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The transcriptions below are to 1995.

  "Sorcerer's Apprentice"

March 1995

Guitar Player, March 1995

Interview by Dweezil Zappa

Transcribed by Nooger's Lumpy Gravy Emporium

So I receive a call from my friends at Guitar Player asking if I want to interview Edward Van Halen. It takes me about a nanosecond to accept the offer. I believe it's well documented that Van Halen is the reason that I play guitar, so any excuse for me to chat with Edward is a good one.

Ed's got a new record coming out called Balance, produced by Bruce Fairbairn, who's known for producing Aerosmith and Bon Jovi. I had the opportunity to hear the record in Edward's car in the driveway of my house. He's used to hearing it in his car, so he felt that was the best  place to listen. The first thing that struck me about the record was the sound of Alex's drums. Alex is king on this record. He should finally be recognized as the genius drummer he is. Edward has achieved another enviable guitar sound. It's very aggressive, yet warm and punchy. He sounds energetic and inspired throughout the album. Michael Anthony is as solid as ever, and Sammy Hagar is . . . well, Sammy is Sammy.

This new offering provides the listener with a collection of well-crafted tunes. There's even a few surprises. Edward included an intro section called "Strung Out" that was recorded inside a piano over ten years ago. If you listen real hard you'll hear the sound of ping-pong balls and nine-volt batteries dropping on the strings. It's actually reminiscent of some of my father's work. Plus, there's an instrumental track, but it's not what you'd expect from Ed. It would be well suited as film music.

I've known Edward for about 12 years, so our interview is very casual. We don't talk a lot about the new album, but we do talk a lot about his playing. --Dweezil Zappa

***Alrighty, Ed, it's time to ask you some questions.***

We should make a radio show out of this.


***Uh-huh, we should. I've asked you questions forever but never under the guise of an interview. Now I get to ask you questions and get the serious details. I have the excuse.***

So now I've got to tell you the truth? [Laughs.]


***That's right. We've got some guitars here just in case we need to refer to a couple things. I made a little tape that has snippets of things you've done throughout your career. [Plays "Eruption."] How many times did you play this?***

You mean, in the studio?





***You bastard--that was just one time?***

Yeah. I make all kinds of mistakes though.


***Doesn't sound like you made any mistakes.***

 I'm just noodling.


 ***I still freak out when I listen to "Eruption." The sound and the arrangement is so amazing. How did you approach this solo?***

I didn't know exactly how to approach the solo. If I remember right, I was rehearsing for a show at [L.A. nightclub] the Whisky, and Ted [Templeman, producer] walked in. He walked up behind me, and was like, "What the fuck is that?" He had no idea. So I grabbed Al and Mike, and I said, "We'll put it on tape for him--just a taste of it, like what I do live." If you notice, right around there [plays the descending portion of tapped triplet hammer-ons from "Eruption"], I get turned around because I made a mistake.

***But it's perfect.***

Not really. If I wanted it perfect I would have redone it, but everyone was saying it's fine.


***That's the part that caught everybody's ear to begin with-- the hammer-on thing. But the freak Van Halenoids like myself listen to the licks in the beginning, and there's where the crazy stuff lives--the rhythms. You're doing some very strange articulations with the way you pick. You're skipping strings and using open strings in weird places.***

With me it's just feeling. I don't know why I pick this way instead of that way. I just feel it.


***You don't play anything like the stuff that I've heard you talk about as your main influences. You created something completely different.***

Eric Clapton was my god and everybody else's. I said that once in an interview. That's the guy I grew up on, but I don't play anything like him, and it came back to haunt me. They took it like I was being an uppity prick about it. I didn't mean that at all. I just meant that if you listen to Clapton, and listen to me, it's two completely different styles, even though he's the guy I grew up on. And you know what else? This goes way back to the club days when we used to play Top 40. What's funny is that I used to get so depressed because I could never play a song the way it was on record. No matter how hard I tried it would never  sound like other people's stuff. It wasn't until years later that it was actually a blessing in disguise, because I can only do me. I  can't copy and make it sound like someone else. It used to really kill me. We used to get kicked out of clubs. [Ed imitates club owner.] "Your guitarist plays too psychedelic!" I'm goin', "I'm trying to play the damn 'Get Down Tonight!'"[Laughs.]


