by Marija Brettle
– Columnist —
The Robin 2, Concert Venue in Wolverhampton, April 23. 2014 —
After almost two decades, former Whitesnake and outstanding rock guitarist Adrian Vandenberg is finally back in music with the brand new band Vandenberg’s MoonKings and self-titled debut album.
Back in the late ‘80s, Vandenberg solidified his status as one of the most talented rock guitarists around, when he joined David Coverdale’s hard rock super group Whitesnake. Co-writing many of their best hits like, “Now You’re Gone” and “The Deeper the Love” as well as supplying the legendary guitar solo to “Here I Go Again.” During this time he topped the American charts twice and has sold in excess of 14 million albums worldwide.
But despite the rising success that he enjoyed with the band in 1999, the Dutch guitar hero said goodbye to Whitesnake and solely concentrated on his successful career as an artist and designer for the last 16 years.
However, his passion for rock ’n’ roll was always prevalent on his mind. So it was just matter of right timing and opportunity to work with the right musicians. That right timing and perfect turning point for Adrian came in 2011, when he picked three unknown Dutch musicians — singer Jan Hoving, drummer Mart ‘Martman’ Nijen-Es and bassist, Sem ‘the Sham’ Christoffel — for his up-coming album.
The band debuted in back February 2014, with a hard rocking album released worldwide by Mascot Records. The eagerly awaited record Vandenberg‘s MoonKings is a sensational mix of blistering rock songs accompanied with powerful ballads from the passionate Dutch guitar hero. There is also a pleasant surprise appearance from Whitesnake’s David Coverdale, with his beautiful rendition of the closing ballad “Sailing Ships.”
HARDROCK HAVEN caught up with the guitar virtuoso Adrian Vandenberg to discuss his comeback and all the excitement of getting back to performing on stage whilst touring. As well as the making of the band, the new record, his ever-lasting friendship with David Coverdale, and what lies ahead for the MoonKing’s in the future …
HARDROCK HAVEN: Hi Adrian, after reading your more recent posts on Facebook, it’s quite obvious that you guys are really having a blast on this tour! It looks like you’re a man on a mission. Do you feel like you’re making up for lost time, musically?
Adrian: Oh yeah, definitely! We really have a blast and you are right, I am a man on a mission! (Laughs) It’s all good. You know, it’s just great band to be part of, there is no other way of saying it! Bunch of great guys and no bullshit! Best part of it, we really enjoy playing together, as you can tell.
HRH: Yes, it feels like you have been rehearsing with these guys for a very long time to get to this perfect harmony in the band you have now …
Adrian: Well thank you! We only just got it started basically and ventured into all of this to see how it goes! (Laughs) I thought I could start this much earlier but I didn’t want to fall into many of those classic artistic traps of doing the predictable thing, like getting a couple of well-known musicians together, then put the band together and bang! If people are gonna know how the band will sound before they hear the band, you know it won’t work! So I wanted something fresh and new, exciting and dynamic, an in your face kind of thing! Something completely opposite to what people would expect from me. (Laughs) So I was fortunate enough to bring this all out there and it’s even better that people here like it!
HRH: Since the release of the MoonKing’s record, you’ve been getting great feedback from the UK and worldwide fans, but you’ve also received stunning reviews from the British music press, who usually are very hard on many bands from outside the U.K.?
Adrian: Yeah, yeah… British press usually are very hard on bands from Europe. They love to knock you down and keep you down. (Laughs) But so far all is good and it seems they like the band. I read all those great reviews. I read them all the time and touch wood, all is well!
HRH: Beside that, what is the best thing that happened to you on this tour that you can look back on and be proud of?
