We have already had the pleasure to discuss with Joe Satriani and Michael Anthony, but listening to Sammy Hagar talk about Chickenfoot made clear the reason why these musicians decided to start up a band together. With the same enthusiastic, good-natured and carefree mind, it was impossible for them to dissociate pleasure and fun from the will to create good songs since, at least as far as they’re concerned, there’s no other way to make music : “We have a lot more fun ‘cause we don’t have to pretend we’re good musicians”, explains Sammy Hagar. He also confesses that he can’t help laughing when Satriani plays guitar because “he’s so good that it turns to fun”. No need to say these guys hit it off!
This interview with The Red Rocker was an opportunity to talk in greater detail about various themes related to Chickenfoot that we already mentioned to his bandmates, plus other topics. One of these topics the medias haven’t actually covered that much until now, has a clear political aspect. Through poignant lyrics, Hagar indeed evokes the question of the economic crisis and his personal disappointment towards politicians in the songs “Three and A Half Letters” and “No Change”. It was therefore a good opportunity to let him outline his own vision of the current socioeconomic context.
However, it was definitely impossible not to talk about Van Halen. Since the ex-singer of the band has never been at a loss for words when it comes to the inactivity of his previous band, we had to know what his feelings were on the eve of the release of their new album, whose first single “Tattoo” is already available. And, once more, he doesn’t mince matters! “If you don’t have anything good to say about someone, you’d better shut up” declares Sammy in response to one of our first questions. A precept that doesn’t apply to Van Halen yet. But who could hold it against Hagar for answering us, all the more so as he did it sincerely? Not us, of course...
Sammy Hagar (vocals) : Hi Philippe!
Radio Metal : Hi, how are you doing?
I'm doing good, I just made a margarita...
Because you need some inspiration to answer to the questions of the interview?
I just made a very beautiful cocktail for a guy at the bar at the Hard Rock Café (note : the interview was made at the Hard Rock Café in Paris), so...
Okay, and can you describe the content of it?
Sure, it's Cabo Wabo tequila (ED: Sammy Hagar's brand), cointreau, fresh lime, blue curaçao and salt. It's called a margarita, but it's my specialty, it's called a Waborita! [laughs]
I must admit that I'm not as Rock' n' Roll as you are, because I'm just drinking some coffee.
[Laughs] I had my coffee hours ago! Are you in Lyon right now? And that's where there are some good restaurants in France, there's good food from Lyon, correct?
I'm in Paris, there's good food from here too, but I know Lyon has really good food!
Okay, so maybe we can start the real interview now! You did a couple of concerts since the release of the album, so how are the new songs doing in the live context?
Oh, fantastic! That's a very good question. They're doing great, it's sweet. We're just mixing up the two albums, and the new stuff is holding up great against the old stuff. I think that by having more material from the new album to add to the first album, it makes the set so much better than the first tour we did. You know, because for the first tour we only had one album so we had to stretch those songs. Now we have more material to put together a really, really great night of music. I'm really proud that we can go out and play songs from two albums and just give people a couple of hours of great Rock' n' Roll! It's been really great having those new songs.
One of the characteristics of Chickenfoot is that the band is not taking itself seriously – I mean the band name is Chickenfoot and the video for Big Foot is so stupid and fun – do you think this is one the keys for making good music?
Well, we really do take the music seriously, and I think that by having the name Chickenfoot, it was a weird situation, I can't even explain how it happened [laughs]. We take ourselves very seriously but we don't want to be over-serious about the music because the bottom-line is that music is about fun. And if you're not having fun... I don't know, I don't think it's cool. So we just wanted to express the fun side of the whole thing and everyone knows that we're accomplished musicians, so I think we can kind of make fun of ourselves because everyone knows the music is good. That's my opinion: we can have more fun because we don't have to pretend like we're great musicians. We are great musicians, so we can have fun with that.
Do you think nowadays bands tend to forget that and that they're taking Rock' n' Roll and music too seriously?
