We spent two hours withDavid Lee Roth and no onegot pregnant

I get the feeling you’ll be one of those guys that never retires, because you’ll never stop thinking and never stop questioning. Some of your peers retired maybe 20 years ago, but you’ll always be curious. You’ll keep going. Do you feel that?
Yes. If you’re an author, you want to leave a nice big shelf of books behind. If you are a musician, if you don’t leave behind a huge shelf of music, then I feel you would want to be able to point at the research bills. I only did 12 albums in my entire career, but look at what I spent on research. “This was when I lived in Brazil, and here’s when I was in the Army. That’s when I met your mum, well your first mum.” [Laughs] That’s a shelf, man.

Do you have half a shelf, or where are you at?
I’m on my third shelf. And you know what? It’s not even so much accomplishment. Yes, there was accomplishment early on in the career. You want to rule the world, you want to sleep with every great looking chick who has two legs, and I’m even flexible there. She doesn’t have to have both [laughs]. I’ve seen some hotties in the Paralympics, and I’m prepared to talk, Dave. I’m modern, I’m capable of a relationship, or half of one. She’s got to a have a sense of humour, at least half of one. [Laughs] That being said, you want to rule half the world, and you want to sleep with the other half. And you want to charge both heavily for the inestimable privilege. [Laughs]

And if you’re lucky, after a couple of decades of that, you will find a resource that you didn’t know was there, hopefully. There’s a whole other set of reasons why you’re going to keep showing up at the dojo door. And for myself, it’s the thrill of the unpredictable finish. That’s all adventure is, I think. It’s mystery. Mystery is absence of information. We don’t know, so consequently we are mystified. There was nothing on the page, so it’s a mystery. It’s that simple. And, the thrill of the unpredictable finish. I feel it thins the blood, keeps the skin looking good, and it encourages you to use your skills, starting with your mind, all of those mental and spiritual capacities. And then, depending on what context you just threw yourself into, test the deep water with both big toes. That sounds presumptuous, unless you’ve been training those toes. I’m not just walking into the unpredictable blind.

Moving to Tokyo completely by myself without any language skills, I’m a wanderer. I’m a professional wanderer. I have been for almost 40 years. And I know how to make friends quickly, by being around a campfire, or a downtown tabletop candle. I know how to spend long periods of time by myself without fidgeting. I’m hyperactive but I have no attention deficit syndrome…

And circling back to what we were talking about earlier: Why spend so much time in these loops of training the great intangibles, playing things like Go and chess. Why practice the martial arts? Why do these games of patience, like language school? Well, the first thing you’re going to learn in sword school is don’t blink … Men only behave when we have to. And when you start dealing in the sums of money that Van Halen does before and after a show, you know what happens to our brotherhood? As soon as there’s a bag full of cash and five different guys who are not blood related, people turn into all kinds of Spielberg-ian creatures. We turn into raptors, man.

David Lee Roth with The Beastie Boys and Sean Penn

You’ve had such a long career, you must have a few regrets.
My biggest regrets has nothing to do with the fights, the health practices, it has nothing to do with the money. I’m still getting raped and stolen from in terms of my record royalties, or whatever. I have no complaints. I’ve no real regrets in terms of deciding not to jump off that stage or whatever so my left knee would still work. No, my biggest regret is when I was growing up I didn’t have a computer. I didn’t have YouTube, I didn’t have search engines, and I didn’t have the internet … We used to have to wait till we got to New York City with two cassette playing stereos which you would have to position in the window of the hotel, so you could tape the radio station, because there’s radio stations in New York City that played music you couldn’t get anywhere else in the country. If you really wanted to dance to downtown jazz, you had to wait til you got to Manhattan, man. That was all the way up until the ’90s. If you wanted house mix, rap, that kind of thing, in the ’70s and ’80s, you had to come to New York and tape it off the radio. If you dig country and western, and I mean the stuff with the flavour, where the DJ had the same accent, you had to wait til you got to the greater Dallas Fort Worth area. You would have to get a hotel room where the windows open and you would have to set up your stereo, and tape-record it onto cassette, onto a 20-minute tape deck.

And you had to go and shop, just in the same way I learned chess, by forearm. You’d pile up all the cassette tapes onto a table with the middle of your forearm and scoop them into a garbage bag. It would take as long for the guy at the cash register to ring them up as it took you to actually select them … I would just shop until I couldn’t carry any more, and we would use special duffle bags for hockey gear, the duffle bags used by the goalies, because the goalies have the biggest kneepads and stuff like that, and those are the biggest duffle bags. And I’d carry around two of those full of hundreds of pounds of cassette tapes for years. Well, that kind of goes by the wayside these days. We have a little tablet now, a little wafer or something, my iPhone buckle pad thing.

