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The Heart Still Burns: An Exclusive Interview With Guitarist ADRIAN VANDENBERG

By Shelly Harris, Chicago Contributor
Friday, July 10, 2020 @ 9:06 AM

"Initially, I wasn't too keen on that idea, because I didn't want to give people the impression that it was going to be like some nostalgic act."

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Easy going, laid back, and intelligent: That was how I described the Dutch guitar virtuoso Adrian Vandenberg after interviewing him back in February of 1983, after a gig where his original self-named band, VANDENBERG, had opened up for Ozzy Osbourne on a tour in support of the band's eponymous debut album. That album featured VANDENBERG's best known song, "Burning Heart" - as does the new album and band, Vandenberg 2020.

Therefore, speaking with the man best known for his ability to master both blues and classically-influenced guitar licks, as well as his songwriting abilities with prime-era WHITESNAKE (and his own self-led bands), definitely feels like coming full circle. Indeed, 37-plus years may have passed, but when the multi-talented and forever young Vandenberg sits down to discuss topics like the new album and more, with the same down-to-earth earnestness he had on our first meeting long ago in Rockford, Illinois, it's almost like pure déjà vu:

KNAC.COM: The new Vandenberg 2020 album was probably recorded at the end of last year?

VANDENBERG: It was recorded in December and January. It was mixed in January, and, basically, coming back to Holland a week later, the Corona problem started rearing its ugly head.

KNAC.COM: I was asking that because I figured that might have been the case, that the timing of it wasn't what you'd originally hoped for. It wasn't what anyone hoped for. Tell me how the album did come together, because, for a start, I notice you included the re-recorded hit "Burning Heart" from the first album.

VANDENBERG: It wasn't even meant to be on the album, actually. The reason why I re-recorded it [was because] about five months ago my record company wanted to put out a press release announcing that I was putting VANDENBERG together, and that it included Ronnie Romero [RAINBOW/LORDS OF BLACK/CORELEONI] singing, and all this stuff, and my management said, everyone and his grandma puts out a press release, so it would be a stronger message if you could add some music to it. But we hadn't been in the studio yet, so we had no new music. Then I suddenly remembered that I had recorded the basic tracks, which is bass, drums, and guitars for "Burning Heart" a while ago, so all I had to do was fly to Madrid where Ronnie lived, and record some new vocals on it and mix it. So, that's what we did, and by the time the album was finished, everybody said, "Why don't we put it on the album?" you know, because it sounded great! Originally, I didn't want to do that, because I didn't really want to give it a nostalgic kind of idea. But, when I heard it between the other tracks, then it kind of made sense. It built a nice symbolic bridge between now and VANDENBERG 2020 with VANDENBERG 1982, so in that respect it actually was kind of fun to put it on the album.

KNAC.COM: Well, I decided to listen to the new album before reading the press releases, just to get my own feel for it, and I went out in the pool in my back yard - and turned it up loud. (laughs)

VANDENBERG: That's the way to do it!

KNAC.COM: Exactly! But I wondered what the neighbors thought (laughs). Then I read the press release, and in it you had actually said to turn it up loud - whether the neighbors liked it or not!

VANDENBERG: Exactly! (laughs)

KNAC.COM: So, how did you get Ronnie Romero to come in and do the vocals; he sounded great on it.

VANDENBERG: What happened was, initially, I had been working on with a band called VANDENBERG'S MOONKINGS, but we really couldn't do any international tours because the vocalist of the band has a big farming company and he really couldn't be outside of the country for more than two days or something, so that made me think: I'm going to put something else together which can play everywhere in the world. So, then I explained that to my manager and my record company that I would like a fantastic vocalist who could tour.

KNAC.COM: How long did it take to get the songs together for the album, and how did it all come about?

