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Eddie Van Halen: Balancing Act

The Rolling Stone interview

Eddie Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen, United Kingdom, circa 1995.

Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty

IT’S FUNNY,” Eddie Van Halen says as he kicks back inside the comfort of 5150, the combination recording studio, bunker, video arcade and playhouse next to his home above the San Fernando Valley, in California. “We just got back from a European promotional trip, and this one German journalist said to me, ‘Now wait a minute. I’m no psychologist here, but nobody just does that to their head.’ “

It seems the baby-faced guitarist with the flowing tresses and that winning grin has been replaced by a guy who resembles – depending upon whom you ask – the hippest highway patrolman in the world or a handsome new member of Los Lobos.

“At the time, I couldn’t explain it to him, so I told him I lost a bet,” says the 40-year-old Van Halen. “Later it made me think about the whole thing, because the truth is, cutting my hair off did come at the end of an unbelievably heavy time for me. Our manager, Ed Leffler, died. Then Sammy Hagar was off doing his loony fucking solo career. So we were managing ourselves, and I’m going nuts because I’m getting the bullshit phone calls Ed must have gotten that we never heard about, like ‘Hey, Eddie, would you like to host Star Search?’ I was sitting around here with Tim Collins, who manages Aerosmith. This was probably one of the last nights that I drank – because I’ve stopped drinking – but I was guzzling a bottle of wine down, and finally I said to Tim, ‘I’ll be right back.’ I walked down to the house, grabbed my Norelco shaver and just shaved my head. Cut it completely off. I looked like an Auschwitz victim. I guess everything in my life all came to a head, literally. I was losing it. I was so frustrated and pissed off that I just didn’t know what else to do.”

Amateur hairstylist Eddie Van Halen is the single most admired, influential, revolutionary guitar slinger of his generation. Bursting onto the scene in an era of New Wave and punk, Van Halen swiftly found their metallic constituency with their multiplatinum 1978 debut, Van Halen. Never the critics’ darlings, Van Halen were clearly the people’s choice. Van Halen Mach 1 consisted of the Holland-born brothers Van Halen – Eddie and big brother drummer Alex – bassist Michael Anthony and Überfrontman David Lee Roth. In the beginning the band seemingly profited from the combination of Eddie Van Halen’s groundbreaking “hammer on” guitar riffing and Roth’s campy rock-god-meets-borscht-belt shtick. Touring, recording and partying tirelessly, Van Halen took the coveted hard-rock baton from Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith. And by the time Van Halen released 1984 – which featured such future FM staples as “Jump” and “Hot for Teacher” – they were the biggest band in the land.

Behind the scenes, though, there was no love lost between Roth and his colleagues. Inspired by the success of his 1985 solo EP, Crazy From the Heat, the increasingly tarnished Diamond Dave went solo that year to ever-decreasing demand. A bitter battle of the bands ensued with no shortage of name-calling coming from both sides. Before long, Eddie Van Halen drafted journeyman rocker Sammy Hagar as the band’s new resident mouthpiece. The result was one of the very few commercially successful lead-singer transplants in recent rock history.

The 1986 debut of Van Halen Mach 2, 5150, went on to sell nearly 5 million copies. That band established a track record that has continued with all of Van Halen’s subsequent releases: 1988’s OU812, 1991’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (F.U.C.K.), 1993’s Live: Right Here, Right Now. Furthermore, Van Hagar became something of a giddy mutual-admiration society. And despite all sorts of recent drama in the lives of the band members and the recent rise of a grungier breed of monsters of rock, Balance – Van Halen’s latest album – looks like yet another smash, having recently entered the Billboard chart at No. 1. Not bad for an album that ranges from the John Cage-style piano abuse of “Strung Out” to the unapologetic power pop of “Can’t Stop Loving You.” Wherever Van Halen fit in the world of rock 1995, Eddie Van Halen is not worried about being seen as a rock dinosaur. “Hey, dinosaurs are great,” he says. “Dinosaurs are huge, right?”

Along with the acclaim, Eddie Van Halen has earned a reputation as a world-class drinker. On my way to his house, I stop at a Sunset Strip liquor store for a soda, and there above the door is a giant blowup of a hammered-looking Eddie Van Halen between similar photos of Keith Moon and Liberace. Farther to his left is a shot of Rick James. Proudly, Van Halen says he’s now gone five months without a drink – four months better than his prior record. And despite a documented and worrying tendency to be newly sober around the release of a new album, Van Halen seems confident that “this time it’s for real.”

