Sink or Swim? My money is on Hagar!
Sammy was in his basement jamming with his band on new songs for the album. His wife had to run down to grab him to do the interview.
Hagar: I always like to get away from all that, (Los Angeles) and I live in the mountains in a place where I can, you know, when I start to write a new record I am writing who I really am now and my new feelings - instead of that same guy stuck in a rock n' roll life style. But that is just me. (laughing)
Chris: 8 years you lived in Los Angeles. That's a long time.
H: Well no. I always lived here in Mill Valley, and in Cabo San Lucas in Mexico too. But the point is that I made my home base out of Los Angeles, but every time I wasn't working, I wouldn't be there.
C: You were saying that you're writing songs for a new album now.
H: Yeah. I am starting to write for a new record. I am starting the new record in the middle of June when I get back from Australia. And I hope to have it out in October/November, but what I will be doing in my show in Australia will be a lot of "Marching to Mars", I'll even go back to my first band "Montrose" and play three of four songs - like the first songs I ever wrote in my life, like "Bad Motor Scooter" and "Rock Candy." And I do five or six Van Halen songs. Ones that I feel would be hard for anyone else for them to do without me like "Dreams" and "Why Can't This Be Love", "Finish What Ya Started", "Right Now." Songs that are really Sammy Hagar trademarks. I do two and a half hours with my band, and I just sprinkle it with my old "Red Rocker" song days, like "Only One Way To Rock" and "Three Lock Box" it's really quite an evening with Sammy Hagar. I mean Montrose clear through Van Halen, through "Marching to Mars", there is really a lot of material to chose from, so it's really a great set for me.
C: Yeah, but your career has always been pretty diverse in that way.
H: Yeah. What you can do is, you can take an audience so many places that a new band that has one or two albums out can never do. You can take them through a whole time, you know back in time, forward in time...
C: It also makes it a lot harder to research an interview when you have more than 20 years of history to research.
H: You're absolutely right. It's like, "O.K, what do you want to talk about ?" I'm willing to talk about it all! I mean, just Van Halen is 11 years, that alone is a career. But like I was saying for a live concert it's phenomenal, I can go through so many different things and I can pick such diversity in the set. I really can take people on a journey - you don't have to get high before you come to a Sammy Hagar concert because when you're done you're going to think that you're stoned on your ass!
C: I am actually going to see Van Halen on Monday night.
H: It's a karoke band now. (we laugh hard at this one) It should be interesting...
C: Yeah. The timing of the two is bizarre, I rang my editor and he says, " Your Van Halen tickets have come in and you're interviewing Sammy Hagar tomorrow." I went "Okay?".
H: Hey that's a great band Van Halen, shoot it, I can't say anything bad about the music that I played in that band. It was phenomenal, I think we were one of the greatest rock n' roll bands in the world, and without a doubt Eddie Van Halen is a great, great guitar player. Whatever happened between us is history, it's passed, but the way it ended was not good. But for ten years this band was great and we got along great, and I'm real proud of what we did and I have nothing bad to say about those guys from that era. The only bad thing I have to say about it is "Hey, it ended on a bad note." Those guys, to me, stabbed me in the back. So I am not happy about that, but at the same time I am happy now - in the end. But I don't like bad endings, and friends that betray you and then say something else. But other than that, the Van Halen years were fantastic, and to go see them now, I don't know, maybe someone who has never seen them - maybe they won't know the difference. But if anyone who ever saw Van Halen previously...it's just a whole different thing now, it's like a karoke band.
C: When you say they stabbed you in the back, it looked like your best buddies in six months just went nuts. But I remember when David Lee Roth left the band it went the same way; Eddie becomes very caustic in interviews about his former lead singers.
H: Well, the whole thing
is David Lee Roth quit the band, everyone knows that and he'll admit it.
