Moonkings: Adrian Vandenberg is painting a new picture

After almost two decades without hearing a word from him, we had a lot to talk about. Adrian Vandenberg’s trail vanished after the release of Whitesnake’s Restless Heart in 1997 – at least for rock fans. For the Dutchman is a jack of all trades: a guitarist first and foremost, he’s always doubled as a painter (he was behind the artworks for his solo band, Vandenberg, in the 80s, and for Manic Eden in 1994) and is currently considering becoming a sculptor. And when he’s not looking for musical inspiration in his workshop – and vice-versa –, he’s looking for it in the kitchen, cooking French cuisine.

Because now is “the right time”, he’s finally back in music with a new band, Moonkings, made up of unknown musicians. The point was not to create a super-group, but a great group, a band of brothers, who spend the better part of their rehearsals “rolling on the floor laughing” and won’t quarrel over ego matters. Don’t look for ego in the name either: the band is officially called Vandenberg’s Moonkings, but this is a temporary situation, scheduled to change when the band has made a name for itself. The goal is not to capitalize on the leader’s past, particularly with Whitesnake. If the first album features a cover of his former band with David Coverdale, it’s only a matter of friendship.

All these subjects are just the tip of a true iceberg of an interview, where we covered most of his career to this day. A generous talk, like the music Adrian Vandenberg offers with Moonkings.

« I always want to go with my instincts and follow my heart, you know, and for some reason, it just took a while until I thought ‘Well, this is the time’. »

Radio Metal: We haven’t much heard from you since Whitesnake’s Restless Heart came out in 1997. What took you away from recording music all this time?

Adrian Vandenberg (guitar): It was a lot longer than I was planning, I wanted to catch up with my painting a couple of years, first, and I did. I started picking up painting, making paintings and exhibitions. And then, in 1999, an ex-girlfriend of mine and I had a daughter, unfortunately we split up a couple of years later. So my daughter was 3 when we split up and I didn’t want to be one of those dads who was away all the time and I wanted to see her grow up, because I only have one daughter. So that also delayed me, and I thought, when she gets bigger she’ll understand what I’m doing and she will understand why I’m away pretty often. So before I realise it, it’s 2013, well now it’s actually 2014, and I started working a year and a half ago. I was also waiting for my instincts to tell me it was the right time, I always want to go with my instincts and follow my heart, you know, and for some reason, it just took a while until I thought “Well, this is the time”. There were other things that kept me, that I wanted to do too, like just hanging out and spend some time with my family and my friends, my mum and dad, listen to a lot of gipsy music that I really like… All those things put together it just took longer than I was planning. I had to think about John Lennon a lot of times: one of his famous sayings is “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans”, and that’s the way it is, you know, sometimes you think “Well I’m going to do this and that for one or two years », and before you realize it, you either don’t do it or it’s going to take longer than one or two years!

Why did you choose to form a brand new band and not return as simply Vandenberg, since you won the rights on the name over the former members of the band anyway?

Well, first of all I didn’t want to be automatically a classic rock band, I wanted to make great rock music and if I had called it Vandenberg, people would have expected me to play the Vandenberg songs. I only want to play one or two of them that fit with the music I make now. I don’t want to live in the past, so, for me it was much more exciting to start with a new band, with people nobody knows and write new songs and see which direction felt best instinctively to me, so I just wanted to make everything new and fresh… Stick your neck out and take a risk and start something completely new.

Can you tell us more about the musicians you play with?

I thought it was really exciting. What I always find a little bit predictable and a little bit boring is that musicians who have a reputation, you know, who are well-known, they always start a band with other well-known musicians and then they call it a super-group and I find this really boring, and as good as it sometimes is, at the same time, when I read that this and that musicians are forming a band, I know exactly what it’s going to sound like. For instance, a band like Black Country Communion, when it was announced with Joe Bonamassa, Glenn Hughes and Jason Bonam, you knew before and exactly how it’s going to sound and then it sounds like it too. I mean, it sounds great, you know, they’re great bands but at the same time, it’s a little bit predictable and I like challenges: I like the challenge to start with totally unknown guys but who are really great. For me, this is a super-band because I’m playing with my favorite musicians, you know. The age difference in the band is huge: the drummer and the bass-player are 23 years old and Jan [Hoving, vocals] is 38 or something, so the thing we have in common is excitement and musicianship and like a really fresh enthusiastic attitude, so, for me that’s more exciting than doing what everybody else does. It would have been easy to get a couple of well-known guys in my band. And what usually happens too is that those kinds of bands usually make one or two albums and then they’re gone because they play in a lot of other bands too and they get ego problems and this and that… And I just wanted to have a band like it was my very first band, you know, with all the enthusiasm and excitement.

