“Young Wizard of Power Rock”
By: Jas Obrecht
Guitar Player (April 1980)
Very few guitarists have had as intense an impact in as short a time as Eddie Van Halen. The sparkplug of the band that bears his family name, he exploded into ears around the world in February 1978 with the release of Van Halen. On this debut album Eddie wrestled devastating feedback, kamikaze vibrato moans, sustained harmonics, white-hot leads, and liquid screams out of a cranked-to-the-max homemade guitar that combined a Fender Strat-style body with the electronics of Gibson Les Paul. Even on this first effort, underneath the raw intensity of Eddie’s solos-many of which were spontaneous first takes-lies a strong melodic and rhythmic sensitivity.
The immediate success of Van Halen catapulted the band on a 10-month world tour, during which Eddie stunned audiences with his seemingly off-hand ability to instantaneously convey to his fingers what he heard in his head. He toted a suitcase full of guitar parts with him, building and fixing instruments in his spare time, in November 1978 Eddie was first presented in the pages of GP, discussing his early life and classical piano studies in Holland, His family’s immigration to the U.S. in 1967, the founding of Van Halen with his brother Alex, bassist Michael Anthony, and singer Dave Lee Roth, the band’s discovery and first album, and his equipment. By the end of 1978, companies had cloned his trademark guitar, players had began borrowing his licks, and Eddie had walked away with GP’s Best New Talent poll award.
For Van Halen II, released early in 1979, Eddie slapped together another Strat-style guitar and took up where the first LP left off. Besides pulling off several imaginative, fat-toned solos with dizzying skills of stunt pilot on a grand finale spin, he furthered his exploration of new and usual guitar sounds. In the opening of “Women In Love,” for instance, he achieves a chime-like effect by fingering notes with his left hand while simultaneously tapping each note’s harmonic counterpart on the fingerboard above-a technique he also uses in “Spanish Fly,” a fast flamenco-style nylon-string piece.
Van Halen set off another world tour in March 1979, spending eight months playing the U.S., France, Belgium, Holland, England, Japan, and Canada. Van Halen II went gold in two weeks after 500,000 copies were sold; seven weeks later the record was declared platinum when sales climbed over1,000,000 units. (Since the release of Van Halen, the group’s name has never been off the charts.) In December 1979 — just one year after he won Best New Talent — Eddie edged out veteran guitarist Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana, and Steve Howe to win Best Rock Guitarist in GP’s Tenth Annual Readership Poll. He also topped readership polls in Japan.
Accolades were not limited to record buyers and poll balloteers in U.S. and abroad, though; players, too, began acclaiming his guitar wizardry. In the August ’79 GP, Ted Nugent proclaimed him “a Fantastic guitarist.” Three months later Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen discussed Van Halen’s deft use of the vibrato bar. Then, in the first cover story of the ’80s, Pat Travers declared Van Halen the state-of-the-art rock guitarist, adding, “I don’t think there’s anybody better for saying more, getting a better sound, or just taking advantage of the straight Stratocaster-style sound.”
Van Halen came of the road in December 1979 and almost immediately went into the studio to record the third LP, Women and Children First, in only eight days. Once again, Eddie proved that his playing is not limited to rock styles. On “Could This Be Magic” he performed an impromptu Hawaiian-sounding acoustic slide part, and also played the steel-string on “Take Your Whiskey Home.” And with the enthusiasm of a mad scientist ready to pull the switch, he continued his quest for weird sounds, using his guitar to duplicate a prop plane revving up, shaking his bass E string against the pickup to heighten the intensity of a passage, and banging away on an electric piano hooked up to his pedalboard and Marshall stacks. The electric solos continue in the fiery tradition of the first two albums.
The interview below was conducted while Woman and Children First was in its final mixing stage. During the seven-hour conversation, Eddie unhesitatingly discussed his guitars, techniques, and views on the art, revealing some information for the first time. He celebrated his birthday a week later on January 26. And now, at age 23, he’s the youngest cover story artist in GP’s history.
Guitar Player: When you started playing guitar, how much time did you spend with it?
EVH: All day, every day, I used to cut school to come home and play. I was so into it.
GP: Were you self-taught?
EVH: Definitely for guitar, I never had a lesson in my life, except when a friend of mine a long time ago showed me how to do barre chords. I just learned from there.
GP: How did you teach yourself leads?
EVH: [Duplicates Eric Clapton’s solo in “Crossroads” from Cream’s Wheels of Fire LP]. I know that song note-for-note, and also “I’m So Glad” [Fresh Cream] and the live version of “Sitting on Top of the World” [Cream, Goodbye]. I used to know all that stuff.
GP: Did your brother Alex jam along on drums while you were learning?
EVH: Actually, I started playing drums first. I bought the Surfaris’ “Wipe out.” I loved that song, and said, “I’m going to go out and buy myself a $125 St. George drum set.” So I got a paper route to pay for it. I’m out throwing the paper — five in the morning, in the rain, with a bicycle with a flat tire — and my brother is practicing on the drums. He got better so I said, “You take my drums.”
GP: Is this when you got your first guitar?
EVH: Yeah. It was a $70 Teisco Del Ray electric with four pickups. I used to think, man, the more pickups, the better. And look at what I’ve got now! One pickup and one knob.
GP: How did you develop your speed?
EVH: Well, I’ll tell you, They used to lock me in a little room and go, “Play fast!” [laughs]. I was actually trained to be a classical pianist. I had this Russian teacher who couldn’t speak a word of English, and he would just sit there with a ruler and ready to slap my face if I made a mistake. This started in Holland, and both my brother and I took lessons. Then when we got to the U.S. my dad found another good teacher. Basically, that’s where I got my ears developed, learned my theory, and got my fingers moving. Then when the Dave Clark Five and those bands came out, I wanted to go [plays the riff from “You Really Got Me”]. I didn’t want to go clink, clink, clink. I still play piano, and I also play violin.
GP: Did your piano study influence your guitar playing?
EVH: Things like this are classical [plays the continuous left-hand tremolo technique from “Spanish Fly”]. I know that had some things psychologically come out, but I don’t actually sit down at a piano and try to apply it to guitar.
GP:Were your parents supportive of your move to the guitar and rock and roll?
