As a founding member of the juggernaut Van Halen, Michael Anthony's supreme bass fretwork and effects-laden live solos kept the band steady for decades. Now the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer anchors the groove for Chickenfoot, the super-group with Anthony, Sammy Hagar, Joe Satriani, and Red Hot Chili Pepper Chad Smith. They released their self-titled debut last summer, and recently released Chickenfoot: Get Your Buzz On Live, a live DVD from their sold-out summer tour.
Anthony sat down with the Monitor to talk about laying the foundation for the new supergroup, which he happily describes as "just friends who decided to jam," as well as his new gear and the Chickenfoot DVD.
Monitor: There's a lot more jamming with Chickenfoot as opposed to Van Halen. Do you record live in the same room? The band has that feel to it.
Anthony: It's probably like it was in the beginning of Van Halen. There's a lot of jamming because being a new band, we're trying to figure each other out. Obviously I've played with Sammy for a while, but in this situation we're a band, it's kind of like playing musician. It was great and fresh and inspiring. When we started touring last year we stuck to the CD and did some Deep Purple or something for the encores. Our show probably ran barely over an hour, but by the end of the tour it was over two hours. That came from getting comfortable and finding our groove. In the studio, we did a lot of jamming because there were ideas and not really completed songs. We recorded a lot as we went along. Some stuff we were writing and recording on the spot—I'd never been in the studio like that. You get the feeling that way.
Is Chad Smith the hardest hitting drummer ever? His style is much different from Alex—did that affect your playing?
Yeah, when you play with other people, it tends to make you play differently. Chad's not really a 4-on-the-floor player. He's a rocker from Detroit, and we clicked immediately. I think because we were friends first. That guy has so much fun, it's hard not get sucked into his vortex.
The band seems to just have a ton of fun. That's why people love it.
Yeah, and people call it a super-group, and I guess it is, but we're just friends who decided to jam. I jammed with Chad in Cabo, and with Joe at some points. It came together at the show in Vegas. It was Sammy's show two years ago, Super Bowl Sunday weekend at the Palms. We wanted to do something different for the encore. He asked me to come out and jam, and Chad, and I asked who he'd get for guitar. He said he'd call Joe, and Joe said he'd come to jam. Sammy had been jamming "Dear Mr. Fantasy" with his band. We all brushed over them on our own, played it at sound check, and hit the stage.
Joe was in the middle of touring that year, so we had to work around that. Probably a month after the gig, Joe had a few days off, so we worked around that. Chad and I would fly to San Francisco, meet at Sammy's studio and demo stuff. That's the way we're going to do it this time, too, at the end of the month we're going to meet up again there.
We don't want to have any preconceived notions. We jammed backstage on tour to loosen up and ideas stared to come out. We got an MP3 recorder and let it go while we were rehearsing. We'll kick around some of that, but we'll also keep it fresh, just going in and doing it. We wanted it last time to be live, to have a live feel. Obviously there are some guitar overdubs, but we didn't want to lose the live feel. We didn't lay tracks separately.
Some of the album was recorded at Sammy's studio; towards the end of the year we went into the studio at Skywalker Ranch for a month, and that was the longest stretch we had. Andy Johns and Joe had worked there before, so we used this huge room, us four in the corner. It was kind of a trip being where the Stars Wars orchestras were recorded. Chad's clock was ticking because he had to go back to the Chili Peppers. We didn't want this to be a revolving door kind of band. The four personalities are locked in now.
We've had success, so it affords us the luxury, and we do it because we love it.
Your bass playing seems to be like your personality—the anchor in the squall, whether musically or personally. Would you say that's true?
Well, it kind of has to be because the guitar players I've played with are always the squall. You could take the early Cream approach where a solo turns into three different sounds, or you have to anchor it down. When you have a guitar player like Ed or Joe, instead of going off playing on bass, I loved John Paul Jones, laying a groove, so the guitar player can do what he wants.
Listen to bands like AC/DC, and Cliff plays 16th notes and that's as grooving and important as anything else. You find those little spots here and there where you can play, but I just got off on anchoring it down, keeping the solid foundation.
Let's talk about the VB-3. You were known to play other amps. What made you decide to switch?
It was kind of combination of things. I'd been with another amp manufacturer and had seen them go through a couple of company changes, and I think the way the company was working was changing. When they went with the company they're with now, a lot of the hands-on people, who really took care of what I needed, were leaving the company. Joe was working on an amp with Peavey, and they wanted to talk about doing some stuff with the VB-3. It seemed like the right time. New band, fresh sound. My tech Kevin and I set it up next to my old rig, and we tried different configurations, and I was definitely impressed with the Peavey stuff. It's the tone that I like, with a little edge to it, without effects.
One thing I've found is the simpler, the better, if you can get a good sound you like. Putting the Peavey rig on stage and walking off, where there's an area you want to fill up before the FOH takes over, it just sounded great. It didn't lose low end or anything. I spoke with Hartley, and he really wanted to take care of me, which wasn't happening so much anymore.
I was in the studio, not used to recording places other than 5150 in L.A., where I have my whole arsenal. Between Ed and Al, I was always fighting to find where the bass would fit in sonically. I would have a ton of gear there, so I could find the right sound.
I took a couple of small amps and basses to San Francisco and actually recorded the whole album with that. Andy got a great sound out of this little B-15 I had. After playing the VB-3 and liking it, I decided to leave the effects at home and see what the amp can do. And I was really impressed. It all stems from the amp and the bass. I might bring a little (effects) out on the next tour because I've worked with the amp a bit, but it was refreshing to go straight into the amp. Next thing you know, you can't play without all that stuff! I love to jam; we do that down in Cabo. To be able to get up in a s----- situation and still jam is hard for some people to do.
I wanted to keep it simple, and the VB-3 just got a great tone. I was digging on it every single night we played.
Tell us about the Chickenfoot DVD—what kind of surprises does it include?
One thing we wanted to do was document from the first time we got together in the studio. Pretty much every single video was done that way, homemade, shot by our guys—professionally done in the sense that we have nice cameras, but this DVD idea got us excited to do an HD pro shoot with eight cameras. We found a couple of spots. A lot of people shoot the whole tour, but we made it happen with just a few shows. We captured it all in Arizona. There's lot of outtakes, goofing around, behind the scenes stuff. That's what this band is about, anyway.
What's next for Chickenfoot?
So we're having an extended break, but there's another single, "My Kinda Girl," that's happening off the CD.
We hope to be able to work on the new record this year, but we'll be working around schedules. Joe's a guy who has to play six nights a week, that's what he loves to do. Chad might be the hardest working man in show biz! But Chickenfoot is like a paid vacation for us. It's great because it's so refreshing for all of us, with the whole band hanging out before the show, not everyone in their own worlds and just seeing each other on stage. I haven't toured that way for years. M
Watch the video for Chickenfoot's latest single, "My Kinda Girl."