« I just wanted to have a band like it was my very first band, you know, with all the enthusiasm and excitement. »

The band is called Vandenberg’s Moonkings. It is unclear if it is a solo project or it is a band…

It’s really a band. I wanted to call it Moonkings but the record company said “Please, add your name to it, at least for the first one or two albums, so people know that it’s your band”. And I said “Well it’s ok, because Vandenberg’s Moonkings sounds good too”. When Richie Blackmore started Rainbow, the first one or two records are called Blackmore’s Rainbow, so everybody knew it was a band from somebody who wasn’t like sixteen years old and had his first band or something! So I agreed with them that it would be easier because otherwise it’s more difficult to get some attention and to let people know that you are there. And also I got millions – no, millions is a little exaggerated, but over the last twelve or thirteen years I got hundreds of thousands of mails and letters from people all over the world asking me where I was, and why I didn’t play anymore and when I was going to make a new record and it really inspired me, I thought “Man, all those people are waiting for me”. I didn’t get pressurized by it because I didn’t want to hurry things, but, at the same time, it made me realize that it’s important for those people to make it clear what the plan is, what the band is. So, for the time being, we keep Vandenberg there. And when I designed the logo, a month ago, I put the letters Vandenberg very small on it, so when you see it on a poster by the road or something, then all you see is Moonkings, basically. People can get used to the fact that it’s going to be called Moonkings in one or two years.

There’s a bit of a David Coverdale and Dio influence in the way Jan Hoving sings. Was it precisely the kind of voice you were looking for?

No, the thing is, well they’re my favourite singers but they’re Jan’s favourite singers too! Jan’s heroes are guys like Coverdale, Paul Rogers, very early Rod Stewart, when he was with Jeff Beck, those kind of stuff and all those guys have their own same influences too and it’s all the old soul singers like Otis Redding and the old blues singers. So it’s logical that somebody from Jan’s generation has influences from the singers he used to listen to when he was a kid, you know. And he is a lucky bastard because he has this beautiful voice and he has an incredible range. One moment you can tell that he listens to Coverdale or Robert Plant or Dio or Rod Stewart but at the same time when you listen, for instance, to the beginning of “Out of Reach”, the ballad or “Breathing”, it definitely sounds like Jan. What I like about Jan’s singing is that you can hear all the influences but he still makes it his own because his voice is a little bit different. He does have that kind of voice and I like those kinds of singers. I didn’t look for a voice like that I just ran into him, I didn’t know him.

How much did your time working with David Coverdale in Whitesnake influence you in the formation of this band and the music?

I don’t think it really influenced me in the writing of the music because I always wrote this kind of music anyway. If you listen to my very first band, my very first own band Teaser in 1977 – I was twenty or something but I had the opportunity to record an album with my own band – and it’s still the same kind of music that I’m making now because it’s the music that’s really close to my heart. And that’s actually why David asked me for Whitesnake, because he knew that, he heard my earlier stuff and he thought “Wow, this guy is perfect for Whitesnake”, you know. That’s what he told me later, anyway.

We know how Coverdale likes to build a strong relationship with his guitar players. Did you try to build the same kind of relationship with your singer?

I already do, I think you have to, I actually want that kind of relationship with the whole band and right now we do, it really feels like a very close band. With Jan, the singer, it was a really great moment when I met him for the first time at his house: I went to visit him and within one second it felt like we had known each other for a long time. He’s a really easy-going guy, we laugh a lot together, we have a similar kind of humor, we enjoy hanging out together and that’s going to be great when we start touring that we enjoy spending time together. And the same goes for the bass-player and the drummer. When the four of us are together, sometimes in rehearsal, half of the time we are rolling on the floor laughing because we’re just having a great time together and I really hope it’s going to stay that way, I’m very confident that it will because everybody’s really excited about this thing.

