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A conversation with legends Armin van Buuren and Van Halen’s David Lee Roth (DMNW Exclusive)

Photo: Bart Heemskerk

Written by: Tingting Wu and Stanley Sutton

What happens when you put a trance legend, and a rock-and-roll icon, on the same stage? At one of the biggest music festivals in the world? After last weekend, now we know, and the result is amazing!

Opening his Ultra Miami set with a remix of Van Halen’s Jump, The Godfather of Trance, Armin van Buuren surprised fans by bringing rock and roll hall of famer David Lee Roth onto the stage. “I think we know each other. Are you ready to jump?!” Roth asks the roaring mainstage crowd.

David Lee Roth, the frontman for iconic hard rock band Van Halen, is someone you normally don’t associate with the electronic dance music scene. Still, he fit right in Saturday night at Ultra, displaying the same energy, style, and charm that helped cement Van Halen as one of the most successful bands of all time.

Photo: Bart Heemskerk

We had the honor of sitting down with Armin and Roth at Ultra. Throughout our conversation, it was clear to see these two legends had struck up a genuine friendship.

How did this relationship start? We ask that, and more, in what might be the most hilarious interview in Dance Music Northwest history!

So let’s start off by talking about one of your biggest achievements in your career: the 900th episode of A State of Trance. You celebrated A State of Trance in Utrecht and Madrid earlier this year and will be taking it to Oakland in the summer. Tickets go on sale next week. What can fans expect come June 29th?

Armin Van Buuren: The BOOM! I learned it from David!

David, are you going to go?

David Lee Roth: Well, maybe! I’m always there in spirit. Are you kidding? It’s like church. I’m always hovering!

Armin Van Buuren: I’m trying to convince him! It’s going to be the biggest A State of Trance show in North America. It has a capacity of 25,000 so we hope to sell a lot of tickets.

But, you know, I think that if you’ve seen the live stream from A State of Trance in Utrecht, then you kind of know what to expect. The theme is Lifting You Higher. It is going to be a different lineup obviously, but we are going to bring our biggest game to Oakland’s Colosseum. I really can’t wait! Yeah, we are going to have fun.

Speaking of accomplishments, David, you’ve had plenty of them in your career. What would you say, personally, is your biggest?

David Lee Roth: What are the biggest accomplishments in my career? I’m only as good as my worst, and my latest. My handlers in boxing will tell you that any time in boxing, boxing for money is different than boxing for fun.

Here, we got our big smiles, but we box for money. We have to live off of what we make here as artists. Wow! What a trial that is, in today’s world. Especially with the competition.

Alright, and this is a zenith. For years, and years, I have maintained that everybody on the left hand side of that billboard chart had better start performing their remixes, because their remixes, nine times, out of 10, are better than the originals!

I went and downloaded all 17 remixes of Don’t Stop the Party by Pitbull. I can tell you, with absolutely accuracy, they went way farther than the original!

Even material you that you might not think, that moves in a pop direction, like Moves Like Jagger, I got all 14 remixes of that one as well. And the last few go so far stratospheric.

Armin Van Buuren: Can you believe that he’s so up to date?

David Lee Roth: What a great way to roll! The most modern material rocks! Without using guitars at all. Joyryde with I’m gone has no regard for its’ musical safety, and a thinly veiled contempt for convention. The song, that’s my review.

Armin, you’ve been releasing a lot of new music to start 2019. This week a collaboration when Lucas & Steve and Josh Cumbee Don’t Give Up On Me was released. It’s not your traditional trance track. Can you talk about how it came to be?

Armin Van Buuren: I wrote a song in L.A. with the lovely Josh (Cumbee) and Afshin. It wasn’t kind of the same setup we had for Sunny Days. I had a little bit of a thing, like: “oh this is good! People will see this as the follow up to Sunny Days”- which is one of the biggest tracks of my career.

I just stuck with it, and thought of the idea: “why not get some young guys?” Some refreshing, new faces. I’ve always loved their (Lucas & Steve) production. They’re super nice guys. Really young. They might be rocking the main-stage here.