When I arrive a few minutes early to 5150 the next morning, Van Halen is out driving his 4-year-old son, Wolfgang, to school. Wolfie’s mom, actress Valerie Bertinelli, who married Van Halen in 1981, lets me into the place. It’s Valentine’s Day morning, and Bertinelli has been surfing the Internet, checking out comments regarding Van Halen on America Online. So far, she says, only one fan has figured out who she really is.

“Isn’t he adorable,” Bertinelli says when I show her an old high-school yearbook picture of her husband reprinted this week in BAM,a California rock magazine. In the photo the young Van Halen bears a slight resemblance to another Eddie – Vedder, that is. Bertinelli explains that she loves her husband’s current look, but that’s not his true appeal. “The thing I love about Ed is his heart,” she says. “I don’t know if you can understand that just by talking to him for a few hours, but the guy has the biggest heart in the world.” When I ask her if she’s confident that her husband’s sobriety is going to stick this time, Bertinelli says, “If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here. Fourteen years living with an alcoholic is my limit.”

As Van Halen sees it, being a shy guy in an extrovert’s game had been one reason for his drinking. Indeed, he seems a little nervous about my watching an afternoon rehearsal for the band’s current world tour. “Playing for one person is more nerve-racking for me than playing for 10,000,” he says. “Especially sober.” At a tiny rehearsal space in the Valley, the original Van Halen power trio gets together to hone some of the new material. Hagar is absent today because of a death in his family, but even without the wham of Sam, Van Halen remain an impressive musical unit to witness up close. Alex Van Halen is a true powerhouse, and Anthony effortlessly locks into the VH force. Then, of course, there’s Eddie. More than a decade and a half after he first blasted into our collective sonic consciousness doing what he does – however the hell he does it – the grown-up Dutch boy retains the ability to startle.

What are your earliest musical memories?
I always used to hear my dad practicing his clarinet downstairs back in Holland. At that time, it was difficult to make money playing his type of music. So he joined the [Dutch] air-force band, and he played marches. Every morning at 6 o’clock he’d have to go up there freezing his ass off and play marches. We’d listen to all those march records, and Al and I would parade around the table in the living room and take pots and pans, doing all that kind of stuff. And at night we’d hear him playing classical music downstairs. He loved classical and jazz.

Did he encourage you two musically?
My father always wanted us to go into music, and my mom didn’t because she saw what a difficult job it was for him. My dad struggled his whole life. My mom just hated music because it led to such a fucked-up life, even though the fact that my dad did make music was what saved us. I mean, we played on the boat coming over here.

Literally?
Yeah, my dad played on the boat, and Alex and I did our little piano thing as a sideshow. Dad would pass the hat, and we’d make another $20. We moved to the U.S. when I was 8, and my dad ended up having to walk, like, six miles from Pasadena [Calif.], where we lived, to the Arcadia Methodist Hospital to wash dishes because he couldn’t make it playing music. He had, like, four jobs, and he would gig on weekends playing proms and bar mitzvahs, anything he could get. When we got here, his first thing was to find us a great piano teacher. And he found this Russian guy named Stasskalvitis. We were being trained to be classical pianists, little Vladimir Horowitzes. I actually won first place three years in a row at Long Beach City College.

Does that suggest that musically you’re a complete natural?
I guess. I think I have a gift. Things come easy, but then again, I’ve got to work at it, too. But at an early age it was obvious that I had real good ears, because I never learned how to read music.

You still haven’t?
No, and I fooled my teacher for six years. He never knew I couldn’t read. I’d watch his fingers, and I’d play it.

How did you little Horowitzes get corrupted by rock & roll?
We heard the Dave Clark Five.

So it wasn’t the Beatles for you?
Alex and I went to the local theater to see A Hard Day’s Night, and the girls were screaming. Alex loved that. For me it was “Glad All Over.” To this day I listen to some of those old recordings, and they have a magic to them. They were badass. Every kid goes through the phase of building model cars and stuff. I would take boxes and paper and make something like a snare drum, and I’d play along with the Dave Clark Five stuff. Around fourth grade my passion was drumming. I loved to beat on things. When I turned 12 or so, I got myself a paper route because my parents couldn’t afford to buy us anything, and I bought a drum kit.

