6 Questions with Greg Renoff, author of Van Halen Rising!

by Jessica on October 1, 2015

We are pretty dang excited to be hosting Greg Renoff for his new book, Van Halen Rising on 10/9! He’s also be bringing a special guest along with him that we can’t quite disclose at this moment. In order to get YOU all more excited about this event we asked Greg 6 questions about the writing of this book and the process behind it. Take a read and join us on the 9th!

1. What sparked the idea for an all-encompassing Van Halen book?

I grew up a big Van Halen fan, and then went on to be a historian. Over the years, I’d read every Van Halen interview I could get my hands on and every Van Halen book that had appeared. But I was struck by the fact that there was one big gap in the band’s history: their early years in Pasadena. I thought if that period of time was investigated, fans like me would get a good understanding of how the band’s talents developed to a degree that they could record a debut that to date has sold 10 million copies and steal the show from a veteran act like Black Sabbath when they toured together in 1978. I figured as a historian and a fan, I was the right person to take this project on.

2. How was the research for this kind of book?
How long did the whole process last? I did more than 230 interviews with everyone from their earliest fans to luminaries like former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony, and visited archives from coast to coast. This included stops at Pasadena City College and the New York Public Library. I got started in 2009 and delivered the manuscript to ECW Press in the fall of 2014.

3. Did you find out anything surprising while putting the book together?
Lots of things, but probably the most surprising thing was how important David Lee Roth was to shaping the band’s radio-friendly sound. Since guitarist Edward Van Halen wrote the vast majority of the band’s music, it was illuminating to discover that Roth pushed Edward and the others in the band to write commercial material rather than more traditional heavy metal music.  Another surprising discovery was that many of the stories I’d heard about the GIANT backyard parties that Van Halen threw in Pasadena in the early 1970s were largely true!

4. Were there any major challenges that came about while in the process?
If so what were the solutions to those? There are always setbacks along the way; I think one challenge was trying to make the case to presses that an academic historian with a PhD could tell this tale in a way that would be engaging to a broad reading audience. The solution came once my book proposal got into the hands of the good folks at ECW Press. They believed in me and my project.

5. The readers must know…what’s your favorite Van Halen song/and or album?
It’s hard to choose, but today I will say, “I’m The One” from Van Halen’s 1978 debut album.

6. What’s next for you?
I’ve got a number of ideas, but I think it’s likely
that I’ll write a sequel to Van Halen Rising.