Articles Interviews

Adrian Van den Berg – Moonkings Interview

Written by John Deaux

If you haven’t heard Vandenbergs Moonkings MKII album, then you’re missing something incredibly special. Adrian took the time out before the 1st Moonkings shows of 2017 to have a chat about the album, his art and a few other things. 

Thanks for taking the time out of your rehearsal schedule for a chat.

No problem

Before we jump straight into the album. Am I correct in saying that you used a Fender Stratocaster on this album rather than your Les Paul? Only reason I ask is that there’s a very familiar tone on a couple of tracks.

Yeah you’re correct. I used it on a couple of tracks. I can’t quite remember all of them but All Or Nothing is definitely one of them.

Is it fitted with a Floyd Rose trem system? Again only reason I ask is there’s a couple of whammy tricks that I didn’t think were possible with the standard Strat.

Not at all. I’m a bit of a purist. I used to play with a Floyd Rose type system in the Whitesnake days but I got bored with it as everyone was doing it and it didn’t excite me. So I thought fuck it, I’m going back to a Gibson Les Paul and other stock guitars.

The effects used throughout the album. Where they stomp boxes or just straight through a Fractal Axe FX?

I didn’t use any stomp boxes. It was just myself and straight into a Marshall and turned it all the way up and you can’t go wrong (laughs). All my heroes used to do that, early Zeppelin, Hendrix and that’s the way I wanted to go. I think I have the level on my Marshall set around 9.

It’s an analog sounding album as opposed to being pro-tooled and compressed to fuck. 

You’re right we recorded on a reel to reel and mixed it on an old ADI so yeah it’s very analog and sounds really warm and juicy.  I’m really happy with the sound. 

It’s a classic old school sounding album. A breath of fresh air in this digital age where bands seem to be getting lazy with cut and paste.

Yeah, I like it when it’s organic. It’s the kind of music I like playing and the musicians that I play with in the band. What I do is I tend to marry the stuff from the 70’s  and bring it into now which brings out the dynamic. I do like the dynamics of the Foo Fighters which is really in your face. So the roots are really in the 70’s but at the same time it sounds really fresh and dynamic.  everything breaths, nothing is layered. It’s how we sound live. 

In fact most of the solos I don’t even add a rhythm guitar because the bass player and drummer can really carry it by themselves. Another thing that I liked about the bands when I was growing up was you could put on a pair of headphones and you were right there with them in the studio. I really like that vibe. 

Speaking of live, you’ve released just one UK date in London. Are there plans to extend the UK leg of the tour?

Oh yeah, we’re definitely going to be back. It’s just the way the schedule worked out when we were planning this stuff. I didn’t want to wait to long to return to Britain as everyone seems to know us. All my roots are in Britain as that’s where all my favorite bands come from. Also last time round we didn’t play as much of what we would have liked to do in England due to technical problems and booking agencies. Where as this time, we’re in much better shape and we’re definitely going to come back and do more stuff in the UK. Have some English Beer and Shepard’s Pie (laughs). Shepard’s Pie is one of my favorites. 

I really would like to do a bunch of festivals to make up for the last time out.

I would also love to play Scotland again as it’s been awhile. Last time I was there was with Whitesnake

Was MKII an easy album to write?

What I learnt from the 80’s was when you have a label with expectations the writing is a lot harder, so when I started Moonkings that was one thing that wasn’t going to happen with me. I want to write stuff that I wanna write and play the way I wanna play. The same goes for the band. I like it that we can all come together in a very organic way and we actually did 2 or 3 jams on this album.  I wanted to play the song in the studio and see where it ends. Like with the song The Fire, there was no plan for a fade out in the mixing process. The jam between the bass and the drummer was so cool they left everything on. You can hear at the end that we don’t even finish on the same chord. 

The same goes with If You Can’t Handle the Heat. For the 1st time in my career I went berserk on my guitar and you can hear that I’m playing around with the on/off switch on my guitar which I thought was a really cool way to end the album.

Also with Reputation, which was another jam track, if you listen closely you can tell that I broke my high E string during the solo.

I thought I heard something wrong with that track, I’m glad it wasn’t my ears failing me (laughs)

(Laughing) yeah, I was pulling up on the E string so hard that it just was almost hitting the low A string and it snapped at the very end. You can hear it and I left it on there as I thought it was pretty funny.

That’s one thing that’s really cool with that track,and now you’ve explained why, I’m glad you didn’t go back and fix it or even re-record the solo as the feel wouldn’t have been the same. 

Exactly. That’s why I didn’t. Everyone knows that we rock and this is what separates the men from the boys. This is why you make music. That’s why you make this kind of stuff because you’re dying to play it live as you want that excitement and if you keep polishing and polishing and polishing or over producing to make it sound perfect, it’s going to sound boring. It needs to sparkle and rock and take some chances. 

