David Lee Roth is unquestionably one of the most colorful and dynamic frontmen in the history of rock music – and that extends to his epic interviews as well. Diamond Dave may not say much these days, but when he decides to open up, very little is off limits.
Last week Roth, who is doing a new Internet radio show called The Roth Show and was involved in the White Noise remix of the Van Halen smash "Jump," opened up in a big way to Rolling Stone. Speaking by phone for over an hour from his new home in Tokyo, Roth spoke about a musical he recently wrote with Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie guitarist John 5, his interest in remixing classic songs as "floor" (the term he coined for dance music) and, of course, Van Halen.
The frontman expressed a lot of frustration at lack of movement within the band, both in writing new material and expanded touring. "I’m not sure what’s in Ed’s mind at this point," Roth says of guitarist Eddie Van Halen. "Truth be told, Edward and I haven’t written a new song in 20 years." He also expressed interest in taking Van Halen to festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza – provided, of course, that the rest of the band agrees. Adds Roth, "There’s nothing on the ticket as far as [touring past this summer], and that’s a disappointment, frankly." Read on for more from our exclusive Q&A.
What brought you to Tokyo?
A lifetime of growing up next to a Japanese neighborhood. First time I held a Japanese sword in my hand, I think I was nine years old, 10 years old. Here now I train four times a week with a fellow who's a professional instructor and I go to school every day of the week – I'm in school two and four hours variously in Japanese. I've never had an issue with changing my geography, perhaps to jolt my mind or my creative forces, or my fighting spirit. The first three months were challenging, I'm not gonna kid you. I came by myself and without knowing the language or anybody here, and cut to today, we have the Tokyo Dome show coming up, the Van Halen brothers and I, and I have more guests here than I had at Madison Square Garden. We sold out the Garden twice last February. I have close to 200 friends and family, all of them I know by first name, coming to each of the shows, so it's exploded. And creatively it has had a really resounding impact on me. I have an apartment and I've been here since last May, actually – wow. I love the United States. I have not given up my New York City apartment or my tomb with a view in Pasadena – I understand the sprinklers are all working perfectly. But I don't have any real plans anytime soon, until it's time to talk about The Roth Show, which, again, is an international flavor. We launched that about four months ago, but I broadcast from here and, the miracle of everything, we shoot the show here and wherever I go. And I'll be heading to New York, I'll do a month there.
Let's talk about the creative influence being there has had on you.
It's across the board. Here you can't join a specific neighborhood. In the United States you can put on a cowboy hat and join the country-western neighborhood. If you're down below 14th Street in New York City, that's bohemian, that's left-wing. I was just speaking to my Uncle Manny, God bless him – he's 93 years old – and we were discussing some of the controversy involving our remix of the song "Jump," and he laughed and said, "You're kidding. Bob Dylan just picked up an electric guitar." You can't have neighborhoods like that here. There's no one particular neighborhood. I shared with Al Van Halen, who I speak with every morning here, "I understand there's some controversy following the remix idea," which indeed was Alex's. Alex had heard Elton John had taken his greatest hits and had it remixed and turned into "floor," I call it. [People] get confused between disco, house, trance and rave, so I call it floor.
I said to Al, "I heard of some fellows named White Noise out of San Francisco." I subscribe to Beatport, where all the DJs of the world do file sharing and look over each other's shoulders in 82 languages. And they did a smashing version of "Jump." This is not a new idea. I'm not gonna say I did this first. There are four different versions of "Jump" that are floor that are easily as good, if not better, but this one is the most modern. So we got something that is well in line with our attitude, our core of larcenous sense of humor and let's-take-a-left-hand-turn-now-and-then. We've had great success with it already. Alex and I were laughing that anybody cares at all, much less there's a rallying cry or whatever. You just don't change the smile on the Mona Lisa? Well, the fuck you don't.
So will there be more Van Halen remixes?
I spoke to Al earlier and I said, "We gotta license this so we can get it up on Beatport. We can put it on iTunes and reach that audience." In some senses of the word any controversy that follows Van Halen is akin to asking the country-western crowd, "What do you think of old Michael Jackson?" And then being surprised at the reaction. We have a core audience who is devout, just as any religion or political faction or any kind of long-term rock group has, but we have the capacity to play and to revise and have a whole lot of celebrative fun with a lot of other neighborhoods as opposed to just the lead, bass and drum gang. The brothers and I have a considerable amount of classic music training. When we write songs they almost demand revision and interpretation, as does any great material. I was always loving it when Aztec Camera would take a shot at something that we do or any of the aforementioned.
How will this experimental energy manifest in possible new Van Halen material?
I would certainly look forward to working with Ed on some new material, but we have yet to do that. Almost all of the music that you hear on our most recent album was written and demoed before the first album. And I would certainly look forward to writing a whole list of songs with Ed, but we haven't found the time to do that [laughs]. You hear the tone. I'm not sure what's in Ed's mind at this point. I'm gonna guess that his plans are to write with his son, and I'm not sure where that actually leads. But truth be told, Edward and I haven't written a new song in 20 years.
The Tokyo dates are coming up. Will there be more after that?
There's nothing on the ticket as far as travel, and that's a disappointment, frankly. How long have I been back with the gang? Maybe six years, we'll say and we have yet to travel to Europe, South America, Japan, anywhere outside of those basic 50 cities in the United States. And again that's been a disappointment. We have an audience and we have a potential future in many, many places, but our story is one of a whole lotta Shakespeare going on. And I don't know where the Van Halen future lies aside from the States. We'll always be able to play our hits – and keep in mind we have more hits than Beethoven, we have more hits than Tony Soprano – so getting onstage and playing that is glorious, and certainly getting onstage with the brothers will always be an excitement for me. But in terms of taking the music past where we found it, I'm not sure where that's going to go.
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