Sometimes. Not all the time, but some bands I think don't have enough credibility. I don't want to say who they are but there are some bands to me that are not accomplished and they go out and act like a joke or something. It ain't like a joke, but when you can play like Joe Satriani, I can stand there next to him with a big smile on my face, laughing. Like “this is fucking funny!” he's so good it's funny, you know? It's a different kind of thing. We're not making fun of ourselves or anything. You know, my favorite band is Pink Floyd, and they're very serious, all the time. And I like that, but I couldn't be in a band like that, I just have to have fun.
When we had the chance to chat with Michael we talked about his vocal capabilities and he joked that lead singers were the loud mouth of the band and that, therefore, he didn’t want to be one. So are you the loud mouth of the band in Chickenfoot, or even when you were in Van Halen?
[Laughs] I'm trying to calm down in my old age. I used to shoot my mouth off a lot, before Van Halen, and in Van Halen I'd shoot my mouth off a lot, and after Van Halen I'd shoot my mouth off a lot. But now what I want to do is, since I wrote my book, now I just want to concentrate on being a positive person and have the attitude that if you don't have something good to say about someone, just don't say anything. I'm trying to be like that in my life now.
By the way, it looks like you give more space to Michael in Chickenfoot, vocally speaking...
The vocals, for some reason – we talked about it after our show the other night – how great our vocals bind now. It's like two lead singers. It's crazy because originally I always sang really high. I had to sing so high that when Mikey had to go above me, it just sounded like this thin little voice on top, and it was powerful but never 'in your face' powerful. So on Chickenfoot III I'm singing in a much lower register sometimes, and Mikey's singing in a lower register and all of a sudden his voice sounds rich with mine, and it's really great, our two voices together.
Chickenfoot is made up of four strong personalities, how do you guys manage not to walk on each other's toes and not get into conflicts?
No problem whatsoever. You know, in Chickenfoot, everyone has his role, and we don't get in each other's way. So when it comes to the music, Joe and I will write 90% of the songs. Everyone knows that, we frame the ideas and write the music. Then when it comes time to tweak the music, when the band is rehearsing the songs, Joe is in charge. I just step back, if I have an idea, I bring it up, but it's Joe's territory. And then when it comes time for the vocals, and write the lyrics and do the singing, that's my territory. I'll get Mikey to come in and sing some parts with me, and do this and that, and no one gets in my way. It's really diplomatic, everyone feels that they have their job and they're confident enough to step back when it's not their turn, and let the person that's good at that do this job. I don't see us having any problems. The only problem that Chickenfoot is ever going to have is that I don't want to tour for a year, or months and months at a time, because I have a hard time doing that as a singer, I want to sing great every night. And Joe is an instrumentalist, he can play seven nights a week. I can't. We've never had a problem with it yet, but I could see where that could be a problem someday. That's about all I could see coming, and it wouldn't be that we'd be upset at each other, it would just be the way it is. It could be one thing where we'd both have to compromise. But it hasn't come to that yet.
The lyrics to the song “Three And A Half Letters” seems very much influenced by the crisis that the United Stated and other countries are currently going through. This subject sounds very important to you, what is your feeling about the current situation?
The reason why it's important is because I have a philosophy that I developed through reason and it's that if someone has the opportunity to help another person, they should do that. And that would solve a lot of problems. You must know a hundred people yourself that could help someone. And they probably know a few people that could need help. If everyone just reached out and helped, we could solve a lot of hunger and things like that in our own communities. I don't believe in reaching out too far. You know, I'm concerned that in America there are so many people out of work and there are so many children in the street that are hungry. I can't stand to see that, and I can help. I have the ability and the finances to do something about it. So I'm trying to do that and I hope to be an inspiration to others. We can't fix the whole thing but we can make it better if people reached out and helped their neighbor. It's as simple as that.
There is another politically oriented song called “No Change” which points out the fact that governments are always lying to us and that this is not changing. You seem to have very little faith in politics, or at least politicians… Do you think nothing will ever change with these people?
