can't imagine what Phil Lynott's birthday party would have been like!
Before not too long people were getting pretty stoned and drunk and stuff, and I didn't drink at the time, and I've never done drugs up to this day, so I thought; "man, this is a bit strange to get used to!" So I wandered around the house and I ended up in some kind of a library room, and I saw this book about Jimi Hendrix. I sat down in the corner and went through the book, and then the manager came in and said; "I was looking for you. I was wondering where you were". And I said; "yeah, it's kind of a strange scene for me to get used to, you know?" and he said; "I have to be honest now; Phil is not doing the best doing these days", because as everybody knows, he was using quite a lot. It was really sad. Phil was such a really, really nice guy, very soft, spoken. He played me some of his demos on a tape recorder, and it was great stuff.
So you were actually offered the job as Thin Lizzy's guitar player?
The manager said; "do you think you're going to be happy?" I said; "I don't know. I really have to think about it. I'm going to fly back to Holland, and then, call [me] the day after tomorrow when I'm back". And so when I got back to Holland, I talked to my Dad, and my Dad said; "I can understand the temptation. but you may ask yourself if it isn't smarter to finish your Art University studies and then decide to do stuff like this later on while you have a diploma. You'll have something to fall back on if won't be able to make a living in music". When the Thin Lizzy manager took me back to the airport, he said the same thing. So I decided to be smart.
It sounds like it was a tough call for you.
It was difficult position because I was a big fan, and I still am. It was kind of interesting, because a little bit later, as we all know, John Sykes joined Thin Lizzy for a period and then Whitesnake, and I came into Whitesnake after John Sykes. We never met each other. I would like meeting him because he's a fantastic player as everybody knows. I'm just a little disappointed that he never really did anything after his tenure in Whitesnake. He did such an amazing job on the '87 album.
Finally, you're such a respected player; has anyone else approached you over the years that you were tempted to join?
Well, yeah, there have been. I won't name any names because I don't want to embarrass anybody but yeah, there have been approaches. There was one or two that were quite attractive, but at the same time I was very busy with my paintings. I had all kinds of obligations.
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