(Photo: Courtesy Fan Halen) Might as well Jump with Fan Halen at the annual Mammoth Rocks Festival on August 27th-29th!
The closest thing you might ever get to having a personal conversation with two of the greatest bands of all time.
This is The Sheet’s second installment of the Mammoth Rocks tribute band interview series. This week Wolf talks to Fan Halen (tribute band of Van Halen) and the U2 tribute band Zoo Station. The 2nd annual Mammoth Rocks event takes place in the Village at Mammoth Aug. 27-29.
The Sheet: This is the closest I think I’ll ever get to hanging out with the greatest party band of all time. I’m excited.
Eddie Fan Halen: Very cool, yeah we try to bring the party every time. We love Van Halen. We hang out with the fans after the shows and stay in character. I’ve had people come up in tears and say, “You’ve brought me back to 1979!”
Sheet: Tell me a little bit about how this group of guys came together to form Fan Halen.
Eddie: The idea was that we were going to play a party … no costumes, just play a bunch Van Halen jams. We’re all Van Halen fanatics, hence the name of our band. But people were really into it. Then we got some outfits and it just started to grow.
Alex: I was playing in our other band, a Motley Crüe tribute, and Eddie invited me to join Fan Halen. Luckily both drummers have long black hair and similar styles.
Sheet: Do you guys have other jobs?
Alex: Man, we’ve been touring so much it seems like the band has sort of become the full-time gig.
Eddie: Well, we all do other jobs. I’m not always Eddie Fan Halen. I’ve got two sons, 16 and 20. I’m a family guy with a very supportive wife.
Sheet: How does your teenage son feel about Dad rocking on stage in spandex?
Eddie: He’s pumped! He loves it. Sometimes he comes out and plays with us on stage. He started doing that when he was about 11 years old. He’s a great guitar player. We would do this bit on stage about how this kid from the audience thinks he can rock as hard as us, and he would come out and kill it. The crowd really likes it.
Sheet: What era do you guys play?
Eddie: I don’t know. There was more than one era? Just kidding. We play mostly from the David Lee Roth era. You know when they were gunslingers and kicked ass. Mostly we pull from the first 6 albums. But we do play a little bit of Hagar and some Roth solo stuff.
Sheet: So honestly, how many Van Halen shows have you been to?
Eddie: I went to 7 shows just last year, but my first show ever was in 1979 for their second tour. I was probably too young to be there. Overall I’d say I’ve probably been to about 25-30 shows.
Alex: Okay, I’m busted. I’ve only been to one. Hah, I feel kinda bad about it, but I’ve studied so many shows on tape and I have all their albums. Like I said, my style is very, very close to Van Halen’s. I even have the exact same drum kit. By the way what’s the stage like [at Mammoth Rocks]? I was wondering if I could light my drum set on fire.
Sheet: I think that would be okay. (Wolf winces.) Have you ever had a chance to hang out with Van Halen?
Eddie: Our singer has performed with Hagar and Michael Anthony. I only met Eddie Van Halen once at this conference thing. I just got to shake his hand.
Sheet: Did you tell him you were in Fan Halen?
Eddie: No, I didn’t want to get punched in the face. But I’ll tell you a funny story. In 2001, Van Halen was playing at the Anaheim Pond, and me and some friends decided to go early for sound check. I decided to wear my Eddie Fan Halen jumpsuit to the show and while they were up onstage, Michael Anthony turns to me with a thumbs up and said, “Hey man, nice jumpsuit.” But then Eddie Van Halen turns around, looks at me and just shakes his head.
Sheet: I’m sure it wasn’t personal. He is probably so sick of that jumpsuit. Are you sick of playing or hearing any of the songs? Such as “Jump?”
Eddie: My kids are tired of every one of ‘em. But I love playing all the songs. Sure, there are some that are more fun to play than others, but they’re all works of art, man. I love playing the more technical songs. We get those diehard fans, who stand up in the front row with their arms crossed just watching my fingers, looking for authenticity. We try to satisfy those fans, too. We look, sound and feel like the band. We even do the exact raps that Eddie and David did between songs. “Time for a drink!”
Sheet: Walk me through the mindset of getting ready for a Fan Halen show. What is it like putting on the spandex and makeup?
Eddie: First of all we never use the “w” word. We refer to them as “hair extensions.” Once you’ve put your stuff on, got the guitar in hand and hear the crowd warming up, it’s a great feeling. You’re ready to go and it’s off to the races.
Alex: We’re going into battle. I have real hair, but there’s definitely a lot of stretching going on.
Eddie: A lot of stretching.
Sheet: Well, yeah, you gotta be ready to do all those splits and high kicks.
Eddie: Absolutely. We sometimes play this video that shows all the band members backstage drinking and partying with midgets, sheep and half-naked chicks. Then people think we’re destroyed in the back, but we were really just stretching. I’ve had sound guys come up to me after a show and be like, “Man, you guys were so wasted.”
Sheet: Let’s talk wardrobe. Where do you get those awesome leotards?
Eddie: Over the years we’ve just accumulated all that stuff mostly from thrift stores, and eBay. But we’ve had things custom-made. We want to look authentic.
Sheet: I bet come Halloween, you guys typically dress up as Fan Halen.
Alex: No, everyday is like that. But we should look into trading with other tribute bands for Halloween.
Eddie: I’ve never done it. I have dressed up as Slash before. But man, I’ve got a lot of Van Halen stuff. You should see my man-cave. It’s like a museum.
