Sin is the new album from Vandenberg set for release on 25 August 2023 through Mascot Label Group. It’s the fifth studio album for the Adrian Vandenberg-led band, and Adrian, drummer Koen Herfst, and bassist Randy van der Elsen have welcomed vocalist Mats Levén into the fold.
Adrian was in conversation with MetalTalk’s Taylor Cameron, and she put it to Adrian that Sin is the heaviest-sounding body of work the band has released, asking if this was a conscious decision or something that came out naturally when writing material for the album.
“It was a combination of the two,” Adrian said. “After the 2020 album, I had the urge to turn it up a notch. Getting a little bit heavier with a bigger sound, bigger guitars, drums, and more powerful. And that came out really great.”
“When I found Mats as a singer, he definitely has a very intense style, as you will have noticed. We really went all the way. He doesn’t just sing it like a crooner or a folk singer or pop singer would do. He’s very intense, which worked out really well.
“The plan I had to make it heavier was to challenge myself too, especially when you’ve been in the music business as long as I have. Most people mellow out over the years, and that’s not in my book. I don’t like to mellow out. I’ll do that when I’m dead. [Laughs]
“I often have a tendency to go the other way than what people expect, and I just really enjoy it. What also helped was that we have done a number of live shows since the release of the first album. You do get more of a feel of what this band can do, and it’s easier to go after the feeling that you get when you’re on stage and the electricity between the crowd and the band. When I start with the music, I really do think about how it’s gonna work live. It is really important for me.”
The addition of Mats, who has sung with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Yngwie Malmsteen, slightly changed the writing process due to logistics. “The way I’ve always worked is I’ll start by picking up a guitar,” Adrian said. “Whenever my mental antenna picks up an idea, I’ll quickly record it into my iPhone. So when the time approaches, I think, Hmm, I better start putting songs together, and then I go over all those ideas. They could be guitar riffs. They could be verses and choruses or a combination.
“The new singer that joined my band is from Scandinavia. So logistically, it was a little bit more complicated to get together a lot. We did a lot of pre-work through the Internet. There’s a lot of sending back and forth ideas and stuff, and then when we thought we were ready, I flew to Stockholm, and we worked on the vocal melodies and the lyrics together in his studio.
“We recorded some of it in Stockholm and some of it in Los Angeles. And all the mixing was done in Los Angeles. It was a geographically quite interesting project.”
The production for Sin was covered by Bob Marlette [Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie].
Listening to the album, my favourite is Baby You’ve Changed. The emotion of the lyrics is felt strongly through the instrumentation of the track. Does Adrian find ballads to be easier or more difficult to write than some of the heavier rock tracks?
“For me, it’s actually easier,” Adrian says. “That’s the only song where I wrote all the lyrics and the vocal melody because those kinds of songs come pretty easily to me. I get into some kind of flow, just like in the early days, with a song like Burning Home and the other ballads.
“I could probably fill two albums with just ballads that I’ve written over the years. I love the way it turned out. It’s very close to how I imagined it when I started writing it. It doesn’t sound like a wimpy pop song. It could have easily been a pop song by some pop singer, but you can tell it’s a rock band. It’s not out of context with the rest of the album.”
Having spent a large portion of his time in Whitesnake, “about 13 years,” does Adrian feel that that time still has influence over his new music? “Absolutely,” Adrian says. “David [Coverdale] and I talked about it a lot, especially in the beginning. One of the reasons he wanted to work with me was also that our influences are very similar.
“David always said that a couple of songs on the early Vandenberg albums could have easily been Whitesnake songs and vice versa. We’ve always been very connected in musical influences. A number of the songs on the new album could also have been Whitesnake songs on Slip Of The Tongue. I can easily picture David singing any of these songs.”
Adrian reformed Vadenberg in 2020, 35 years after releasing Alibi, the band’s third and last release of the ’80s. Did he always think he would put together a new version of the band? “It was always a little idea in the back of my mind that I wasn’t done with it yet,” he says. “There was a certain progression in those early albums, particularly the third one.
“The Alibi album turned out a little bit more pop-influenced than I had in mind when I wrote those songs. That is because we worked with a producer [Jaap Eggermont] at the time who was quite commercially savvy. I was a little bit more easily influenced by record company guys then than I am now. I guess those guys know it, so that’s how we ended up with a producer who was really fantastic.
“I had a great time working with him, and I learned a lot, but looking at it in retrospect, I realized that it turned a little poppier than I would have liked. But at the same time, that was also the timeframe in the mid-’80s, when bands like Def Leppard and Bon Jovi were really big. It was not really meant as ‘let’s try to score a hit single’ because you never can.
“If there was a formula, everybody would do it. As I said, in the back of my mind, there was always the thought that I would really like to do more Vandenberg albums. Over the years, you get closer to the sound you want, and this is the closest I’ve been to it. This was the kind of sound that I was shooting for.”