Did your dad figure you would be the next Buddy Rich?
No, he knew I was just a rock & roll kid banging away. Then we both started slacking off on piano, and they made Alex take flamenco-guitar lessons. One day my mom and dad bought Alex a Silvertone guitar and an amp from a cousin or someone, and I started plinking away on it. I thought, “Wow, that’s kind of neat.”

So how did you and Alex switch instruments?
While I’m out throwing papers to pay for my kit, Alex was playing my drums. He could play “Wipeout,” and I couldn’t. So it was kind of an anger thing because I wanted to play drums, but he was just better than me, so I thought, “OK, I’ll play your damn guitar.”

Good career move. What were you like as kids? Was there lots of sibling rivalry?
No. We came to the States and were two outcasts who didn’t speak the language and didn’t know what was going on. So we became best friends and learned to stick together. To this day the only thing we fight about is the arrangement of a song, and that’s just expressing ideas to make a song better. 

What kinds of bands did you play in before Van Halen?
In fourth grade we had a band called the Broken Combs. Later we had a band called Revolver with a bass player who played great Mountain stuff. By this time I’d become a major Clapton and Cream freak. We got the baddest-assed bass sound, but the bass player was always popping reds, and it didn’t work out. For another band, Mammoth, we had this bass player who was really creative but smoked too much hash. He was going to school to be a pharmacist – swear to God. He spent more time at home building LSD molecules. We were playing parties with a repertoire of a hundred songs, and he wouldn’t remember stuff.

I sense a theme emerging.
Well, that’s kind of how Van Halen with Roth and Michael ended up, because everyone else around us just . . . fell out. Plus, seriously, Roth was the only guy who had a PA. We were renting his PA every weekend for $35 and getting $50 for the gigs. So it was cheaper to get him in the band.

How did you meet?
We used to play back-yard parties down in San Marino, the real rich part of Pasadena where Roth lived. The parents were away for the weekend, the kids would have a party and hire us. We’d get a little Abbey Rents stage, cheap lights and charge a buck. We’d play until the helicopters would come at 10 p.m. and shut us down because we played as loud then as we do now.
So one Sunday afternoon, Roth knocked on our door at my parents’ house while we were rehearsing and said he wanted to sing for us. And I’ll never forget, we asked him to learn a few songs like “Crossroads,” by Cream, and something by Grand Funk Railroad, then come back and see us the next week. And he came back the next week, and it was terrible. He couldn’t sing. So, of course, I put my guitar down and said, “Al, I’ll be right back.” To this day that’s why Roth still has a hair up his butt about Al, because he was the one who told him, “Sorry, man. It ain’t working.” So he kind of hated us from that day and started his own band, Red Ball Jets.

Any good?
Let’s put it this way: We were doing live Cream jams, and they were up to “Johnny B. Goode.” It was never about the music for him. It was about the show. We kinda became rival bands. People who liked us at one party would go to the next party, and I guess they’d throw stuff at him.

Sounds like a sign of things to come.
Well, after a while it chilled out, and there was nobody else to really play with. And he got better – otherwise we wouldn’t have continued on with him.

Were you ever good friends?
It’s weird, but I don’t think so. I guess we were friends, but it was never deep. I don’t think the guy was ever real. I never felt any connection. It’s possible that it might have been just out of his own insecurities that he’s acted like such an egotist.

In recent years, Roth’s gone on Howard Stern a few times and talked about Van Halen. The way he tells it, he brought soul to a very white band.
If the blues and Cream and Led Zeppelin are white, then, yeah, I was very white. But I love the blues, and that’s not white to me. He did try to get us to do covers like “Cold Sweat,” and we’d do “Get Down Tonight,” by KC and the Sunshine Band – ridiculous stuff for us. He loved disco. Probably still does.

What would you say he brought to the party?
Shaking his ass. He was like an emcee, a clown. I hope this isn’t coming off like I’m slighting him, because he was great at what he did. I was in the same jeans-and-T-shirt stuff I wear now, and he’d be out there with platform shoes and spiked hair – the whole David Bowie look. Everyone else at Pasadena City College thought he was nuts. He always told me I looked like shit. So around the time we auditioned to play Gazzari’s on the Sunset Strip, I got some platforms and nearly broke my ankles. 

How many years did you play clubs before Warner Bros. signed you?
I guess between the Pasadena shows we used to put on ourselves and all the clubs from here to Cucamonga [Calif.], we must have done that for, like, seven years.

