Adrian Vandenberg,
The TVD Interview

Guitar virtuoso Adrian Vandenberg has been a prominent figure in the world of rock music for decades, thanks to his signature sound and technical prowess on the six string.

Best known for his stint as one of the guitarists in Whitesnake during the late 1980s, Vandenberg has also made significant contributions to many other bands, including Manic Eden, Teaser, and his eponymous band Vandenberg. We recently spoke to Vandenberg to delve into the mind of this legendary musician to learn more about his inspirations, artistic vision, and upcoming projects.

Tell us about the new Vandenberg album Sin. What was the inspiration behind it, and what can fans who haven’t given it a spin expect from it?

Well, every time I make an album, I try to raise the bar just a little bit. This becomes harder over time and especially now because I was really happy with the 2020 album. So sometimes I get slightly intimidated. I go, “Oh man, I got to live up to this.” And then I just dive into the deep so to speak, get more confident and I go, okay—this is going somewhere.

Everything creates a kind of echo in my head, and it makes it really interesting for me to trace back where, what excited me, and what still excites me. And I always come back to the fact that it’s all about inspiration, but especially about expressiveness—rock or blues or any music that’s supposed to be played from the heart and from the soul.

When it doesn’t have that electric spark, especially in rock, then it becomes pop music. And that’s not the idea, because you don’t get that urge to play it in the car, open the window, and crank it all the way up. Whether it’s a great blues artist like Stevie Ray Vaughan, or whether it’s a great Zeppelin album, or a great Van Halen album. That’s what I’m looking for.

How does the current Vandenberg lineup differ from past versions of the band?

Well, in early Vandenberg, it was the same lineup for three albums. When I restarted Vandenberg under that particular name, it was because of the name recognition over so many years. Because of that, people know what to expect from a Vandenberg album and what it’s going to be about. With the current lineup, I was very fortunate to find these guys. The bass player, Randy van der Elsen, and the drummer, Koen Herfst, are from Holland and our singer, Mats Levén, is Scandinavian. They are all top level internationally and could play with any top American band.

How has your playing style evolved since the early days of Vandenberg to now?

I think as an artist, you should evolve. It always surprises me when sometimes people say, “Well, it doesn’t sound like a Vandenberg song from the early ’80s.” You go, “Man, that’s 40 years ago.” It would be very weird if you keep doing the same thing, ran on auto pilot, and keep recreating the sounds of yesterday. You should evolve.

And I’m very critical about my songwriting and about my guitar playing. And you mentioned the playing. Yes, this time I try to dig even deeper to squeeze every little drop of passion out of each and every note. I’m more into how I play things than what I play, even though, of course what I play has to do something with a song.

And in my case, I’m fortunate that I write the music because I know what I want to get across with a solo. It needs to be a little story inside the story. But it still needs to have everything to do with the story that you’re telling in the rest of the song.

What is your favorite track from the album and why?

I would have to say the title track “Sin” because there’s so many stories within the song as a whole. It’s like an epic track, almost seven minutes, that fluctuates between different types of moods. It goes pretty deep into the darkness, and then at the same time it becomes lighter in the arpeggio.

But then another favorite is actually “Walking On Water.” When I listen to it back, I can hear my big influences from earlier times, bands like Free, Bad Company, early Zeppelin—that kind of stuff. It’s a bluesier song than some of the other tracks. And those bands have always been my favorite bands, early Zeppelin, Bad Company, Free—the blues, space rock bands that just turn the blues up as far as volume goes.

Your iconic solo on the Whitesnake song “Here I Go Again” is one of the most recognizable in rock history. Can you share how this came to be?

As most people know, David Coverdale had approached me a number of times before to join Whitesnake, and every time I was involved in the new record with Vandenberg, or was in the middle of a tour, or whatever. It never worked out. I was out in Los Angeles working with Geffen manager John Kalodner on a new Vandenberg lineup—which he was not very impressed with—and asked me if I would like to join Whitesnake.

And I thought about it for one or two days and John finally said, “Well, while you are still here in LA considering all of this, I would love you to make a new guitar arrangement and play a new solo on “Here I Go Again”.”

As amazing as John Sykes’ work on that album was, Kalodner didn’t feel the solo was quite working the way he envisioned it. I was asked to do a Vandenberg-style solo on the record, and we worked on the arrangement so it would better fit the song. And Kalodner described it the way that John Sykes played it, he said it sounded like a metal band playing a country song. That I thought was pretty funny.

And I said, “Yeah, well great. It would be an honor,” because I knew the song in its earlier version—it was a hit single in England. I just felt that the chorus could use more power than the earlier version.

How did that come together in the studio?

We were in Keith Olsen’s studio where he produced that album. And I remember him coming up with a part for the second and third verse where it had a little arpeggio guitar part that made it flow a little, that fits the flow of the song a little more than what I originally heard from Keith.

And I went in for the solo Keith said, “Just play the solo.” And I had some melodic reaction to what I heard—and that’s always how it happens with solos with me. I wanted to stay in the flow of the song. I didn’t want to make it float away as far as the vibe goes. So yeah, melody came into my head. I said, “Oh, wait a minute.” So, I laid it down, and at the end I thought it would be cool to go out with a flash. Yeah, it’s 80 seconds or something, but it kind of summons up the vibe of the song for me.

You were pretty instrumental in writing the follow up album with Coverdale, Slip of the Tongue. However, I don’t think you actually played on the actual album. Help me understand what happened there.