But it’s harder for bands to break out now then isn’t it? If everyone’s putting out albums made on laptops in their bedrooms. Back then bands could be massive whereas now it seems almost impossible, don’t you think?
Good thinking, I’m going to agree with you almost all the way up to the end [laughs]. Yeah, if your presentation is primarily non-stage oriented, Van Halen is a live band, and has been called a club band, or a club act. We are an onstage, visceral entity. Our records are reclamations or souvenirs of that experience. Our best recordings sound 100 percent live, and for the most part they are. They are not representations. If you buy a record of Van Halen, our best performances are live for all intents and purposes. So in terms of the internet, well live it’s a lot easier to compete. In terms of who is better live. It’s like watching the Olympics, or a dance competition, where celebrities are dancing, it’s a lot easier to determine who’s the better dancer, who’s the better drummer or keyboardist. We were great.

Are there any plans for new Van Halen recorded material?
Yes. I was just on the phone with the fellas … We are going to be getting together, not this month, at the end of June to start preparing for some new recording and some new songs, but we’re touring a little bit this year. That’s kind of a surprise. We’re in Australia, we’re doing a Japan tour for a couple of weeks, and we’re doing some American stuff. That comes as a bit of a surprise. Van Halen projects are a bit like James Bond movies. They come around about once every three-and-a-half years. Any sooner and it’s like, “Weren’t you just here?” It’s like that third Johnny Depp pirate movie [Pirates Of The Caribbean]. Weren’t you guys just here? Oh, that’s a rough one right. Leave before the sun sets, quit just before the party begins to disintegrate, don’t be the first one back in next week. We’ve been around for so long that that is a deft kind of a tactic. And there’s politics. So with that in mind I imagine we’ll be doing extensive touring and travelling outside the United States after this upcoming tour.

We plan ahead by about two-and-a-half years in advance, which sounds extravagant … [But] from the time you go, “Let’s start to write some songs”, until all of the machines of production and humanity kick in, things move achingly slow. Achingly slow. Especially if you are art-centric, if you want something to last, it’s going to take a long time to put it all together. Quick up is quick down. We know about one hit wonders and we know about fast, but it’s about three years, it takes about three years.

Can you clear up what happened when you pulled out of Soundwave Revolution back in 2011? The promoter AJ [Maddah] described Van Halen as managed by idiots, did you pull out due to that, or was it something else?
Wait, I said I’m surrounded by idiots, or someone said that about me?

AJ said Van Halen’s minders were idiots.
I don’t know that I disagree. Van Halen’s represented by one of the biggest idiots in the history of the sport, Irving Azoff. If in fact, that’s the job description, if that’s his official title. Van Halen is a cantankerous bunch. It’s the war wagon, no doubt about it. I’m not gonna try and smooth over all of the wrinkles and imperfections. It’s probably one of the things that makes these interviews so interesting. That being said, yeah, we’re surrounded by all kinds of colourful characters. Promoters included.

I think probably the biggest issue last time around was Ed’s health [he was forced to undergo emergency surgery for Diverticulitis]. We have been struggling with that since we started recording this last record, but we’re tough. A lot of artists are very fond of checking into the hospital with “exhaustion”, whatever that is, and making sure everybody knows about it – and we don’t do that. But behind the scenes, there’s a lot of fragile politics, there’s a lot of world weary bodies here. You’ve heard the expression 40 is the new 30 … Well, for me, 58 is the new 80 [laughs] So we’ve been struggling with Ed’s health, but he’s fine now, he’s doing great. But we were up and down before we even started recording that record [A Different Kind Of Truth]. It took us quite a while to get the record out of the factory, because of that. And then we cancelled a whole number of shows in the United States and Japan etc. to accommodate Ed. But he’s doing quite well now. So stay tuned.

Last question then Dave – well, it’s only the second or third of my planned questions but we’ll go with it – tell me about the dynamic of the band now, especially with a 20-year-old in the band [bassist Wolfgang Van Halen], compared to all of those years ago, onstage and off?
Back then the goals were a little bit different, but the energies were a little displaced, I think the band is more focused now, on all of the details of what we do. So things like the website, show up a little more colourfully, as opposed to hiring it out to other folks. As you’re learning and new moving along, you have to subdivide, you have to have somebody else do your video, you’re gonna have to have somebody else working on your stage design, because those are languages you don’t know. We speak those languages now. And the band is, if nothing else, a bit more thankful for the privilege of the job that we have, compared to a lot of the other jobs that we’ve had … I think the Van Halens have the same perspective.

Having someone who’s 20 years old in the band? Well you’re gonna have to keep up with us. The brothers and I are still skinny and full of victory. ‘Gonna Fly Now’ and all those great theme songs [laughs]. It’s pretty rare that somebody our age just signs up for the first stop time and can just keep up, but there’s a thrill of competition, the band ensemble competing with the world, then individually we still compete with each other, and it’s not really soured notes in the symphony. It’s volition, it’s sparks, and I think you’ll find that with any good team. And I find Wolfgang fits right in. Now that the three guys look the same, and I’m the one that’s different, I feel like Sammy Davis Jr. I’ve got a better sense of how he felt in the Rat Pack [laughs].

Van Halen will perform at Stone Festival at ANZ Stadium this Saturday, April 20, along with Aerosmith, Jimmy Barnes, The Living End and “supergroup” Kings Of Chaos.

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