VANDENBERG: Well, I had the sound in my head. I knew how I would like this band to sound. It was basically like you were right in the front of the stage in the rehearsal room, so not like the 80s where everyone sounded like they were way in the back of the stadium, with lots of reverb and stuff. I wanted it to sound fresh and crisp, and from today, you know? So, that's how I recorded my demos - on my IPad, actually, which I always do; I like to fiddle around on my IPad. You can work anywhere - on the train or whatever. So, when I got in touch with Bob Marlette, who produced the album, he asked me how I pictured this band to sound. And I explained the same thing: Like a perfect rehearsal right in front of the stage, and very organically. I wanted it to sound like, if you closed your eyes, you could see the band play, instead of a more anonymous production, in my opinion, where's there's layers and layers of chords and reverb, and all these guitars, and 20 million monks singing background vocals, and all this stuff! (laughs) I wanted the band to smash you in the face, basically!

KNAC.COM: I didn't see the credits on the promo version, but are all the songs your compositions 100 percent? And, other than "Burning Heart", was any of it material you'd had previously or did it morph recently?

VANDENBERG: Well, as soon as I knew Ronnie was on board, that's when I started writing material that I thought would sound great with his vocals on it, and it worked perfectly. As you can tell, he's got a great range and sings with a lot of intensity. It worked out great, and I'm very happy with the album.

KNAC.COM: Well, you are still a working visual artist, to this day, and I also remember you telling me back in '83 that you went to art school, and that you were also a teacher?

VANDENBERG: Yeah, I was. I went to art college first, and I make my living pretty much by selling my paintings and making designs for magazines and all that stuff. For about a year, I taught Art at a high school, which I kind of liked! I was 23 or 24 or something, which was nice because I was only a little older than some of the girls in my class. The parents didn't like it, but I did. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: So, you are still working both sides of the coin, with your art and music.

VANDENBERG: Yeah, ever since I was a kid, it went hand and hand for me to make music one day and draw and paint, or whatever, the next day. It's only lately - because I've been so busy with this album for the last five, six months that I didn't really have time [for the other art]. When I'm 130 years old, I'll have more time to do some painting, I suppose. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: I haven't been able to see it yet, but I read that there was a documentary (Uur Van De Wolf) done on you in Holland.

VANDENBERG: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. This movie producer, he came up with the idea, for national TV in Holland, and so, over the course of about two years, he followed me with my band at the time, and at home, and in my painting studio. It was bits and pieces here and there, in my experience, because he was always there. When I saw the final documentary, it was an interesting, out-of-body experience! And I brought my daughter to the premier, and the sound was good, and the picture was great, and there was a bit of a party and stuff, but I was sitting there with my daughter and you see your life portrayed, and kind of pass before you. It was pretty weird, actually! It was fun, also, because, of course, you see as little mini-movie about the stuff that I've been doing for the last 10 years. There were old pictures, and stuff. It was also like an alien abduction. (laughs) Like looking down on yourself.

KNAC.COM: What did your daughter think about it?

VANDENBERG: She loved it! It was pretty nice because she's 21 now, and up until a couple of years ago, she thought it was so normal, and she was preoccupied, until she was about 15 or 16, which was when boys started coming up to her in high school saying, "So, is Adrian Vandenberg your dad?!" And she would say, "Yes - What's so special about that?" She's slowly started to realize that I had a little bit of a different job than other dads at the school. Then she secretly started to look on YouTube and stuff, and she saw things that she didn't even know were there. So, when she was a little bit older, like 18, she occasionally liked to come with me when I play a festival somewhere, or a club, or whatever. She saw the whole scene behind it, so that's pretty cool!

KNAC.COM: Can it be viewed by someone else outside the Netherlands?

VANDENBERG: Yeah, let's see, I think there's a link to that program, and it's called The Hour of the Wolf in English. It's in Dutch, but there's some English in there too, because Steve Vai and David Coverdale were interviewed, and the producer actually wants to make an English version as well with subtitles.