I didn't quit the band. To put it in a nutshell, no matter what anyone else in that band tells you - it's bullshit; here is what happened: They wanted to do a greatest hits record, I didn't want to do a greatest hits record. I said, "I don't think we should, let's do a new record." I wanted to do a brand new record, so I wouldn't co-operate. They got David Lee Roth back in the band and Eddie called me after he had been in the band for two weeks. They were rehearsing, and they were writing songs together, and Eddie calls me and tells me that and I'm going, "Well, fuck you. That's bullshit." And he goes, "Well, fuck you. You wouldn't co-operate." That's why they say I'm not a team player, and I'm going, "Well, I don't want to play on a team that fucks other people." And Eddie said, "Well, hey, you can go back to being a solo artist which is all you ever wanted to be anyway" - which is bullshit. But I had been a solo artist, yes.
So they brought David Lee Roth back in the band. Now, when that didn't work out...that wasn't my fault, they can't blame me for that. And David Lee Roth claims that Gary Cherone was already in the band and I'm going, "What!?" Who knows what the fuck they were thinking, but obviously it wasn't very on the up and up. You don't do that to your friends. We sold 42 million records together, and you don't have to do anything cheap at that stage I don't think. These guys, they just flipped out or something.
C: To put an analogy to it, in a boyfriend / girlfriend scenario: It looks like they were getting jealous of their current girlfriend when he went and released a solo greatest hits record (Hagar's solo Greatest Hits album on Geffen is alleged to have fuelled the sparks in the Van Halen camp), so they get back with their old girlfriend to make the current one jealous?
H: Wow, you know what that's
an interesting way to put it, because if you put it in a boyfriend / girlfriend
sense you're absolutely right, because it was pure jealousy. They were
going off about it, and I'm like fuck, I released a Greatest Hits record
because I never thought I'd do another record again as long as I lived
because you guys would never let me do a solo record. I was contractually
obligated, which they say I'm not, but fuck it those guys don't know anything
about my contract. I'm sure Eddie read my 167 page Geffen contract, he's
never read his own.
Thats exactly what it was. They were doing a Greatest Hits record with Roth! - and that is kind of like coming home, and catching your wife in bed with her previous boyfriend. That is the way I felt, man I got jealous.
The whole point is, some day it will all come out in the wash and at least we can be friends again. I don't mean going back in that band, I am not interested in being retro. But I wouldn't want to go through my whole life being enemies with guys that I loved as brothers for ten years. That is the ugliest part of the whole thing. So, when I play the Van Halen songs I have a Karoke band. (laughing)
C: Through it all you seem to be the most level headed out of all the commentators.
H: I'm havin' fun, there is something about the freedom of being a solo artist. I was burnt out on being a solo artist when I joined Van Halen. I'd been a solo artist for ten years and I was tired of having to make all the decisions and write all the songs, it was a lot of work being a solo artist. Then I joined Van Halen and I'm going. "Oh Eddie will do that interview, and Alex will do that one." It was so much easier being in a band. And I'm going, "Wow this is wonderful, and we got along, and I love the music. Eddie and I write all the music together - I feel completely content to be in a band." But the last couple of years it would start becoming a strain, Eddie would always bring me the music and I would write the music and the melodies. And it became...I got bored with that, on the "Balance" record it started becoming work to just write lyrics and melodies to Eddie's music. I was interested on the next record in trying to break that mold, because otherwise I was just bored with the band and I probably would have quit in another year or two - if it had continued like that. So it all happened at a good time, and now being back as a solo artist again there is no compromise. There is no one to say, "No, well, we don't like that." I do exactly what I want, and the freedom of that is real exciting and really inspiring because I go, "Wow, I can do anything." If you listen to "Marching to Mars" which is my first solo record in 10 years, it's so versatile because of the fact that I can write a song with Bootsy Collins, a funky tune, "Would You Do It For Free." Or I'm going to do this blues thing, "Little White Lie." And I'm going to do things that I could never do in Van Halen, so it's kind of a release, "Marching to Mars" is, even though it doesn't really have a straight direction to it, but it's all those frustrations and it was so much fun writing those songs. Being a solo artist is great for about ten years and then you've got to be in a band again. And then be in a band for eight or nine years, if it is a great band, and then you've got to go back to doing your own thing again otherwise your burn out with it.
C: Do you see yourself getting into another band situation ?