Adrian: The whole excitement of basically, being on stage, on the road and all the joy that comes with it! I think I miss all that fuss around, the good vibe when you are in your own right environment. We just had our first Paaspop Festival in Holland yesterday and it was a very big festival indeed, something like 8,000 people came! I know it’s like a cliché expression, but it feels like a warm welcome … like coming back home thing. You can just see that people are very happy to see you again! You know, when I see these guys so happy on stage and there is this great connection. That’s what really makes me happy and proud of them! It’s just four guys, but we make a hell of a lot of noise. (Laughs)
We really have this great musical connection, next to the personal connection. I mean I would if I could do some more shows in UK on this tour, but the thing is these shows have been pre-planned already before the album came out. So our booking agent was waiting till the album came out and then he was checking on the reviews and stuff to figure out how much people want to see our shows. Technically the shows that we are playing now are basically based on the feedback and the reactions we were getting from people. Well, these shows are also very important for the band, to show who we are and what we can deliver. So people can hopefully ask for more shows! (Laughs) Tomorrow we are playing in London and next Belgium and Paris and we have few Festivals coming this summer which is very exciting! I love big festivals and the big crowd! So people can spread the word and we are back for more! (Laughs)
HRH: Well It’s been a quite a long wait for your fans, since we saw you last time with Whitesnake and I’m sure they’re delighted to see you back and in full force too! So, here is one obvious question from all the Whitesnake/Vandenberg fans out there: Where have you been and what you been up to for the past 16 years?
Adrian: Since 1999 I have been working a lot more professionally on my painting and designing. At the time, I thought it would be great to take some time off for a few years, maybe to catch up with my painting and stuff which I really enjoy. Painting was my regular profession before I got the opportunity to be a professional musician, because I never expected that one day I will be with the biggest band on earth like Whitesnake! (Laughs) I mean, this kind of music is not huge in Holland. You simply can’t make a good living of rock music in Holland and I never had any illusion that one day I could get successful outside of Holland. I am a realistic kind of guy.
So I thought if I can’t make a career of this music I have to change my passion into something else like painting, designing and that kind of stuff. Something that will work for me there. It’s actually how I met Paul, who is a professional photographer and now the band’s live tour photographer. We got to know each other and worked together on movies and some paintings alongside advertising stuff, so that was my job at the time.
Anyway, I wanted to catch up with painting for few years, but what happened at the time in 1999, was that I had a daughter. But the relationship with her mother didn’t work out, so we split up. I thought long and hard, then realized that I don’t want to be one of those absent fathers who see their child once a year. I wanted to see her growing up. All I can say is, that was a very hard decision for me to make at the time. I was kind of torn between my family life, my music and being on the road. I thought I’ll wait for couple more years, but I was also enjoying my painting.
HRH: You recently said that around that time, you felt that you needed a break from music, care to divulge more details with us on that?
Adrian: Yeah, looking back I think at the time, I needed a break to kind of recharge my musical batteries. Because I was very careful of falling into an artistic trap of doing the same stuff. Also I was waiting for the right kind of guys. So this time it all felt right, the timing, the band… everything felt right! All of it came together in a kind of coincidental way, because the drummer and the bass player are from my own town. It took a little longer because, as I said, I wanted to do it the right way this time. Well, this is the story of many bands. They rush into something way too fast and go out and do the album, then soon it all falls apart. I didn’t want to do anything in a rush. Still, the whole thing took much longer than I was expecting. (Laughs) Well, in the end it all happened when it happened and in the right kind of way!
HRH: Last year, when you started talking about the idea of getting the band together, I think most people who knew you from Whitesnake expected you to come up with more of a classic rock sound. But you chose to go down a different path and surprise us all with a whole new Adrian … With a fresh and up-to date, dynamic ‘70s-influenced sound!
Adrian: (Laughs) Well that was the plan! I know, people expected the obvious classic rock, but I didn’t want to go that route. I wanted to surprise everybody including myself! I think everybody was taking a guess that I will come up with some Vandenberg and Whitesnake stuff. You know, it would be easy for me to come back with something predictable. I thought of that and the trap of falling into that would be more dangerous than you know. I always wanted to make music from the heart, because then you can never go wrong. Even if it doesn’t work and people don’t like the album, there is still no problem because you made something in an honest way. If you try doing something that you don’t feel is right for you, then you can’t expect other people to like it.
