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Interview: Whitesnake’s David Coverdale “I’m the Edith Piaf of rock – I have no regrets”

The mighty Whitesnake have just recently released their eagerly-anticipated new album ‘Flesh & Blood’. It’s a record that’s packed full of pure unadulterated ROCK anthems that will have you singing your heart out at Donington Park in less than one month’s time.

To celebrate the album’s release and the band’s upcoming Download performance, we caught up with the man, the legend – Whitesnake’s David Coverdale. So, get ready to ride shotgun in David’s iconic white jag as he tells us how ‘Flesh & Blood’ came together, which rocker he wants to sing ‘Shut Up & Kiss Me’, and why he has such a huge connection with Download.

It’s Whitesnake’s second time performing at Download. What does Download mean to you?

It’s such an epic festival and Andy [Copping, Download Booker] is such a close friend of mine… Of course the UK is my birth country and I have a huge soul and heart connection there. I can’t wait to be there to play for everyone -it’s been a couple of years – I’m very excited about it.

We’re coming in with a new album, some new music and a really dynamic, hard band. We intend to kick the living sh*t out of the place, if that’s ok with you.

Last year you did a co-headline tour with our Friday night headliners Def Leppard. Have you got any stories you can share with us from the road?

That’s for my snakebook [laughs].  Joe [Elliott, Def Leppard front man] and I are very close, we’re Yorkshiremen -I’m north Yorkshire and he’s south Yorkshire – I think, it’s 35 years that we’ve known each other.

‘Trouble Is On Your Middle Name’ was the second single released from your upcoming album, ‘Flesh & Blood’, out on 10th May. Who was the inspiration for the track?  

I wrote the song with Joel Hoekstra – my extraordinary, dynamic lead guitar player. It’s a similar kind of scene to ‘Love Ain’t No Stranger’[Slide It In, 1984]. All of us in our time, regardless of your age or my age, we’ve all had encounters with people that we absolutely know are bad for us, but it’s so irresistible that you just have to go for it.

In the song the woman is obviously a female, but it can be easily be applied to a woman walking out on a man. I’d love to see Beth Heart do that or Lzzy Hale – I think she’d kicked ass on it.

You’ve previously said the album is “all killer no filler” and in true Whitesnake fashion full of a lot of love. After looking backwards for 2015’s The Purple Album, what was your mindset when you went in to record the album?

I don’t know what my mindset was as I was recovering from knee replacement surgery on unbelievably strong medication. People have assured me that I was present and I did actually write 18 new songs. I have minimal recollection other than being in agony in 2017.

2017 was probably the busiest year of my life. I had my right knee replaced in January 2017, my left knee in May 2017, I wrote 18 new songs, put the ‘87 30th anniversary set together, the 35th anniversary box set of Slide It In, the Unzipped project, we made a video, we recorded an album and put together a big coffee table book called The Purple Book and some other s**t too. I’m going for the title of the ‘Busiest Man In Showbusiness’ from James Brown.

In the video for ‘Shut Up & Kiss Me’, the first single you released from ‘Flesh & Blood’ you revisited the classic 1987 video for ‘Here I Go Again’…

All of the songs on the album have musical threads right back to the very beginning. There’s a song called ‘Good To See You Again’, which could have very easily been on the first, second or third Whitesnake album. It’s like ‘Good Times’ is Faces, early Stones ‘Exile On Main St’ stuff and is obviously a message for the crowd.

‘Shut Up & Kiss Me’ you can trace right back to ‘Lie Down, I Think I Love You’, that kind of tongue-in-cheek Whitesnake song.

What did it feel like to be reunited with your white jaguar and turquoise jacket from ‘Here I Go Again’ in the ‘Shut Up & Kiss Me’ video?

Number one, I was thrilled the jacket still fits after all those years! [laughs] It’s an Anthony Price raw silk suit – it’s actually turquoise but looks cobalt for some reason – that’s the original suit from the ‘87 ‘Here I Go Again’. The jag has been in storage for three decades. It’s beautiful when the jag pulls round the corner, I look at the car and I go, ‘f**k, that car could get laid on its own’. It’s a beautiful, sexy vehicle.

It was a real treat and I know it’s been received that way, there’s no disrespect intended. ‘Here I Go Again’ has over 50 million views on YouTube, it’s an enormously successful song and there’s no f**king way I’m going to diss it. It helps pay my rent and it’s one of the most popular songs we play in concert. It’s interesting because it’s about the breakdown of my first marriage and it’s always been a rock anthem and that’s how it’s unfolded – go figure.

I sat down with my fabulous, young, visionary, director [Tyler Bourns] and my feeling is that we should do a club performance…We created this illusion of having Club Snake in my studio at Hope City and crammed 20-30 people of various ages, sizes and ethnicities and just said, “have fun with the tune”. The cool thing is it’s a very easy song to hook into and we had a blast doing it.

 

It was recently the anniversary of ‘Coverdale Page’ – your album with Jimmy Page.

I’m the anniversary kid! I’m in my fifth decade as a professional recording artist, so every week there’s another f**king anniversary…Apparently it’s 26 years since we released Coverdale Page, my sweet brother James I sent my congrats to him… Thankfully we’ve maintained a loving friendship, a mutual admiration. I had a blast with him, it was just what I needed after going through a really ugly, knock-down divorce to have something fresh to get my teeth into. If I’d made a Whitesnake album the lyrics would have been pretty, pretty bad.