H: Not right now. I've got a band, though. My band the Wabo-Ritas, the band I took on tour all last year, we did 110 shows, and that I'm coming to Australia with is a fucking great band. They're all downstairs right now working on these songs with me and it's kind of like a band, but I don't have a collaborator and I don't ask everyone to really contribute anything they want. They really don't have that freedom, when we are onstage they do, but when I'm writing I say here is the song, here is the way I want it to be and I kind of direct it. It's not like Van Halen where everyone did what they wanted. That band, when I was in the band, it's changed now because this is Eddie's solo album, this is the Eddie solo years, but previous to this Eddie would come up with some music and Al would play any kind of drums that he wanted to. No one ever said, "No, Al. Why don't you play like this." Very seldom. Mikey would play the bass the way he wanted to, Mikey is not even playing on this new record. It's Eddie playing bass, and everything. Which is great, Eddie's a great bass player, but it's not a band anymore.
C: They didn't have Mike playing bass at all?
H: If you interview them
and you want to see some faces go sour, and have Eddie jump up and start
talking for everybody, ask Mikey and say; "So how many songs did you play
bass on, on this record?" I'm telling you, I've been in that band, Mikey
is not playing bass on this record - it is all Eddie. Anyway, I would come
in. I would hear the music, I would say this is the verse, this is the
chorus, this is the guitar solo - I won't sing there I'll sing here. I'd
figure out what I was going to sing, I would go write the lyrics, I'd come
in and do it and no one ever said anything. That is a true band effort
like Cream, or the Police, or the Beatles in the early days.
Everyone was a band, it's a special thing. When that changes then the music changes and that's kind of what happened to Van Halen. Who knows some people may even like it better? I don't know, but this is Eddie's solo record.
A true band is a special thing and it's hard to keep one together, that's why they break up all the time, I think we did pretty good staying together for 11 years if you want my opinion.
C: That's a fair call.
H: We never fought. We didn't get in fights and half way break up, none of that shit, We never even came close - When it came time to break up we did it, no fucking around.
C: An extended break up never does anything for the music.
H: Well, to be honest with
you, thats what happened to the song for the movie "Twister." That wasn't
a true effort by us. I wrote lyrics and melody for that song and for the
first time Eddie and Alex didn't like it and I went, "What do you mean
you don't like it? This is something new! You don't like it, so what do
you want me to do?" "Well we want you to write something different," and
I'm going, "O-k-a--y?" It's hard for me, and I'll admit my ego jumped up.
So then they said; "We're going to get someone else to write and you're
just going to sing it." And I said, "Fuck you. If you get somebody else
to write it then you may as well get somebody else to sing it. This ain't
the way a band works."
That was the first time that we started fighting and that song is a piece of shit if you want my opinion. It's not a piece of shit, Van Halen is not capable of making a piece of shit, except for their new record. (laughing) That song is not the greatest thing that Van Halen ever did; and I had higher hopes that as we went along that we would have gotten better and better. A couple of the arguments about it, I was ready to say, "Fuck, I'm going to quit this band if they think they're going to get another guy to write my parts for me, you know I'm outta here," - I was already frustrated that I was not writing enough. You've got a good point, if we'd gone on and started a new record with that kind of a thing going then we may have been capable of making the record they just made, with me in the band. Which, oh boy, that would have been horrible! I like leaving on a good note, "Balance" was a good record.
C: Are you aiming to work the Wabo-Ritas into a true collaboration?
H: If it turns into that,
I love this band, I hand picked this band. I made "Marching to Mars" without
a band because I was so anxious when those guys got Roth back, I was so
pissed off, I said, "I'm going right into the studio and making a record.
I'm going to get a record out before them." I was angry, you know? I didn't
have time to put a band together because I didn't know what I wanted to
do. I just went into the studio with a bunch of friends. I called up Mickey
Hart, my buddy from the Grateful Dead. I called Slash, and old Montrose
/ Heart drummer who's a good friend, Bootsy Collins, Huey Lewis. I said,
"Hey would you guys come on down and help me out ? I just need some players,
cause I've got songs." And that worked out great and then when I was done
with that record I went, "Wow, I've got to put a band together that can
play all this shit." So I just started calling up all my friends again
saying, "Do you know any great drummers?" I didn't want to go down and
sit around in LA and go through the hairspray crowd, I just wanted some
real people. I ended up with a girl bass player named Mona, a black guitar
player, my old original drummer from my teenage years, David Louser, who
played with me all through the Geffen years and Jesse Hearns, keyboard
player who came in on the V.O.A tour. I tried out all these fucking people
and there was just some garbage out there, I tried out more guitar players
that played like Eddie...I got guys that played more like him, than him
and I was like; "Get the fuck out of here! I played with Eddie, I don't
need somebody imitating him."