So that’s how it felt when I started to write rock songs again. I was very curious what would happen when I sat down and started writing with my guitar. It’s very much connected to all the stuff I have done, but this time it’s a different platform I am working on. I always love heavy blues/rock music, with a little bit of melody and that’s what I’ve been missing all this time! It’s a little bit of a tricky line to work on, in terms of how much melody you can add into a sound. At the same time, holding on to this gutsy and bluesy sound, that is exciting for me.
HRH: Unlike many bands today like Rival Sons, who evoke the ‘s70s vintage bluesy rock, making music the way it was made in the ‘70s, you opted to go down a different path, by using some elements and influences of that period, but with a more technically advanced and modern sound. What was the reason behind this decisions?
Adrian: Yeah, lots of bands took that route and started making music that sounded like it was recorded in the ‘70s, which is something that I don’t fancy myself. I think we’re living in the now, you know … technology changes and everything around us evolves into something more modern.
So, we live in a different time and this time is more dynamic than it was in the ‘70s. I mean everybody was stoned then. (Laughs) I like to use the roots of the ‘70s sound, but the dynamics of now. I love bands like Foo Fighters… kind of loud, in your face sound. Or bands like Kings of Leon and Queens of the Stone Age with Dave Grohl. I wanted to build a bridge between these two genres. The best stuff of the ‘70s sound and the dynamics of right now!
So basically it was a bit challenge and I am really happy that it worked out well this way and people actually like it!
HRH: You recently said that all your early influences were from ‘70s bands like Zeppelin, Free, Small Faces, as well as Whitesnake later, are quite noticeable on this record in songs like, “Lust and Lies,” “Close to You” or the stunning epic ballad “Breathing.” How difficult and challenging was it to find the right singer who will actually fit in and deliver for you?
Adrian: Yeah it wasn’t easy, but I was really lucky to find the right singer! I must say, I wasn’t expecting to find a singer like that in Holland. (Laughs) I had in mind, two singers in US when I first started writing and then I soon realised that I needed to fly him back and forth all the time. Basically he would need to live with me, which is not the ideal situation for me. I haven’t kept an eye on the Dutch music scene since ’86, when I joined Whitesnake and I don’t really care about Dutch music and Dutch bands, because most of them are crap… basically all of them! (Laughs) Maybe there are a few good singers of this kind in different genres. I mean, I get really spoiled working with David Coverdale and guys like Paul Rodgers! So I wouldn’t really like to settle for a lot less.
But I also ran into Jan by coincidence. He was seriously into farming when I found him. He just quit his former band, because he was kind of disappointed and tired with the whole music business. All his hard work and time he invested into the band was going nowhere, nothing was happening. Around that time I read the review for one of the shows he did with Whitesnake as a support band, saying that the support band had a great singer. So I thought “hmm, I got to check out this guy” and that guy was Jan! (Laughs) So I was surprised like everybody else how good of a singer he was.
HRH: Yes, I was surprised too when I heard him for the first time on the MoonKings teaser song “Lust and Lies,” that you posted via Facebook. It was like, “wow where did he find this guy”. It was like Coverdale, Robert Plant and Paul Rodgers, all rolled into one voice! (Laughs) I thought, how lucky you were to find him …
Adrian: Yeah, and how lucky he was! (Laughs) Otherwise he would have never gone anywhere with his thing. He told me he was kind of fed up with the whole music thing, so he turned into farming, because he loves his farm and stuff. He basically lost all interest and faith in music. So if I didn’t track him down, nobody would ever know how great of a singer he is!
HRH: Absolutely! I guess like many people out there, I was amazed at how talented singer he is.
Adrian: I was just really lucky to run into him at the right time and hope for the right reasons too! He really is one of those great guys, very humble and there is none of those, ego trip prima-donna singers. Well he was going to be a farmer, you know. (Laughs)
HRH: But not just the singer, you were very lucky to find the other two guys Sem and Matt. They’re also two incredibly talented musicians, which fit so well into the band.