« I always wrote this kind of music anyway […] because it’s the music that’s really close to my heart. »

The album sounds very organic and old school. Was it your intention to have the album sound like a real seventies rock album?

What I wanted to do is build a bridge between the seventies and now and use all the influences from stuff that I like, and I did and of course my main roots are in the seventies because I am still a big fan of Zeppelin, Free, Hendrix, Queen, Humble Pie, all those bands. I wanted a modern sound as far as the mix goes, I really wanted it to be very punchy and very in-your-face and very direct, not a lot of reverb and I wanted the bass to be loud. I really tried to go for a sound where you could hear everything, where everything is loud instead of just the guitars or just the vocals or something. I left it very open; there are not a lot of rhythm guitars behind the solos. Behind the solos, it’s just bass and drums, because my favourite bands were always four-piece bands: singer, guitar, drummer and bass-player. That gives everybody the freedom to play whatever they want and that’s what I asked the guys too, the drummer and the bass-player, “play whatever you feel, do big drum fills and play nice bass lines instead of just bam-bam-bam-bam-bam”. In the eighties, everybody played really polite, like the drummers would play “boom-tchak, boom-tchak, boom-tchak” and the bass-player would play “bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop” and I like the interplay between guitar, drum and bass where everybody does interesting stuff. So one time you’re listening to the drums more and then you listen to the bass more or the guitar, there’s all kinds of interesting stuff going on. That was the feeling that I wanted to achieve on this album and make it sounds as direct as the Foo Fighters or Queens Of The Stone Age, stuff like that where it’s very in-you-face and very intimate, where you’re about one meter away from the stage at the band’s rehearsal. That’s what I tried to do, so that’s actually a 2010-2012 or 2014 type of sound. If you play it right next to the Foo Fighters, it’s just as direct but you can hear a lot of influences from the seventies in the songwriting, of course.

There’s definitely this live energy, this rehearsal room energy, have you thought of recording this album live?

Well it’s almost live because we played in the studio without a click-track. Everybody records their albums with a click-track because then it’s easy to do overdubs afterwards, but I didn’t want to use a click-track, I just wanted to go where it would go. Like you do live when one chorus or the end or something is just a little faster than the rest, when you play how you feel instead of just listen to the click and play “click-click-click”. That’s how it should be in rock’n roll, I think, it should be live.

Yes, that’s a more risky approach but maybe more exciting!

Yes, I agree! I’m glad you heard that because that’s what I tried to achieve, like you’re right in the middle of the band while the band is playing! (Laughs) And what’s going to be even better is that, in a couple of months, there’s going to be a surround mix of this album too, and the guy who did it is in the top three of surround mixers, he does a lot of movies as well, and he made the surround mix at the same time as the real mix and that’s amazing! You’re right in the middle of the band, you’re in between the bass and the drums and the vocals… That’s gonna come out in a couple of months and I can’t wait, I’m gonna get a surround system at my house, I don’t have one and I’m gonna get one just for that! (Laughs)

You posted on your Facebook page a funny picture entitled « Bass Players take their job too seriously » where we can see a bass player recording a song and another guy, and the other guy seems pissed. Do you have an anecdote to share about your bass player and the recording of this album?

(Laughs) Well, it’s our kind of humor! What happened was, in the teaser – it’s in the opening shot of a teaser video – the engineer is the guy with his head in his hands because sometimes we drove him nuts with the energy we wanted to get out of the recording and after a while he got really tired because we had very long days, sometimes we worked from 10 a.m until 1 at night. So that was a coincidence, he was just rubbing his face because it was probably late, but the remark underneath was put there by our bass-player and he posted it on my Facebook and then I posted it on the Moonkings Facebook because I thought it was very funny!