Well, unfortunately I had a wrist problem. One morning when we were recording, I was laying down the rhythm tracks to the basic tracks, and as I started preparing the stuff that I wanted to record that day, it felt like somebody was clamping down on my wrist. It felt like, “Man, what’s going on?” It felt really stiff. I went to the studio and I told Keith Olsen and David, “Man, I’ve got a weird feeling in my wrist. I think I need to take the day off and let it rest a little bit.” And the next day it was even worse. So I went to an acupuncturist, I went to a physical therapist, and all kinds of stuff. And nothing worked.

So, after two or three days I knew everybody was waiting for me. I thought I had to do something because this was not getting any better. I called up my dad in Holland, and he said, “Yeah, I know this physical therapist clinic in Holland that specialized in musicians and ballet dancers and violin players and all that stuff. So, if I were you, I would come back to Holland and go there and see what’s going on.”

 So, is that when Steve Vai came in?

Yes. I traveled back to Holland to get some help and that’s when Steve Vai came in. David and I talked about it. We talked about who would be a great fit for the album. And for me, of course, it was a little weird because I wrote the songs with David and then suddenly you can’t play them the way you had them in your head.

At the same time, I was really honored that the player of Steve’s caliber played my songs. So that was the good side of the whole thing. I had treatment for approximately a year until we started touring, and I was just kind of ready to go at that point. I still needed to get together with Steve and we straightened the solos between him and me, and it ultimately worked out great. Steve and I became good friends and we’re still in touch with each other regularly.

Looking back, a lot of people were curious to know how the album would’ve sounded if I would’ve played the guitar on it. I tell them, “Listen to the 2020 album I brought out three years ago. And listen to the Sin album, because that’s how I meant those songs to sound.

There’s a strong resurgence of vinyl records in the music industry. As a musician, what are your thoughts on this trend?

I really love it. When I started my former band, Vandenberg’s MoonKings, I had a bass player and a drummer that I discovered in a local talent show, and they’re incredibly, incredibly talented. They’re top class musicians. And so, when we were going to record, the guys asked me, “Is it going to come out on vinyl?” I go, “Vinyl?” I wasn’t aware of the resurgence of vinyl because I withdrew myself from the music scene for about 10 years to watch my daughters grow up. I really wanted to be a factor in my daughters’ lives growing up, so I stayed away from the business. I didn’t really keep an eye on it. I was made aware of the resurgence of vinyl, and I was pleasantly surprised because I always thought CDs didn’t have it, you know what I’m talking about? And vinyl fans know what I’m talking about.

For me, It’s a different emotion. You take out the vinyl, got this big thing, not like a flimsy little shiny CD. I’ve never been a big fan of CDs, but that was the way it was. I kept all my favorite vinyl records. And my collection is expansive. From my childhood days, I have got my first records of Stevie Winwood with the Spencer Davis Group, Jimi Hendrix, Cream—all that stuff. I still have it and I still play it. Because I still have that emotion that you and your readers know about. You put the needle on the vinyl, you lean back and you’ve got the warm fat sound. CDs get pretty close these days, but it’s still not exactly the same.

When you have been playing vinyl all your life, you even miss the scratches on them—a little bit like the static on every album. Sometimes you put the needle on and the whole process, manually putting the thing on, and sometimes skipping the song that you’re not too happy about—but you have to do it manually of course. So, I love the whole thing, and I love it that, as most people know—a lot of people know or who’ve followed my career—I’ve always made my own record sleeves.

Which musicians have had the biggest influence on your career?

Well, probably the most important stimulation has always been Jimi Hendrix, early Jeff Beck, Clapton in his Cream days, and Leslie West in Mountain. Those guys, I think, have shaped my choice of notes and my styles.

Also, my sister and my dad always played classical music at home. So, I always have echoes of when they played Mozart or Bach or Beethoven, and all that stuff they played on the piano. At the time I probably hated it—or at least I thought I did—because it was going on and on—and on. My sister was playing, was studying for hours downstairs, and I was listening to my Hendrix and my Queen records and stuff. But in the end, it really had a big influence on me as a guitar player and as a writer.

Also, as far as singers go, my favorite singers have been people like Paul Rodgers, David Coverdale, and of course, Robert Plant. One of my highlights was of course, when I started working with David, but another came in 1994 when I was invited to play a solo on one of Paul Rodgers’ albums—he told me I could pick the tune. I chose “Fire & Water” because it’s one of my all-time favorite songs by Free.

Finally, how do you want your music and legacy to be remembered?

I suppose, for always trying to raise the bar for myself, trying to write better songs, trying to play as close as I can to what I hear in my head. But all in all, it’s all about passion. My whole life has been about passion, whether it’s for music, whether it’s for my work as a painter, as an artist. And I love cooking, which is also about passion.

To me, passion is everything. Life without passion to me seems like an empty one. And it doesn’t matter what it’s for. It could be for football, it could be for food, it could be for art, for just life in general. It could be for people around you. For me, it’s all about passion, and my passion for music, about writing from passion, about playing guitar, which is something that’s the right track in my life.

My mom always reminded me that when I was about four, I used to run around the house with a cigar box from my dad that I put elastic bands over. She always said, “We didn’t even know what a guitar was. You made your own guitar out of a cigar box.” And I remember getting my first electric guitar. I put it next to my bed and I touched it all the time and thought, “Wow, I can’t believe I have an electric guitar.” It’s still as exciting for me as back then, and that guitar is to this day a very important part of my life.

Vandenberg’s new release, Sin is in stores now—on vinyl.

Vandenberg Website | Facebook | Instagram
TOP PHOTO: NEIL A. LIM SANG | BOTTOM PHOTO: HP van VELTHOVEN

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