Adrian: They are both amazing musicians! I was writing a song for my local soccer team and they asked me to write an anthem for them and play it live. So I said that I can’t, because I didn’t have a band. So they said, “Oh, come on just one song. Can you put something together?” One of my friends, who happened to be with us for two days, (he runs this local rock stage in my own town) told me a couple of months before, that he knew this kid with long hair and that he is a great drummer. I was like joking with him, “You don’t know anything about a great rock ’n’ roll drummer!”
Anyway, he said he will bring him in my office so I can see what kind of a drummer he really is. When I met Matt, the first thing he said to me was; “Do you remember me?” I said “No, where from?” and it appeared that few years back I was the judge for a local talent music contest, so I chose him for the best drummer when he was 12 and that was that! I asked him if he had any friends that play with him in a band. He said yes and that was Sem, our bass player! Sem asked me the same question, like “Do you remember me?” and I said No! He then said that I let him win! Then I remember how he impressed me, by casually playing really difficult Jaco Pastorius-like pieces.
When we got together for this song I thought, “Hmmm, this feels like a band.” They said, “Can we audition for you?” So I said “No, you had the job already!” It took us three minutes of rehearsal, and then I knew this was the band I’ve been waiting for.
Right from the start of rehearsals, I realized these guys are sensationally talented! So yeah, I believe that everything happens for the reason and this actually proves to me that initially, I had to wait till things fell into place, in a natural way. You know, because otherwise the album wouldn’t sound like this and I wouldn’t have so much fun with these guys! (Laughs)
HRH: Let’s talk about the whole creation process of the MoonKings. What was the dynamic between you and the rest of the band?
Adrian: Well, we rehearsed for a short period of time and we went into the studio to record it all, because otherwise you can’t get that same dynamic. We recorded live without a guide track and that’s the reason why it sounds like this! We worked with tube compressors, we used a Neumann microphone from the sixties and we recorded everything with a Neve desk from the seventies, till we got this really Rock ‘n’ Roll sound. You know, exciting and loud, but as fresh, dynamic and explosive as the tightest rock bands of today! Basically it’s how we sound live and so we didn’t fool anybody.
HRH: How long did it take you to put this whole album together?
Adrian: Just a couple of weeks. The writing took longer because I did kind of take my time to write. It took me couple of months maybe, to just hang around in my own studio. I wanted to write stuff that comes from my heart, which is blues rock based music. I recorded the songs myself first before I brought it to Jan. I just wanted to make sure it sounded right to me in my head. It took some time till it felt right, till I was extremely happy with it.
The actual recording took place in the same studio where I recorded my first project with the band called Teaser when I was 21. This studio is one of the best, where bands like Def Leppard recorded in the past. So it was a kind of a cool thing to go “full circle”. The recording alone, was just couple of weeks. In the end I made demos that sounded too good, almost like on the record.
HRH: Going back to the Whitesnake days, you have worked a lot together with David, co-writing on many amazing songs on the brilliant Slip of the Tongue record … what was it like working with him?
Adrian: We really enjoyed writing together, because we had the same kind of taste, the same kind of thing we like in music, influences and stuff, so it was very natural for us to get together and write. Yeah it was one great journey for me basically. With Steve Vai we became really great friends and we still are. So I only had good memories. It’s always such a blast to share any stage with David; it goes by in a flash! (Laughs)
HRH: How and when did you meet David?
Adrian: Well in 1982, I got a call from DC’s manager saying that David invited me to a Whitesnake show in Holland. When we met, he asked me to join Whitesnake and tried to steal my girlfriend … (Laughs)
HRH: Will there be any acoustic tour with David in the future?
Adrian: Who knows, we’ve been talking about that for a long time…
HRH: So who came up with the idea of David’s collaboration this time on your record?
