DAVID LEE ROTH: ‘I’ve Been Rich And I’ve Been Poor. Rich Is Better. Totally Better.’

Guardian.co.uk recently conducted an interview with VAN HALEN singer David Lee Roth. A few excerpts from the chat follow below.

On whether it was ever hard work appearing to be having that much fun all the time:

Roth: “I was a surgical tech right out of high school, I sold clothes; I shovelled shit at a horse stable for years. I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better. Totally better.”

“The job we have is a privilege. The Van Halens [Eddie and his brother Alex, the drummer] and I have had steady jobs since we were 12 years old. Mine was working before and after school at a horse stable. For them it was paper routes. Mr. Van Halen was classic European: you’re making your money for the rent. I was lucky I didn’t have to do that … Even at your worst moments, there’s a whole lot of Shakespeare going on. How can you not appreciate it? At your lonesomest, most catastrophic, it’s still pretty cinematic. I think the smiles were genuine. Don’t mistake them for simplistic grins — there’s a lot of pirate smiling.”

On how he and his bandmates spawned a legion of imitators in the L.A. hair metal scene — MÖTLEY CRÜE, POISON, CINDERELLA, WARRANT and the like — who tried to set up camp on Van Halen Island:

Roth: “I don’t know who coined the phrase imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I think David Mamet coined the phrase imitation is the sincerest form of stealing. Probably a litigating attorney coined it first. OK, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then there are a whole lot of dogs out there … At worst I feel like I’m driving past a traffic accident and I’m relieved no one was killed.”

On where VAN HALEN took its inspirations from:

Roth: “I can point for you and go: right there we’re imitating Eric Clapton; right there I’m imitating vocally David Bowie; right there is Bruce Springsteen, but this is how you create a signature sound. If you’re lucky to have it, there’s no way around it. I actively imitated everything from the Nicholas Brothers tap dancing to Mick Jagger going ‘Oooh yeah!’ But because of whatever it never sounds like anything to you but David Lee. And when Edward plays you might never have heard the material before but you instantly recognise it as fast as, say, Jimi‘s guitar.”

On how VAN HALEN was never just a metal band, even though they revolutionized the genre:

Roth: “Metal is a bit specific. The neighbourhoods we grew up, learning, acquiring musical knowledge, were very separate neighbourhoods, unlike, for example, New York City where Mr. Chin lives next to Mr. Steinberg who owes rent to Mr. Patel and they all speak Serbo-Croatian. It’s just the school system. Here [in California], the Venice Beach surf neighbourhood is very different than San Bernadino Hell’s Angels. Below south of the harbour freeway: ‘Que pasa? What are you looking at?’ And that all works into VAN HALEN. You can hear it — it’s loudly diverse, but you can’t feel the seams. It’s like if you go to a car show and you Stevie Wonder it: you can’t feel where the Chevy turned into a Mercedes door frame which turned into — that’s a De Soto grill! ‘That’s my girlfriend loco! What are you doing?’ All those different neighbourhoods add up into the sound, and to say it’s one kind of sound — no! It’s so much of a hybrid that you have to give it its own name.”

On whether knowing they need each other make the tensions between him and the other members of VAN HALEN all the worse:

Roth: “Jesus, let’s go back to the 1600s again. People didn’t understand psychology, right? You showed them emotional content and made somebody cry and they thought it was demons. One of the best reviews you can get in my estimation is from the villagers if they killed all the actors and buried them at the cross so their ghosts couldn’t haunt the village — because everyone left the play crying and laughing and they couldn’t understand why. Today we give them an Oscar for that kind of emotional ride. Being human has caused so much of that. Let’s really back into some theory here. What is art? Simple, I think — something that forces and compels you to think, and that can be a mint condition copy of ‘Raging Bull’ or it can be the Kardashians. The same questions will be asked and you will be forced to confront yourself, and you will be forced to triangulate where you stand on everything from racist politics to haircuts. And are they really different? Do you follow? You’re going to ask the same questions and that … shit … is … art. And it has caused you to question more than that goddam soup can Warhol sold us. Or tried to. Bring that one up. You follow? You are compelled into argument. Consequently, arguing about our band and our rock’n’roll – you can do that certainly for longer than actually listening to it. VAN HALEN music is whisky in a paper cup! Short doses and not every night, PLEASE!”

Read the entire interview from Guardian.co.uk.