 ***That's so funny. I think that Clapton style comes out a little bit more in your playing now than it did back then. I think a lot of players come full circle after a while. But the stuff that you developed coming from that background is so crazy. You started off playing with these insane patterns that you pulled off with no problem. I'll find this one lick in particular. [Plays lick in "Eruption" right before the violin practice lick.]That whole pattern has a diminished kind of vibe.***

I don't know--diminished, augmented. Diminished is less, augmented is more, right? [Laughs.]


***This is the hottest because neither one of us knows what the hell we're talking about at all.***

 I forget who it is who always used to say to me like, "Oh, yeah, you do all these pentatonic things." To me, you got 12 fuckin' notes, and you mix them up however you want. Whoever said that if you play them in a certain order it's this scale, or if you play in that order it's that scale?


***It's like science class.***

Exactly. That's why I never learned how to read music. It just bored the hell out of me. You spend half your life learning how to read someone's bullshit instead of doing your own thing.


 ***I wish I would have seen you in the early, early days. I would've freaked out walking into a place and hearing a guy playing the shit that you played. I have bootlegs of some stuff and it's ridiculous.***

I play pretty much the same.


***Actually, I think you play a little more relaxed now. Back then you were crazy. How old were you when you did the first record?***



***So here's a 21-year-old kid playing insane, crazy stuff that nobody even comprehends. I'm not talking about just the
        finger-tapping stuff even though that's probably what really slayed people because it looked so different.***

That was flash, kind of, even though it was part of my playing. I think that shocked people because no one had really ever done it to that extent.


***Yeah. You were doing stuff that was way more shocking than that, and I have a bunch of examples on this tape.***

Some people, like Thomas Dolby, just complimented me on my rhythm playing. All that hammer-on stuff overshadowed
everything else that I did. I almost hated the fact that I did that in the first place, because everyone thought that that's all there was. But it's not true.


***The thing that has always been remarkable to me on all the records is the way you go in and out of rhythm and lead like it's no problem.***

I had to do it, y'know?


***But you do it in a way that's crazy. [Laughs.] I gotta stop saying crazy. Anyway, rhythmically you're so impeccable--the way you and Alex work together makes the smallest spaces interesting.***

It's probably because I play drums or something--either that or piano.


***You have an ability to have two things going on at once. You can forget what happened before, go completely in left field against Alex, and come back without a scratch. That's impossible!***

Actually, a lot of it has to do with not being able to count. I drive Al crazy because a lot of times I'll do six of something instead of four. I'm not talking about odd-meter stuff, but actual phrases. There's a solo in "Hot For Teacher" that's not a regular length. When I was done with the solo we ended, you know what I mean? It ended up being like 13 bars instead of 12. To me it feels right.


***I'm in the same boat because you know that I can't count. You, more than anybody, know that I cannot count.

It's still a little different, because you grew up, you know . . . like your dad, he wrote odd-meter stuff. But I'm talking 4/4 time, but just not doing four of them or 16 or 12. Like, I wouldn't do 12-bar blues--I'd probably do 15-bar blues. But it's still in four time.


***That makes total sense to me. The funniest thing about it is that you guys have developed such a repertoire between  yourselves. Alex will accentuate some of your stuff and you guys just take off. That's lacking in almost every kind of band that exists right now. There is very little musicianship that people can get excited about in most new bands.***

I don't mean to compare what we do with jazz, but basically all jazz and rock and roll are very similar, because there are no rules--it's free form. When musicians interact or space out and do their own thing but somehow it works, they call it jazz. If you play it loud and it has more aggressive guitar, then they call it rock and roll. But it's all the same. Al and I fall somewhere in between, so it's a rock format, but we interact when we play. Believe it or not, Alex's drums are the only thing I have in my
monitors. If you ever stand where I'm standing onstage, all I hear is drums. Seriously. All I hear is drums in my monitors because I need the rhythm to work off.