That’s one thing I have noticed that is missing with recordings, that element of the unexpected.Even with live albums, that feeling of danger has gone. Everyone seems to expect perfection from a studio album and a live album. Music is meant to have feeling, especially live. It’s that feeling of hearing something that’s been captured in the moment that’s the most exhilarating to me.  This is why I’m predominantly an early 80’s thrash fan combined with a love of 70’s punk as it has that air of danger & being captured in the moment.

So to hear an experienced musician like yourself say that perfection is boring is fantastic. Especially with the majority of live shows from big bands, they just seem to just dial in a performance instead of flying by the seat of their pants and giving an audience an experience. 

This is why I think the MKII album is something special. It has that live feel to it and you know you’re going to love playing it live.

Cool man, I’m glad you picked up on that . 

Everything is far to clinical and safe, so to hear an album like yours is refreshing.

and I agree,  rock does need to have that element of danger in there and risk, when that’s out, it doesn’t really embody the rock feel anymore. Even in the 80’s when you had great production but not so great bands or musicians, like a band like Poison for instance that was more like a party band, on record they were so polished and so shiny that out goes the adventure and the risk. 

It’s something I definitely learned from the 80’s.

Prior to sitting down and doing this interview I went back through your discography like Teaser, Heading for a Storm etc and it amazed me how fresh they still sound. Especially the Live In Japan album, which is an amazing live record which has a life of its own. Very much like Dokken’s Beast From The East,  Racer Xs Extreme Volume 1.

It’s not until you start to get into 1987 and Slip Of The Tongue Whitesnake albums (although I know you didn’t have a lot to do with the actual recording of them) that the polished sound that we were just talking about comes into play.

It wasn’t until I saw you play at Donington in 1990 that I fully appreciated the raw talent that you had. You played your bollocks off and the emotion you put into your spotlighted solo, still gives me the chills when I even think that I witnessed that moment.

There’s some recordings from that era of me and Dave just rehearsing that are great I’m not sure if any of it is going to come out but there’s some of it on YouTube I think, is how I actually wrote the songs together with David, that was the way I hoping to do those albums. More adventurous. But you know, it was the 80’s and there was all these constrictions and pressures from the record companies, the producer and everything, which made me feel confined. The last thing you want to think about when you’re trying to be creative is the confinement. You want to have the freedom to be able to play the way you want and how you like, and that’s one of the things that makes me really happy with Moonkings so I have that opportunity.

That’s whats good about Mascot Records, when I talked to the big boss, (who was the 1st guy I talked to) and he tells me that I’ve ‘never made a bad album so with us, please make the album you want to make’, which is very very unusual of course in times like these.  when a record company give you that freedom, I’m just really happy that I can do that and make these kind of albums. Where I can make myself happy and hopefully make everyone else happy also. For me, that’s where to start. To make an album that will make you go out and buy it and then there’s going to be more people that’ll go out and buy it. 

How did you meet the other guys in Moonkings?

It was quite a unique situation. The drummer an d the bass player I discovered at 2 different talent shows when they were around 14. They were so good then that I thought in a couple of years they would be fuckin’ amazing and co-incidentally I ran into them when I was just thinking about putting this band together. They both live in my home town and the asked if I recognised them. I said ‘no, I don’t think so’ as they were no longer kids with short spiky hair and now the drummer looked like a viking (laughs) as well as the bass player.  I didn’t even do auditions as knew these were the guys. 

The singer has a huge farm very near my area. When I was starting to look around for a singer, I remembered a review of a Whitesnake show that was played in Holland when I got up and played a couple of songs, which I tend to do when they’re in Holland. I never see the support act as I’m always with David as we don’t see as much of each other as we like. I remember reading one of the reviews which said that ‘David was going to have to work hard to keep up with the singer in the support band’. So I thought I had to go check this guy out as I knew the journalist that wrote it and he really knows his stuff and that’s how I found Jan (Hoving). It took awhile as he’d quit singing in the band that he used to sing with and he didn’t do anything else so I couldn’t find him initially.

Eventually I did as his farm is about a 2 hour drive from where I live and he couldn’t believe it. When I wrote him a note initially when I got his mailing address, he didn’t say yes because he thought one of his friends was  pulling his leg as he’s a Vandenberg and Whitesnake fan. So when I rang his doorbell and knocked on the door of his house, he was like ‘OH MY GOD, IT  IS YOU’

It’s really unusual how this band got together and it’s been great since day 1. We really have some kind of chemistry going. With the YouTube footage you can really see that. It’s an incredible vibe between us and the crowd will see that live too. 