I think it's really hard. I found out how hard it is to get people to do things that demand changes. I don't believe the government can do it, I no longer have faith in my country. I don't have faith in the government to do the right thing and to do the right changes. That's why I say that the people should take it upon their own hands and make the changes. Not in a violent way, I don't believe in that, but they should make the changes by helping others. You know, if they see a homeless person, if they have the means to help them, help them. Give them some shelter, give them a blanket, buy a sleeping bag and give it to them. If you see a hungry person, a child who's hungry in the streets, for God's sake, give that child some food if you can afford to do that. So I think it's time for people to step up and do it themselves. I don't believe in the government anymore. I've lost all faith in the governments. They overspent, they cheat and they're self-serving. I think some politicians may be willing to help the people but I don't think it's being done.
In the last line in the song you’re announcing “the end of the world”. Is this what you believe, that we’re heading toward the end of the world?
[Laughs] You're taking that song pretty seriously. But yeah, I don't think it's that's far off. I think it's closer than anyone's going to admit. It seems to be on a downward spiral. As I said, I don't believe any governments are going to fix it, I don't know who's going to fix it so it just seems like we're not doing so well. It's part of the reason why I don't want to tour right now, and just go unconscious and put on shows for sale and have people pay money because I think we could use the money for other things, and I'd rather them help themselves and help other people. Even though if I can bring love and joy to them, I'm happy to do it. I'm a very positive person, but I don't feel really good about the state of the world. All the riots in every country, and the « Occupy » movement is crazy. And number two, most of them are just people causing trouble. There are a few people trying to make a statement, and then there's a bunch of wild looters and people who just throw bricks in windows and rob Mom' and Pop' grocery stores. That's not good, that's not positive. I feel like John Lennon with the song Revolution sometimes. You know, if you want to talk about destruction, you can count me out.
By the way, why didn’t you include “No Change” in all editions of the album? Some people say it’s because it is actually too much politically oriented…
I think we took care of that element when we did « Three And A Half Letters », as a political statement, and I don't want to lay too much on the people at once. We wrote those two songs and we just decided to put « Three And A Half Letters » on the album and not « No Change ». I think we would've weighed the album down with too much heaviness. Like I say, my goal in music is to bring joy and happiness to people and fun and entertainment, and inspire them, not use it as a political platform completely. I think a song like « Three And A Half Letters » will inspire people to try to get people jobs and to try to feed kids.
These past years, you and Michael Anthony have spoken out about how disappointed you were by Van Halen and you’ve both been criticizing the band for not putting out new music, at least Michael mentioned it to us. So now that Van Halen is officially about to release a new album, what is your feeling?
Oh I'm okay with those guys doing whatever they want to do. What I've heard so far, I wasn't impressed with at all, personally. I think in Chickenfoot, we've raised the bar a little bit on what a four-piece rock band can do, and I think they chose to take the easy route and take some of their old stuff and and re-record it instead of writing new songs. Who is Van Halen today? I don't know, I don't think the fans are going to be happy with it. I couldn't care less if it's the biggest album of the year, that wouldn't be important to me, what is important to me is that, as artists, why would you do that? They haven't released an album since my last album in something like 1991 or '92, and then they just go back. To me it makes a strange statement, it kind of says « We don't have anything, we're not a band anymore, we're not creative ». Isn't it a strange statement to you?
Do you think this was intentional? I mean, as a band it's normal to have some habits, some patterns, some ways of composing that come back, so do you think it really was intentional?
I don't know. To be honest with you, the last time I was around those guys was in 2004 on the reunion. It was a disaster, it was horrible, Eddie was in a really bad shape, I wrote about it a lot in my book. And I don't know what they're thinking to be honest with you. Because if they were thinking at all, they would certainly have Mikey in there playing bass. So I don't know what they're thinking. I believe it was probably intentional because I don't think they had any choice. If they had had a choice they would've done all new stuff. From today. They would've written together like a band.