Adrian: I am always very excited working with David. Well, we always stay in touch. We talk often on the phone and David keeps saying to me; “Come on you lazy Dutchman, when are you going to get in the studio and make an album?” (Laughs) So one day I said to him, “Well it looks like we are working toward to that!” When I told him that I was about to go in the studio and that I was putting the band together, he just said; “Oh great, you know it would be an honor for me to sing on your album!” I said, “Well, the honor would be all mine!” (Laughs)
At the time, David was on his own world tour and we didn’t have the time to write a new song. But then again, I always wanted to do a new version of “Sailing Ships” because I couldn’t play on it at the time (Adrian hurt his wrist during the making of the Slip of the Tongue album). The original song had a more melancholy vibe on it. Slip of the Tongue was a little bit on a busy side, because Steve Vai is a very busy, fast player.
HRH: Where do you get your inspiration, to write all those stunning lyrics on this album, songs like “Breathing,” “Lust and Lies,” and “Close to You”?
Adrian: Well, when I sit down with a guitar or piano and start jamming, I kinda put out an antenna and words and/or sentences come in. They almost always fit with the vibe of the song. Later on I open a good bottle of wine, crash on my couch and start making associations. (Laughs) Most of them are from personal experiences. So I’ve gotta live and experience things in order to put something in words that feel good to me.
HRH: Is there any song on this album that has a special meaning to you that you could share with us from an artistic point of view?
Adrian: Well, probably the most personal is “Out Of Reach,” about my daughter who lived with her mother since she was 12 years old. I don’t get to see her as often as I would like.
HRH: When you look back on your early Whitesnake days, what would you say is the most memorable moment you would like to share with us?
Adrian: Well, basically everything! It was one big highlight for me! (Laughs) Every day for me was a surprise, which I ended up playing guitar in one of the world’s biggest bands! Went on tour everywhere and doing shows around the world. You know, I was a great fan of David Coverdale, so it was great to be able to work with him and share the stage with him! It can’t get bigger! (Laughs)
HRH: For me personally, I will never forget when Whitesnake headlined the legendary Monsters of Rock Festival at Castle Donnington 1990. I remember you all were “on fire” that night. I would say it was one of the best visual treats for the crowd that night and undoubtedly one of the most musically intense line-ups of Whitesnake to date!
Adrian: Yeah, performing in front of over 70,000 happy people! Of course, Castle Donnington 1990 was one of the best highlights for everyone in the band! It was kind of late, but the crowd went wild! The atmosphere and everything about that night was awesome! Then, I will never forget the sold out show at Wembley and London! We played in the stadium in London in front of 30,000 people in a beautiful summer night and all my family were there! Yeah, there are many highlights that I could think of really.
HRH: As one of the finest and most charismatic guitarists around, what advice would you give to the many new and aspiring guitarists and musicians out there?
Adrian: (Laughs) You’re making me blush! Main thing is to LOVE music, try to be your own man and to have your own style. FEEL what you play, not just go through the motions.
HRH: How did you see yourself continuing this new musical journey when you started with this album?
Adrian: That’s easy, I play and write from the heart; I love playing and creating music and want to keep doing this for as long as people let me.
HRH: If you were to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Adrian: Passionate, positive, creative!
HRH: Thank you Adrian for making the time for this Interview! It’s been a real delight meeting you and best of luck with the rest of the tour! Well, I hope we’ll see you back again in UK, with a lot more shows!
Adrian: Thanks for that! (Laughs) I honestly can’t wait to come back for a lot more shows! This was way too short, but so great to finally play in this country again, where most of my musical influences came from!
Vandenberg’s Moonkings track listing:
01. Lust And Lies
02. Close To You
03. Good Thing
05. Steal Away
06. Line Of Fire21
07. Out Of Reach
08. Feel It
09. Leave This Town
10. One Step Behind
12. Nothing Touches
13. Sailing Ships
Visit the band online: http://www.moonkingsband.com/
Photos appear courtesy of: Stefan Schipper and Jadranka Jade