EVH: My father yes, but my mother no. My mom wanted us in the U.S. and out of Holland — she was afraid we’d get into music like my father. She still doesn’t think it will last, but she’s proud. My dad was one of the baddest clarinet players of his time. He was so hot — unbelievable. And he had tone. My dad is the person who would cut school and smoke cigarettes, and my mom would be the cheerleader. Complete opposites-the conservative and the screw-up. If you sat there and talked to my dad, he’d make your roll over and laugh. He’s just like me and Al — 16 years old. His whole life has been music; that’s all he knows.
GP: Do they ever go to your concerts?
EVH: Yeah, my dad cries when he sees us play because he loves it. You know he’s so happy. It really is like his dream come true: The family music tradition is continuing, and it’s also his name. Like when I was in school, everybody said “Forget my parents — they’re assholes.” Not me — I was always the weirdo. I’d say, “Hey, I love my parents. I’ll do anything for them. They’ve always busted their ass for me.” On my dad’s birthday last year we retired him and bought him a boat. I want to make my people happy.
GP: What made you decide to build your own guitars?
EVH: A Les Paul to me was just the cliched guitar, the rock and roll guitar. I liked the sound, but it didn’t fit my body. I’d have to wear it too high to be able to stretch as I do, and it looks funky. So I wanted to get that type of sound, but with tremolo. And Bigsbys have got to be the worst. So I bought a ’58 Strat years ago when we played high school dances, and Dave and Al just turned and started throwing sticks at me! They said, “Don’t use that guitar — it sounds to thin!” You know, single-coil pickups. They had a real buzzy, thin sound unless I used a fuzz box, and that’s even worse. So I sold that and then two years later I bought a router and dumped a Gibson PAF pickup into a ’61 Strat. It got very close. All of a sudden the band said, “That’s okay, It doesn’t sound like a Strat anymore.” Then I heard that a company called Charvel made exact duplicates of Fender guitars, but out of nicer wood.
GP: Is this where you got the wood for your first homemade guitar?
EVH: Yeah, this very first one was the black-and-white striped one on the first album. I went to Charvel and had them rout a body out for just one pickup and one volume knob. I had to cut my own pickguard to cover everything up because it was originally a three-pickup Strat body. I used the vibrato tailpiece from a ’58 Strat for that guitar. I also had Charvel make me a really wide neck. I hate skinny necks. I like it bare wood because I hate to slip and slide when I start stretching strings. Now at the same time, I built what I call my shark guitar, which is actually one of the first Ibanez Destroyers [shaped like Gibson Explorer] made out of Korina wood. I made the mistake of taking a chainsaw to it and putting a bunch of weird stuff on it.
GP: Did it lose some tone?
EVH: It lost the tonality I want. Now, kids can’t tell — they can buy a DiMarzio pickup and stick it in anything and go, “Yeah, it’s rock and roll!” But it was that distinct little tone that I look for that was cut out of the guitar. Then I went to Charvel and bought the parts for a Destroyer with a vibrato. I got tired of playing it, and so I had a friend of mine carve a dragon biting a snake out of the Destroyer’s body.
GP: How long did it take you to build the black-and-white Strat?
EVH: Not really too long, but it took me a while to build up to doing that. I used to have an old Gibson ES-335 that was my main experimental guitar. That was the one I refretted and painted and totally screwed up! I mean, I did everything you can imagine to that guitar to ruin it. But I learned from it. It’s too bad, because that guitar would have been worth some bucks today. But I learned what I know of building guitars, so I guess it’s worth it.
GP: Have your since modified the black-and-white Strat?
EVH: Yeah, a company started copying it, and I said, “man, I better change it.” So I really went to town painting it all freaked out, and I put three pickups back in, but they don’t all work — only the rear one works. I just did it to be different, so every kid who bought one like that model would go, “Oh, man he’s got something different again.” I always like to turn the corner on people when they start latching on to what I’m doing. Here I am just a punk kid trying to get a sound out of a guitar that I couldn’t buy off the rack, so I build one myself and now everybody else wants one.
GP: Did you make another guitar for your second album?
EVH: I made the yellow-and-black Strat. It has an ash body by Charvel. It was my idea to have it rear-loaded so I wouldn’t have to have a pickguard, and Charvel routed it for me. The pickup that’s on the photo is not really what I use — I had just finished slapping it together and painting it when they shot the album cover, and just stuck some garbage pickup in it to look like a complete guitar. Then I took the pickup out of my first guitar and stuck it in there, but it didn’t sound too good. I don’t really go for DiMarzio pickups, because they’re real distorted. I like a clean sound with sustain — I hate the fuzz box, real raspy sound. So I put a PAF magnet in a DiMarzio pickup and rewound it by hand, which took a long lime. I actually ruined about three pickups, and by the fourth time it worked. I didn’t count the windings — I just did it by sight.
GP: Was that the guitar you took on the second tour?
EVH: I used that one plus the original one from the first album for the first half of the tour, and then I ran into Floyd Rose, and he showed me his special bridge and nut for keeping a Strat in tune. I said, “What the hell — I’ll give it a try.” I’m up for anything. So I had Boogie Bodies make me a mahogany body that’s fit to my size, and I put the Rose device on it. The body is a Strat-style, but it’s 2 1/2″ thick, which is thicker than a Les Paul. The Rose tailpiece gets a thin sound, and I thought a chunky piece of wood could make up for the thickness. It works a little bit. That guitar has a Gibson PAF and just one volume knob — it’s real simple.
GP: What is your overall opinion of Floyd’s vibrato device?
EVH: I like it and I don’t. For one, on my guitar it sounds real brittle-bright, and I have to do some heavy equalization to get my tone. That’s why I don’t like to use it in the studio. We just go in there and play live, and I depend on making my guitar sound good out of the amp instead of fixing it in the mix. Number two, if you pop a string, you can’t even one-note your way through because the whole guitar goes out of tune. Sometimes I’ll hit a chord and tune really quickly. With this device you can’t — you have to unclamp it. On top of that, sometimes when I jump off the drum riser the neck shifts just a hair, and then I can’t tune it. But it has advantages: When you’re using the bar, it will not go out of tune.
GP: What are the most difficult aspects of building your own guitar?
EVH: Making the neck fit the body. Another problem is that the strings on a Stratocaster are spaced differently that a Gibson’s; if you use a humbucking pickup, the strings don’t line up with the pickup holes. So I’ve tried slanting the pickup so the high E string will be picked up by a front pole and the low E will be picked up by a rear pole. For the sound I like, it is also important to get the space between the bridge and pickup right. I do it almost like Les Paul. If I put it too far towards the neck I get the Grand Funk and Johnny Winter tone, and if I put it too close to the bridge I get a real trebley Strat sound. So I move it up towards the neck a little bit from the Strat sound to get a beefier tone.