« Every time Whitesnake plays in Holland, Germany or Sweden, I get on stage and then we play together […] and we’re definitely gonna do more stuff together sometime in the future. I don’t know, maybe a blues album or whatever. »

At the end of the Moonkings’ album there’s a remake of the Whitesnake song Sailling Ships with David Coverdale singing. What’s the reason for this and why this song in particular?

Well, when David heard that I was finally going to record another album a year and a half ago… We’re always in touch, you know, we call or mail each other every two or three weeks or sometimes every day, and he was always like “Come on, Adrian, record a new album” and I was always saying “Well, to me it doesn’t feel like the time is right, I wanna feel like this is the moment”, so when I told him a year and a half ago that I was going to start he said “Wow, man, it would be my honor to sing a song on your album!” and I said “Great, it would be my honor too, so let’s do it!”. And then David was on the road for about a year and he was only home for a couple of days so we didn’t have time to write a new song but I always wanted to do another version of Sailing Ships because I thought the one on Slip of the Tongue was a little bit too busy, a little bit too over-produced, it wasn’t exactly the way I meant it when I wrote it. So I always wanted to do a new one and I wanted violins in there and another instrumental in the middle, which I wrote the day before I went into the studio, and I decided to play mandolin on it because I had never played mandolin, I didn’t know how to do it but I had to learn how to do it (laughs). For some reason, in my head I heard mandolin and violins on this song and I can’t remember another rock band combining violins and mandolins, so I thought “I’m gonna do it!”

I guess working with him must have been a very nostalgic moment…

Definitely, yes, specially the first time I heard the vocals with the violins: my sister’s daughter is playing one of the violins, so it was very emotional, especially because I originally wrote the song for my mother because she was always saying (imitating his mother’s voice)« Are you going to put an acoustic song on this album because the rest is so loud!?”, so I said “Yes, mum, I »ll make an acoustic song for you” and it was Sailing Ships. And when I played it for David he said “Oh man, don’t just do it for your mum, can I sing on it?”, so I said “Yeah, of course!”, so David wrote the lyrics and that’s how it ended up on Slip of the Tongue. So yes, it was very emotional and it was really great to work with David again on this album, and it was great for Jan because he’s a huge Coverdale fan, of course. And the guys are huge fans of Whitesnake and Vandenberg as well, even though they’re only 23, so for them, playing on the same album as David was really exciting.

You were part of the last incarnation of Whitesnake before David Coverdale reformed it in 2002. Were you disappointed to not be part of this reformation? Didn’t Coverdale ask you to be part of it?

No, no, David asked me when he started up again which was in 2003 or something, but I couldn’t do it because I had exhibitions planned for my paintings, and those exhibitions are usually planned a year or sometimes a year and a half before and I had signed contracts, so I couldn’t do it and I told him “The time is not right because I have to do these exhibitions, so I can’t do it”. But every time Whitesnake plays in Holland, Germany or Sweden, I get on stage and then we play together and we hug and we spend time together and go out for dinner, so we’re always in touch and we’re definitely gonna do more stuff together sometime in the future. I don’t know, maybe a blues album or whatever, but not now because I want to keep the Moonkings together as long as I can. I would love to play the next ten or fifteen years with Moonkings, you know, this is really my dream band right now. I’m working with my favourite musicians, so that’s fantastic. It may sound like a cliché to you because you probably think everybody says that about their album but for me it’s really true! I get such a kick playing with these guys! I always hated rehearsing with a band, I know it’s necessary but I didn’t like it, I always found it boring, but with these guys I’m really enjoying it because it’s going so well, playing with these guys is so natural, so organic that I’m looking forward to start rehearsing again!

« When I paint, I think in sounds and when I compose, when I write, I think in colors. […] I’ve always enjoyed cooking and music and painting, all art forms. »

You’re also kwon as a painter. Does painting inspire your music writing and music your painting?

Yes, definitely. For me it’s the same well where I get my water from, my inspiration. When I paint, I think in sounds and when I compose, when I write, I think in colors. For instance, when I make a painting, I think “Well, the high-end, there’s too much high in the painting” and then I make the yellow a little bit warmer. And I think “Well, in this mix there’s not enough deep red or green” So, for me, it’s the same kind of inspiration, it’s very natural because I’ve always done both ever since I was like six years old.