What would you make a night?
One hundred dollars for the band. We lived at home. Actually I lived with my parents until the time I met Valerie. I’ll never forget this one place, Walter Mitty’s bar and grill, a real shit hole where I saw somebody killed right in front of me.

What was it like when you finally cracked the Sunset Strip club scene?
We worked at Gazzari’s for three years, and if we had a good weekend, Bill Gazzari – God rest his soul – would slip Roth an extra $20 on top of the $75 a night we made and tell him, “Hey, Van, here’s something extra.” Then we did the Whisky and the Starwood. Gene Simmons [of Kiss] came to see us in, like, 1976, and we thought we had our big break. He brought us to Electric Lady, in New York, to make a demo tape, but Kiss’ manager, Bill Aucoin, said they were too busy because they’d just signed Piper.

Still, it must have been amazing to be in Electric Lady, the land of Hendrix.
Yeah, but I never learned a song by Hendrix except “Purple Haze,” because that was a pop hit. I didn’t know how to get his sound. That’s what turned me off. The same thing with Jeff Beck. I just plugged into my amp, turned it all the way up and loved the way that sounded. For me, it was all Clapton, because he was so straightforward.

For such a fan, it seems as though you’ve had a slightly tense relationship with Clapton.
I just don’t like his stuff as much now. To me his soul is in that Cream stuff like “Born Under a Bad Sign” and “Outside Woman Blues.” He’s such a brilliant soloist. But I guess I kinda lost interest around “Layla” because he started playing a Strat, and I loved the old Gibson sound he had.

So his “Unplugged” album didn’t inspire you to go and do the same?
No, I like playing loud. He had a big success with it, so now everyone else is jumping on the bandwagon. What’s the point? If that’s the way I wanted the music to be, I’d have written it that way.

Have you two ever had a chance to talk about music or your mutual substance-abuse problems?
I’ve met him, and we’ve talked. But he isn’t really an easy guy to talk to, and I’m shy. It was just a backstage-hello kind of deal.

When you finally did make it, how did your parents react?
My dad, who died in 1986, would get tears in his eyes every time he saw us play. He loved it. He lived through us because he never really made it.

Didn’t he play clarinet on “Diver Down”?
He was so nervous, man. The beauty of it was that we were all just equals in the studio playing.

So many bands these days seem to be ambivalent about the whole rock-star trip. Early on, did you enjoy the ride?
We were big. We were successful. But I didn’t know what it was all about. I started getting lonely on the road. And of all places, I met my wife backstage in Shreveport, La. It was August 1980, and she came because her brothers were fans, and if they brought her, they could get backstage. That was funny because Roth was there doing his “hey, baby” thing, but she went straight by him. I think that pissed him off because all of a sudden I got a whole other side of the limelight that he wanted. The tabloids and People magazine kind of shit. Some people thrive on all that attention. Sometimes I feel like Forrest Gump because the shit comes to me, and I don’t even want it.

What led to the split with Roth?
Part of it was my building 5150, because I think Dave and our producer, Ted Templeman, were threatened by that. The first thing I did up here was “Jump,” and they didn’t like it. I said, “Take it or leave it.” I was getting sick of their ideas of what was commercial. That’s how we ended up doing all those covers on Diver Down. I never wanted to be a cover band. I always wrote more than enough material. At first the Crazy From the Heat thing was great because Roth laid off of me a bit. Little did I know he was testing the waters. Then he called me up and asked me to go to his house and said he was going to make a Crazy From the Heat movie. He had some deal that fell through. But at the time I was depressed. I cried, then I called my brother and told him the motherfucker quit.

Did you feel like you were in trouble?
No, I felt like I’d put up with this guy’s shit for all these years just for him to walk. At the time, Warner Bros. suggested that maybe we shouldn’t go on with the name Van Halen. I think they thought Dave would be back. Well, it’s my fucking name. But for a while I didn’t know what the fuck we should do. I thought of doing a solo album with different singers. I’d written a bunch of music, including “Right Now,” which ended up on F.U.C.K. I envisioned Joe Cocker doing that one. I actually called Joe, Pete Townshend and Phil Collins. Alex talked me out of that, and he was right. We’re a band. People always asked me if I’ll do a solo album. All Van Halen records are solo records to me, because I have the creative freedom to do whatever I want. I don’t know what else I’d do.

So then Sammy entered the picture.
Yeah. I happened to be getting my car fixed at Claudio’s, not far from here, and Sammy called there. Claudio goes, “Hey, Sammy’s on the phone. Do you want to talk to him?” I said, “Yeah,” and a few days later he was up here, and we worked on”Summer Nights” and “Good Enough,” from 5150. We jammed, let the tape roll, noodled along, and it was just brilliant.