GP: Do you carry any special tools or extra parts with your when you’re on the road?
EVH: I bring along a least five extra necks, three different bodies, ten different pickups, some machine heads, and a couple of different tremolo pieces in case one breaks — you know, just spare parts mainly. See, like if we’re six months through the tour and the frets are starting to go bad on one neck, I’ll slap another neck on instead of refretting it, because I don’t have time to refret while I’m traveling. In tools I carry screwdrivers, chisels, drills, chainsaws — very simple stuff [laughs].
GP: Have you any special methods of refretting necks?
EVH: Yeah, I hate the way people refret necks. I do it real simple: I sand them down with some 400 wet-or-dry sandpaper and then use some steel wool. I hate flat frets because the more space you have for the string to rest on, the more room you have for the intonation to be off. I like big frets height-wise, but I make them come to a peak. From a side view, one of my frets would look like the tip of a pick. It doesn’t come to a complete point, but it would be rounded as opposed to flat. Another thing is that you have to put them in from the side rather than from above, and a lot of people take them straight out and rip the wood. I toured the factory and saw how they did it and said, “No wonder I ruined so many fenders by pulling them straight out!”
GP: Do you do anything special to your pickups?
EVH: I usually use old Gibson PAFs, and I always pot them. I submerge the whole thing in paraffin wax, and this cuts out the high obnoxious feedback. It’s kind of a tricky thing because if you leave it in there too long. The pickup melts. I take a coffee can and melt down some wax — the same kind that you use for surfboards — and put the pickup in it. See, one of the reasons a pickup feeds back is that the coil windings vibrate, and when the wax soaks in there, it keeps them from vibrating as much. It will still feed back, but it’s controllable. After I dip the pickup in paraffin, I put copper tape around it. You have to be really careful if you do this to a pickup like a DiMarzio. You can throw an old PAF in there and let is soak it up; it doesn’t melt. But with DiMarzio, if you blink, all of a sudden your pickup’s ruined.
GP: Do you own any stock factory-made guitars?
EVH: Yeah, I have a new Gibson ES-335, and two ’58 Les Paul Jrs — a single-cutaway and a double-cutaway. I’ve got a whole load of Japanese Strat copies. I also just two vintage Les Pauls — a’59 flame top and a ’58 gold top. These are pretty much in immaculate condition. I bought them as an investment; I don’t play them. My main stage guitars are the ones I build myself for under $200. I have an acoustic, too — the one I used on “Spanish Fly.” It’s an Ovation nylon-string, not the real expensive model. I’ve never owned a steel-string.
GP: Are there any guitars that you’d like to build in the future?
EVH: I’ll have the next one built, and it will probably be difficult and cost a lot of money. What I’d really like now is like a three-quarter sized 335. I was playing a 335 for a while before we got signed, and it sounded fine. But the other guys would go, “Come on you look like Roy Orbison,” Really, here’s this little skinny punk kid playing a Ted Nugent axe, you know. They said, “You’re rock and roll; you ain’t Roy Orbison. Either get some dark glasses or get rid of the guitar.” So I dumped that and started playing the Les Paul again. So what I would like is a 335 to fit my body, and maybe not quite as hollow as some 335s. I’d like a solid beam all the way to the back of the wood in there. The one I have now locks a little bit of tone — it’s too acoustically toned, too hollow.
GP: Would you put a vibrato bar in the 335?
EVH: Yeah, I love 335s. I can haul ass on those things. When I pick up a stock 335, you probably wouldn’t even recognize my playing, It’s more jazzy, more fluid and fast — kind of like Allan Holdsworth. One of the reasons I started using a vibrato was that my playing got so fast it was just too much. So now I break it up a little bit, It’s like a race car racing down the road and then crashing every now and then.
GP: What are your views on using a vibrato bar?
EVH: It’s more of a feeling as opposed to an effect. I don’t really use it for freak-out effects; I use it to enhance a little more feeling. I really don’t have any special chops with it. I just grab it when I feel like it. It calls for a totally different technique. I have special tricks for keeping it in tune, but it still goes out. You have to play with it. Like if you bring the bar down, the G and B strings always go sharp when you let it back, so before you hit a barre chord you have to stretch those strings back with a real quick little jerk. The vibrato is actually like another instrument. You can’t just grab it and jerk the thing and expect it to stay in tune.
GP:How do you keep tuned while using a standard vibrato?
EVH: It’s a combination of a lot of things. For one, some manufacturers don’t keep in mind that the distance from the bridge to the machine heads has got to be straight line so the string windings won’t get caught anywhere. A lot of people drill the machine holes off center, and the strings get caught up. I have extra-wide notches in the nut, and string trees for only the high E and B strings. I also set the vibrato bar so I can only bring it down; you can’t pull back on it. See, I rest the palm of my hand on the bridge, so If I use a standard vibrato, I sound like a warped record. Sometimes I’ll bring the bar down before I hit a note and then let it up.
GP: What’s the advantage of playing with your hand on the bridge?
EVH: I like getting a muffled effect with the side of my hand. It gets more tone, it’s a definite texture you can use in combination with straight picking.
GP: How do you hold your pick?
EVH: Between my thumb and middle finger. Sometimes when I play fast I’ll put the tip of my index finger on the corner of the pick.
GP: Do you ever use your other fingers to pick?
EVH: No. I can’t fingerpick for anything. I’ve never had the time.
GP: Did you use a pick for “Spanish Fly”?
EVH: Yeah, except for the part near the end that sounds like Montoya or something.
GP: Do you ever use the side of your pick to get high-pitched harmonics?
EVH: Sometimes, I do it in “I’m The One” [Van Halen]. I also get harmonics by hitting a note with my left-hand finger while I tap my right index finger on the fingerboard exactly one octave up. When it’s an exact octave, you bring out the harmonic plus the lower note.
GP: Do you tap right on top of the fret wire or behind it?
EVH: On the fret, I guess. Like “Spanish Fly” I start out by tapping harmonics and then do hammer-ons and pull-offs with my left hand while I tap above with my right-hand index fingertip. Now this is my latest: I hammer-on and pull-off with my left hand and reach behind my left hand with my right and use my right index finger. In other words, my right-hand finger changes the lowest note. See, the way I play is in my fingers. I could play a Strat or a Les Paul, and it’s going to sound like me. People say, “Oh, how do you get that sound?” They could play my guitar and it wouldn’t sound the same. I have a style of playing where no matter what amp or guitar I use, it sounds like me.
