Eddie Van Halen isn’t shy about expressing his opinions.
In a lengthy interview with Billboard, published Friday, Van Halen sounded off on the music he listens to, his current and former Van Halen bandmates and his quiet lifestyle. The interview was conducted by “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs” writer Chuck Klosterman.
Van Halen was particularly blunt about lead singer David Lee Roth and former VH bassist Michael Anthony. The latter led to a response from former lead singer Sammy Hagar.
Here are five things we learned:
He says David Lee Roth needs to grow up.
“How can I put this: Roth’s perception of himself is different than who he is in reality,” he told Billboard. “We’re not in our 20s anymore. We’re in our 60s. Act like you’re 60. I stopped coloring my hair, because I know I’m not going to be young again.”
The vocalist, he observed, “does not want to be my friend.”
However, he did praise Roth’s presence, saying it’s key to Van Halen’s image. Roth will be touring with the band — which also includes Van Halen’s drummer brother, Alex, and bassist son, Wolfgang — this year. The tour begins July 5 in Seattle.
“I think it’s now built into people’s DNA, that it just won’t be Van Halen if it’s not Roth’s voice,” he said, adding, “You make music for people. Otherwise, just play in your closet. And how do you reach the most people? By giving them the band that they know. To do it any other way would be selfish.”
He doesn’t think much of former bassist Michael Anthony’s work.
Van Halen says it was he, not Anthony, who came up with Anthony’s bass lines.
“Every note Mike ever played, I had to show him how to play,” he told Klosterman. “Before we’d go on tour, he’d come over with a video camera and I’d have to show him how to play all the parts.”
Van Halen’s statement did not go over well with former lead singer Hagar, who posted a video of his (sometimes NSFW) reaction.
“For Eddie to say he had to show (Michael) what to play and had to teach him all those songs, that is the biggest line of bulls**t I’ve ever heard in my life,” said Hagar, who invited Anthony to join his band The Circle last year. “I was in that band for 11 years, there was never a video camera involved of Eddie showing him what to play.”
He called Anthony a “top five” bass player and said Van Halen was “a liar.”
For his part, Anthony told Billboard that he was proud of his work with the band, which he left in 2006.
“I am proud to say that my bass playing and vocals helped create our sound. I’ve always chosen to take the high road and stay out of the never-ending mudslinging, because I believe that it ultimately ends up hurting the Van Halen fans,” he said.
He believes his guitar picks contributed to his tongue cancer.
“I used metal picks — they’re brass and copper — which I always held in my mouth, in the exact place where I got the tongue cancer,” he said. “Plus, I basically live in a recording studio that’s filled with electromagnetic energy. So that’s one theory.”
Van Halen lost one-third of his tongue to cancer.
He did acknowledge that a four-decade-long smoking habit and the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle probably didn’t help. He told Billboard he had been drinking and smoking since he was 12.
“I mean, I was smoking and doing a lot of drugs and a lot of everything,” he said. “But at the same time, my lungs are totally clear. “
He has no memory of writing some of Van Halen’s most famous riffs.
“Eruption”? “Panama”? Van Halen says they just developed.
“I have no memory of coming up with any of those riffs,” he told Billboard. “Even the stuff I wrote for the last record, I don’t remember. It just comes to me.”
For that matter, he doesn’t listen to music much at all. Klosterman writes that the last album Van Halen bought was Peter Gabriel’s “So.” That came out in 1986.
“It’s an odd thing, but I’ve been this way my whole life,” the guitarist said. “I couldn’t make a contemporary record if I wanted to, because I don’t know what contemporary music sounds like.”
He’s actually quite sedate.
He’s been sober since 2008 and calls himself a “T-shirt and jeans guy.” He still smokes, but only e-cigarettes.
And even when the band was carousing around the world, Van Halen says, he kept to his hotel room.
“I didn’t drink to party,” he said. “Alcohol and cocaine were private things to me. I would use them for work.”
Now, his indulgence is for recording. Klosterman writes that Van Halen’s private studio is “filled to the rafters with unreleased recordings.”
But a new Van Halen album? Probably not in the cards, the guitarist said, because Roth is on a different wavelength.
“It’s hard, because there are four people in this band, and three of us like rock ‘n’ roll. And one of us likes dance music,” he said. “That used to kind of work, but now Dave doesn’t want to come to the table.”