It’s also the 30th anniversary of ‘Slip Of The Tongue’ this year. After you released the album you folded the band, in hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently?

No, absolutely not. Everything is part of that rich tapestry of one’s  life; no-one gave me a contract when I was born saying it was going to be f**king easy. In fact, with all the success we experienced there were daily challenges and it’s a testament to still being able to stand-up and breathe. As Elton John would say, ‘I’m still standing’ – after extraordinarily challenging times. But, everything is a lesson and I embrace it.

The old axiom of ‘there are no problems, only solutions’ is very much part of my philosophy….otherwise you attract negative energy and who the f**k wants toxicity or a woman whose middle name is ‘trouble’ [laughs]!

Trouble always seems good at the time…

It gives me sh*t to write about! My songs are pretty much diaries of particular times in my life, sometimes I have to dig into the mysterious grab-bag of the past, because the sentiment that’s inspiring me with the music aspect usually dictates the theme. As I said at the Rock n Roll Hall Of Fame, I have no negatives with my wife, which is extraordinary, so sometimes I have to dig into my murky past for the naughty woman stuff.

I wrote a song called ‘Slave’ for my solo album ‘Into The Light’ which was literally me imagining a situation where i was a bad boy. It was an illusion, it wasn’t true. I’ve got an amazing muse, not the band, a spirit being who whispers in my ear, ‘you should write a song about you know who’. ‘Sh*t, oh really again. Ok, whatever you say’.

Have you kept any diaries?

All will be revealed in How White Was My Snake when that’s eventually released. I don’t dwell on the past, I’m the least nostalgic person you’ll meet, i’m of today and working on tomorrow. I’m a present time guy, I like to learn from the past not live in it, but what a past it’s been and it’s provided me with a wealth of knowledge and experience. I think we’re actually here to experience as much as we can in every which way, shape and form to hopefully go out with a fulfilled bucket list…I don’t want to be laying there with any f**king regrets, I’m the Edith Piaf of rock, I have no regrets.

Will you play any tracks off ‘Slip Of The Tongue’ at Download ?

We love the whole f**king album, so I’m hoping to get at least four or five [songs], but I’m also going to be honouring the 35th anniversary of ‘Slide It In’ and also the songs that people anticipate at a Whitesnake concert.

‘Flesh & Blood’ is the first studio album you’ve written and recorded with the current Whitesnake line up. You co-wrote six of the tracks with your guitarist Joel Hoekstra. What did Joel bring to the songwriting process?

It was the end of 2015, Joel had flown in to discuss a project with me that we were considering – a Whitesnake Greatest Hits with a string quartet and orchestra, just to be different. I love the gentler melodies and when I get to actually sing to people rather than scream in their face. I’m pretty blessed that I do have a whisper to a scream voice and part of my destiny is to explore that as much as I can. We were working on acoustic and [Joel] heard me play this little idea – it was a love song to my wife. He just came up with this part and that’s a song called ‘Afterall’, that was actually the first song that was written for the new project.

I’ve never written with Reb Beach and I’ve never written with Joel. I brought them in [Reb and Joel] independent of each other at first, because we get on great as people to try and transition into a musical conversation – just sit there with acoustic guitars and play each other ideas…Working with these guys was extremely inspirational.

This is a particularly cool band of brothers. I don’t for the first time have to be a referee between my guitarists, which is a breath of fresh air.  I’m so proud that we have a band that created this music and we’re actually going out to perform this music.

[The band] perform the music I created with other people perfectly: stuff I wrote with John Sykes, stuff I wrote with Adrian Vandenberg. All of these they play them magnificently. Nobody has ever been asked in Whitesnake to recreate their predecessors. They’re here because of who they are, what they do and because I feel that they can help Whitesnake to climb a f**king couple of rungs on the ladder and also to spread their own wings and fly.

Do you have a favourite track on ‘Flesh & Blood’?

God no, they’re all my children. I can tell you other people’s favourite tracks, Tommy Aldridge’s (drummer) favourite track is ‘Well I Never’, nine times out of ten when I get in my wife’s car she turns it on and ‘Heart Of Stone’ is on there. I go, ‘that’s such a f**king dark tune’.

I said, ‘it’s so dark, why are you digging that?’. She said, ‘babe’. This is after almost 30 years, she goes, ‘it’s your voice, David’ [laughs]. I was like, ‘f**k, I’m not arguing with that, I’ll take that’.

May I also recommend to the Download audience to place themselves near some happening, good looking gentleman and ladies as we’re definitely playing ‘Shut Up and Kiss Me’.

The album has the energy and vigor of a new band…

I think if you stuck a plug up my ass it would light up the midlands! We may be testing that at Download. It’s astonishing to me, I have to be reminded on occasion when I’m playing pinball that I’m actually 67 years old [laughs].

Other than hobbling around with aches and pain here and there, which I stretch out with yoga, I feel younger than this…I like kicking ass with a great rock n roll band and I feel like the most lucky guy I know.

I’m really happy in every aspects of my life, so have me bronzed now and put me on the mantelpiece.

Don’t miss Whitesnake when they return to rock Download next month alongside our headliners Def Leppard, Slipknot, Tool plus many more in Donington Park on 14th-16th June 2019.