What Recording ‘Space Between’ Taught Sammy Hagar: ‘I’m Changing My Ways’
Sammy Hagar wasn't looking to make a concept album. In fact, he had no plans to make a record at all. But after five years focusing exclusively on touring, inspiration struck in a big way.
Suddenly, Hagar, who's released 26 albums under a variety of band names over the past four decades, learned a whole new way to make music. The result is Space Between, the first album by his most recent band, the Circle.
"I've always been a do-things-backwards guy," Hagar tells UCR. "I hate to say it. I went from being a successful solo artist into joining a band [Van Halen] again. Nobody does it that way -- that I know of anyway."
He took a similarly unconventional approach after forming the Circle with bassist Michael Anthony, guitarist Vic Johnson and drummer Jason Bonham in 2014.
"I went on tour with the band, and we played five years," he explains. "We had this set list that had Montrose, Sammy solo, Van Hagar, Chickenfoot and Led Zeppelin. I thought with a set list like this, why would anybody want to make a new record? We have 30 songs from each one of those bands that we could pick from -- such a goldmine of material to play live -- that I was really enjoying just going out and playing different songs every night."
Eventually song ideas began to rattle around in his head, and after a quick trip to the studio, Hagar started to see a bigger picture. "I didn't even know I was going to make a record in the beginning," he recalls. "I was just going to put down some songs that I've been thinking about, some ideas. As it started unfolding, I just went with my instinct, my gut. I didn't think. I went in there kind of with a blindfold on and just did whatever I felt."
Two of the songs he had written -- "No Worries" and "Devil Came to Philly" -- were considered good enough for an album. Then Hagar realized they were about the same character.
"Once I wrote ['Philly'], I started realizing I had a concept," he says. "And then the next one I wrote was 'Chump Change,' and then it's almost chronological. I'd wake up in the middle of the night and say, 'Oh my God, now here's what's gonna happen to the guy. Now his wife's gonna leave him, she's gonna take all the money and he's gonna end up with nothing.' Going from everything, this big bloated-up guy who thinks he's so cool. He's got more money and a faster car than you, can piss farther than you or whatever. He goes from that to nothing. So I had to create the songs that go in between. So then came 'Bottom Line' and all these things."
Hagar says the results were the "first super-inspired project I've had in a long time. As I started creating the character and the story, as it came together more and more, I got so into it, I couldn't even sleep. There wasn't a night where I didn't get up in the middle of the night and have to write something down. It was really an inspired project. Otherwise, I'd have no other reason to make a record. I got really inspired, it was awesome."
At 71, Hagar also learned an important new songwriting trick. "Having made my first concept record, if I had know it would be this easy and inspiring to just go down a road like that, I would have done it more often," he says.
Listen to Sammy Hagar & the Circle's 'Affirmation'
"When you have to write 10 or 12 brand new songs, they're concepts themselves, if you think about it. You go, 'Okay, now I gotta come up with a scenario to write about.' 'I Can't Drive 55,' that could have been a concept record, I guess, now that I see how you do it. You just think, 'Okay, what happens to the guy next? He went to jail, and then ... .' But I mean that would have been a silly concept record. This one, I think, is much more important to the world, the fact that it's about money, greed, enlightenment and truth -- and in that order. It's so much easier taking one concept and just writing songs about the same situation than it is to come up with 10 or 12 new situations without a concept. I'm changing my ways."
The next test was to see how well Hagar, Anthony, Johnson and Bonham jelled as a studio band. "When we decided to make a record, it was like, Whoa, I'm not sure if this is gonna work. But I don't care, I'm getting inspired, I'm gonna make a record and we'll see what happens," he notes.
"It could have just been a Sammy Hagar solo record, but because the band came in and brought so much influence to the record musically, like Jason with his drumming style and great ideas, I just said, Well, shit, this is a band record, this is the Circle. And we did it. But like I said, it was backwards."
Hagar said he's "so proud of" Space Between, which just came out. "I don't listen to my music over and over again," he explains. "But it seems like every time I listen to it, I like it more, and I hear more magic that just happened to get caught while you're recording that I didn't even know about at the time."
The Circle are playing half of the new album's songs at their concerts these days, which Hagar says "upped our show a half an hour" to 130 minutes. "I wish we could play longer," he says. "I wish my voice could be strong enough to go longer without hurting the next night's performance. That's all I care about: that I play good every night. It's a long show for me, at my age and the way I sing. I don't sing like a whisper up there, you know? But I'm fine, it's working. We haven't had a bad show yet."