You can learn so much, from not only working with established names who are, perhaps, a little bit older- because that would be the obvious decision. But Lucas & Steve are the new energy, and that song needed the new energy. I approached them, and asked ”are you guys up for it?”.

For about a year, we were bouncing back and forth. Obviously, it’s more of a radio-friendly song. There’s a club mixes coming. There’s a trance mix coming.

This year, I’m going to be releasing a lot of trance-y stuff as well. You got to adventure out of that safety zone a little bit, and experiment….

David Lee Roth: Well, there’s also a lot more opportunities for those experiments to be witnessed now. Everything that’s happening on the internet, the web, the grid. Wow! Opportunity deluxe. In the age of specialization, the fellas come up, and they talk to me from Sirius XM. “Do you listen to the dance channel?” Which? There are seven of them! I think it was a trick question. I had to think “not including hip-hop?”.

Absolutely! So tonight, David’s going to be your special guest. So how did this collab come to be?

Armin Van Buuren: Very simple. I already had an idea, because I love the original song. I was six when it came out!

It was one of those tracks….Every living soul on this Earth, that has a radio, has heard it because it’s an iconic song. I always thought that the message of the song, it’s so simple. It should be translated to now.

I hope that future generations grab onto that message because there’s a lot of kids out there who know it, but there’s also a lot of kids who don’t know it.

David Lee Roth: You see the early Batman Costume? It doesn’t look the way he does today does it? They are a little different. Take a look at the early Batmobile from the first comics, and the way the one looks today. It looks the way his music sounds.

Exactly. Since we’re at Ultra, David, who are some of your favorite EDM artists?

David Lee Roth: My favorite EDM artists?

Other than Armin, of course!

David Lee Roth: Coming from here I like Zedd.

Supa Kings. I don’t know if that qualifies, as you know, what’s going to be coming here back and forth. Go Bang. You familiar with that tune? Go back, look that one up. Great, great opening. And more than just the melodic treatment of these songs is the way the sonics work. The sound of the vocals. The sound of the bass. The sound of the drum. Not just where it was placed, or what you hum along with. But this is really unique.

We spent so many thousands of hours, early on, in studios, trying to make the drum sound big. And then exponential. We serve the same God. This audience gets it a little more efficiently.

Armin, we didn’t know you are a fan of rock and roll! Who are some of your favorite rock and roll artists?

Armin van Buuren: You know, it’s a little bit of an open door- I guess. I like all kinds of music! I listen to a lot of hip-hop, and I listen to a lot of rock. Currently, of course, it’s a very open door to say Chris Martin. He has an amazing voice. He’s a great songwriter. I like Snow Patrol as a band a lot.

David Lee Roth: I don’t even listen to songs. I go by category.

No really! I can tell you exactly! I listen to (Electric) Area. Diplo. Chill. I can tell you, exactly, Monday and Tuesday nights on Diplo is the extremist- the stuff you can barely spell!

In terms of specific artists? Wow! There are so many categories- there’s nine categories of country western alone! Back in Van Halen, we played three different kinds of Spanish speaking gigs at three different bars.

You had Lowrider. That was: “You better change your evil ways, baby.” Santana. Tejano. The Mexican kids who were going to UCLA only wanted to head Aerosmith, but with an accent esé.

To close out the interview, since DMNW is based out of Seattle: For our Seattle fans out there, for both of you, what are some last words that you would like to say?

Armin Van Buuren: Guys, Seattle’s not too far from Oakland! It’s a little flight away, so we hope to see you June 29th. If not, I’ll be in your area really soon.

Lots of love to Washington state. I was there a couple of months ago for the Gorge Amphitheater, which is, you know, a little drive, but what an amazing crowd. Thank you guys so much, and hope to see you soon.

David Lee Roth: I’ve been climbing in Seattle a bunch of times up around Index, and so forth. I miss it.

Armin Van Buuren: It is gorgeous, what an amazing place.

Photo: Bart Heemskerk

Pre-Sale passes to A State of Trance: Bay Area, are available now. Who knows, maybe we’ll see an Armin van Buuren x David Lee Roth encore! You can also celebrate Armin’s Pacific Northwest return Saturday May 18th at the PNE, in Vancouver- details available here.

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