***Well, we know some other reasons why you only want drums in your monitors but we won't get into that. . . . [Laughs.] The beauty of the two of you working together is that you're brothers.***

Yeah, it's cool.


***I dig that so much because I work with my brother. [Dweezil and brother Ahmet's band Z will release their new record in late spring '95.] It's two brothers creating music and having a fucking great time. And that in turn excites a lot of people just
because it's something that's so natural to the two of you. It's such an expression of who you are. That's why your playing is so unique.***

That's why when I play with other drummers it doesn't work. Seriously, it's tough playing with other drummers for me. I can't groove the same.


***Because you need Al to help you set up the vibe.***



***Let's talk about some of your gear. Your sound changes from record to record. On the early records you used a bunch of pedals. Sometimes you step on them just for a second, like on Fair Warning.***

I did it on the new record too, on "Seventh Seal," because I just wanted effects in certain places.


***I've tried stepping on flangers to recreate the sound of "Unchained" and it never has the right vibe. It always clicks on in the middle of the sweep. That never happens to you.***

Yeah, I always luck out with that shit. Believe it or not, I always had it on one setting--my Echoplex too. Everything was just set the same all the time no matter what beat I was playing. But it seemed to work.


***I have bootlegs where you have the sounds that you have on the first record and it cuts through even on somebody's tape machine hidden in their coat. Most people do not have a sound that would do that.***

It was that first homemade guitar with a cable going through an MXR flanger, then a Phase 90, and then an Echoplex, and
straight into the Marshall head. I mounted the Phase 90 and the flanger on a piece of plywood. I used that sucker for the first four world tours--the same piece of wood. It worked.


***Do you ever think you want to get that sound again?***

No. It's natural for me to go with the moment. Y'know what I mean?


***Even though you used the same technique and gear on the early records, it really sounds different from record to record.***

Yeah, I know, but I don't know why. I used exactly that same amp head on every record, except for the last record when I used the Peavey 5150. On this new record I went back to the old Marshall plus the Peavey. But even the Marshall sounded different--I don't know . . . sun spots. [Laughs.] Maybe I just didn't like it that old way, because for a while I stopped using that Marshall amp because I just didn't like it any more.


***So it never really broke or anything? There's the big myth that it broke.***

Well, I thought it did. I think I broke--I just got tired of it.


***Did you get that amp modded?***

No. You can check it out. It's a stock fuckin' amp.


***People are pulling their hair out trying to figure how to get that sound--myself included.***

I feel kind of bad, because Jose Arredondo just passed away. He was a buddy, and I tried to help him out business-wise. He used to do amp mods for people, so I said, "Go ahead and tell them that you do my amps." I was thinking it would help him, throw him a bone and get him some business. But if people only knew that amp is completely stock.

***They do now! [Laughs.]***

 I just plug into it and turn everything all the way up. There's no master volume. No extra tubes. There's no nothing to that amp. Matt Bruck [one of Eddie's techs] actually got me using that amp again because he had this guy Peter Van Weelden, who's   totally into making Marshalls original again. He took mine and made it original, and I guarantee it doesn't really sound any different than the day I stopped using it. It's just cleaned up now, and it still goes "shhhhh" if you get too close to it. It does all the bullshit that I hate about a Marshall, but it does have a unique sound.


***Why do the solos on the first album have such unbelievable bite?***

I used a Phase 90 on almost every solo on that record. It's got a twang to it.


***It makes each note sound like it's almost going to have a chance to feed back, and it accentuates your vibrato.***

The Phase 90 is the one thing I didn't use on the new record. Maybe I should have.


