SAMMY HAGAR On VAN HALEN’s ‘Tattoo': ‘I Was Expecting A Lot More’
Cack Blabbath conducted an interview with CHICKENFOOT/ex-VAN HALEN frontman Sammy Hagar on January 12 at the Academy in Manchester, England. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Cack Blabbath: [CHICKENFOOT] is labelled a side project, but it’s not really a side project, is it? You guys are all focused on this just now while you’re doing it, then you go off and do other stuff?
Hagar: There’s no side project. At our age and our success and experience that we’ve had, it’s hard to just say, “Oh, we’re just going to do this,” so we do whatever we want. We’re not like kids just getting together. When I was in VAN HALEN, for example, I wasn’t allowed to do solo records. It was like, “Oh, man, you can’t do this, you can’t do that.” It was like, “What the fuck are you guys thinking?” I mean, I didn’t mind too much, but after about 10 years, I started minding as I had a catalogue of about 70 songs I had written that weren’t getting used. [In CHICKENFOOT] we don’t have those restrictions on each other; Joe [Satriani] can go do a solo album or a solo tour tomorrow morning. But when we do CHICKENFOOT, we’re all very committed.
Cack Blabbath: So how does having [drummer] Kenny [Aronoff] in instead of Chad [Smith] work? Does that change the band at all?
Hagar: Oh, it changes the band. He’s fucking great, but he’s just different to Chad. I’ve noticed, being in bands my whole life, that if you change one member, things change, sometimes for the better, sometimes worse, and sometimes just laterally, and I think Kenny is a lateral move from Chad. Kenny is more solid, Chad doesn’t do anything not great — everything he does is great — but he also jams and ad-libs a lot more, so sometimes the songs aren’t played as well as the record. Not because he’s making mistakes, just because he’s so fucking loose. Kenny‘s right in the pocket, so we’re playing the songs really good, you know what I mean?! It’s like one side or the other. Since Kenny has been in the band, Mike [Anthony, bass] and I, our vocals are so good, I feel like I have to sing the songs better. Before I could jam and yell and scream and scat because we were more like a jam band. This band jams but the songs are being played really well.
Cack Blabbath: You’re labelled a supergroup, but you sound more like a band than individuals who get in your separate jets and go your separate ways after the gig. It’s a really good vibe, like you’ve been together for ages.
Hagar: Yeah, I agree 100%. I don’t care if someone calls us a supergroup; it’s flattering, you know?! I guess we are, but it’s not our intention. It wasn’t put together in a business fashion. It wasn’t put together for any other reason except we wanted to play together, and the reason we sound like a band is that we are a band. There is no leader. Under certain circumstances, Joe‘s the leader, under certain circumstances I’m the leader. Whoever is best at getting a particular thing done becomes the leader until it’s done, then there is no leader again. When we were trying to find a drummer, that was one of the biggest problems. Most of the drummers who are on our level, they’re rock stars, you might say, and we don’t like trying to be rock stars. We are rock stars because it’s what we do, but we don’t play that role, we don’t live like them the three of us. Chad was like that, too, and he fit in, ’cause you can’t have a guy who’s “I got to have my own jet, and I need my bodyguards, and I need this and I need that.” So that’s part of the reason why we’re not like a supergroup is that the guys who were available as drummers were fucking rock stars. A lot of them were good enough to do it but they weren’t the right type of human. We’re very humane amongst each other and we don’t have any problems.
Cack Blabbath: What do you make of the reception the new album [“Chickenfoot III”] has had so far?
Hagar: I think that considering we’re old guys, old rich successful guys, that people could really ream us for it, and they haven’t. I thought we’d been treated very kindly by the press, and believe me, I’m sitting here saying “Amen,” because VAN HALEN, we got reamed by the press ’cause we were so big, and then I was replacing Dave [Lee Roth]. It’s like there’s always some reason, and the fans too, they’re just like press as they can go on the Internet and snipe you, say whatever they want behind your back and with a fake name. We’ve put ourselves in a very vulnerable position by doing what we do and being so bullheaded about it, being like “We don’t give a fuck, we’ll release this song ’cause we like this song, we’ll make this video ’cause we like this video, we’re going to put it out on an independent label ’cause we don’t like the big labels.” We’re assholes, you know what I mean?! We’re only going to play 12 shows this year. You could criticize us really easily, so I think we’ve been treated very fairly.
Cack Blabbath: What do you think of [VAN HALEN] getting back together? I’ve got a question here which was not intended to be about them specifically, but big bands who get back together, are they doing it for the music or are they doing it for the money?
Hagar: Well, I’m not going to speculate why anyone does anything, but I’ll tell you what, they waited so long and they’re so not fan-friendly, and as big as VAN HALEN was in the past… That’s what we used to argue about when I was in the band. I got thrown out because I didn’t want to do a greatest-hits record. I said, “Why the fuck? We’re the biggest band in the world. Every album we’ve done since I’ve been in the band has been No. 1, we’ve sold out every arena on the planet. Now why would you want to sell them the same old record again and give them two new tracks? Why do you want to do that to the fans?” And we got into it. They wanted to do it at that time for the money, a new manager came in and he thought we could make a whole bunch of money for doing nothing, and I’m going, “We’ve got a whole bunch of money, so why are we doing this?” We really didn’t need to do it and it really caused problems in the band. Why they’re doing it now, I have no idea, but I think it’s about time. I personally don’t think that what they have just released, what I have seen and heard, is great at all. It should be better than it is, but hey, it is what it is, and at least they got together and at least they came out with something, that’s all I can say, you know. God bless them, but I was expecting a lot more.
Read the entire interview from Cack Blabbath.