So this band was really difficult to put together, by finding all these people - I am happy with them and I looked hard and deep for this band. It wasn't like the first guy that came along, so now I am so happy with this band, if we stay together for another three, four albums it could turn into a major collaboration thing. I can see as I am writing for this next record, I can see how everyone is really in tune. Everyone really has the same vision, and that's a band.
C: I think that you have the strength as a front man to bring that out in people.
H: They are in tune with
me, I've got to say it. I haven't been in that position in a long time,
where I am the leader, and everybody waits for me to make the move, and
then jump right on it. I haven't felt that kind of pressure, or respect,
or whatever it is for a long time. Being in a band like Van Halen everybody
was fighting for the lead at all times - that's what made them. I'm not
saying that was bad, I'm saying that's what it was though. Eddie was always
trying to out play his brother and his brother was trying to out play him,
and I had to try to scream over the top of it. And it was like, "Mikey,
keep the beat, OK? We'll be right back!!"
I had to go out there and compete. It was kind of neat, but at the same time it wasn't like I could just go of on my tangent and have everybody follow me, like I can do now. I really feel like the leader with this band and it feels good. I like the way it feels right now, but when I get tired of being the man, then I'll get in a band - again.
C: You've got the tour of Australia coming up...
H: I'm jacked man! I am so
excited, I can't tell you. I have wanted to come there for so long and
that's the other thing that blows my mind with these fucking guys - I was
bitchin' about it every time, "Let's go to Australia, let's go to Australia,
let's go to Australia, let's go to Australia!"
If you look back in history I'd do most of the interviews with Australia every time Van Halen released a new record because I was always saying, "I want to talk to Australia, cause I want to go."
And they'd always blow it out, "Oh, Al's neck's fucked up," or "Eddies got to get a hip replacement." All this horseshit on the last tour, and now they go there as soon as I am not in the band. I'm pissed, so I had to come!
C: Yeah, it's a bizarre situation. The last Van Halen tour was the biggest dates wise, ever and you didn't make it to Australia...
H: Well, we were supposed to go after Japan, that was the whole idea. Then Eddie broke a bone over there, and he'll never admit to that, "No, my hip's perfect now." Well maybe it is, but Al had a neck brace while he was playing in Japan and a masseuse every morning that had to get him out of bed because he was so hurt with three ruptured vertebrae. And Eddie needed hip surgery, he was walking with a cane over there and he couldn't jump around onstage, he had to sit down during the breaks. When I was singing in my solo part of the set, he'd go and sit down and I'm going, "Fuck, we ain't going nowhere like this. Bring these guys out in wheelchairs." I don't know if it is going to be that way now, hopefully they have got themselves fixed up.
C: So, your coming down, are you going back to record?
H: Yeah, as soon as I come back. I've already got a title, my new record is going to be called "Red Voodoo."
C: Are you going to have less guest artists this time?
H: Yeah, it's just going to be my band. I'll have a few guest artists because I've got a lot of friends. This record is going to be more of a fun, rock n' roll record than my last record. "Marching To Mars", I think, is the best songwriting, vocal performances and guitar playing I have ever done in my life. But it's diverse and it's a very serious record, and Sammy Hagar is not the most serious guy in the world! I've got a serious side to me, but mostly I like to have fun - that's what I'm into. I come out on stage and I just want to have fun. I am there to create a party and people have got to go with me. I'm into having fun, so this new record is a lot more fun because I got all that serious stuff from the break up out of my system. Half of "Marching To Mars" is about the break up, "Little White Lie" is about when those guys were saying that I quit.
C: Any last words for people coming to the show?
H: I guarantee you, you will
have a blast. If you like rock n' roll music you will have a great time.
The Wabo Ritas are probably the most versatile band on the planet. I'll
mix a couple of drinks on stage, and sit down and have a couple of
drinks with the front row. I hope everybody enjoys what I do, when I do