KNAC.COM: Oh, that would be great! Skipping back around to Vandenberg 2020, the band, was there some inspiring incident that the time to reinvent that original band was now, using the original name?

VANDENBERG: Well, when I told my manager and record company that I want to put a lineup together of a band, so that I will be able to tour in other countries again, when they said, "Why don't you call it VANDENBERG again, because other wise you are going to have to come up with yet another name" - which I had done a number of other times before. Initially, I wasn't too keen on that idea, because I didn't want to give people the impression that it was going to be like some nostalgic act. But when I thought about it, I thought, well if I can hook up with an amazing singer, and a kick-ass lineup, then it would be like a brand new, in-your-face band, with the name used as a heritage. So, I decided to go for it, and I must say, it makes a difference, because the name still resonates all over the world. But it also has a lot to do with my 13 years in WHITESNAKE, I suppose. But the reception is amazing! Of course, we can't tour right now, but, it's a matter of time, and we're going to be all over the place.

KNAC.COM: And they can still listen to the new album, too, getting ready for that tour...

VANDENBERG: Yeah, and we have a great choice in putting together a set list. Obviously, we're going to do a bunch of songs from this album, and we can also do a couple of old VANDENBERG songs - the harder ones. And we can also do a couple of WHITESNAKE songs, and a couple of RAINBOW songs because of Ronnie and [my] connection to those bands.

KNAC.COM: As you said, the tour was canceled, but do you have any prospective plans for that later?

VANDENBERG: Normally, we would have been on tour in Europe right now. So, what we're doing now is we are planning a European tour in November-December, so hopefully it can be done by then. Otherwise, we're going to postpone it until February-March or something. The same goes for everybody; every artist is dying to play! I feel sorry for crew members and stuff, you know? Basically everybody is sitting home waiting until this whole thing blows over.

KNAC.COM: I would imagine, when things to settle down, you were eventually planning to bring it over here in the U.S. as well?

VANDENBERG: Oh, yeah, yeah. I'm dying to because I haven't played the States in ages! The last time was touring with WHITESNAKE, and that was quite awhile ago. And, actually, there are all these great packages traveling around the States, with rock bands, and it will be great if we can hook on with some of those packages and kick some ass! America is the country of Rock 'n Roll, so I want to go, you know?!

KNAC.COM: So would Ronnie Romero also be the singer on the tour... according to what I read?

VANDENBERG: Yeah, Yeah! Absolutely.

KNAC.COM: Well, it's a lot easier to tour now than it used to be, but, after all these years, it seems like you don't mind being on the road again, even though it can't be all that easy, as time goes on...

VANDENBERG: No, no. I like traveling and I like seeing places and to meet other people. You know, being a rock 'n roll gypsy is what I've been doing ever since I was in my late teens. When I was 18, I was touring Germany, and France, and all this stuff. I love it!

KNAC.COM: Well, since you mentioned that the last time your toured here in the U.S. was with WHITESNAKE, how do you feel about your WHITESNAKE days in retrospect now?

VANDENBERG: Great! Amen! It was a fantastic time! It was really exciting! In the late 80s WHITESNAKE was one of the biggest bands in the world, and we were playing stadiums and arenas everywhere almost, from Australia, South America, North America, Europe, and all over the place. We had a kick-ass lineup. And a bunch of the guys like David [Coverdale] and Tommy Aldrich and stuff - they were among my favorite musicians. So, it was a blast to play everywhere and to see the people go nuts, make a lot of noise, and then travel. Like I said, I like traveling, and I like checking out different foods, and different countries. What I like about touring is that one way or another, you're in No Man's Land - you don't have to think about your regular, daily stuff when you're home, like the bills coming in and out, and the neighbors, and all this stuff! It's just really nice to be in that sort of musical vacuum, so to speak.

KNAC.COM: It's like an escape...

VANDENBERG: Oh, it is. I'm definitely an escape artist! (laughs)

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