So you think they don't have any inspiration today?
I don't think so. I think there's zero inspiration and zero creativity. If there was any, they would write new songs. What does the band do? When Chickenfoot got together for our first album, we were four new guys and we got together and wrote ten, twelve songs and made an album. When we decided to do our second album, we didn't go back and take the two songs that were left over from the first album, we wrote all brand new songs. Because we're new people, we're inspired. Here's what we have to say, here's what we want to play now, here's who we've become since then. And you present yourself to the fans as who you are and what you've become. And if you don't have any idea of who you are or what you are and what you've become [laughs], then I guess you have to go back and show them what you used to be. I don't know, does that make sense?
Michael told us that he was totally open to have Chickenfoot going on tour or at least making a couple of shows with Van Halen. What about you?
Hell yes! [laughs] Are you kidding? Right now, for free. They wouldn't even have to pay me.
Anyway, does that bother you when you hear people comparing Chickenfoot and Van Halen?
Oh no, I think it's fantastic. Really, it's fantastic, are you kidding me? If you take Joe versus Eddie, you take Dave versus me, Wolfie versus Mikey, Chad or Kenny versus Al... I mean, come on! You know what I mean? Man for man, who can sing the best? Dave or I, today? Who can play the best? Joe or Eddie, today? Who could play or sing the best? Wolfie or Mikey? I think it's a joke, sure I love the comparison as long as it's fair. Not because you're a big Eddie Van Halen fan, you think that he's God therefore you think that he's better than Joe, you have to be bipartisan and just listen and watch both of them play. Listen, I played with them both, I can tell you right now: there is no comparison today. Never mind the innovator that Eddie was. I'm talking about what they can play today.
So in other words, Chickenfoot is way better than Van Halen?
As individuals, absolutely! I've been in both bands, I can tell you right now. Take the new albums and compare them track-by-track and then tell me.
Kenny Aronoff is replacing Chad Smith in Chickenfoot while he tours with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Aren’t you afraid to become too much attached to Kenny at one point?
Well, I love Chad Smith, he's maybe the greatest drummer in the world, and Kenny is the guy that Chad handed the sticks to and said « he's your man ». Kenny plays great, but they're two different players because Chad is so crazy and reckless when he plays that sometimes the songs suck a little bit but there's an excitement to it which compensates for the lack of playing the song perfectly every-time. With Kenny, we're playing the songs better now, but no one can outdo Chad when it comes to excitement, in Chickenfoot. He plays differently with the Chili Peppers than he does in Chickenfoot, we all know that. And when he's playing with Chickenfoot, he's a fucking monster, and we will make the next record with Chad, he's the drummer in Chickenfoot. He can't be there now, so he chose Kenny as the guy that he thought was best for this band and I think he did a good job by choosing him because Kenny is doing a great job. I mean, if I couldn't make it and they had to get another vocalist, I'd like to be the guy to say « that's your guy right there », « pick this guy » or « pick that guy ». I think each guy would know who could fill his shoes best.
Since Chickenfoot seems so important for you guys do you think the question of making a choice will be one day brought to Chad Smith?
Oh Chad is the drummer in Chickenfoot, that's all there is to it. We didn't replace him, he just can't be there and we had to go play a tour so we were forced to use another drummer and Kenny is awesome.
Okay, but do you think that someday you may want to ask Chad Smith to choose between Chickenfoot and the Red Hot Chili Peppers?
Oh no! That's one thing we've all made clear in the very begining: we all have projects and other careers, and we do Chickenfoot when we can. This was the first time that we did it without someone. We would never ask him to make that decision, number one, and number two, I don't think he would. I mean, you wouldn't quit the Red Hot Chili Peppers for Chickenfoot, would you? No.
Interview conducted on january, 16th, 2012 by phone by Metal'O Phil
Questions & introduction by Spaceman
Transcription : Stan (with Julia)
Chickenfoot's Website : http://www.chickenfoot.us/
This post is also available in: French