Adrian Vandenberg Shooting for the Moon!

By A. Lee Graham

Thirty five years have passed since “Burning Heart” burned up the charts and announced Vandenberg as a force to be reckoned with.

But multiplatinum success eluded the Dutch quartet, which disbanded after three albums but saw guitarist Adrian Vandenberg achieve greater things.

“I love this style of music, and it never gets old,” says Adrian, eager to share his latest project with hard rock fans worldwide.

That would be Adrian Vandenberg’s MoonKings, whose newly released sophomore outing flexes its muscles like few classic hard rock albums. Adrian looks forward to sharing the new material on stages worldwide, where he cut his teeth as a member of Whitesnake. He joined the ‘snake following its self-titled classic 1987 album, contributing a guitar solo for its “Here I Got Again” single before joining the band full time. 

Before he knew it, Adrian dove headlong into writing for follow-up Slip of the Tongue. But a wrist injury prevented him from recording, persuading singer David Coverdale to recruit Steve Vai to record rhythm and lead guitar parts. 

Adrian eventually recovered and went on to form Manic Eden with former Little Caesar vocalist Ron Young in 1994 before rejoining Whitesnake for Restless Heart in 1997. 

After once again parting ways with Coverdale’s rotating cast of characters, Adrian focused on painting and eventually assembled his own band after winning a court case against his former Vandenberg bandmates who sued over rights to use the Vandenberg group name. 

Adrian eventually won the case and focused on Adrian Vandenberg’s MoonKings, his latest love.

Adrian discussed MoonKings and his eventful history with Classic Rock Revisited.

Lee: Good morning, Adrian. How goes it in Holland?

Adrian: Very well. I’m very excited about the record finally coming out. We’re about to do some touring and are into rehearsals right now.

Lee: You cut to my first question. I was going to congrats you on MK II. It’s really solid.

Adrian: Thanks.

Lee: It takes the strengths of your debut up a notch, kind of refines them. Would you agree?

Adrian: Yes. With the first CD, I was listening to it a lot when preparing for the second one. At the same time, I did realize we toured a lot and you’re going to grow in that situation. Production-wise, I wanted this record to be way closer to how we sound live, whereas with the first one, we never played live. We wanted the live feel, too. As you may have noticed, three or four songs ended up into a jam-type situation without a specific formula for an ending or something, so i really wanted to show all aspects of the band.

Lee: Do you find those jam-type situations stem from time you guys have played since the first album? Perhaps those instances let you gel more organically with more performing under your belts.

Adrian: Definitely. We really got to know each other musically, of course,  through touring. I knew the band was fantastic already, but with touring, you learn you can rely on each other. I like music to breathe and not seal everything up with layers of keyboards and reverbs and everything else.

At the same time, in a big club, you find your sweet spot right next to the mixing console. What you use is what you get. I didn’t want to overproduce with a lot of overdubs. This is really what the band sounds like.

Lee: So with Vandenberg’s MoonKings, live is the thing.

Adrian: Yes, I love making records, but there’s nothing like being on stage because you know it’s going to be different every time, You get energy from the crowd. And you’re meeting people and are really focused on playing a great show.

Lee: When your debut came out about three years ago, I wondered where you found frontman Jan Hoving. I mean, he sounds great. Not to raise David Coverdale comparisons, but he really has this classic, timeless deep rock voice.

Adrian: Yes, he does. A couple years ago when Whitesnake played Holland, I read a review of that show and it said the singer from the support band was great, so I said I’d better check this guy out.

Lee: Well, it definitely paid off. On a different note, you’ve had fans ever since Vandenberg came out in the early ‘80s. Is it challenging to reach those fans that may have dropped off since then? What are the marketing challenges of marketing Vandenberg’s MoonKings these days?

Adrian: Yes, it is way more challenging. In the ‘80s, rock was played on mainstream radio. In a lot of Europe and even in the states now, hardly any rock stations play it. That’s the biggest challenge: letting people know you are there and are making that type of music.

But the people are there. We know that because you see them at the festivals, at concerts. MTV doesn’t play music anymore, so the challenges are definitely there. I don’t know how it is in America, but there are a lot less rock magazines in print in Holland, but at least you can spread the word on the Internet.

Lee: Classic hard rock definitely seems to have a strong following. Fans take a proactive approach, at least fans who take the initiative and are truly plugged into their favorite artists. Without the Internet, though, you might have a difficult time finding an audience, right?

Adrian: True. Like you said, the audience for this type of music is very loyal. They’re maybe even more loyal because this music’s hard to come by. You have to make an effort [to keep up with artists]. I was amazed because when I put out the first MoonKings album, I wasn’t really expecting anything, but they didn’t get rid of me that easily. In the past 12 years before MoonKings started, life took me in a different direction, but stuff happens and you have only one life to live.

Lee: One of those directions took you on quite an unexpected path, and I consider myself fortunate to be sitting here talking to a guy who can legally call himself Adrian Vandenberg. A very belated congrats on winning that lawsuit and being able to call yourself Adrian Vandenberg.

Adrian: (laughs) Yes, what a ridiculous thing. Those guys [Adrian’s former Vandenberg bandmates] used to be friends. Years after disbanding, I invited them back. I spent lots of money just to keep my name. There were offers for one or two-off gigs [for reuniting the original Vandenberg lineup]. I was thinking about doing a festival, but because of all this, I thought fuck it.

Lee: That’s too bad. Looking back a few decades, I always wanted to know why Vandenberg disbanded after Alibi. Was it due to conflicts with the record company, creative differences or the sort of personal disagreements that led to the court battle?