GP: How far can you reach on the finger board?
EVH: On the high E string I can reach from the 5th fret to the 12th. From the 12th fret I can hit any note on the fingerboard above. That’s how I get weird noises.
GP: Are you learning new things on the guitar all the time?
EVH:Yeah. Like if I sit down and play by myself, I play completely different than I would with the band. I just really go for feeling in my playing. All our albums have mistakes — big deal, we’re human. But they reek of feeling, and that, to me, is what music is all about. It’s not like Fleetwood Mac. You know, they spend so much time and money on their albums. I think that if something is too perfect, it won’t faze you. It’ll go in one ear and out the other because it’s so perfect. Like our stuff, to me, keeps you on the edge of your seat. It builds tension whether you like it to or not. It slaps you in the face.
GP: Like in ‘Ice Cream Man’ when the band comes in?
EVH: Exactly. It’s almost like you’re just waiting for us to blow it — waiting for something to go wrong, but it doesn’t. That’s what creates the feel, the tension; just like winding something up and waiting to see when it’s going to break. It’s just inner feelings coming out; it’s not conscious. The way I play is the way I am.
GP: When you play onstage, what do you think about?
EVH: Nothing. It’s like having sex, actually, I swear to God. It’s definitely my first love. Got in a fight with my girlfriend before. I used to go over to her house and play my guitar in her bedroom, and she’d go ‘You love your guitar more than you do me!’ And I’d go, ‘You’re right!’ Hey, I’m sorry — it’s part of me.
GP: How many times a day do you pick up a guitar?
EVH: All the time. Sometimes I play it for a minute, sometimes half an hour, and sometimes all day. There’s no schedule; I don’t run by schedules at all. Usually I play before I go to sleep, when I wake up, when I come home, when I’m bored.
GP: Do you usually use an amp?
EVH: When I’m at home I use a little old Fender Bandmaster. I plug into the extension speaker so I can crank it all the way up and it fuzzes out. It’s actually like at full volume. You get tube distortion and it sounds real good. Like a Marshall has two outputs, and you can use either one and get a full output. With a Fender, you have a main speaker jack and if you want the extension one to work, the first one has to be plugged in. If you bypass the first one and just plug into the extension speaker, you get a real low signal, but you get the same sound as if you plugged into the main one. You blow a transformer every eight months, but it’s worth it. It sounds great. That’s what I use at home.
GP: What do you look for in a solo?
EVH: Feeling. I don’t care if it’s melodic or spontaneous. If it’s melodic and has no feeling, it’s screwed.
GP: What should a good rock and roll song do?
EVH: Move you in any way. Depress you, make you happy, make you horny, make you rowdy. Anything. If it doesn’t, it’s like Fleetwood Mac! Excuse me, I should point out that I love Rumours — that’s a hot album.
GP: When your band is putting together new material, do you work on both words and music?
EVH: No. Dave writes a majority of the lyrics and I write the music. I don’t consider myself a songwriter to begin with. I’ve written songs on the piano, but they’re not Van Halen. It’s very easy to write a song on the piano. You just pick some chords and squeeze a melody out of it; I learned that in school. So when I write on guitar I always come up with a theme riff — you know, some powerful opener — and then a verse, a chorus, a bridge, a solo, back to the bridge, chorus, and then the end.
GP: How do you decide what to do with the solo?
EVH: Sometimes it’s spontaneous, sometimes it’s set. Like the solo in ‘Runnin’ With the Devil’ was set. And the same with ‘Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love’. By ‘set’ I mean that I figured out something melodic instead of just going for it. When I wrote ‘Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love’ I thought it was about the lamest song I ever wrote in my life. It took me six months before I even worked up the nerve to show the guys, but kids go nuts for it! I love the beginning — Am and G.
GP: What were some of your spontaneous solos?
EVH: ‘Ice Cream Man’ was one — that was a first take. The solo in ‘You Really Got Me’ was totally spontaneous. Next time you listen to it, turn the balance to one side, because the way Ted (Templeman) produces, my guitar is always on one side. Listen to it — there’s only one guitar, no overdubs. But it sounds full.
GP: Do you repeat solos from night to night, or do you change them around?
EVH: I rarely repeat. Sometimes I remember the way I did it on the record and kind of follow it, unless they are melodic solos like in ‘Runnin’ With the Devil’ and ‘Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love’. You know, if I start noodling around, kids go, ‘Hey, that ain’t the same song!’
GP: Are there some songs you stretch out on in concert?
EVH: ‘Feel Your Love Tonight’. My guitar solo without the band, definitely. ‘You Really Got Me’ ends with a long jam.
GP: It sounds like a lot of your solos are built off of lines rather than chords.
EVH: Well, the thing is, in rock and roll you only have so many chords. If you start hitting chords like this (plays 7ths and 9ths) in rock and roll, forget it! They have emotion, but they don’t fit power rock. They’re so dissonant that the vibrations of the overtones with that much distortion sound like shit. That’s why most rock and roll songs are simple — straight major or minor chords. You start dickin’ with chords like the 7ths and 9ths through a blazing Marshall, and it will sound like crap. It’s very tough to come up with an interesting solo when you’re just in one key. But see, there are ways to get around it — you can be playing in E and you can solo in D. There are certain chords that are relative to the key you’re playing in, like in the key of A you can play around in F#m.
GP: You seem to end a lot of phrasings with a blues feeling.
EVH: Yeah, well, I started out playing blues — the Blues Breakers album where Eric Clapton’s on the front reading the Beano comic book. I can play real good blues — that’s the feeling I was after. But actually I’ve turned it into a much more aggressive thing. Blues is a real tasty, feel type of thing; so I copped that in the beginning. But then when I started to use the wang bar (vibrato), I still used that feeling. I like phrasing; that’s why I always liked Clapton. He would just play it with feeling. It’s like someone talking, a question and answer trip.
GP: On your records, Michael Anthony’s bass parts are subdued compared to what you do. Is this intentional?
EVH: Yeah. He’s a damned good bass player. He plays bass. He’s not Jack Bruce; he doesn’t play guitar on bass. When Al and Mike are playing, it’s an open world for me. I can do whatever I want. They’re right there backing me up, feeding me. Whereas if he was a Jack Bruce, I’d be in competition with him. Everyone is hot, but in their own pocket. A lot of it has to do with the mix on records, whereas live it comes off much better, much more powerful. I kind of like it because most bands sound like hell live and great on records. I think we sound good on record but better live. I’m totally happy with our records, but live it comes out better.