Sheet: You recently won a Battle of the Cover Bands in Long Beach. What’s the secret to winning?
Eddie: It’s an unfair advantage to play Van Halen songs. The songs are just too good. We had to do a short set,
so we played all the hits and just brought it.
Sheet: So is Crystal Pepsi the drink of choice for Fan Halen like it was for Van Halen.
Eddie: Umm, no. I do remember the drink, though.
Alex: I’ve never had it.
Sheet: They had a commercial in 1993 with “Right Now” playing in the background …
Eddie: Yeah, I don’t remember.
Sheet: Sorry, I was raised on TV.
Eddie: Hah! We do keep a bottle of Jack Daniels on stage and the lead singer takes big swigs of it during song breaks. That’s been known to lead to some interesting shows.
Sheet: Okay, last question. Would you ever leave Fan Halen, if you had the opportunity to play for Van Halen?
Alex: Yeeeah…probably. I mean I would do the right thing and check with the other guys first and make sure that everyone’s okay with it.
Eddie: In a heart beat, man! They would leave me and I would leave them.
Alex: I knew he would say that!
Next stop … Zoo Station
The Sheet: What’s the best thing about being U2 for a night?
Barely Larry: Hmmm, I would say that the best thing about it is you can watch people reliving their U2 memories, whether it’s a chord change or a lyric. This music means a lot to people. People love U2. We feed off that energy.
Sheet: What are your other jobs? Or is Zoo Station your number one gig?
Larry: Bono is a mail man, he’ll show up in his government shorts to sound check and we’ll poke fun at him about it. The bassist owns his own ticketing business, our guitar player is sort of a freelance web guy. I’m a fulltime art director for a group of radio stations in the [San Francisco] Bay Area.
Sheet: How many U2 shows have you been to?
Larry: I’ve been to probably 23 shows, going back to 1987.They’re not cheap. We have fans who have been to hundreds of shows. When U2 is not touring they’re following us around.
Sheet: Do you play the old stuff or the new stuff?
Larry: It’s kind of a mix. We have a repertoire of more than 150 songs. That’s actually more songs then U2 has played live. There’s no song we won’t try at least once. We hang our hat on all the songs. We like to make it special for the hardcore U2 fans as well as the casual fan. We don’t just play “Sunday Bloody Sunday” over and over again. We play all the hits too. Sometimes we argue about the set lists all week, and it’s not until we get to the weekend that it’s done and everyone’s happy. But it’s a good natured argument. We have a saying: “Three decades of U2 in one night,” and we take requests.
Sheet: Have you ever been mistaken for Larry, and just kind of went with it?
Larry: No, not really. When you see us apart it doesn’t come to together. But when you see us on stage it does. Actually, I take it back … it did happen. It’s a funny story. In 2004 we did an in-store appearance at Virgin Mega Store, and this busload of Japanese tourists showed up and they mobbed us as if we were the Beatles or something. We tried to explain to them that we weren’t U2, but they didn’t get it. So we just signed everything they wanted us to sign. That was funny. But sometimes people have conversations with you after the shows as if their talking to U2. Especially when you add some drinks in the mix. Nothing tops the Japanese tourists, though.
Sheet: Favorite U2 song?
Larry: Oh, boy, I think I like to play the newest U2 stuff. Just because it’s a challenge and it’s fresh. But I love playing “Where The Streets Have No Name.” You think it would be boring because it’s been heard so many times, but as soon as I hear that organ come in, the hair on my arm stands up and I’m ready to go. To listen to … I like anything from “Achtung Baby,” I could listen to that one forever.
Sheet: So a Craigslist post kick-started the band? The posting was for music, right?
Larry: Yeah, our bass player put an ad up, and the guitar player responded. Then I met up with ‘em and Bonalmost showed up last. We were like, “Wow, this guy can sing and he looks like Bono.” He’s seriously from planet Bono. He looks, sounds and acts like him. I don’t know what other band that guy could be in. When I see him do the things he does [on stage] I think I’m watching the real Bono sometimes.
Sheet: Pants. Leather or pleather?
Larry: Yeah, I know Bono is fond of the leather pants from time to time. I think anything to take the attention away from the fact that he’s 3 feet tall is a good thing. [U2] is a very visual band and it doesn’t get any more rock ‘n roll than leather pants. We try to emulate their costumes as much as possible, so we pay a lot of attention to the details. When we first started we would just wear street clothes and play the songs. Then Bonalmost rocked the Bono glasses one night, back in 2002, and everyone went nuts. So we decided to go with the costume thing. Since then it’s snowballed into this amazing thing and ultimately it’s turned into an 8-year second job. No one is more surprised about it than we are.
Sheet: Why Zoo Station, why not Monday Bloody Monday or U3?
Larry: We named ourselves after the first song on “Achtung, Baby.” We didn’t really think about it that much. We just all agreed that the album was our collective favorite.
Sheet: Obviously U2 deserves a tribute band, do you think they’ll ever be a cover band for the Jonas Brothers?
Larry: Sure. You know, that wouldn’t surprise me. If they put out enough records, I guess anything is possible. There’s an Adam Ant tribute band in San Francisco. If he can have one, anyone can have one!
Sheet: U2 is originally from Dublin. Do you think you guys might do a little after party show at the Auld Dubliner?
Larry: Wow, cool, this is the first time I’ve heard of it. We’re going to stay for the whole weekend and enjoy the mountains. If there’s down time you can count on finding us at an Irish pub!