Adrian: First of all, I had to fire the singer because… [since vocalist Bert Heerink was not available to provide his perspective, Classic Rock Revisited chose not to specify Adrian’s comment]. I thought I don’t want to have anything to do with someone like this and I started working with a new singer. At the same time, we got a new A&R [artists and repertoire] manager who tried to push me a little bit more into a Duran Duran-type of direction.

Lee: You?

Adrian: (laughs) We managed to get rid of our manager and record contact. Then I got a call from John Kalodner, world-famous A&R manager, and he said are you willing to talk about a new contract? And I said yeah. I flew over, and one idea was to disband and fire the rest of the band and put together a great lineup for Vandenberg. The other offer is we’d really like you to join Whitesnake and play on the upcoming record. It was an interesting idea. I said I’m never going to find a singer like this [David Coverdale]. I’ve always been a fan of David’s. David and I had talked about this before and I thought this is the right time.

Lee: You just read my mind because I was about to ask what led you to join Whitesnake. I always thought David Coverdale admired your work in Vandenberg and tracked you down, but apparently it was John Kalodner.

Adrian: Well, no. David already asked me the first time when the first Vandenberg [band and debut album] was first out. He said he really liked my writing and guitar playing. We were in contact before that and this was the second or third time this was coming up and it was the right time to do it.

Lee: What caused you to leave Whitesnake after Slip of the Tongue? Did the band just basically break up? Was that it?

Adrian: No, in 1994 we did another world tour for a greatest hits album. Then I put out a new album with David called Restless Heart. We toured on that one until 1999. That’s when David felt he didn’t want to do it anymore and I focused on my painting.

Lee: Unfortunately, and you already know this, Restless Heart was never released in the states. I was curious, how satisfied were you with Restless Heart and also Manic Eden?

Adrian: Manic Eden is something that’s still very close to my heart. It was hard to start a project at that point because David wanted to start Whitesnake and I had to choose between those two babies. The Restless Heart album was great. I really enjoyed the rock stuff. I enjoyed the whole album, actually. It was a difficult time for that type of music because so much was grunge at that point. I’m pretty convinced David will release it again sooner or later because it’s a great album.

Lee: Are you and David on good terms?

Adrian: Yes, we’re in touch through texting and writing.

Lee: A couple years ago, I remember you contracting Lyme disease. What happened, and are you OK now?

Adrian: Yes, after the last tour with MoonKings, I got it from a tick in my garden. It put me down for a year. One of the main reasons this album took so long was dealing with that. I’m just glad I kicked its ass in a year or two, but at least I got rid of it.

Lee: How does one recover from something like that? How is it treated?

Adrian: They put you on antibiotics treatments, five of them. The professional treating me said five is the maximum. After that, your body has to overcome the lyme infection itself. Your defense mechanism is at a low level for a while. But the periods between the checks become longer and the incidents become less intense. But it’s really gone now. In the end, it took about two and a half years to completely disappear. That’s a long time.

Lee: Congrats on getting rid of it. Health is the most important thing.

Adrian: Yes, it’s like your mom told you when you were a kid: your health is definitely the most important thing.

Lee: You just mentioned that you’re still into painting, and I’ve been a real admirer of your artwork since the Vandenberg albums. I always wanted to know if there a meaning behind the cover art for Heading For The Storm. Do the sharks symbolize industry corruption or is it just a cool image?

Adrian: (laughs) It’s a combination of everything. It had to do with not necessarily the music business, but the world in general. The sharks in this world could be on the horizon and try to put you into bad situations. In order to make it even more scary, I thought I wanted them depicted in night scenery, but I thought it’s even more threatening in the daylight.

Lee: Because it appears more out in the open?

Adrian: Yes, you can get your ass kicked so you have to be alert. The lyrics on “Tightrope,” for example, from the MoonKings album say it can happen to you. You have to keep your eyes open. Don’t look down because you’ll fall off of the tightrope, you know.

Lee: You always have to be on guard, for sure.

Adrian: Especially with the situation in the world right now. That’s why I wrote the lyrics to “What Doesn’t Kill You.”

Lee: Does that make you extra cautious while touring, the present state of the world?

Adrian: I’m generally a very optimistic person, but I am aware that you have to be aware and on your guard. It can happen.

Lee: Speaking of touring, what’s the one thing Adrian Vandenberg can’t live without on tour. I ask this to every musician I interview.

Adrian: My favorite Gibson Les Paul, a 1980. Wherever I go, it goes with me. I don’t leave it alone. It’s been with me faithfully through thick and thin. You can buy anything anywhere. You can buy T-shirts and jeans anywhere but that Les Paul is special.

Lee: What’s next for Adrian Vandenberg and Vandenberg’s MoonKings? What can fans expect in the coming year?

Adrian: We’re going to tour Holland until the end of December and then start again in Europe, including England, Germany, Scandinavia, France and stuff. And I really, really, really, want want to come back to the states because I lived there in the Whitesnake days. I haven’t been there in ages. I do really miss it. When I’m in the states, I miss Europe, but when I’m in Europe, I miss the states. I really hope we can come over and play.

Lee: We would love to see you, for sure. I live in Texas and the first time I saw you was when Vandenberg and Riot opened for KISS on the Lick It Up tour in Dallas.

Adrian: Oh wow. That’s cool. Oh man. Yeah, Riot. It was great back then. Such a blast. And with Whitesnake, those tours were a year and a half. There’s rock fans everywhere. Man, and Texas is where it all started for Vandenberg, too, because when “Burning Heart” was hardly released, it got picked up in Texas and spread like an oil fire. It was really great, you know.

Lee: Is there anything else you would like to tell your fans?

Adrian: Just that I hope the fans like the new music. I make music that I myself would like to go out and buy. I hope the people who are into the same kind of music you are will like it, too.