Wolfgang Van Halen Gives Honest Opinion On Bands Using Backtracks
via Jeremy White / Youtube
Wolfgang Van Halen, former bassist of Van Halen and current frontman of Mammoth WVH, has once again criticized bands that heavily rely on pre-recorded tracks during their live performances.
In recent years, it has become more common for artists to use pre-recorded tracks, drum triggers, and other technology to enhance their live shows. While this can make performances more consistent, it also creates a more synthetic experience. Pre-recorded tracks are not limited to pop music; many rock artists also utilize them to varying degrees.
During an interview at the Copenhell festival in Copenhagen, Denmark, Wolfgang expressed his opinion on rock acts that heavily depend on pre-recorded tracks. He stated that replacing core tracks with pre-recorded ones is foolish, and musicians should be able to play their instruments live without relying on laptops. While he understands the use of additional tracks like keyboard pads or 808 drops, they should complement the live performance, not replace it.
In a previous interview with Coffee With Ola, the YouTube program hosted by Ola Englund, he mentioned:
“It’s just a fucking bummer, man. Look, I think everybody else draws their own line with what tracks are acceptable or not, but it’s, like, if you’re pumping in the main guitar riff and the lead vocals and actual fucking drums — like, pre-recorded drums — that’s a problem.
“You should be able to play your shit. I can understand [if] you don’t have a keyboard player, so [you] need the pad. That’s fine. You can’t carry around a 60-piece orchestra, so you’ve got the strings. That’s fine. But lead vocal, main guitar, main bass and the drums — you should be playing that.”
Wolfgang believes that over-production in modern music has led to an over-reliance on backing tracks to recreate certain sounds. He emphasized that he never includes anything in the studio that he can’t replicate live. He appreciates bands like Meshuggah and Tool, who focus on playing their music with intensity and skill during their live performances. This philosophy also guides his band, Mammoth, where they prioritize playing everything live to the best of their ability.
Other Rock Band’s Takes
The issue of backing tracks has been a topic of discussion in the music industry. Kiss frontman Paul Stanley has faced accusations of singing to a backing tape on the band’s End Of The Road tour, while Kiss’s longtime manager Doc McGhee defended Stanley’s vocal performance, explaining that he fully sings to every song, although it is enhanced.
The use of pre-recorded tracks in rock performances is a common practice. In March 2020, Shinedown guitarist Zach Myers stated that approximately 90 percent of rock artists use some form of pre-recorded tracks during their live shows. He told Rock Feed:
“It bothers me that it bothers people. I’m, like, ‘Why does this bother you?’ It’s the way it is. People have been doing this since the ’80s. And we want the sound to be the best it can be. Could we go up there, just the four of us, and put on the best rock show ever? Of course. But that’s not how we wanna do it.”
Artists Against Backing Tracks
There are still artists who choose not to rely on pre-recorded tracks. Former Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach prides himself on Consequence Of Sound about not using tapes during his live shows. However, he acknowledges that the prevalence of backing tracks and miming has made it challenging for traditional bands to stand out.
Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith has expressed his disagreement with rock artists relying on pre-recorded tracks during live performances. He told the New York Post:
“I tell you what, I see it with a lot of younger bands, and I don’t think it’s a good thing at all. I mean, the music is getting too technical now. You have computerized recording systems, which we use, but I think we use them more for convenience than because we need to. We’ve toured with a couple bands that use tapes — it’s not real. You’re supposed to play live; it should be live. I don’t agree with using tapes … I think it’s a real shame.”
Similarly, Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx has admitted that the band has been using technology like sequencers and subtones since 1987 to enhance their live sound. The band’s guitarist, Mick Mars also admitted discomfort with using pre-recorded backing vocals in live shows. He prefers the rawness and authenticity of live performances by bands from the ’60s and ’70s.