Sammy Hagar On Finding His ‘Personal Jesus’ + The Status Of The New Chickenfoot Album
When we randomly ended up talking with Sammy Hagar last week about the anniversary of his first concert with Van Halen, he was in a really good mood. He had just come in from the beach as the sun was beginning to disappear with storm clouds in the distance.
As we conversed, we took advantage of the opportunity to talk a little bit about ‘Sammy Hagar & Friends,’ his latest album, one which he is justifiably pretty proud of. Of course, on the subject of present day Red Rocker activities, we also made sure to check in on the status of the next Chickenfoot album.
Based on conversations that we’d had with his Chickenfoot co-conspirator Joe Satriani, it seemed like a pretty safe bet that we would be able to get an update from Sammy on where things are. We certainly got an update, but it wasn’t quite what we were expecting.
Your new record is a lot of fun. There are so many flavors present from the way things open up with ‘Winding Down’ to some of the other unexpected twists and turns. I was really interested to hear how you were going to put your own spin on Depeche Mode‘s ‘Personal Jesus.’ I love what you did with it.
Well, thanks. You know, that was one of those spontaneous things like, “Hey, what if we try that song?” I heard it on the way to the studio — I pulled up and it had just played on the radio. I walked in and said, “Hey, guess what guys, let’s try this” and everybody said, “Oh, f— yeah!” We actually listened to Johnny Cash’s version first and some of the changes weren’t right. At the time, Chad [Smith] was working with Rick Rubin on a project when he came up and he said, “Hey, let’s listen to the one Rick did with Johnny Cash,” but the chord changes weren’t quite right — Johnny didn’t have them quite right. So we went back and listened to the thing and we just took three takes and guess which one ended up being the one? The first one.
[Laughs] Yeah, totally! We ended up overdubbing a little bit, I let Neal [Schon] do some stuff to it, but basically, the gospel singers and the background guitar parts are overdubbed. The vocal is live, bass, drums and the guitar solo and the noodling on the front and all of that is live. Neal just put some effects in the background. It was neat, because it was spontaneous. We all learned it together and then played it and it was great. I love that kind of s—.
I know you’ve had a new Chickenfoot album somewhere on the agenda. What kind of work have you guys done on that item so far?
None. I sent Joe some lyrics the other day that I thought were just really great, like ‘Come Closer‘ kind of lyrics. I was sitting up late one night and I wrote something real personal and ‘Come Closer’ was like that. I sent it to him and he wrote that music to the lyrics. So I sent him another thing and he gets back to me and says, “Oh, there’s some great prose in there — I love these lyrics, but what am I supposed to do with these?” and I said, “Let’s write a song” and he’s going, “Why, is there going to be another Chickenfoot?” like he was questioning it and I went, “I don’t know, is there?” [Laughs]
That’s the kind of thing that Chickenfoot is. It’s out there and I just don’t see us pushing everything else aside and doing it right now. We’ve all got busy summers and things [happening]. The fact that there wouldn’t be another Chickenfoot record is highly unlikely, because it’s too good and we all love each other so much. Doing it is just fun. It’s just very hard to make a record nowadays. As you well know, I spent a lot of time and creativity on my last CD, which I’m so proud of that. ‘Winding Down’ is just the coolest thing I think I’ve done…one of the coolest things I’ve done in my whole career. And then with ‘All We Need Is An Island’ and everything in between, it’s just like, “Wow.” I’m just loving that I was so experimental and so free-spirited and so free artistically.
It sold like 44,000 copies or something. I’ve got to tell you, thank God I don’t need money, because that album would have put me in the poorhouse. You know, I probably lost $150,000 and I hate to talk money like that, but it’s true. It cost me $150,000 more than I made from that record. And you know, the record company lost money and it’s like, “God, why do all of that to everybody?” I want to make records and I love music and I love writing, but my God.
To go in with Chickenfoot in this day and age and spend as much money as we spend on a record, because I own my own studio and we use it part-time, but you know, [there are still] certain things, having four guys flying around and coming around and staying in hotels and renting cars, it costs twice as much to make a Chickenfoot record and I’m just thinking, “Who wants to lose a half a million dollars? Okay, me — let’s go do Chickenfoot again!” You know? It’s crazy. It’s a really weird world out there for that kind of music. My album came out and sold close to 17,900 copies or whatever it was the first week and it was No. 22. Drake sold 670,000 or something and came in at No. 1. Elton John sells like 40,000 and comes in at No. 3. It’s like, “Get out of here!” You know what I mean?
In the Van Halen days, we sold a million in the first week and went on to sell five or six million records. Not that I’m complaining — it’s all good, but it’s really tough to make a record nowadays. Thank God I have my own studio so I can do it, but even then you lose money.