The heavier turn that Vandenberg took for the new album Sin is something that I love. “Yeah, me too,” Adrian says. “I really do. It’s one of the few albums I’ve ever recorded that I play a lot in my car. It keeps me awake. Open up the window, and turn it up. Rock sounds great in a car. You’re in this confined environment, and you can turn it up as much as you like, and it’s inspiring.”
Vandenberg’s debut release and 2020 both have a very similar album cover design. Sin’s album cover has a similar feel to the Heading For A Storm cover. Was this something that Adrian had planned out, an intentional nod to those original albums he released in the ’80s?
“I thought it would be a cool idea to pick up the red thread with the paintings I made for those albums and connect it to what we’re doing now,” he says. “When I thought about the sharks on the Heading For A Storm album, at the time, nobody knew where they were flying to. They were flying over this highway, and I thought it would be cool to show where they travelled to.
“Since the new album is called Sin, I thought, let’s have those sharks fly into the city of sin, New York. The cool collection is also like the biblical story of the original sin. It came about with the snake and the apple and Adam and Eve, and the second name for New York is the apple. So the connection with the snake and the apple and Sin was perfect.
“I thought, I can’t let this idea slip by. It was a very big challenge, actually, because I hadn’t painted in this style since 1986. My painting style over the years has evolved into a more abstract style. I thought, oh, I’ll do the painting in three, three or four days. That’s what I did back in those days with those paintings.
“But just painting the sky already took three days because it’s a lot of layers of very thin paint on top of each other to get the depth in it. You don’t really see that well in print on the cover. But on the real painting, you can see it. There’s transparency in all those layers.
“It took me three days, and I thought, holy shit, I won’t be able to finish it before I leave for LA. I started working at 9:30 in the morning and ended up stopping around one o’clock at night to finish the rest.
“I got it done just in time because I finished it the night before I had to leave for LA, and a friend of mine picked up the painting when it was still wet the next morning in my house. He took it to the photographer, and the photographer sent the photo directly to the record company. I got it done just in the nick of time.”
Adrian certainly shows his passion for painting when you talk with him. I ask if the inspiration for his painting comes from a similar place to his songwriting. “You hit the nail on the head,” he says. “For me, it’s always been the same. I love to cook as well as paint or write songs.
“I’ve always compared it to if you cook, you are composing with flavours. If you paint, you’re composing with colours and shapes, and if you write songs, you’re composing with sounds.
“For me, I dig into a very similar place of inspiration. It’s been that way since I was a kid. I was usually always drawing or painting, had a guitar in my lap or was sitting behind the piano trying to put a song together.”
It’s been 40 years this year since Adrian released Heading For A Storm. I ask what that experience was like creating his sophomore album as a young band. “It’s a weird idea,” he says. “Because for me, it never feels like I’m making a follow-up album.
“Every time when I’m making a new album, especially when I finish it, I wouldn’t say it feels like the first time, but it has the same kind of combination of relief, happiness, and satisfaction about it. It still has the excitement of wondering how it’s gonna be received.
“I make music for myself. I have to be happy with it. I’m very critical of what I make. Whether it’s painting or music, I’m my own worst critic. I really like it when it’s well received, but I don’t really care too much.
“When people don’t like it, I go, okay, you know, I did it for myself. I did the best I could. It’s like a snapshot of a short moment in time. I don’t really care too much when I read a not so positive review. I just go, okay, that’s what you think, but I think differently.”
Top 5 desert island albums.
“Definitely Axis: Bold As Love by Jimi Hendrix, Highway To Hell, AC/DC. Definitely one of the first four Led Zeppelin albums. A classical album, maybe Four Seasons by Vivaldi and Fire And Water by Free.
“It’s a tough choice because I could easily name 40 albums, but those are my choices for today.”
If you could collaborate with any musician, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
“Definitely Jim Hendrix. Unfortunately, he’s dead, and I never got to see him live. I’ve been very, very fortunate with who I’ve got to collaborate with. One of the ones on the top of my list was the vocalist Paul Rogers, who used to be in Free and Bad Company. Those were very much my favourite bands when I was in my teens.
“In 1994 or 1995, I got invited to play a solo on one of my favourite Free songs, Fire And Water. And then, two weeks ago, I got an invitation from one of my very favourite guitar players to play solo on his forthcoming album.
“I’m not sure I’m allowed to name them because it still hasn’t hit the magazines or the PR yet, so to be a good boy, I won’t name it yet. It was another highlight moment where I went, holy shit.
“The guy’s always been one of my favourites. He’s a very melodic player, just like me, and just a very, very talented player. I was one of those players where I felt like a rookie when I heard this guy play.
“I go, holy shit, what the fuck am I doing when there are guitar players like that.”
Vandenberg – Sin is set for release on 25 August 2023 through Mascot Label Group.