***Most of your solos have a form. It's not like you worked every single one out, because there is definitely spontaneity in what you do. But you have a real good sense of arrangement in your songs and your solos.***

It's like talking--trying to explain something. You have to make a point, otherwise why talk? A solo is a mini-expression within a song. It's a personal expression.


***When you play do you have any idea in your mind about what you want to hear or do you just play and listen to what comes out? Do you look at the guitar and visualize some pattern on the neck and envision your fingers going there?***

I never really gave it any thougut- -don't hate me, Eric!--it's like he doesn't do that any more. Now when he solos, to me it's like he's pissing up a rope. Excuse my French. Listen to his early solos, all the Cream stuff like "Sunshine Of Your Love." [Ed
plays a bunch of Clapton licks.] The shit he does . . . he spoke when he played. And like "Born Under A Bad Sign"--the end of  that solo was great. After having grown up on that, I thought that every time I solo I should make it like that too. I don't think it's got anything to do with the time period--it's people in general--but nowadays it's almost like solos are interchangeable. You can put a disc on and listen to a solo on one song and you might as well put it in any song because they don't mean anything. It's basically just beatin' off, and there's no point to it. But I'm not saying everything I do has a point to it either.


 ***But there's a certain characteristic that is lacking from a lot of people's lead work . . . I think it's called creativity. [Raucous  laughter.] Most of the people who are in popular bands right now don't have a lot of technique anyway. So they'll either play shit that's very mediocre or seriously out of tune or both. Some people get away with it, though, like Kurt Cobain.***

He was still speaking. He was still expressing himself through one string or one note or whatever.


***But some people's lack of technique doesn't work.***

Right. There's a lot of those.


***That is so predominant at the moment. Especially when you see people who are known for that kind of bad playing and they're on covers of magazines. It used to be that the people who were on the covers of magazines had really amazing skill and were making creative choices on the guitar.***

Yeah, but at the same time, I can understand how it got to where it is, because everything does come around. I've influenced a batch of people in a certain period of time, and I think those people missed my point.They took what they learned from me and made it very sterile and too calculated, too typewriter-perfect. I won't name any names. People got sick of that type of flash guitar playing, whereas I never considered what I did flash. It was natural to me. I still play the same.


***You've always been much more about giving energy to the music and the guitar playing. It's not about, "Dig my note density!"***

But what I'm saying is that I think the reason why people play the way they do now is because it all broke down. Where could guitar have gone from where people in the '80s took it? It was so flash it got ridiculous. So shit--the natural thing is to break it down to the lowest common denominator and start over.


***That's true, and the people who did that the best you can totally appreciate. As long as the solo provides forward motion ... ***

. . . it helps the song.


***Right. There are a lot of modern songs that are really good but have a suck-ass solo. If they just didn't play the solo I
would dig that song so much more. I'm tired of solos that suck. I think there is a little bit more interest again from people who are trying to do something creative on their instruments. What do you think?***

It all broke down to the lowest common denominator and it's just gonna build right back up. It's almost like every ten years it happens. This is phase two of disco and punk. We survived the first one, and we're going to survive this one too.


***Punk came back and this time it has a fucking melody.***

It did back then too.


***But I mean it's more calculated this time.***

I see what you mean, but the Ramones had melody. Even the Sex Pistols had melody.


***But it was not necessarily very much in tune most of the time. Now people just use punk attitude with pop melody.***

It's slick punk. [Laughs.] So they call it grunge.


***People always like music that has energy. Playing it is one thing but recording it is another. You've always had real good luck capturing energy in the studio.***

Because we play live. No bullshit about it. We just set up and play like we do live, and only sometimes--if it needs it--I do overdubs. The songs on our new record are really raw, but sometimes they don't seem as raw because we know how to play our instruments. I think a lot of people get "raw" confused with [a lack of] musical ability. If you can't play, then it's raw. But that's not true. The energy is what I mean by raw--just three people blowing, making music. And if you can play well, it doesn't sound "raw" in one sense, but it has a raw energy to it because there's not a bunch of other crap in there, like synth pads and shit.