How would you defend Hagar against Sammy bashers?
From the first second, Sammy could do anything I threw at him. We could do songs like “Dreams” and “Love Walks In,” and I’m in heaven because now I can write whatever I want and not worry because Sammy can sing it all. All of a sudden everything felt complete. It just opened a whole new door. Things I had in me that I wanted to express, I was able to with Sammy singing them.

Did you feel vindicated when “5150” took off?
To me it didn’t even matter because we were so excited. Finally we felt like we had four people with a common vision. I didn’t know if we’d live up to anyone else’s expectations, but I knew how I felt. 

Does it bother you that some fans didn’t feel the same way?
It’s been 10 years almost. Sammy’s been in the band longer than Roth was. It’s like “People, give it a break.”

Can you imagine ever doing anything with Roth?
If we live long enough and get inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, we’re going to have to jam together. Sammy actually brought that up the other day. He had this nightmare about having to share a microphone with Roth. I think it would be hilarious. Listen, I don’t hate the guy. I actually ran into him not that long ago when Valerie and I were walking in New York. I walked back a quarter block, and he finally turned around. He was kind of hesitant. I shook his hand. I asked him how he was doing, and he looked kind of shocked. It’s like a divorce. It’s over and done with. But anyone who thinks he’s ever going to come back is ridiculous.

Van Halen have always been associated with the hedonistic rock lifestyle. What was your particular drug of choice?
Between 1980 and 1984 I did a lot of blow. And drinking. I didn’t stop until about five months ago. I always got hammered to be able to cope. I have zero social skills, and I don’t know how to act, so I get drunk. And then I make a real ass out of myself.

Did you start young?
When I was, like, 12 or 13, Alex, my dad and I were out in Covina [Calif.], and a German shepherd jumped through the screen door and bit me. It hurt like a motherfucker. So my dad said, “Have a shot of vodka, Ed. This will make you feel better.” And he gave me a Pall Mall to smoke. I started drinking and smoking all in one day, right then and there.

Has drinking hurt your music?
No, not at all. If anything, it helped me open up, because I’m a real insecure type of person. And if I were drunk, I’d write you a song right now, because I want to play when I’m drunk. I have such an association of the two. I’ve got to relearn that stuff. I get real nervous playing in front of people, and it was like a miracle drug.

Why did you stop?
During the recording of Balance, I’d be drinking these nonalcoholic Sharps and a couple real ones in between. All of a sudden my mind and body started retaliating. It wasn’t fun anymore. I’d wake up in the morning and puke. The next morning I’d wake up and have the dry heaves. And I’m realizing I’m a fucking alcoholic. I’d have to drink a six-pack to feel normal.

So you quit by yourself?
I went to Betty Ford once, and another place, but it just didn’t do it for me. I’m doing it for myself this time because nobody can tell you to quit. Even AA does nothing for me. It makes me want to drink. I got one drunk-driving ticket ever, and I was on my motorcycle leaving an AA meeting. I’d just had it up to here with everyone’s shit and stopped at a bar for a couple of shots.

Has being a dad had any impact?
Absolutely. Just this morning, Wolfie goes, “Dad, why do you have to smoke?” I think the last time I got hammered, I did an all-nighter, and I stumbled in about 8 a.m. And my son looks at me and goes, “Are you all right, Daddy? What happened?” When your kid knows, it’s time to give it up.

What makes you confident you’ll stay sober?
Because it’s not an alternative anymore. Drinking does not work for me. I mean, I used to drive drunk. God, that’s a fucked-up thing to do.

Did you ever slip over into harder stuff?
No, never shot anything. I was too afraid I’d like it.

What do you make of the new generation of musicians that prefer heroin?
I think it shows in the music coming out nowadays. In Europe they don’t understand all this downer rock. They ask us in every interview, “What’s with this depression-grunge-Generation-X shit?” They don’t get it at all.

Do you?
Well, if that’s the way you feel, fine, but I don’t think things are any worse than when I was young. I think there are certain bands that even complain about making music. Hey, if it’s a problem, don’t do it. As much as I loved the music Kurt Cobain made, and as sad as it is that he’s not with us anymore, I can’t help thinking that if what you’re doing caused you to kill yourself, I would have stopped doing it. It ain’t worth it. Stay at home and make music in your bedroom for yourself.