GP: How do you warm up before going onstage?
EVH: Just scales. Fast or slow, depending on how cold my fingers are.
GP: Do you put new strings on every night?
EVH: Yeah, Fender 150XLs. I stretch them to death. With that new Rose thing, I boil the strings so they stretch, because if you just put them on and clamp it down, the strings stretch out on the guitar. I just take a pack and let it boil for 20 minutes in the hot water. And then I dry them in the sun, because otherwise they rust. But I only use them one night anyway, so who cares if they rust?
GP: Does anyone take care of your guitars besides you?
EVH: Rudy Leiren — he’s my roadie.
GP: How do you tune up before a show?
EVH: I tune all my guitars myself. We tune a quarter-step down, so it’s like right between E and Eb; this is for vocal reasons. I used to tune down to D, but Mike couldn’t get his bass tone. He’d get too much slap. When we go in the studio, man, I don’t strobe tune or anything. I just pick the guitar up and if it’s in tune, I say, ‘Mike, tune to me,’ and we play. Why does it have to be the same? Who says it has to be tuned to E? Why the rules? Fuck the rules! I mean the main reason I get all the weird stuff I do on guitar is because I don’t do it by the rules.
GP: Do you experiment with open tunings?
EVH: No, because that’s kind of a rule too that’s been done. I don’t care that much about things that have been done, where most players have only done what’s been done. They look at the guitar as if that’s all it’s for. They don’t even go beyond to think. Like they don’t know how I get some of the weird noises I make, but it’s just the guitar. Just do anything to it! I could drop a guitar and get a noise out of it. The guitar is not designed for one purpose. You can do anything with it. I’ll do my damnedest to squeeze every noise out of this thing I can.
GP: What is your philosophy on using effects?
EVH: What I’m really into doing is squeezing anything out of the cheapest possible thing. Like whenever I get something made or built or designed I always say, ‘make it as cheap as possible.’ I’ll walk into this music store where I buy all my stuff, a place in Pasadena called Dr. Music, and they laugh at me. Because I ask them what they have, and they go, ‘Oh, got this new this, got the new digital delay or something or other,’ and I go , ‘Got anything cheaper?’ Because I can get weirder noises out of them than the expensive state of the art shit.
GP: Do you feel the state of the art ones have too much control in them?
EVH: They don’t have enough. You pay so much, and they’re so precious. You can’t take them around, you can’t kick them, you can’t drop them. If you ever saw my pedalboard!
GP: What’s in it?
EVH: It’s a piece of plywood with two controls for my Echoplex on it,, an MXR Phase 90 that I’ve had for years, and an MXR flanger. They’re all taped to a piece of board with black duct tape. And like a lot of big name players laugh themselves silly when they see it, but after they hear me, then they go, ‘Can I plug in?’ Some of these guys have got four out-of-phase switches, and a this and a that, and a biamp crossover, and blah, blah, blah. And I just go, ‘Is it on? Is it working? What’s it for? What’s it do?’ I can’t tell! At least when I use an effect, you know I’m using it. My main tricks are in my amps.
GP: What kind of amps are you now using?
EVH: Well, in the studio I use my old Marshall, my precious baby. it gets a slightly different sound. Live I use new Marshalls. I made the mistake of taking my main one out on the road last year and I lost it on the way back from Japan. It was flying around India somewhere and six months later, thank God, I got it back. This is the one I bought when I was a kid. I didn’t even know what I had until now. It’s very old; it has a Plexiglas front. It used to be the house amp at the Pasadena Rose Palace; whoever played there has played through it. It’s a real good amp — unbelievable balls!
GP: How do you modify your amps?
EVH: Okay, I use a combination of two different kinds of amps. They’re both Marshalls, but one kind actually has less power than the other, which is boosted. I use them together. The ones that have less power have a giant capacitor in conjunction with the fuse; if anything happens, the fuse blows first. The capacitor has something to do with the computerized ignition system of a car. I can’t give you the exact specs, but it looks like a stick of dynamite, only fatter. What it does is suck juice. I hook it up to the fuse holder and the mains, and it lowers the voltage about ten volts so the amp lasts a little bit longer. It doesn’t really change the sound, but whatever I use, I use to the max. I just turn it all the way up. So this capacitor lowers the voltage and the amp lasts a little longer. I still have to retube them once a week. (Editor’s Note: This is not a recommended procedure for modifying amps and should not be attempted by anyone inexperienced in the field of electronics and amp modification.)
GP: What is done to the other kind of amps?
EVH: I use a Variac, which is like a dimmer on a lighting system. It’s an autotransformer which goes all the way from 0 to 160. In the studio I crank it up to 140 and watch the tubes melt! (Editor’s Note: Again, this is not a recommended procedure for modifying amps, as Paul Rivera of Rivera Research and Development points out: ‘You can cause severe damage to the amp besides melting tubes. Since a Variac is an exposed transformer, by hooking it up incorrectly you could get the hot of the AC line on the chassis of the amp and electrocute yourself. Anyone wishing to attempt this sort of modification should go to a knowledgeable repairman.’)
GP: Do you lose many amps during your shows?
EVH: Yeah, but I have so many of them. I have like 12 to 15 100-watt Marshalls onstage in pairs of four, hooked up together. Then I have three switches where if the first stack blows, I can switch in the next one. That’s about it for live. I have such a big setup: 80 12′ speakers for my last setup, which was the equal of 20 Marshall cabinets. The next one will be World War III. But it’s not for over-blitzed noise.
GP: Is it to refine the sound?
EVH: It’s to make a good tone even louder. Some people get a sound like an amplified AM radio. I like it to be like a nice home stereo amplified — you now, the difference between tone and no tone. I have some other tricky stuff in my amps which I don’t even want to talk about because if someone reads it in the magazine they are going to hit up Jose, an old guy from Argentina who knows a lot of tricks and does stuff for me. He doesn’t want people to know who he is because he’s getting mobbed. He also puts little things inside my MXR stuff, like permanent gain controls that boost when I kick them on. I don’t even know what they’re called. They reduce noise and boost the signals.
GP: Do you have the sound you want?
EVH: Sometimes. It depends on the arena, depends on my mood. It’s dependant on a lot of things. I’ll tell you, the best sound I ever get is sitting home alone playing through that little Bandmaster cranked on 10.
GP: What do you use as an onstage monitor?