What are you influences as a painter?

Everybody from Vincent Van Gogh and Karel Appel and Rembrant, of course, especially when I was a kid. And guys like Vermeer, the Dutch Masters like him or Frans Hals and Caravaggio, the Italian painter. And the modern American painters, and also guys like Willem De Kooning, he was a Dutch guy who moved to America and he changed a lot. I do like Andy Warhol, I have a lot of influences, I really do.

Are you currently working on a painting?

No, because the last year and a half, when I started music again, I just focused on music full time. I noticed that, earlier on, up until I joined Whitesnake, I was able to combine it because I was home during the week and then I could do painting and write songs and then start rehearsing, and for the biggest part of the year we played in Holland, so after the shows I could go back home and the next day I could paint. Within Whitesnake I couldn’t combine it anymore and after that I realized that if I want to do one thing right, I have to focus: if I want to do exhibitions I have to focus on the painting full-time and when I record an album and go on tour I have to focus on the music.

We haven’t seen the artwork for the album: is it going to be a painting of yours?

No, I designed the logo that you can see on the promotional copy, but it isn’t the complete logo, the complete one is on the Facebook page where you have an owl and the triangle symbol for the sun behind it. The owl is flying away from the sun, into the night, and for me that’s the Moonkings’ symbol. For the first album I always like to establish the logo and for the second album I’m probably going to make a painting again, so it should be fun!

Can we expect you trying other forms of art?

Yes, I would really like to do some sculpting in the future and I’m a very enthusiastic cook, which I think is art as well. A good friend of mine has got a Michelin star restaurant and ever since I was a kid I’ve always enjoyed cooking and music and painting, all art forms. So, when I’m home and I have the time I like to cook because for me it’s the same as painting and music: you’re composing your painting with flavors instead of colors and sounds. It’s another thing that I really enjoy and I finally had some time to do that. Actually the day before yesterday, I cooked for this friend of mine who is a Michelin chef, he wanted to be a guitar player but he realized he wasn’t good enough, so it was interesting… And he’s a rock fanatic. A lot of Michelin chefs are in Holland actually: we have a 3 star Michelin chef who plays AC/DC in his kitchen when he cooks, so that’s interesting!

Would you share a personal recipe with us or some food you especially like?

Yes, one of my favourite is cèpes [in French]! In autumn I go into the woods and look for cèpes. A couple of weeks ago I got twelve kilos of cèpes, I put them into my fridge and I make pasta with them or risotto. I have a house in France in Quercy, close to Cahors, since seven or eight years and it’s a good area for truffles and duck, you know, confit de canard, and that kind of stuff. I’m very much into French food, I cook a lot of French food too. It’s very relaxing for me. Sometimes when I’m writing songs, I cook in between when I want to let the ideas grow in my mind. For distraction, I go to the kitchen and make some nice food and then I get inspired by that and I go back to my music and finish the song. For me it’s all very connected.

« I remember waiting in the rain for Rory Gallagher when I was twelve or something […]and when he came outside he spent time with me and he was also in the rain, we were both soaking wet and he was very nice and he answered my questions […]. So I thought ‘If I ever want to be a well-known guitar player, I want to be nice to my fans’. »

At the time of Slip Of The Tongue, apparently you injured your wrist, preventing you from doing the lead guitar work on the album, and this would be why Steve Vai came to do the leads. How did you feel about this episode?

It was very frustrating, of course, because I had a certain sound for the album in mind which was closer to the Moonkings album, actually, something more honest and without too many overdubs. So, on the one hand I thought it was great that Steve Vai played the guitar because he’s a fantastic player, on the other hand it was very frustrating because when you write songs you want to play them yourself. So it was definitely a difficult time but, I always believe that you learn from things that go wrong, things that go right, deceptions and disappointment and stuff. So it was difficult but at the same time it’s a great album, and I’m so proud of it and it did pretty well. It was strange but it was a very interesting experience to tour with Steve, you always learn from other musicians and I also learned from Steve, of course, because his approach is very different from mine. It was very interesting to play with him; everybody thought we wouldn’t get on with each other but we got on great because we didn’t look at each other as competition because we’re such different players. You just do what you do and my guitar solos are very different from his.