Do you try to keep up on what’s going on musically?
Not really. I’m not shut off from things, but whatever’s out there doesn’t change what I do. Rock’s changed so many times since we started. We got signed when punk and disco were big. It didn’t influence me. I love the Peter Gabriel album So, but that didn’t make me try to write like him. I like Tori Amos, Soundgarden and this band Live, but I don’t write like any of them, either. I don’t know where my shit comes from – I almost get into a meditative trance. But wherever it comes from, it does not sound like Pearl Jam or Soundgarden or anyone else. For the last four years all I’ve been listening to is Sesame Street, Mickey Mouse and children’s songs. So if anything, I’d probably start writing Raffi songs.

So you don’t worry about being relevant when bands like Green Day and the Offspring are celebrating punk?
I just think a lot of bands out there ain’t going to last until they get better. On the other hand, I might be a better player than some of these people, but what they’re doing speaks as well as what I do. At the same time there’s a hardness about how I play that is as grunge as what they do. I just articulate a little better. And I play loud, too. I don’t think what Eddie Vedder or Anthony Kiedis do is going to make Sammy think, “I better do this now.”

Which of the new players have impressed you? For instance, what did you think of Cobain as a player?
It didn’t matter how good or bad he was. It was just his feel that moved me. There’s no particular technical proficiency, but it didn’t matter. I loved his voice and his songs. It came from his heart. It was real.

How about someone like Stone Gossard, from Pearl Jam?
I like them, but the guitar playing in particular never really hit me. I like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, but I don’t even know who the guitarists are.

There has been a definite consistency to what Van Halen have done over the years.
Because that’s all I can do. It’s actually been a blessing in disguise that no matter what I play, it sounds like me. When I played on [Michael Jackson’s] “Beat It,” Quincy Jones showed me he’s a good producer because he knew what he wanted – he wanted me. He said, “Go be yourself.”

You write the music first, then Hagar writes the lyrics. Is it strange to just hand a song over for him to interpret?
No, the majority of the time, Sammy writes exactly what I would write about. I ask him how he does it, and he says the music talks to him. It’s a great working relationship.

Over the years there has been a cottage industry of Eddie wanna-be’s. For a great musician, you’ve spawned a lot of lousy imitators.
Yeah, the hair bands did their copy. I was like “Don’t blame this on me.” I think a lot of them missed the boat. For some of those guys, it was all about who could play faster.

What do you say to critics who think you’re too good for your band?
They’re wrong. People tend to focus on me. But I think Alex is the best fucking rock & roll drummer on the planet. I can’t even play with another drummer. We’re an unconventional band in that in most bands the bass and drums are the rhythm section. Alex and I play off of each other more than Mike and Al do. And the bass is this subsonic foundation that Al and I play on together.

You recently turned 40. Was that traumatic for you?
Not at all. I feel 18. I don’t feel any different, except now I’m having a hip problem. Listen, my dad played until he died. I think it’s something you’re born with. You’re either rock & roll or you’re not.

So there’s no contradiction in being a rock & roller and a 40-year-old dad?
I don’t think rock has anything to do with how you live. It’s an energy and a vibe that comes out when you’re playing. Look at the Stones. What’s Mick, 52? They’re really paving the way for bands like us. MTV may blow it for some people because kids don’t want to see Mom and Dad rocking.

The new album’s called “Balance.” Does that reflect a desire to get some balance in your life?
It’s a title Alex mentioned around the time of 5150, and it stuck in my mind. I thought it was a cool title. I think of it as the balance between the four of us that makes everything work.

What do you think Van Halen mean to kids?
This may be too pompous to say, but I hope it conjures up sort of what Led Zeppelin did when I was younger. We’ve been around a long time, and we’ve been very consistent in making good music. I hope we’re a classic band to young kids.

So “classic rock “is not a dirty term to you?
Oh, no. But the great thing is we’re making current rock, too. Some alternative stations are playing our stuff, too. It’s all fine with me.

What’s the weirdest place you’ve encountered your music?
Turtle Island, way down in the Fiji Islands. There was a group of musicians serenading people while they ate dinner, and this one guy gives me a smile and starts doing this funny stuff to his guitar.

You mean he was hammering on?
Yeah, he was trying on this old beat-to-shit acoustic guitar. And then he hands it to me like I should play. But I said, “Thanks, man. I think I’ll have to pass.”

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