EVH: We use two giant Showco M-4’s (four way cabinets), which are actually like a complete system in themselves. They have the highs and lows and everything. The only thing I add to the mix is a teeny bit of my voice, so I can hear if I’m in tune with my guitar and my brother.
GP: Do you ever have trouble hearing yourself?
EVH: Never. Dave and Mike won’t even come to my side because I’m so loud. But there is a difference between being just loud and having what I call a warm, brown sound — which is a rich, toney sound. I guess a lot of people are tone deaf and can’t figure it out because they just crank it up with a lot of treble just for the sake of being loud. Anyone can do that. I can actually play so loud onstage that you won’t hear anything else, but I don’t really like to do that. I like to get a balanced sound.
GP: How loud do you play in the studio?
EVH: Very loud. I use four 100-watt Marshalls, which are cranked up to close to 600-watts with the Variac. I like to feel it, you know, make my arm hairs move. If you stand in front of a big PA you vibrate. It’s the way I get off. I don’t wear ear plugs, either, so I’m surprised I’m not deaf yet. We used to get kicked out of clubs because I refused to turn down. It’s the only way I could get a sound — crank it all the way up.
GP: Do you use wireless transmitters?
EVH: Yeah, I always do because I bounce around a lot. My first one was a Schaffer-Vega. It took me a long time to get it working right with my system because at the time my amps were so powerful that the thing was overdriven and wouldn’t work. It was too much power. Then when I got weaker amps I could use it. If you use it with too high of an amp it will just freak out; you get the weirdest feedback noises you ever heard in your life. And then I got a Nasty Cordless. Now the Schaffer-Vega is tuned to a fixed frequency, and one of the advantages of the Nasty is that you can dial in the frequency, just like a radio. The Schaffer-Vega has a built-in compressor in the transmitter, which is kind of cool, depending on what amp you use it with. I think that the Nasty is weaker. Like with the Schaffer-Vega I’m always reaching at my knob, trying to get 11 out of it instead of 10. And with the Nasty, I’m reaching for 14, so I use an equalizer to boost it. But it is actually a cleaner sounding system. When we played the Budokan in Japan I couldn’t use either one because there were heavy radio signals everywhere.
GP: When you go into the studio to record, how ready are you?
EVH: We’re ready with the structure of the song — that’s about it. We jam on tunes a few times in the basement. When I get to the studio, I tell Ted, ‘Just put a mike to my amp; let’s get going.’ You know, they are always dicking around with the mikes, the speaker mix, Al’s snare tone, and this and that. I really get sick of that because I’m just sitting there ready to go: ‘Come on, let’s go while I feel like playing.’ You know, after four cups of coffee and a bottle of wine, I don’t feel like playing. And then they yell, ‘Let’s go! We’re ready.’
GP: Do you have a good idea of what you’re going to play?
EVH: Solo-wise, no.
GP: Have you ever tried recording direct-to-disc?
EVH: I wouldn’t mind. We record very live. The only thing that I think wouldn’t work on direct-to-disc would be vocals. See, I stand right next to my brother when I play. I don’t use headphones; neither does he. If I was playing direct-to-disc, how could I sing, playing at that volume, unless I played in a booth, separated. Then I just wouldn’t get the vibes of playing with Alex.
GP: Let’s discuss some of your parts on the Van Halen album. How did you do the descending growl at the end of ‘Eruption’?
EVH: That’s a $50 Univox EC-80 echo box, a real cheap thing that works off a cartridge. It’s like a miniaturized 8-track cartridge. One day some kid turned me onto it and all of a sudden I hit a note, turned it all the way up, and got that growl. I go, ‘Whoa!’ So I mounted it in an old World War II practice bomb that I picked up in a junkyard. I’ve read reviews in papers that have said, ‘Eddie Van Halen with a synthesizer solo.’ Actually all it is is a $50 piece of junk.
GP: Did you plan the solo in ‘On Fire’?
EVH: No. It’s funny — I wanted to do a melodic solo and the guys go, ‘Pretend you’re John McLaughlin!’ So then that solo came out. I don’t even know what key I’m playing in! I just started playing and it fit perfect. That’s how a lot of it works — totally spontaneous. It’s not like I decided, ‘I’m going to start here and end up there.’
GP: How did you get that scratchy sound in ‘Atomic Punk’?
EVH: A phase shifter was on, and I rubbed the strings by the bridge with the heel of my hand — I’ve got calluses on it. I do the same thing on ‘Everybody Wants Some’ (Women and Children First). I just love doing weird things.
GP: What’s the sound at the opening of ‘Runnin’ With the Devil’?
EVH: Car horns. We took the horns out of all our cars — my brother’s Opel, my old Volvo, ripped a couple out of a Mercedes and a Volkswagon — and mounted them in a box and hooked two car batteries to it and added a footswitch. We just used them as noisemakers before we got signed. Ted put it on tape, slowed it down, and then we came in with the bass. It sounds like a jet landing.
GP: How many tracks did you use for ‘Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love’?
EVH: Two. I soloed on the basic track, and if you listen real closely on one channel, I overdubbed the solo with an electric sitar.
GP: In the solo section of ‘You Really Got Me’ there’s a staccato part that sounds like a car lurching. It’s right before Dave starts in with the ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahhhs’.
EVH: Yeah. I hit the G string at the 7th fret and bent it up to G and flicked my toggle switch back and forth.
GP: Was there much of a difference in how the first and second albums were recorded?
EVH: I don’t think we spent as much time on Van Halen II. We toured from the second week in February until December 5th, 1978, and then on December 10th we went into the studio. We didn’t spend as much time getting the sound. I like the guitar, but I’m not particularly pleased with the drum sound. I like the drum sound on the first album much better.
GP: On the songs ‘Somebody Get Me A Doctor’ and ‘You’re No Good’ you have an effect that sounds like a volume pedal.
EVH: That’s just the knob of the guitar.
GP: Did you double-track the harmonic intro to ‘Women In Love’?
EVH: Yeah, I played it twice. It sounds like a Harmonizer, and live I get the same effect using the Harmonizer. I like that chime, clock-like sound.
GP: How long did it take you to cut Women and Children First?
EVH: We finished the music in six days, and the whole album took eight. I don’t understand how people can take any longer. I’d say we did it for between $30,000 and $40,000.
GP: What is the strange effect at the beginning of ‘And the Cradle Will Rock’? It resembles the sound of a prop plane starting up.