You’re very active on Facebook, you constantly answer to the fans questions. Is it important for you, nowadays, to build a strong relationship with your fans and create an interaction using the internet?

Yes, I try to. It’s another thing that I didn’t enjoy with Whitesnake because the band was so big that there was such a difference between you and the fans. With Facebook I started a little over a year ago because there were a lot of people on Facebook under my name, and occasionally I had a message from people, or people on the phone asking me “Why don’t you answer my message?” and I was like “What message?” and they would be like “Well, on Facebook”, and I would be like “I’m not on Facebook” and they would be like “Yes, you are!” So I started looking and I sent mails to Facebook and they said they couldn’t do anything about it because people kept doing it. So I thought, “You know what: if you can’t beat them, join them!”, so I decided to open a page and when I have time, I answer questions because when I was a kid or a teenager, as a fan, there were so many questions I wanted to ask my heroes, I would have loved to have that opportunity. So I always try to imagine, back to when I was a kid, how I would feel about things: “would you have liked this stuff?” I remember waiting in the rain for Rory Gallagher when I was twelve or something and he played in my hometown, I was waiting for two hours for an autograph and I wanted to ask him a couple of questions and when he came outside he spent time with me and he was also in the rain, we were both soaking wet and he was very nice and he answered my questions about his sound and his Vox amplifier and he was very kind. So I thought “If I ever want to be a well-known guitar player, I want to be nice to my fans” because they spend all this effort and money on you, so the least you can do is pay back with some time of yours as well. And I also enjoy knowing what people think, what stuff they like and what they don’t like, so I do it as well as I can, and when I’m on the road I can use Twitter and stuff. It’s probably a little bit more difficult to keep Facebook going but maybe we will – on the other hand when you’re on the road, you have time. I’ll probably have time to look for funny pictures, but, we’ll see!

About that: is there a tour scheduled?

Yes, I’m going to put it on Facebook as soon as I can. We have one show in Paris and then, later on we want to come back and do much more in France, of course, but first we want to go through Europe very fast so we can go to every country and let the people know that we exist. So, we’re doing shows in Holland first and then Germany, Belgium, France, England, and Spain, Portugal, Italy as well, Switzerland, I think. So as soon as we know the definite schedule, we’ll put it on Facebook and on the website. The website is going to be online at the end of the week, so it’s going to be easier. I’m really happy that finally, I’m going to play in France: I spend a lot of time in France and I never get to play there, so I’m really hoping to do much more shows in France, meet everybody and drink some Bordeaux wine with everybody!

What do you know about France, which cities do you know?

I know a lot about France, wine is one of my hobbies, too, so I have a lot of French wines and I go to châteaux to try and talk to the people. Some of my favorite cities are Montpellier, Rouen and Cahors because I spend a lot of time in the house I have there, I also like Montauban, and of course Paris. Paris is probably my favorite city in the world, I think. I take my daughter to Paris every year since she was three, and up until three years ago we just went to Disney Land, but now we just go to Paris and we take one of those bicycles, you know one of the vélos and then we just go for a bicycle ride all through the city, and I show her everything. There are so many great cities in France, so many different regions and atmospheres that I think you need three lifetimes to see everything, you know! (Laughs)

Great, and do you speak a little French?

Yes! Pas de problème, oui ! Mais faire l’interview en français c’est un peu plus difficile qu’en anglais ! Quand je suis dans mon village – je demeure près d’un petit village – je parle en français avec les gens ! Oui, c’est beaucoup de plaisir pour moi !

C’est bien, tu te débrouilles bien ! (Rires)

Merci, ok!

Interview conducted by phone on January, 13th 2014 by Metal’O Phil
Questions : Spaceman
Transcription : Judith
Introduction : Animal

Moonkings official website: www.moonkingsband.com
Adrian Vandenberg official website: www.vandenberg-art.com

Album Moonkings, out on February, 24th 2014 via Mascot Label Group.

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