***I gotta tell you, Ed, the whole reason I play guitar is because I heard Van Halen.***

You're kidding--I thought . . .


***Growing up I heard my dad's music, and I was totally into it, of course, but I didn't hear it and go, "That's something that I can do."***

Right, right. . . .


***At the same time I didn't hear your music and say that either. I heard it and said, "I gotta do that."***

[Laughs.] Right.


 ***I'm curious--the first time that I met you was when you called up at our house to come over to meet Frank. How did that whole thing come about?***

I don't really remember. It's the weirdest thing. I don't even know where I got the number. [Ed. note. It was widely reported at the time that Frank Zappa credited Eddie with "reinventing the electric guitar."]


***I remember my mom saying to me there's a guy on the phone that says he's Eddie Van Halen and he wants to come over. Ten minutes later you were at our house. You were in the jumpsuit from Women And Children First.***

Wow, I vaguely remember that.


***You had the purple Kramer guitar with the tape over the headstock. The first Kramer that you had.***

Right--with that weasely wiggle stick on it. [Laughs.]


***Yeah, the Rockinger.***

Yeah, is that what it was? That thing where if you tightened it up too tight, the string would snap?


 ***Yep. So you came over and I grilled you instantly, kinda like now. I asked you how to play "Mean Street," "Spanish Fly," and all this stuff. And I even remember the first thing that you played when you picked up the guitar, and you still play it almost every time you pick up a guitar. You play this. [DZ plays hammer-on lick with open strings.]***

Oh yeah. It's kind of a pull-off to make sure the fingers work.


***That's right. You played that kind of lick and that's when I knew that a lot of the stuff you did was open-string. I had only been playin' for like eight months--I totally sucked.***

You didn't though, because boy, I was going, "Whoa!" Y' know, I guess your dad didn't call me, but somehow I guess I read somewhere that Frank liked me, or liked the way I played, and somehow I got his number. I have no idea. Hmmm . . .


 ***But it was the fucking coolest thing in the world! We all sat around and Steve Vai ended up coming over because he was in Frank's band then, and we all had that little jam session. The purple guitar got passed around the circle.***

Right, exactly! I remember that.


***And then before I knew it there was talk of you producing the "My Mother Is A Space Cadet" single. [Dweezil's first single, b/w "Crunchy Water."]***

Your dad asked if I'd do that.


***You can't even imagine how cool that was for a guy 12 years old who'd only been playing guitar for nine months. The king of guitar is producing his record.***

[Laughs.] I thought it came out pretty well, though.


***Yeah it's totally cool, as bad as I sucked. If the drummer played a fill I had no idea where I was.***

Right--you didn't understand 1, 2, 3, 4.


***Nope, not at all, and I still don't.***

Oh man, I thought it was so cute. I go look at this kid, and man, he's trying, but he doesn't quite understand what beat is. Don Landee and I would just sit and go, "Wow, what do we do?" But the solo on "Space Cadet," it's happening. We punched you in at the right time to catch you. It's almost like you would just be this barrage of notes coming out the whole time, and we captured the best of it.


***I don't know what the hell I played on that thing, or how. It sounds like it's about to explode, because I had no idea of what I was doing.***

But that's what's cool about it.


***I hear that and I crack up because I remember being totally nervous but more excited than I've ever been in my life. Here I am being recorded playing guitar and you're going, "Alright, now! Go!" like it's a race or something.***

[Laughs.] It was funny.


***I can't even begin to describe how many hours I've spent listening to your stuff and all the elements that you have in your playing. But as much as I listen to it, I don't necessarily sound like you.***

I don't think you do.


***That's what's so peculiar . . . the influences that we have. As much as you love that thing that inspires you, you don't end up sounding like that.***

You're an individual, that's why.