EVH: I pinged my strings above the nut and asked Ted to play it backwards so the attack comes at the end of the note. In conjunction with this, I scraped the springs in the back of my guitar. I also took my vibrato bar all the way down so that the strings were limp and then with my left thumb I flapped the low E string around the 3rd fret. Sounds great; I love it.
GP: Is there a piano later on in that song?
EVH: Yeah, it’s a Wurlitzer electric piano that I ran through my MXR flanger and my Marshalls. I just banged on the keys — broke two of them doing it. Who would ever think of doing anything that lame? But it sounds good. You could never tell I had classical training on piano. I bought that piano in Detroit and started pounding on it one night in the bus and wrote ‘And The Cradle Will Rock’.
GP: How did you do the clicking sound in the middle of ‘Romeo Delight’?
EVH: I shook my low E string against the pickup.
GP: What kind of a 12 string did you overdub in ‘Simple Rhyme’?
EVH: It’s a Rickenbacker electric. At first it didn’t sound right through my amp, and I asked Ted, ‘Can you doctor it up later in the mix?’ Then I told him to forget it. I wanted to make it good out of the amp before it’s recorded. My theory is if it doesn’t sound good coming out of the speaker box, it ain’t going to happen on tape.
GP: How did you come to play acoustic slide on ‘Could This Be Magic’?
EVH: They just handed me a guitar and a slide and said, ‘Come on, you can do it.’ I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do my best.’ And I never in my life ever even played slide before! I’m going, ‘No, let me practice,’ and the guys said, ‘Come on, man, just play.’ I pulled it off decent. I think I used an old Gibson acoustic, and it was in standard tuning.
GP: Your part almost sounds Hawaiian.
EVH: Yeah, it does. It almost sounds like Andy Griffith on the front porch. We wanted to get a horse in there at the end, or a cow going, ‘Mooo.’ That song is funny as hell! That’s one thing — slide never interested me, because you’re going like that (moves little finger up and down fingerboard). Why? I like to use all my fingers.
GP: You don’t have an instrumental on Women and Children First.
EVH: No. What for? Maybe later on I’ll do one if I figure out some finger thing that’s just totally different. ‘Eruption’ was the first one, and then the second one I did was in flamenco style (‘Spanish Fly’), but it was still the same type of thing. And what could I do this time? I didn’t want to do one just for the sake of doing another solo, so I’m going to wait until I have something really good. Something that sounds classical — electric or acoustic — like some Bach stuff. I’ve been listening to a lot of classical music, especially Debussy. God damn, that mother wrote some hot shit!
GP: Have you ever thought of doing a solo album?
EVH: I never will until maybe years from now. All of my energy goes into Van Halen; it’s my family. I’m not going to leave my family until one of the members passes on. But still, I have a whole backlog of tunes that we’ve never done. So if I ever do a solo album, which I don’t see in the near future, I’d have plenty of ideas.
GP: Has seeing other guitarists ever inspired a change in your playing?
EVH: Allan Holdsworth — that guy is bad! He’s fantastic; I love him. He’s got a rock sound. I love his solo in ‘In the Dead of the Night’ on the U.K. album. I love the solo in ‘Hell’s Bells’ on One of a Kind. (Drummer) Bill Bruford plays hot on that album. Holdsworth is the best in my book. I can kind of play like him, but it doesn’t fit our style of music. He’s a real artist. He plays a guitar like mine, too. He wears it up high, like a jazz guitar. I could play all that stuff, too, if I played with my guitar up that high, but how would a rock and roll kid look with a guitar up like that? I do have to sacrifice the amount of movement I do onstage for the way I play. I like playing much better on a stool. I don’t do it, though, not even in the studio, because then it would sound like I’m sitting on a stool.
GP: So the movement of your body is really tied in with the way you play?
EVH: Definitely. 100%. I never do anything the same. I have no choreographed steps where I have to be in any part of a song. I’m wherever I want and do whatever I want whenever I feel it.
GP: Are there any other players you like to listen to?
EVH: Randy Hansen is hot. I know him real well; he’s a good friend. Now he’s coming out with his own stuff, and I hope to God he succeeds. Rick Nielsen is very funny; I love the guy. He’s (Bowery Boy actor) Huntz Hall. They (Cheap Trick) are the comedians of rock and roll, whereas KISS are the circus of rock and roll. The reason I think we’re happening is because we are one of the only real bands out there. We’re not punk; we don’t dress weird. We play good music — or at least I think so. Half of the critics think it’s thud rock bullshit. They label us heavy metal old hat. Name me a heavy metal band that’s done what we’ve done. I sound like I’m bragging, but I don’t mean it that way. I’m not saying that all the things I come up with are genius-brand riffs, but neither is punk. Punk’s like what I used to do in the garage.
GP: What do you think when you hear other players using your licks?
EVH: I guess they always say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. I think this is a crock of shit. I don’t like people doing things exactly like me. Some of the things I do I know no one has done, like the harmonic runs and the clock chime-like sound. The ‘Eruption’ solo: I never heard anything done like that before, but I know someone must have figured some of it out. What I don’t like is when someone takes what I’ve done, and instead of innovating on what I came up with, they do my trip! They do my melody. Like I learned from Clapton, Page, Hendrix, Beck — but I don’t play like them. I innovated; I learned from them and did my own thing out of it. Some of those guys out there are doing my thing, which I think is a lot different.
GP: Do you feel that your playing is constantly progressing?
EVH: I don’t think it’s ever progressed — just gets weirder all the time. How much can you progress? I’m as fast as I can possibly get. I can’t picture myself being too much faster. I mean, you can only hear so much. What I’m trying to do is be weirder and different.
GP: Do you get in slumps?
EVH: Yes and no. You always reach a plateau, and then moving up from there is a bit tough. But for me it’s not that hard.
GP: How do you do it?
EVH: Just continue to play and play and try different chops. It’s especially hard for me after touring for ten months and playing the same songs. Now, depending on the beat of the song, I play differently. I’m a very rhythmically oriented guitarist. I really work off of the rhythm, so if the song’s fast, I play a certain way. If it’s blues, I play completely different. So if I do the same set for almost a whole year, I get into that rut of that style, and it takes me a month or two to change and come up with new things. That’s my rut.
GP: How do you prepare for a tour?
EVH: What we do is go into a small room or a basement for two weeks and do physical training. It’s like getting ready for a boxing match — real heavy duty jumping around, going through the set. We play without a PA, just instruments. Then we rent a big place and do the full show. I’ll tell you, I’d sell my guitars to go on tour. It’s a world vacation, a way of life.