That’s what you want when you see a band live, you want to see them get carried away with each other and that’s what happens every time with us. I’m really looking forward to getting out there and to play London again to make up for lost time

I take it you won’t be rehearsing to much before the tour kicks off so there will be some improv through it?

It’s going to be very loose live.  We don’t really enjoy rehearsing too much let alone over rehearsing. So like on the record, we don’t want to over polish everything and let stuff happen. Our first show is on Wednesday (8th November 2017) and we’re only going to rehearse a couple of times before that and let the rest happen on stage. That’ll keep us sharp. 

Are you going to be recording any of the shows for a later release?

Maybe, we’re not too sure as yet. First we’ll get going and see what happens. It looks like we’re going to be filming one of the shows pretty soon and I’m not sure if we’re going to do something with it, but I guess we will eventually.

When you’re out playing live, are you going to be getting a soundboard recording so you can review what was played to see if you could improve on anything?

I think we will, especially if it’s a good live show. Especially if we get a really good film of the show and have shitty sound as that would be a shame. We may just record it and see what happens. 

I know you love to paint, I’m just wondering if you get much time to do so these days?

Right now I don’t but I know I’m going to catch up sooner or later. Like those 12 years I was below the radar, I painted a lot and did exhibitions. I didn’t really spend a lot of time playing guitar, it just happened. It wasn’t really planned.  It’s probably going to be the other way around, when I do have some time. The artwork for this album is the 1st thing I’ve done for a long time. 

I really wanted to restyle the logo after the 1st album because there was a mistake in the printing process as you couldn’t really see a logo very well, so this time I decided to freshen it up a little bit and let the logo come out and have the letters harsh. The logo is much more like a trademark now. 

The album cover for MKII is very bright and in your face. It’s almost got the feel of a late 60’s early 70’s kind of vibe to it.

Yeah, a lot of people say that there’s also a Mayan art kind of style to it as well. It very well maybe, subconsciously as when I was studying at art university I studied Mayan art for a while, so maybe subconsciously that came out in the design, I don’t know (laughs)

There’s one thing I’m going to ask you about and it’s entirely up to you if you want to talk about it, but it’s about the law suit.

Oh yeah (laughs)

How preposterous was it that you were sued for using your own name?

It was so unrealistic I couldn’t believe it when I read the first warrant. I thought this has got to be a joke (laughs) but it wasn’t. Unfortunately it was real.

Actually they wanted to claim my family name and also prohibit me from using my own name because they thought they had become a part of my name and that was like the weirdest thing.

I can imagine,

Some people have no shame. These 2 guys hadn’t really done anything for over 30 years or achieve anything. In the beginning I had invited them into my band and that’s all they did. As you probably know, I wrote the music and the lyrics, the artwork, the interviews and they were happy.

But then 30+ years later they suddenly realise that maybe we can take advantage of the situation. There was 6 lawsuits. It kept going and going and it lasted about 3 or 4 years. It was a waste of money and negative energy.

Also taking away the time and effort that you could of put into writing etc, it’s your family name, so surely you could do what you wanted with it. 

It was unbelievable. They made fools of themselves in Holland and everywhere else. It really was too ridiculous and made fools of themselves.

Well, some people are born idiots I guess (laughing).

(laughing) yeah that’s for sure.

Is there any chance of a Manic Eden re-union?

I don’t know. I never say never about anything. Right now my main focus is on Moonkings and I’m really really happy about it. I really want to make a whole bunch of albums with this band. 

So I dunno.. Maybe a project kind of thing. I just don’t know. There’s no plans for that. But like James Bond says, ‘Never Say Never’.

My final question to you Adrian. If David Coverdale was to phone you & and say that he wanted to take the 1987 album and Slip Of The Tongue records out on tour fo an anniversary/celebration of those 2 records, would you do it?

I actually suggested it to David last year to do a bunch of shows but David wasn’t really up for that so I’ve just let the idea go. I thought it would be great for the fans.Not to go on the road for a year, but to do a bunch of shows. Some in England, Some in mainland Europe, America and maybe a couple of other countries. Just go away for a month or so and have a lot of fun, but he wasn’t really up for it so I’ve let the idea slide. 

Thank you so much for chatting to me, it’s really appreciated and it’s been an absolute joy to speak to you.

No problem man, make sure you let me know if you’re at one of the shows & we’ll grab a few beers.

Cheers Adrian.

Vandenbergs Moonkings MKII is out on Mascot Recordings 3rd November 2017 and will be available from all good and bad record shops as well as on-line.

About the author

John Deaux

Some say Yank My Doodle, It’s A Dandy! is a biographical movie based on John

Some have even said that his favourite artist is Chesney Hawke

All we know is he is the ultimate bargain hunter & his skin, a hazy shade of winter

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