GP: What’s it like?
EVH: It’s living out of a suitcase, being in a different town every night, getting a squeeze here and there, seeing the world, experiencing different cultures — Japan, France, Germany. It’s traveling. I’ve always wanted to travel and make music.
GP: Do you find that you get enough time alone?
EVH: We have that sometimes. See, like if we play Paris and we party out too late that night, I’ll sleep and pass on the sightseeing. But sometimes I’ll pass on the party and take a day and go out and trip around. So it’s whatever you want to do.
GP: Do you make money on tours?
EVH: We break even because we put all our money into sound and lighting. We tour to sell records; the only thing that sells us is our live show. Everything we do is a complete reverse of other people. All we ever knew was our live show. Like when we went in to record the first album, I said, ‘Hey Ted, I’ve never done overdubs.’ Just the thought of playing to a machine, to me, would lose feeling. So I said, ‘Can I just play live?’ You know, go for what you know. So I did and Ted freaked out. He said, ‘Whoa! It doesn’t even need another guitar.’ What we did was apply our live show to plastic, whereas people like Boston and Foreigner do it the opposite way: They work it out in the studio and then have to rehearse before they go on tour. Live shows are the bottom line for us. On this next tour, we’re going to be taking out the largest lighting system ever taken on the road.
GP: What’s it worth?
EVH: Money-wise, I don’t even know. I know it’s taking all of our money, though. We’re betting the whole wad that we will sell. And if not, then we won’t. But we always bet our all — give it all or nothing. We are not about to go, ‘We can save a little money here if we don’t do that.’ We design what we want, have it built, and then say, ‘How much money have we got?’ If we don’t have enough, we say, ‘We’ve got to get it.’
GP: So you look at money mainly as a tool to advance your art?
EVH: I don’t even look at money. So far the only thing I’ve done with money is retire the old man and stuff like that. I haven’t bought anything for myself except for my guitars and my Jeep. You know, I’ve got everything I want, which is music, a squeeze now and then, and a car you can mess around in. It’s mainly music: That’s all I really care about. (Sings ‘It’s my life and I’ll do what I want.’)
GP: Has the attainment of success — stardom, some would say — matched what you imagined it would be?
EVH: To tell you the truth, I’m not into the star bullshit at all. A lot of people get off on it — let their hair grow long, buy a Les Paul and a Marshall, and be a rock and roll star. I don’t even consider myself a rock star. I enjoy playing guitar. Period. I had an English class where I had to do an essay on what my future plans were — what I wanted to do in life. I said I wanted to be a professional rock guitarist — not a rock star. What is a rock star? It’s a mystical image kids have. I’m considered a rock star because kids label me as one. That’s kind of why I hate going out partying and playing the part of a rock star, because I don’t know how a rock star is supposed to act. If I act too normal, they’ll go, ‘Oh, that’s him? That’s all he is?’ And if I act too much like, ‘Hey, I’m a bitchin’ rock star,’ they go, ‘Hey, this guy’s egoed out.’ So I don’t show my face too much. I’m pretty much a loner. I just can’t get along with people; they don’t understand me. So I spend a lot of time alone, playing my guitar. It’s just more satisfying. I don’t like to waste my time acting, because I’m no good at it.
GP: What are the major disadvantages of the rock life?
EVH: The disadvantages of being a rock star is your private life is gone, but your sex life increases. And you have to do interviews. I hate doing interviews.
EVH: Because they always fuck me over. I don’t feel like I have anything to say, because if I really say what I feel, they’ll twist and bend it and make me seem like I’m egoed out and that I’m God, you know. But I’m not at all; that’s one thing I just never expected. I did an interview once and said that my main influences were Clapton and the usuals. And they said, ‘Not Jimi Hendrix?’ I go, ‘No, actually I didn’t like Hendrix at all. He was too much flash for me. I got off on the bluesy feeling that Eric Clapton projected, although I don’t play like Clapton or sound at all like him,’ which doesn’t sound egoed out. I don’t sound like him. But when I read it back they made it seem like, ‘I don’t play like Clapton. I’m better than all of them.’ I called the guy up and said, ‘Hey man, that’s the last time I’m doing an interview with you,’ which I guess was bad to do, too. The thing is that kids only know me through what they read. I feel like going door-to-door, saying, ‘Hey, this is bullshit. Don’t believe it.’ But the kids do.
GP: How can you keep journalists from exploiting you?
EVH: Don’t talk to them. But then again, then they really think I’m egoed out. But they don’t understand; it’s just that I ain’t got nothing to say. Like playing the guitar is part of me. I just feel like saying, ‘Everything I’ve got to say is in notes.’ It really is. I project more feeling out of playing than I can with my mouth. I’m no extrovert. I’m a quiet person. That’s probably why I do all those weird things on guitar. The only thing I like talking about is the guitar, which is why I wanted to do this interview.
GP: How do you view your career with the band?
EVH: We’re looking at it as a lifetime thing, like the Stones. We’re not out there for the quick buck. A lot of acts burn themselves out by playing all those stadium shows; they overexpose themselves. They just grab the bucks and go for it. I don’t care about money. We need it to survive, but I can survive with whatever — musician soup, if I have to. We put our all into the music and the production. Look at the greats: Elvis, the Who, the Stones — they have no gimmicks. They’re personalities. And that’s what we are, too; or that’s what we need to keep striving for. It was kind of scary when all these bands were doing a glitter trip a few years ago. We had to gamble: Should we go that way or just bet on ourselves? It’s a lot easier to have a gimmick. But if you lay your personality on the line and they don’t like you, you’re gone. So far we’ve gone the personality way, and it’s worked. And that’s how a band lasts — being real. We’re not bullshitting people; we’re not a circus.
GP: That spirit comes through on your records.
EVH: Well, it’s our whole attitude; it’s the way we feel. We’re there to party with the people. We’re not there to show off. We’re not out to prove anything, although we do have an aggressive attitude towards everything we do.
GP: What do you picture yourself doing in 30 years?
EVH: Same thing we’re doing now. That’s what I want. I don’t know what’s gonna happen in the future — maybe somebody else in the band will get egoed out and quit or something — but I’d love Van Halen to be forever. And if not, I know I can always make it playing guitar somewhere, because I’m getting hit up left and right now: ‘Will you play on my record, will you do this, will you do that?’ And I go, ‘No, Van Halen is my family. I’m not gonna wash your dishes. I’ll wash dishes for Van Halen alone.’
Interview © 1980 Guitar Player Magazine